About CELM

CELM at the Folger

CELM migrated from King's Digital Lab and its Kiln framework to the Folger Shakespeare Library in March 2024. As part of the transfer, the data and interface were preserved. Starting in 2025, the Folger plans to make corrections and updates to the content. Questions about the site and its contents should be directed to the Folger's Ask a librarian form.

Please also visit the Union First Line Index of English Verse for related content.

History and Contributors

CELM is an online adaptation and extension of the Index of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700, compiled by Peter Beal and published by Mansell in four volumes between 1980 and 1993.

This online version was created between 2005 and 2013, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2005 through 2010. On the AHRC-funded project, Peter Beal was principal researcher into new material and principal author of new entries; the size of the catalogue grew by over 50%, from the 23,000-odd items of the printed Index to over 37,000 entries. Most of the entries from the printed Index were revised and extended, and the number of authors catalogued more than doubled.

John Lavagnino planned the structure and functionality of the digital version, supervised the work of converting the earlier printed version into this new and extended form, conducted extensive tests on the integrity and consistency of the resource, composed new entries, and edited existing ones. Henry Woudhuysen monitored progress and advised on policies, selection of material, and general scope.

At the Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London, Elena Pierazzo worked on the initial planning of the web implementation, and the work was subsequently completed by Jamie Norrish.

Lucilla Corigliano Arioti retyped the entire text of the printed Index to create the basis for CELM, rearranging and reediting the material in the process. At a later stage of the project, Joanne Wainwright undertook some further rearrangement and editing to move many manuscript descriptions from the original introductions into the body of the catalogue proper.

Advisory Board

From 2005 through 2010 the project was aided by an Advisory Board, whose members were:

  • Peter Beal • Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Elizabeth Clarke • University of Warwick
  • Katherine Duncan-Jones • Somerville College, University of Oxford
  • Warwick Gould • Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Elizabeth Hageman • University of New Hampshire
  • John Lavagnino • King's College London
  • Jerome McGann • University of Virginia
  • Brian Vickers • Institute of English Studies, University of London
  • Claire Warwick • University College London
  • Henry Woudhuysen • Lincoln College, University of Oxford

Introduction by Peter Beal

In 1979, before the publication of my first two volumes of the Index of English Literary Manuscripts, I wrote in my preface that ‘one of the main aims of this Index is to point the way towards further investigation, as well as to take stock of that which is known’. I added to this an expression of hope that in ‘the foreseeable future’, as new information came to light, there would be an ‘eventual supplementary volume’.

I could not then predict the revolutionary impact of the new electronic media or imagine that the Index would expand not just to a ‘supplementary volume’ but to an extensive catalogue that would be freely accessible online throughout the world. Neither could I predict that in ensuing decades there would be such an upsurge of scholarly interest in manuscripts—in the textual importance of manuscripts, in the sociology of manuscripts, and in their makers and their readers, among other aspects.

Now, over thirty years later, we are launching this online Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700 (CELM), which was financed for five years by the Arts and Humanities Research Council—to which, of course, we are very greatly obliged. The project has been based at Senate House and in the Department of Digital Humanities Humanities at King’s College London. While I am the compiler of the entries and author introductions in CELM, the online version was designed constructed, corrected, and proofread by John Lavagnino, of King’s College London, and our general advisor, overseer and occasional contributor has been Henry Woudhuysen of the University of Oxford. I am, of course, extremely indebted to both of these scholars—who have spent many hours of their busy professional lives attending to CELM matters and giving me general support—especially in view of my initial ignorance of electronic technology.

My original Index (published in four volumes, 1980-93) included entries for 123 authors of the period. The selection of authors was based on those listed in the Concise Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, which was published in 1967. It is a token of how dated that selection was that only a single female author was represented: namely Aphra Behn. In effect I doubled the female representation by also including Katherine Philips. By contrast, CELM now includes nearly twice as many authors—237 at present—and of those authors 75 are women, the selection of these deriving from the representation of female writers of the period in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Admittedly some of these ‘new’ authors have left little or nothing by way of manuscripts—in which case CELM simply serves to register that fact for the record in the hope that more material will come to light in due course.

As for numbers of entries—i.e, the brief descriptions of individual numbered manuscript texts by all these authors—CELM currently comprises over 38,000 entries, besides references to numerous other relevant documents in the introductions to individual authors. We would hope that these figures for both authors and entries will increase, since this is only the first stage in what we hope will be an ever expanding enterprise. We welcome corrections and additions to CELM—especially since not all of the manuscripts recorded here have been examined at first hand (though the majority have) and the accumulation of details over a period of some 35 years does not make for as much descriptive consistency as we would wish. We trust that periodically we will be able to take down the catalogue briefly to incorporate not only corrections but also details of newly identified manuscripts of our authors, or even manuscripts of other authors of the period, that are brought to our attention by readers (who will of course, be credited for such additions). This flexibility is indeed one of the principal advantages of an online project, as opposed to printed publication.

I would conclude by stressing that, far from being a substitute for first-hand scholarly examination of literary manuscripts of the period, CELM is quite the opposite. It is designed purely as a guide to investigation and research. We sincerely hope that it will encourage the study of early modern literary and historical manuscripts and bring to ever wider attention the sheer wealth and importance of archival material in repositories around the world, much of which is still waiting to be properly explored.

Peter Beal


Besides my great debt to John Lavagnino and Henry Woudhuysen, I am indebted, as I was in 1980 when the first volume of my Index of English Literary Manuscripts appeared, to all the librarians and curators, as well as private collectors, who have made their manuscripts available to me or have kindly taken the trouble to answer my queries about them. In addition I am, of course, deeply indebted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their substantial grant which supported the CELM project over a period of five years and, among other things, made it possible for me to visit so many libraries, record offices, and other collections, throughout Britain and Ireland. Financed one-month visiting fellowships were also kindly granted to me by the Huntington Library and Newberry Library (both partly financed by the British Academy), by the libraries of Harvard and Yale, and by the Folger Shakespeare Library, as well as by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. I should add that I have also benefitted greatly from the privileged access I had to so many public and private collections in Britain and overseas, over a period of twenty-five years, while employed by Sotheby’s, London.

Not least is the debt I owe to Professor Warwick Gould, head of the Institute of English Studies, University of London, who, in 2005, encouraged and facilitated the CELM project from its inception. I am especially grateful also to the staff of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London, who initiated me in the relevant mysteries of electronic technology and without whose expertise and assiduity there would be no CELM on the internet.

Peter Beal