The Corvey library, as it exists today, was largely the creation of Victor Amadeus, Landgraf of Hesse-Rotenburg (1779-1834). At Castle Corvey, his residence near H÷xter in Westphalia, Germany, he amassed a great collection of books, 72,000 volumes in all, including 35,000 volumes in German, 20,000 in French, and 15,000 in English. The prominence of English-language publications within the collection may have been due in part to the tastes of his second wife, Elise, Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1790-1830), whose cousin married into the British royal family.
After the Landgraf's death, the library remained undisturbed and almost forgotten until the 1980s, when scholars became aware of its historical and literary significance. Projekt Corvey at the University of Paderborn began the work of cataloguing, and have arranged production of a series of facsimile editions in microfiche: belles-lettres (in collaboration with the publisher Belser Wissenschftlicher Dienst), travel writing, and history and biography (both sections by the publisher Georg Olms Verlag).
The Corvey Microfiche Edition of belles-lettres in English, on which the Sheffield Hallam Corvey Project is based, contains poetry, drama, short story collections, and some literary periodicals, chapbooks, memoirs, and travel journals; but above all, novels. As a record of Romantic-era fiction in Britain the Corvey collection is unsurpassed, containing hundreds of rare works and a number that can be found nowhere else.
Sheffield Hallam University was the first institution outside Germany to acquire the English belles-lettres section of the Corvey Microfiche Edition, in 1994. The following year, it won funding from the British Academy (now the Arts and Humanities Research Board) for a four-year project on Romantic-era women's writing, based on the facsimiles. In 1996 two full-time research fellows were appointed - Dr. Emma Clery and Dr. Glenn Dibert-Himes - who have worked in collaboration with other Romantic-era and women's writing specialists in the department: Professor Robert Miles, Dr. Philip Cox, Dr. Lisa Hopkins, Dr. Mary Peace, Professor Sara Mills, and Visiting Professor Stephen Behrendt of University of Nebraska. For the final year of current project (1999-2000), Professor Julie Shaffer, of University of Wisconsin has replaced Dr. Dibert-Himes.
The project was envisaged from the start as a combination of traditional scholarship and new digital technology. The information and interpretations arising from the study of the women's writing found in the collection are to be disseminated by means of the World Wide Web. The defining aim of the Sheffield Hallam Corvey Project was very broad at the outset: to 'map women's writing' in the period from about 1790 to 1835 using the unique resource of the Corvey Microfiche Edition, and to disseminate the findings by means of digital technology. The result has been Corvey Women Writers on the Web: an electronic guide to literature 1796-1834. This contains a range of material on the 1,071 female-authored works in the collection, and the 420 women writers represented there (more than twice the number from the period found in the best existing reference guide, the Feminist Companion to Literature in English).
In the first two years, a standard catalogue of women's belles-lettres writing in the CME was established, with the assistance of Projekt Corvey at the University of Paderborn, headed by Professor Rainer Shoewerling, and Cardiff Corvey, headed by Dr. Peter Garside. The Sheffield Hallam Corvey Project website has been developing over this period, to incorporate catalogue information, news, related links, and above all new research. A number of events, conferences and symposia, have been used to introduce the Project, and provided opportunities to develop cooperative ties with other projects and individual scholars in the field. An 'Adopt an Author' scheme has been initiated to involve undergraduates in research, and a number of doctoral students within the department have begun exploring different aspects of the collection.