About the Letters

Catherine’s thousands of letters, in French, Russian, and German, span her full career, with the earliest known texts dating from 1742 and the last from just before her death in 1796. She corresponded with well-known figures of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Mme Geoffrin; monarchs like Frederick the Great of Prussia and Gustav III of Sweden; lovers like Grigory Potemkin; and a wide range of diplomats and statesmen in her service. Her most extensive and literary correspondence is that with Friedrich Melchior Grimm, a German baron living in Paris for much of his life and whom Catherine took into her service as her primary cultural agent in Europe. The majority of her letters were published in nineteenth-century historical journals (many quite rare) and remain scattered, although some of the most famous correspondences, like those with Voltaire and Potemkin, have appeared in scholarly editions. There is no single print edition or digital repository available.

About the Project

CatCor is a pilot project for a digital database of the letters of Catherine the Great. The project presents a searchable database that demonstrates as its key concept the advantages of uniting in one place her large correspondence and providing the tools to analyse it. As of Autumn 2021, CatCor contains about 1000 letters, drawn from across the years of her reign. The pilot database contains the full text of the letters as printed in the editions currently used by scholars. This selection offers a representative sample of the letters’ treatment of statecraft, foreign policy, internal governance and legislation, and court life. It also represents, we believe, a critical mass of material that can itself be used for research purposes. The letters have all been encoded in TEI XML to adhere to the current standards for digital textual editing. CatCor promises to gather Catherine's correspondence and uniquely to make possible cross-searching, statistical analysis, and new scholarship unthinkable given the current dispersed state of Catherine’s letters. The digital medium allows the corpus and scholarly apparatus to grow and evolve continually as more letters are tagged. Longer term, our aim is to secure funding and to digitize, mark up and annotate all of Catherine’s available letters. This pilot project aims to demonstrate the possibility and the utility of creating a single searchable database of Catherine’s entire corpus of several thousand letters.

About the Content

CatCor is not a critical edition of the correspondence. It aims to make available at least the letters first printed in the disparate nineteenth century editions. While somewhat underused in the scholarship because of their rarity, these historical journals have long been recognised as reliable sources. A number of individual correspondences have more recently appeared in more modern editions, often with helpful annotations. They vastly confirm the accuracy of the nineteenth century printings, revealing minor variations in punctuation and spelling (often a question of deciphering punctuation marks). The older editions serve as the base text for the letters tagged and are produced here. While we have compared these letters to texts offered in more modern editions, we have reproduced the texts exclusively from the older versions, which are out of copyright.

Scans of the older editions have appeared online and users of CatCor will find full bibliographic information in the metadata for each individual letter. But these scans are of varying quality, making them largely unsearchable. This has curtailed their value at a time when the new research tools digital humanities has developed is proving valuable. Given the parity of textual matter between CatCor and the base texts, users who cite the print versions should feel confident that the material here is of equal scholarly value. As CatCor continues to grow, we shall hope to enter into agreements with the publishers of editions of separate correspondences and add their texts.

Catherine’s letters often have a literary quality. But hers is a working correspondence written in reaction to the huge business of running an empire she micro-managed. Her letters are stuffed with information, explicit and implicit, that requires scholarly commentary in order to be understood. The user of the CatCor pilot will find that the vast majority of people, places, and works, as well as many events and organisations, mentioned in the letters have been hyperlinked to pages containing additional information identifying them. Many letters have also been translated into English: both the original texts and the translations are fully searchable. Our aim is to continue add to both the quality and quantity of annotation and eventually to translate the entire corpus.

There is no definitive inventory of the corpus of letters, which may number between 9,000 and 11,000 extant items. The user of this resource will find under the Calendar tab a spreadsheet of the metadata compiled thus far. This is a working list. It contains about 1200 items that represent ‘clean’ data: duplicates have been eliminated and all the listed metadata have been checked against sources; in some cases errors of fact or supposition about dates and places have been corrected. These letters are demarcated as clean. These are also the content letters tagged and searchable in the database. Consequently, users of CatCor can feel reasonably confident that all the metadata displayed in full-text searches is accurate. The remaining lines of metadata related to letters not currently searchable is fallible. We believe it is useful to include the calendar in order to show visitors to the website the scope of the task and be open about work in progress. Links to the source files are supplied in the hope that researchers will follow the trail to letters and alert us about any discrepancies they find when they compare the metadata in our spreadsheet with information in the source edition.

About the Team

Principal Investigators:Andrew Kahn, Professor of Russian Literature, University of Oxford, Fellow, St Edmund Hall; Kelsey Rubin-Detlev, Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Southern California
Scholarly/DH Adviser: Glenn Roe, Professor of Digital Humanities, Sorbonne
Institutional Support: Andrew Breakspear, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford; Megan Gooch, Centre for Digital Scholarship, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Research Assistants and Coders: Jessica Allen, Stephen Ashworth, Olivia Colvill, Lucy Dunlop, Olga Grinchenko, Katherine New, Gabriel O’Regan, Olga Smolyak
Database and Website Designers and Technical Support (this website):Huber Digital
Database and Website Designers and Technical Support (phase one pilot): University of Oxford IT Services (James Cummings, Theodore Koterwas, Andrew Haith, Martin Filliau)
Funders: The British Academy; The Leverhulme Foundation; The Potanin Humanities Fund, St Edmund Hall, Oxford; The John Fell Fund, Humanities Division, University of Oxford; The Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Literatures, University of Oxford