How to Cite a Woman: Resistant Bibliography and Early Modern Archives

When an early modern man and woman co-author a manuscript, who gets credit?

What if database notes and bibliographic software have intrinsic structures that hinder the simple citational acknowledgement of women’s contributions?

Does it matter who gets official credit and unofficial credit?


I’m back to recipes, after completing a chapter on crises of knowledge in poison plays and trials. After reading mountains of trials in which women’s words disappear, are written out of surviving documents, or simply don’t even warrant quotation marks, the politics of citation has been on my mind.

Now that I’m prepping for chapter #2, I encountered a different shade of a related problem: although my own notes to 17th-century recipe manuscripts showed that women co-authored books with their husbands, the original database notes give the husbands authorial credit and efface the women’s contribution.

When I tried to capture this complex relationship in my citation software (Zotero), I found that I couldn’t quite squeeze the story into the preset boxes. When your bibliographic options are author, contributor, editor, or translator, how can you make a citation reflect that while a husband may have begun a book, a wife finished the majority of it? Or that a husband and wife co-authored the book while they co-ran a household?

Take Alice and Arthur Corbett, for example (Wellcome MS 212). In the Wellcome’s database notes, Arthur gets the authorial position, despite a descriptive note that reads “the Compiler’s name is in the lower margin of the first leaf.” The Compiler? That’s Alice.

Now, these notes were likely written in 1908 when the text was purchased (and before women could vote in the UK), but: Arthur gets authorial credit and Alice is the unnamed “Compiler”?

Or the book of Caleb and Jane Lowdham (Wellcome MS 7073). Again, Caleb gets the entire authorial credit, but a descriptive note acknowledges the contributions of “Jane Lowdham, his wife or daughter.” Caleb and Jane shared the book–he wrote primarily medical recipes and copied extracts out of Boyle’s Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy, and Jane contributed cookery recipes.

Within the book itself, interestingly gendered citational practices emerged. Despite sharing the receipt book with his wife, Lowdham cites only men–and fancy experimental science men at that (Robert Boyle, etc). The physical proof that women created and shared medical recipes was in his book and in his community, yet Lowdham only references male authority. His wife, on the other hand, cites both male and female experimental authority liberally–her recipes and remedies are attributed to her family members, “A Worthy Lady,” and copied out of books. So we have a text which preserves women’s contributions to early modern medicine and experimental science while also (partially) embracing citational structures that erase female authority.

John and Joan Gibson (Wellcome MS 311), on the other hand, give a different picture of collaborative authorship. According to the handwriting in the book, John and Joan alternated writing medical receipts for 20 pages or so, and then the book switches to Joan’s handwriting for cookery recipes. Both John and Jane claim authorial credit on the flyleaf, and both add Latin inscriptions below their names, suggesting they were both invested in thinking of themselves as authors.

Much ado about citation? Possibly. Or perhaps this most basic level of recognition and entrance into scholarly study–the citation–has larger political impact. Sara Ahmed has written extensively about the politics of citational practices: how citing only or mostly men reifies existing gender and race hierarchies, how citation can preserve what she calls the “fragility of feminist archives.”

Because citation suggests, or leads to, use. And in the case of manuscript recipe books, that’s starting to happen–work on early modern recipes is exploding in exciting ways, from simply transcribing them (yay EMROC!) to rigorous analysis that treats them as worthy scholarly and literary objects (go read Wendy Wall).

But when database notes inaccurately portray women’s relationship to these texts, that leads to wonky citations. And when our memorial & bibliographic systems don’t accurately represent women, how can we guarantee that our scholarship will? Zotero isn’t actively trying to marginalize women, but when a huge body of texts don’t “fit” in existing citational systems, what does that suggest about that same body’s “fit” into existing academic representation?

