A match made online

Literature and digital technology unite in virtual anthology on marriage in the 17th century

Date published: 2012-02-14 12:00:00 PM

Our preoccupation with marriage dates back to ancient times, and, over the centuries, the institution of marriage has never stopped evolving. All of this is evident from the documents and images that Claire Carlin and her team at the University of Victoria have compiled in a virtual anthology (in French only) on marriage in the Ancien Régime, the era in which modern marriage was born.

"My goal was not to assemble a mere collection of texts and images about marriage, but to create a true online scholarly publication where the documents are analyzed and put into context," explains Carlin, a specialist in 17th century French literature. "The Internet lends itself really well to this type of activity, and the production costs are far lower than those of a printed publication. And thanks to the Image Markup Tool—a tool developed by my co-researcher Martin Holmes that has been used for a variety of digital humanities projects around the world—it is now easy to store research data on images as well as texts."

Funded in large part by SSHRC, this ever-evolving database contains satires, fictional works, religious and medical treatises, and prints. It is being used by not only the international literature research community, but also by students and the general public. In 2011, the site had an average of 800 visits daily.

The writings and images collected show that even in the 17th century women were regularly taking up the pen to critique the traditions and norms of marriage. The points of view expressed range from feminist (before its time, arguably) to misogynous. As a glimpse into the past, the research conducted by Claire Carlin and her team reminds us that our complex relationship with marriage is by no means new.