Teaching Bradstreet with Digitized Material

Welcome to this quick and dirty overview of resources and ideas for teaching Anne Bradstreet with digitized material. The material here was discussed at the “Textual Editing and the Future of Scholarly Editions” conference May 25-26, 2021. Specifically, these are tools to allow students to work with texts of the 1650 and 1678 imprints as well as the “Andover manuscript.” Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments at meneuman [at] clarku [dot] edu.

Links to digitization of early editions Anne Bradstreet

Tenth Muse (1650) 1 of 2
Tenth Muse (1650) 2 of 2

Several Poems (1678)

“Andover Manuscript” (1664-1672?)

The Works (1867)


Reading Bradstreet in the seventeenth century (three days in a survey class)


Day one, 1650 Tenth Muse:

Reading instructions:

You can’t read this book cover to cover, but you may want to focus in particular on:

  • The title page
  • Some of the dedicatory poems (the poems up until the Prologue on p 3)
  • The Prologue (p 3)
  • Enough of the four poems known as “the Quarternons” (pp 5-64), with special attention to the “Four Elements” and the “Four Humours,” which you may want to read in their entirety. (You also may want to look up what elements and humours are and how they were related in the seventeenth-century.) 
  • Don’t read cover to cover but take a look at “The Four Monarchies” (p 65) just to see what the topic and style is.
  • Finally, just browse a bit in the final poems (pp 180-207). Just get a sense of the range of topics and styles. If you are curious, go ahead and read one of your choosing that catches your attention.


By first drawing out students’ experiences of reading in the 1650 edition, we covered the basics of the publication history and key issues of women’s writing, as well as close reading the title page and answering questions about what surprised them about early printing (accidentals, catchwords, etc.).


Day two, 1678 Several Poems:

Reading instructions:

Take a look at the front mater to see what is and is not different.

Pay particular attention to poems that are added after the 1650 edition. There are six poems that scholars think she may have intended (before her death) to include in a putative second print edition (maybe all those poems through “The Author to Her Book”?), and a bunch of other quite personal ones that the someone (probably someone in the family?) decided to add after her death. You might want to think separately about the logic of these two different “sets” of poems.

* Six poems were likely intended by Bradstreet to be included in a putative second edition of her poems. These appear after the last poem from the 1650 edition, “David’s Lamentation for Saul and Jonathan,” and include two elegies on the death of her father and mother, respectively, three religious contemplations, and finally “The Author to Her Book.” (Given our conversation on Wednesday, you may be interested to compare the Prologue in the 1650 edition and “The Author to Her Book” from the 1678 edition, which seems to refer to her feelings about the 1650 edition.)
* Fourteen additional poems were “made by the Author upon Diverse Occasions” and “found among her Papers after her Death, which she never meant should come to publick view; among which, these following (at the desire of some friends that knew her well) are here inserted.” (You can see this note on page 237 of Several Poems.)

Take a look at the “Elogy” to her at the end, if you wish.

I recommend the odd kind of apology poem that she adds at the end of the Four Monarchies, where Rome breaks off. See if you can figure out anything about her manuscript process and the relation between manuscript and print from this little poem.

Breakout discussion prompt (dueling Bradstreet apologies)

Look at Bradstreet’s “Prologue” in the 1678 edition (p 3) and compare it to “The Author to Her Book” (p. 216). Have one person read aloud as the others listen.

1.     Paraphrase each poem in ONE sentence. (Put another way, what is Bradstreet’s thesis in each poem?)

2.     Pick one of the two poems and go further. What expectations do they create? Does the rest of the book confirm or contradict those expectations?


Day three, Andover manuscript:

Reading instructions:

You are welcome and encouraged to read the prose, but we will focus mainly on the poetry. Get a sense of what kinds of topics she’s addressing in prose, in any case.

Anne Bradstreet starts this manuscript, but her son, Simon, continues is (that is to say, he copies in more of his mother’s writing in the book after her death). See if you can figure out where her writing ends and Simon’s begins.

Notice on how AB frames the whole manuscript. Keep an eye on how Simon continues the project and how he frames each poem.