So the question I keep asking myself is: How can I tell the stories of these awesome scientific ladies (and their collaborating husbands when necessary) when writing a dissertation? Maybe the answer is to start with the basics: make a space for women’s authorship even at the level of citation. Maybe it’s time for feminist bibliographic software–because there are whole archives out there that don’t fit a traditional model.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Reflections on the Archive

We know the archive has gaps. Over time we’ve lost things or lost track of things, or they’ve caught fire, or connected texts have been separated and sold by the inch to decorate some gentleman’s library (true story).

We also know, as a general principle, that women’s unpublished writing is far less likely to survive than men’s, because it was already considered ephemeral, of less use, etc.

And we know that doing archival work always involves desire–our own, to be sure, but we also have to contend with a whole history of often competing desires. For example: the desire to be represented or leave a legacy that is involved in the creation of texts; the desire to assemble or accumulate that goes into acquisition; the desire to have the archive speak in a certain way; the desire to be useful/to keep funding/to remain relevant–all these bump up against our own desires to find exactly the right book, or all related books, or to find texts that tell the stories we think should be there–and wanting the archive to tell a particular kind of story is also another form of desire.

One text in particular brought the lessons of desire, gaps, and frustration home to me.

It was my last day in the Wellcome. In front of me sat the closely-written manuscript of Elizabeth Godfrey (MS 2535).

Godfrey was an avid annotator, and many receipts were accompanied by many notes in the margin. She also editorialized, drawing hearts next to recipes, and criticizing recipes that didn’t work. Next to “How to Candy Anjellico,” she scribbled, “this is the worst way to do them,” which conjures up a frustrating day of kitchen catastrophes.

These marginalia show Godfrey in a circular process of testing her receipts, tweaking them, and figuring out the best processes and ingredients. Heavily invested in correcting and perfecting, Godfrey also seemed to care about transmitting only verified recipes. Several receipts were also annotated with variations of “this is not to be written,” which raised the question–written where?

Halfway through the book, I found a note next to a recipe for bread pudding, “This I have writ in my green” (45). Two pages later, a version of the same: “This I have writ in my green book.”


MS 2535, 47r

I did a little dance (which thankfully none of the librarians saw)–here was evidence of another unpublished work by Godfrey, one in which she appeared to continue refining and reworking her receipts. Of course I had to find it.

If the Wellcome had one book by Godfrey, perhaps they had others. I name-searched and turned up one possibility, MS 9139…and then time and the archive got in my way.

First, it wasn’t clear that the authors were the same Elizabeth Godfrey. The histories of the women who write these books are rarely easily obtained, and unless they were famous (like Lady Ranelagh, Robert Boyle’s sister) often speculative. Although 9139’s Elizabeth Godfrey was from the same time period as my own, I didn’t have enough information to make that assumption. Even if the cover was green, as the original Godfrey suggested, that still would only be a string of coincidence.

However, it was still worth a shot. I tried to put in an order–and that’s when I found out that the item was still being preserved and wasn’t available through normal request. On top of this, it was my last afternoon in the archive and time was running out. (Cue Mission Impossible theme). I emailed the curatorial staff, hoping I could squeak a request for 9139 in at the end of the day, but sometimes serendipity only goes so far.

I was lucky to have found such an interesting manuscript, but one of the drawbacks of following one’s nose as a research technique is that things don’t always turn up on schedule. I heard from the curator after I’d left the library and headed back to the States, and 9139 was out of my reach–temporarily. (There is the possibility that it will be digitized, or I can request scans.)

Having two books from the same Elizabeth Godfrey would have been amazing–I could already start to see the story about experimentation, verification, testing, and knowledge production over time, and how important it could become to my dissertation. But this is one of the difficulties of working with knowledge that inhabits and arises from the lands between text and memory–you don’t always get what you want. Sometimes you have to make an argument based on one Godfrey manuscript; perhaps that argument might be strengthened in places by the missing Godfrey. For example: it’s a perfect illustration of the problems of trying to retrace physical labor through a textual archive; and it provides an opportunity to consider what has been lost or never recorded to begin with.

Sometimes, what remains is only what you need: one manuscript, rich in annotations, that hints at a world far larger than itself.

