Early Modern English Ballads


EMEB (Early Modern English Ballads) is a digital archive that will include all known broadside ballads in both high resolution scans and digital transcriptions.

Broadside ballads were among the most widespread publications in early modern England. Ballad proprietors owned the largest portion of the bookselling market, and broadsides were omnipresent in the streets, in alehouses, and even on the churches’ doors. The social relevance of early modern balladry is doubtless, as ballads permeated many levels of society, representing its traditions and re-interpreting the popular culture from which they largely, although not exclusively, stemmed. Nonetheless, many scholars over the centuries have doubted both their literary and publishing value. Broadside ballads have often been considered too cheaply made and ordinary in style for arousing literary interest. And yet, modern and contemporary criticism has cast new light on their cultural relevance, and relocated them to the place they deserve in the history of British popular culture.

There is indubitable evidence that broadside ballads have been a source of inspiration for many important authors (Shakespeare probably being the most famous example). A comprehensive digital archive with collated editions and textual analyses of broadside ballads is the best way to bring to the surface connections between them and other literary works.

To the present day, no complete online repository of collated editions of broadside ballads is freely accessible online. EMEB will offer such a new archive. The first corpus included in the database will collect ballads on madness and the ‘Tom  O’Bedlam’ figure. It will include related documentary material as well as critical references and studies. The second larger corpus will collect ballads on sea life and sea workers which are crucial for an understanding of England’s cultural history during the early modern period.

Alongside the input of the first corpus of ballads, an OCR capable of reading black letter type (Gothic script) will be developed. This will be an extension of the already existing Tesseract, a very powerful and open-source software. This OCR will both considerably speed up the process of ballad transcription, and help researchers in fields of textual study where black letter type is paramount.

EMEB will be based on a Mediawiki platform, offering a completely open-source and highly customisable environment. Ballads will be marked using the TEI/XML standard.

The aim of this digital archive is ultimately to offer (1) a complete collection of philologically accurate editions of known broadside ballads, (2) related historical and iconographic material, (3) critical references, (4) critical studies, (5) digital tools for textual linguistic and stylistic analysis.

EMEB will be freely searchable and will allow for interaction on the part of researchers willing to submit additions, corrections and other contributions. These will be assessed by the research team before publication.

The Team
Prof. Silvia Bigliazzi, English Literature – Verona (leader)
Alex Zanutto