Q&A with Dr. Gregory Kneidel

Today’s post is a Q&A with Dr. Gregory Kneidel, Professor of English, who discusses his recent work with the Variorum edition of the poetry of John Donne. 

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where are you from, and how did you get to UConn?

I grew up in Wichita and went to school in San Antonio and Chicago, then taught for a couple years in Fort Worth before coming to UConn-Hartford in 2001. So a pretty Midwestern background, though of course Texas is just Texas.

  1. Can you tell us about your previous projects?

I wrote a book about Protestant poetics from Spenser to Milton and then a book about John Donne’s verse satires and the English legal tradition (which are more connected in my mind than they seem at first glance). After those two monographs, I got involved in a very different kind of project: I spent about seven years doing textual work for the Donne Variorum, a multi-generational project that started about 30 years ago, won nine NEH grants (I was involved in the last two), and will be officially finished when the final two volumes, containing Donne’s Songs and Sonets, are published this Fall. As Associate General Editor and Principal Textual Editor for the final four volumes, I generated about eight hundred total pages of textual analysis derived from over a thousand individual witnesses in over two hundred early modern manuscripts – honestly, it looks rather more like DNA sequencing than literary criticism. It was all produced in collaboration with a group of scholars from around the world (for years we met twice weekly on Skype and shared documents in Dropbox, which turned out to be good practice for pandemic pedagogy).

  1. What are your current projects?

Even though the Variorum is complete, interesting new textual problems concerning Donne’s poetry will no doubt continue to appear: for example, back in 2018 a manuscript was found with a very large Donne collection (the Melford Hall manuscript, now at the British Library). It became publicly available just this summer, so now I’m trying to figure out how it fits within the known Donne manuscript universe (incidentally, I think it might have emendations in Donne’s hand).

The Variorum also generated a lot of data. Its digital component, DigitalDonne, overlaps slightly with the two other key digital resources for studying early modern manuscript poetry, Peter Beal’s The Catalog of English Literary Manuscripts and the Folger’s Union First Line Index. The data on these three sites are structured differently, but I managed to reconcile them enough so that I’ve got a spread sheet with the bibliographical details of 41,753 individual manuscript copies of early modern poems. I’d like to find a way to visualize them, to do for early modern manuscript poetry what Tudor Networks does for sixteenth-century letters or The Viral Texts Project does for nineteenth-century newspaper articles. Before Covid, a colleague and I were scheduled to attend a couple Digital Humanities conferences in order to shop this data around to people with stronger DH skills. Hopefully we can relaunch once we are allowed to travel again. Next spring the Folger is running a seminar on “Digital Projects as Early Modern Research Objects” and it may be interesting to think about DD, CELM, and UFFI as research objects in their own right.

Finally, it’s more of a pedagogical project, but UConn’s lovely new campus in Hartford is right across the street from the Wadsworth Atheneum (I brag to my friends that I have a very short “office to Picasso” commute). I try to take my classes there at least once or twice a semester, so I’d like to develop a more specialized class on literature and museum culture.

  1. What sparked your interest in pursuing your current project?

Well, I got very involved with the John Donne Society and that’s how I got recruited into the Variorum project once many of the original researchers involved with it started to retire. It has been important for me to have a core group of supportive colleagues and a defined research agenda (a crew and an archive, as it were). I didn’t know I’d be studying early modern manuscript poetry ten years ago, but a lot of it is just getting to work with people that you like.

  1. What are your other interests?

I ride my bicycle a lot and chaperone my dogs around our neighborhood. I sit in the East Stands at Hartford Athletic matches (and probably watch too much European football, but at least I don’t have to stay up late). But more than anything I like to travel with my wife and eat spicy food and stare at art.


Check out the final volume of the Donne Variorum here!