Take a look at all the pages, including the markings made over time by various owners and readers (probably all family members) in the book. (Hint: They are not being jerks for writing in there.)

Now, because it’s going to be even harder for you to read 17th-c handwriting than it was 17th-c printing, here are a few poems that you can read online and think about:




In fact, you might want to take a look at what poems are (and are not) included in the Poetry Foundation website. Don’t worry about the lengthy bio/introduction. Mostly just look at what poems are included. How might you read some of these poems differently if you only encounter them online and not in a 17th-c printed book or manuscript?

Breakout discussion prompt (How do we understand Bradstreet’s poems for her family?):

In your group, read the “A Letter to Her Husband” and “Upon the Burning of Our House” aloud.

Choosing one of the two poems as your focus, discuss where the poem first appears and how it is contextualized within the book or manuscript. How does the original framing/location of the poem affect how you read it? What is lost or changed if one were to read the poem only in the online version.

Bonus discussion topic (if you have time): Look to the full list of Bradstreet poems included on PoetryFoundation.org. (Scroll all the way to the bottom of the main author page.) As a group, decide on one poem from any of our three days of reading that was left out but that you would include.



Jumping into the Andover manuscript first (for a print culture seminar):


Reading instructions for the seminar session:

I would like you to read around in the text as much as you like, but I would also like you to read the book artifact, as well. What does that mean exactly?

Reading around: Scholars of book history might call this “discontinuous reading.” Essentially, it’s what you might do when you pick up a print magazine. Usually you don’t read every word front to back (which is likely how you approach a print novel, for example). Rather, you scan the cover and the table contents, you poke around, you start one thing but don’t finish it, something else catches your eye and you devour the whole thing, you flip back and forth throughout, you might reading in one sitting or in many. So that’s what I mean when I say “read around.” You might make an aim to read around for at least a couple of hours in preparation for class.

Reading the book artifact: This is a key skill to develop in any book history or print culture approach. Think not just about the text but about type (or, in the case of a manuscript, ink and handwriting), layout, the dimensionality of the leaf, apparatus in the book to help you navigate it (page or folio numbers, content lists), covers, marks, damage, design, etc. I suggest that you read for the text and for the book artifact simultaneously, though could also focus on one or the other in turn.

A few more point and questions to consider:

Anne Bradstreet starts this manuscript, but her son, Simon, continues it. (That is to say, he copies in more of his mother’s writing in t the book after her death.) See if you can figure out where her writing ends and Simon’s begins. Notice on how AB frames the whole manuscript. Keep an eye on how Simon continues the project and how he frames each poem.

Take a look at all the pages, including the markings made over time by various owners and readers (probably all family members) in the book. (Hint: They are not being jerks for writing in there.)

Take notes as you read around. Please have a good sense of YOUR reading of the text and the book artifact before you jump into the secondary reading:

  • Margaret Olofson Thickstun, “Contextualizing Anne Bradstreet’s Literary Remains: Why We Need a New Edition of the Poems,” Early American Literature 52.2 (2017): 389-422.
  • Jordan Alexander Stein, “How to Undo the History of Sexuality: Editing Edward Taylor’s Meditations,” American Literature 90.4 (December 2018): 753-784.
  • Meredith Marie Neuman, “Manuscript Culture,” A History of American Puritan Literature, eds. Kristina Bross and Abram Van Engen (Cambridge University Press, 2020): 259-274.


For my fall 2020 seminar, which was completely online, we broke the class period into three sections:
> For the first hour we discussed the readings and went over questions and comments about reading the digitized manuscript.
> For the second hour, I introduced the concept of paratext and gave them some basic terminology for thinking about the book object, especially leaf vs page. They then “read around” the digitized 1650 edition for about 30 minutes before coming back to discuss the reading experience.
> For the third hour, we broke into small groups. Half of the groups looked at the digitization of the 1678 edition, while half of the group looked at the digitization of the 1867
Works. Their objective was to think specifically about the ways the latter editions curated a particular view of Bradstreet. One student from each group talked through main points from their respective discussions, while another student from each group posted notes on the conversation on the online course management platform for all to review later.



Comments are closed.