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Collection of British and American Fiction, 1660-1830

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  • Title page for Constantia, or, The distress'd friend : a novel.
    Constantia, or, The distress'd friend: a novel (Dublin 1769-1770)
  • Title page for The perfidious P--- : being letters from a nobleman to two ladies
    The perfidious P--- : being letters from a nobleman to two ladies (1702)
  • Title page for The Unfortunate Dutchess (1739)
    The Unfortunate dutchess, or, The lucky gamester : a novel (London 1739)
The University of Pennsylvania Libraries' Collection of British and American Fiction comprises over three thousand works that together form a rich teaching and research collection of early fiction in English, strong in both canonical authors and little-known titles. While drawing from the general Rare Books Collection as well as several smaller named collections, its core is the Singer-Mendenhall Collection, built through the combined efforts of a University of Pennsylvania graduate student and professor in the first half of the twentieth century.

Collection overview and information for researchers

The British and American fiction collection may best be described as a collection of collections. As part of initial work for The Early Novels Database project (see below), works of fiction located in the rare book holdings of the Kislak Center were identified and assigned this collection title. Because terms like "fiction" and "novel" can be hard to categorize and difficult to identify using traditional library cataloging methods, this collection name was intended as a guide to aid researchers in pulling together broad categories of early modern writing in English that we would now consider to be fiction, regardless of how early readers labeled it.

Researchers can browse through the list of cataloged titles, over three thousand, in the online catalog, Franklin. All titles may be consulted in person in the Kislak Center reading room.

Digital facsimiles

Over one hundred unique and significant works from the collection have been fully digitized and are available through the Library website Print at Penn.

Collection history

The core of this collection is the Singer-Mendenhall Collection, built through the combined efforts of a University of Pennsylvania graduate student and professor in the first half of the twentieth century. Godfrey F. Singer and John C. Mendenhall each accumulated working collections of mainly epistolary fiction; Singer's parents donated his books to the University of Pennsylvania Library after his death in 1934, and Mendenhall added his library in 1950. Since then, the Singer-Mendenhall Collection has augmented its initial strengths in epistolary fiction with rare, non-canonical works published by female or anonymous authors.

Additional materials are located in the general Rare Book Collection, the Teerink Collection, the Edwin Forrest Library, and in other collections.

The Early Novels Database

The Early Novels Database (END) project is a bibliographic database, and an ongoing collaborative digital humanities teaching and research initiative. The project, begun in 2009, is led by Rachel Buurma (Swarthmore College) and Jon Shaw (Penn Libraries). Student research is an essential part of the project, and undergraduate and graduate students have participated in the work of metadata creation since the project's inception.

END generates high-quality metadata about novels published between 1660 and 1850 in order to make early works of fiction more available to both traditional and computational modes of humanistic study. By uniting twenty-first-century database and search technologies with the sensibility of eighteenth-century indexing practices, END creates several innovative access points to a dataset that currently includes over two thousand richly detailed records. END metadata records and encodes information about how early novels instruct readers about themselves, carefully noting prefaces, introductions, and dedications; tables of contents and indexes; full titles and footnotes buried deep within the text. Each record includes both discursive descriptions of copy-specific information and codified languages that enable nimble search.

When completed, the database will include records of more than 3,000 novels and fictional narratives by canonical authors such as Daniel Defoe to Jane Austen as well as less well-known novelists like Mary Brunton and Mary Walker. Users will be able to perform both keyword and faceted searches across bibliographic records containing both edition-specific and copy-specific information about each novel.

Institutional partners on the END project include Swarthmore College; Bryn Mawr College; Haverford College; the Library Company of Philadelphia; the Rosenbach Museum & Library; and the Fales Library at New York University.

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