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John Foxe’s Acts And Monuments – The British Academy Project

Category Articles
Date June 15, 2006

It was the apologetic agenda of the 1837-41 edition that prompted the need for a fresh approach. That edition was slightly revised by Josiah Pratt in 1877, but the revisions did not address the main problems. By the middle of the twentieth century, the historical commentary not only appeared partisan (which it had always been), but also hopelessly out of date. More importantly, the nineteenth century editors had reproduced only the 1583 text. This was done with commendable accuracy, but the 1563 text was represented only by extended notes, and the 1570 and 1576 texts scarcely at all. Moreover these notes addressed only those discrepancies that appeared to the editors to be particularly significant, and consequently represented their own agenda in a different way.

The marginalia were also presented in a fashion that made it difficult to distinguish between Foxe’s own comments and those of the editors. In addition, the early twentieth century saw something of a return to the eighteenth century situation, where the full text was neglected in favour of ‘selections’, and of bowdlerised or abbreviated editions, many of them produced in the United States to serve the agendas of various Protestant denominations there. This may have been in the true spirit of Foxe, but was a serious disservice to Reformation scholarship.

In 1992 therefore a scheme was presented to the British Academy for a new and complete edition of the Acts and Monuments. This was to be a variorum edition, meaning that it would reproduce the full texts of each of the original four editions for which Foxe had been personally responsible, transcribed into a modern typeface but using the original spelling and layout. It would also include a full historical and critical commentary.

This was submitted as a personal project by Professor Loades, but in accepting it the Academy expressed the view that it was too large an undertaking for one person, and that it should be adopted as an Academy Project. Funding was provided to commence in September 1993, a full time Research Assistant (Dr. D.G. Newcombe) was appointed, and an Academy management committee established.

The original vision had been for a printed text in an indeterminate number of volumes, but within a year a realistic appraisal of the scale of the exercise, and contemporary developments in publishing technology, meant that the intention was revised to a form of electronic publication – in the first instance CD-ROM. At the same time the function of the management committee was upgraded, and Professor Patrick Collinson – at that time Chairman of the Early Modern Section of the Academy – became its chairman, Professor Loades continuing as director of the project.

In 1995 CARP, the Academy’s research supervisory committee, reviewed progress and recommended a phased approach. This would entail dividing the work into three stages, Books 1-4, 5-9 and 10-12, using the 1583 text divisions. It was agreed at the same time that priority should be given to the last section, as being a part that could, if necessary, be free-standing. Professor Collinson had already, and very generously, loaned the project his personal copy of the 1583 edition, with a view to having this unbound and scanned, and it was decided to exploit this unique opportunity by issuing a facsimile of that edition on CD-ROM. The scanning was undertaken at the British Library facility at Boston Spa between 1995 and 1998, defects in the main copy being supplied from other copies at the Library and at Cambridge. The result, which was issued by OUP in 2001, is the only complete text of the 1583 edition, all the surviving originals being defective in some respect.

In 1995 also was held the first John Foxe Colloquium at Magdalene College, Cambridge. This was suggested by Professor Collinson, who also negotiated generous financial support from the Trevelyan Fund of Cambridge University. Some 35 scholars from six countries spent two days discussing the Acts and Monuments, and the resulting papers were published as John Foxe and the English Reformation by Ashgate Press in 1997.

Until 1995 the project had been officially located at the University of Wales, Bangor, where Professor Loades held the Chair of History. However, in that year Professor Loades decided to retire and leave North Wales, necessitating the re-location of the project. After some negotiation the recently established Humanities Research Institute of the University of Sheffield offered its hospitality, having just completed the Hartlib project, and Foxe moved to that location in September 1996. The Institute was able to provide excellent computing and other support services, and a part time transcriber was engaged (soon augmented to two) to speed the process of transcription.

In 1997 a second John Foxe Colloquium was held at Jesus College, Oxford, and the proceedings were published by Ashgate in 1999 as John Foxe: An Historical Perspective. In Sheffield the project settled into a productive routine, and Dr. Newcombe, who was mainly responsible for the facsimile edition, accepted a further three years as Research Assistant. In 1998 it was decided to extend the reach of the project, and to hold a Colloquium in 1999 at the State University of Ohio, to be hosted by Professor John King, Professor of English there and a founding member of the Project Committee. This duly took place, and attracted the unprecedented number of nearly 140 scholars, many of them from the English Language discipline. The papers, edited by John King and Christopher Highley, were published by Ashgate in 2001 as John Foxe and His World.