Making a Research Reading List

When heading to London for two weeks of research, I wanted to make sure that I was using my time efficiently. Wading through hundreds of manuscripts without a plan sounds delightful, but with only two weeks of work time, I needed to be strategic about my reading list.

I planned to compile a starter list, but leave open enough time and space in the plan for some archival meandering. If I want to spend longer on a manuscript or need to replace a few unproductive ones with something I find out about while working, I don’t want to be so committed to a checklist that I miss what the archive itself wants to present. But facing such a large archive, where do you begin? Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful (or have learned from more experienced researchers).

  • Look at others’ bibliographies. Working in a small but growing field means that I was able to see what manuscripts other scholars had cited. Wendy Wall’s Recipes for Thought was particularly helpful (it’s a comprehensive look at manuscript recipes in British and American libraries), as were Sara Pennell’s articles and Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House. And they provided call numbers!

Deborah Harkness, The Jewel House (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007) 300-301.

  • Email the curators directly. I provided curators at both the Wellcome and British libraries with a brief outline of my project and asked for their advice. The Wellcome curator pointed me to some featured recipe manuscripts, and a curator at the British Library turned up some really interesting stuff that may be useful to other parts of my project (that he didn’t know about–are curators clairvoyant?). For example: a 1652 letter describing an autopsy, a plague cure from the Marshalsea Court records, and a medical handbook by Thomas Lodge (which may turn out to be the same guy who wrote Rosalynde, which Shakespeare used as a source for As You Like It. Further investigation required.)
  • See what the libraries are featuring. The curator at the Wellcome pointed me to their online portal to manuscript recipe books, and browsing the collection highlights led me to a few anonymous manuscripts I hadn’t known about–one including a number of drawings on the flyleaf.
  • Search call numbers around a known MS number. Both the libraries I’m headed to have huge chunks of manuscript recipe acquisitions, catalogued all together. The call numbers I’ve taken from Wall, Pennell, and Harkness’s bibliographies sometimes include strings of numbers: for example, British Library MSS 45196, 45197, and 45199 are on my list, and most of them are from the same family. It will be pretty easy to request 45198, 45200, and the rest of the 45190 series–perhaps they’re related, or perhaps not. Either way, it’s a way to stumble into new manuscripts.
  • Search by year. This is by far the cleverest suggestion from my advisor, and one that I hope will allow me to read a lot of items not on my list. Instead of targeting individual manuscripts, asking for everything from, say, 1654 will probably pull up manuscripts I didn’t know exist. I’m debating whether to pick years tied to big literary events–for example, do recipe collections after Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies look any different?
  • Name searches, chronologies. Robert Boyle (chemist and experimental scientist) and his sister, Lady Ranelagh, wrote quite a bit on household matters. Those manuscripts appear in both the British and the Wellcome Library, and doing a name search allowed me to pair them up. Many of the collections are individual pieces, and tracking women’s names is difficult because they changed so often, but it’s worth a shot (and will usually work better for elite writers). Searching by name also works against the misconception that these women didn’t write much–it might just be that we haven’t looked in the right places!
  • Ask curators for search terms. Nobody knows the quirks of the collections better than the curators, and they’ll know the weird paths to access manuscripts. I’m planning to do a bit of legwork myself before going to the curators, as I want to demonstrate that I know how to search, but want to cover all my bases.
  • Ask for recommendations. My advisor’s interested in the notebooks of Sir Hugh Plat (of science and Delightes for Ladies fame), and suggested I might find interesting tidbits in them as well.
  • Be open to serendipity. Although I know Margaret Cavendish’s household recipe book would be the centerpiece of my dissertation, it doesn’t exist (I live in hope). I’ve constructed my project so that it doesn’t depend on a single text or fixed set of texts, but rather a wide variety of manuscripts and recipe books. This way, I can read with a plan but still be open to the random text or two that the curators suggest or I find through searching. On the other hand, I’m not so committed to my list of manuscripts that I can’t follow my nose if something seems interesting.