University of Galway researcher awarded European Research Council Consolidator Grant

Dr Erin McCarthy, a Senior Research Fellow with University of Gawlay's Moore Institute
Feb 02 2023 Posted: 08:19 GMT

University of Galway researcher Dr Erin McCarthy has been awarded a €1.86million grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for a unique project to analyse poetry.

Dr McCarthy, a Senior Research Fellow with the University’s Moore Institute, is one of 321 researchers in the EU to benefit from a €657million fund under the EU Horizon Europe programme.

The researchers are being supported with ERC Consolidator Grants which are aimed at distinguished scientists who have between seven and 12 years’ experience after their PhDs, to help them to pursue their most promising ideas.

Dr McCarthy’s project - Systems of Transmitting Early Modern Manuscript Verse, 1475–1700 (STEMMA) - will run over five years, offering the first large-scale quantitative analysis of the circulation of early modern English poetry in manuscript over more than two centuries.

“Scholars have tended to address individual manuscripts as case studies. Through my research project, STEMMA, our aim is to revolutionise the study of manuscript poetry by taking a data-driven approach to identify patterns and trends at scale,” Dr McCarthy said.

At its centre is the poet John Donne, whose reluctance to circulate his verse makes the survival of at least 4,249 manuscripts of his work all the more puzzling; the poems of his next most-circulated contemporary survive in fewer than 1,000 witnesses.

Dr McCarthy added: “Initially what we’re doing is looking at handwritten collections of poems called manuscript miscellanies to see where there are overlaps in their contents that suggest shared sources or copying. This kind of work has been hard to do for small groups of manuscripts because we often don’t know much about the people who copied them or, in many cases, the poets they’re copying.”

Dr McCarthy has secured permission to use six of the most comprehensive datasets about the contents of early modern manuscripts, about 1 million records in total, in order to understand how poetry circulated in the English-speaking world.

“The idea is that we’ll combine and clean these datasets, assign each poem a unique identifier, and then run network analysis on the poems and manuscripts rather than the people. This may then turn up people, whether or not we know their names,” she said.

Dr McCarthy added: “This research will allow us to see how surviving manuscripts connect, but it will also show us where documents may be missing or overlooked, all of which should change our understanding of who shared early modern English verse in manuscript, how, and to what ends.”

Dr McCarthy first joined University of Galway as a Postdoctoral researcher on Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan’s RECIRC project in 2014. After working as a lecturer and later a senior lecturer in Australia, she return to the University in 2022 as an IRC Consolidator Laureate. The ERC Consolidator Grant will enable Dr McCarthy to build an interdisciplinary team of three postdocs and a PhD student to conduct archival research and computational analysis.


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