1999 also marked a major stage in the development of the project in Sheffield. The funding of humanities projects was being taken over by the newly established Arts and Humanities Research Board, and the Foxe Project was invited to apply under the new terms. The application was successful, and later that year the project received significantly increased funding for five years. The two transcribers were transferred to a full-time basis. Dr. Newcombe having decided not to apply for a further extension of his contract, Dr. Tom Freeman was appointed as Research Officer, and Professor Mark Greengrass of the Sheffield History Department joined the Academy Committee.

At that stage it was believed that phase one, covering the years 1553 to 1558 would be completed by the end of 2001, and that the whole task would be finished within the funding period – that is by 2004. However, by the middle of 2001 it had become apparent that this timetable was unrealistic, largely because of the unexpected complexity of the tasks involved in the identification of sources and the preparation of critical commentary. In presenting his annual report, the Director expressed the view that, although it would be possible to complete all transcribing, and the commentary on Books 10-12 by 2004, it would not be possible to complete the project within the funding period. A further application would have to be made in due course.

This was accepted both by the Academy and AHRB. 2001 also saw the publication of the facsimile edition, the proceedings of the 1999 Colloquium, and the holding of a fourth Colloquium, this time at Boston College, in Foxe’s home town in Lincolnshire. The theme of this conference was Foxe’s involvement with European Protestantism, and after the expanded numbers of 1999, attendance reverted to the 35 or so which had been typical of the first two colloquia. The proceedings were published as John Foxe: At Home and Abroad in 2004. At the end of the conference Professor Collinson stood down as chairman of the Academy Committee, and was replaced by Professor Greengrass. The proceedings of the conference were offered as a tribute to Professor Collinson in recognition of his valuable contribution to the project’s success.

2004 turned out to be a challenging year. It had been decided not to hold a regular conference in 2003, because it was anticipated that the whole project team would be extremely busy in that year meeting the agreed production deadlines, but instead to hold it in 2004, when that work was expected to be complete. The conference was duly held, again at Magdalene College Cambridge, thanks to the good offices of Professor Eamon Duffy, the President there. This time it was supported by the Cambridge board for research in the social sciences and humanities (CRASSH), and the theme was ‘John Foxe and the Catholic tradition’. However, the task of completing the editorial work continued to present problems, and it was not until July that a final report could be submitted recording success. This meant in turn that there could be no question of proceeding directly to phase two, because the final report on phase one had to be accepted before the funding for phase two could be applied for. The project team had perforce to be stood down, and ingenious expedients used to keep the project in being until a new funding application could be considered. In this respect the British Academy (whose project it was, and remains) was very helpful.

In November 2004 a new funding application, to complete phase 2 (Books 1-9) in three years was submitted. Professor Loades now being ineligible to be an AHRB fundholder, the position of applicant and Director was taken over by Professor Greengrass, who also managed to keep Dr. Freeman employed upon a parallel project for an edition of the Letters of the Martyrs for the Church of England Record Society, with the support of the Pilgrim Trust.

Eventually, in June 2005 the new Director was informed that his funding application had been successful, and full time work on phase two of the project commenced in October. Completion by 2008 is now an absolute requirement, and in the light of that it has been decided not to attempt any further conferences until the work is finished. It is expected that there will be a concluding colloquium, probably in Sheffield, in that year.

Meanwhile, on the initiative of Professor John King, negotiations are ongoing for the production of a modified print edition, based upon the text of 1570 but incorporating (as far as possible in that medium) the good practice established by the project. It is anticipated that this, if successfully negotiated, will be jointly edited by Professors King and Loades, with the support of an editorial team drawn from those presently engaged in the project. It is not proposed to publish the proceedings of the 2004 colloquium, but in 2002 the Committee decided to transfer the main publication from the intended CD-ROM to an on-line format, and it was in that medium that phase one was published in July 2004. Access is free.

Taken from the Protestant Truth of May-June 2006 (edited by Gordon Murray). This is the third of the fascinating articles that Professor Loades has written in Protestant Truth on the subject of John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments.

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