Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX English professor and CRC in Digital Humanities Laura Estill wins international award for journal essay

May 22nd, 2019
StFX English professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities Dr. Laura Estill

Dr. Laura Estill, a StFX English professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities, has won the Barbara Palmer Award for the best new essay in early drama archival research.

The award, presented annually by the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society (MRDS), recognizes an essay published within 18 months of the deadline and “judged by the committee to be of outstanding quality” on the topic of early drama archival research. It is open to journal articles and book chapters in collections.

The Palmer Award was officially announced during the annual MRDS business meeting in May 2019, at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

“I was thrilled to learn that I had received this award. Archival research on early modern drama is an important and burgeoning area of research with a lot of brilliant scholars doing fascinating work, which makes it even more of an honour to be recognized with the Barbara Palmer Award,” Dr. Estill says.

The article, “The Urge to Organize Early Modern Miscellanies: Reading Cotgrave’s The English Treasury of Wit and Language” appears in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America (PBSA) vol. 112, no. 1 (2018): 27-73, which is published by the University of Chicago Press Journals.  

Dr. Estill says her first book, Dramatic Extracts in Seventeenth-Century English Manuscripts: Watching, Reading, Changing Plays, is about seventeenth-century readers and playgoers who copied parts from plays into manuscripts, which tells us what they took, literally and figuratively, from drama.

“I wrote one chapter on ‘dramatic miscellanies,’ a new kind of manuscript that I identified as a mid-seventeenth-century phenomenon: notebooks where people would copy parts from plays specifically, unlike other handwritten documents, where they might copy parts from plays alongside materials like poetry, recipes, and accounts,” she says.

“There is a print equivalent of these handwritten documents, John Cotgrave’s English Treasury of Wit and Language (London, 1655), where he printed selections from plays, but didn’t give his sources. As I was undertaking my research on Cotgrave’s book, I became fascinated by the marginalia (handwritten notes) that readers had included in the volume. A couple of industrious readers traced the sources of thousands of extracts to hundreds of plays; other readers added their own selections from plays; yet other readers underlined the parts they found most memorable; and some readers left no marks at all. In this article, I argue that when we read Cotgrave’s book today, our urge is to determine the source texts: modern scholars are not interested in the quotations for their wisdom or wit; rather, we care about Cotgrave’s sources (including Shakespeare) and how he used them.”

In order to prove this argument about the history of reading plays and selections from drama, she had to see every known copy of the English Treasury. She visited many in person, including, for instance, copies at the British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Dulwich College Library. In other cases, she contacted librarians and archivists who consulted copies or took pictures for her.

Dr. Estill compared all the marginalia (handwritten notes) in all known copies of this rare book, which took years of research, multiple archive trips, and the support “of wonderful scholars, librarians, and archivists” in the United Kingdom and across North America.

“This is, to date, one of the longest journal articles I have written, and one of which I am most proud. I am honoured to have this journal article recognized by the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society’s Barbara Palmer Award.”

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.



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