Encoding Working Lives Linking Labor, Office, and Religion in 18th-century Manuscript Collections

1. Abstract

This paper will detail the development of an ontology that reflects the complex relationship between concepts of labor and office in the 18th century Moravian ego-documents of Fulneck, Yorkshire. Undertaking this type of rich and subject-driven data mining permits the exploration of the relationship between forms of labor in Moravian congregations and their relationship to a broader understanding of work in the 18th century. It also provides a platform for further investigation of contemporary religious societies.

Historically, the membership of the Moravian Church in the United Kingdom, like the Methodist Church of the Wesleys, has been seen as consisting primarily of men and women from the working class whose artisan and laborer skills were fundamentally redeployed by the advent of large-scale industrial production in the North of England. Thanks to the Moravian custom of writing a memoir these working people left autobiographical documents that include details of their working lives. For the most part unstudied, these English-language memoir collections provide historians with a treasure-trove of new archival material, written by the working-class members of the church.

Recent scholarship on the intersection of gender, industry and religion (See Hammond and Forsaith, 2011) has begun to explore how these concepts were transformed by the early Industrial Revolution and provide a welcome revision to the dominant historiographical narrative of the British working class. (As inscribed by E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, 1963.) This corpus of unpublished and mostly uncatalogued material allows us to examine the sentiments directed towards labor and office respectively.

Since 2014, the Moravian Lives project (moravianlives.org) has undertaken the work of transcribing, encoding, and data-mining the memoirs written by thousands of Moravians in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Recently the project team has turned its attention to the English congregations, with a focus on revealing prosopographical information within of the memoirs.

Using the Fulneck memoirs as our corpus, we have begun the process of harvesting this prosopographical data through semantic text encoding  detailed personography, minting unique identifiers and capturing data about key life and religious events. In the process of so doing, we have realized that we were also producing unique ontology of Moravian offices and occupations undertaken by these Moravians, within their community and within broader regional context. (See Eide, and Ciotti and Tomasi for an outline of challenges of using TEI XML for this kind of intensive semantic work.and data modeling.)

By July 2020 the Moravian Lives project team will be able to report on the status of the prosopography and ontology. More importantly, we will be able to present initial analysis of the connections this work enables us to reveal - between male and female members of the “economies”, the shifts we detect in types of labour from the 1740s through the 1790s, and how this methodological approach might be used as a model for other research projects focusing on concurrent evangelist movements, and those concentrating more broadly on related themes and trends to do with the Industrial Revolution.


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Diane K. Jakacki (dkj004@bucknell.edu), Bucknell University, United States of America, Katherine Mary Faull (faull@bucknell.edu), Bucknell University, United States of America and Justin Schaumberger (jes083@bucknell.edu), Bucknell University, United States of America

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