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A Preface to the Curran Index of Wellesley Revisions

The legendary Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals broke through the anonymity of the Victorian periodical press to open up a vast world of authorship that we are still only beginning to explore. By painstakingly assembling many kinds of evidence, the team of scholars led by editors Walter and Esther Houghton identified the authors of thousands of contributions to some of the most influential periodicals of the nineteenth century. The study of Victorian cultural life has never been the same since. In its familiar stout red volumes, and more recently in a CD-ROM version, the Wellesley Index, one of the great collaborative accomplishments of 20th-century humanities scholarship, has long been an essential companion to that study.

But the mission of the Index, a project that began in the late 1950s, did not end with the publication of the final volume in 1989. Every year thereafter, scholars have continued to unearth new evidences of authorship that have corrected and significantly added to the Index's store of identifications. The Victorian Periodicals Review, itself an offshoot of the Wellesley project, until recently devoted an annual "Wellesley issue" to this new information. When Routledge decided to launch a CD-ROM version of the Index in the late 1990s, the publisher advertised the new product as including these new corrections and additions, and implied that more would be incorporated in subsequent editions. For whatever reason, neither of these assertions has proven true: the CD-ROM did not, in fact, include all of the revisions up to that point, and the publisher (since acquired by Taylor & Francis) has declined to issue any further editions. As a result, steadily increasing numbers of scholarly discoveries about Victorian periodical authorship have been available to scholars -- if available at all -- only in fragmentary, unsearchable, and relatively inaccessible printed form.

Eileen Curran, one of the original Wellesley team of associate editors, has now changed all that. Having for years prepared the batches of new "Adds./Corrs." for the Victorian Periodicals Review, many of them the fruit of her own careful research, she has gathered together all revisions published between 1989 to 2003, and all the otherwise unpublished revisions discovered since, into one extremely useful online document. For the first time, a scholar studying a particular author can do a character-string search ("Ctrl-F" in most browsers) of the author's name and quickly find all of his or her newly identified, or previously misattributed, contributions. Likewise, the student of a specific periodical can easily check the latest identifications of the authors who wrote for it.

The Curran Index is no static compilation; it is an interactive and steadily growing database. Professor Curran herself continues to do a great deal of primary research into the authorship of contributions to 19th-century periodicals, while Victorianist colleagues around the world send her news of similar discoveries made in the course of their own researches. This growing body of information also includes discoveries about periodicals that were not among the titles indexed by the original Wellesley. Starting in 2004, all new attributions have been integrated into the Curran Index and published directly online, where they can be readily consulted, corrected, and updated. In this way, Professor Curran's index carries the spirit and promise of the Wellesley project into the 21st century, serving as an indispensable reference point for everyone who teaches or studies Victorian literary culture. I am most grateful to her for making it available through the VRW.

Patrick Leary
publisher, Victoria Research Web