Friday, 12 October 2018

Science in Early Modern Sermons

Historians who study science and religion in the early modern period have rarely given sermons the attention they deserve. And since manuscript sermons are less accessible than their printed counterparts, references to these sources are particularly rare. Yet sermons represent an important point of contact between sacred and secular studies. Indeed, several of the preachers in the GEMMS database were closely connected to the world of science and had much to say about subjects that connected natural philosophy and theology. Sermons allowed these scholars to explore the theological implications of scientific and mathematical ideas, and to communicate their thoughts on these matters to an audience outside the republic of letters. Thus, by considering the sermons of scientifically-minded preachers in the GEMMS database, we can glean insights about how members of the public might have encountered ideas in mathematics and natural philosophy.

As it happens, the GEMMS database includes three of the most significant English mathematicians of the seventeenth century. The first of these is Isaac Barrow (1630-1677), Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. Barrow went on to become Master of Trinity College in 1673, but not before recommending his friend Isaac Newton as his successor to the Lucasian chair. Among the highlights of Barrow’s mathematical career are his English edition of Euclid’s Elements (1656) and his set of Geometrical Lectures (1670) which included his novel method for finding the slopes of tangents. Today, Barrow is best known for his mathematics, but he was just as passionate about his work as a divine. Created D.D. in 1666 and made a royal chaplain to King Charles II in 1670, Barrow was a prolific preacher whose sermons have been published many times since his untimely death in 1677.[1] So far, one full sermon by Barrow appears in the GEMMS database (BL Lansdowne MS 356, ff. 58v-69v; GEMMS-SERMON-008120) along with notes on three of his sermons taken by Joseph Keble (Bodleian MS. Rawl. E. 208, pp. 301-309, 474-480, 491-502; GEMMS-SERMON-000426).

Isaac Barrow’s sermon on Acts 3:18 © The British Library. MS Lansdowne 356 f. 58v

The second of these mathematician-preachers is John Wallis (1616-1703), Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford. He, too, is remembered for his impact on Newton’s career: the groundbreaking algebraic methods in Wallis’s Arithmetica infinitorum (1655) partly inspired Newton’s development of calculus. Like Barrow, Wallis is mainly known for his mathematics, but he also flourished as a theologian and preacher. He served as a scribe for the Westminster Assembly of Divines, was created D.D. in 1654, and published sermons and theological treatises throughout his career.[2] Many of Wallis's manuscript sermons were unpublished during his lifetime, but they were published in a posthumous collection in 1791, including the only one currently in the GEMMS database (Bodleian MS. Add. D. 105, ff. 134r-144v; GEMMS-SERMON-000594).

Finally, the database includes a volume of sermons by the London-based mathematician John Pell (1611-1685). Pell made his mark on the scholarly world by teaching mathematics on the Continent and by studying logarithms, a powerful new tool in seventeenth-century mathematics.  But he published little on mathematics and even less on theology, and in both fields he has slipped into the historiographical background. Pell entered the clergy in the 1660s, but his sermons, unlike those of Barrow and Wallis, have never been published.[3] The sermons in the GEMMS database (BL Add MS 4334; GEMMS-SERMON-000753) have rarely received scholarly attention.

As these three prominent cases show, early modern men who were so inclined could pursue both a mathematical and an ecclesiastical career, either at the same time or successively. Furthermore, each of these mathematical divines studied natural philosophy and was admitted to the Royal Society—in fact, Wallis was among the founding members. It is perhaps inevitable that scholars like these, who had a passion for secular subjects as well as sacred ones, sometimes let their thoughts on science and mathematics slip into their sermons.

Barrow, for instance, occasionally addressed secular subjects in his preaching. As Irène Simon has discussed, Barrow’s sermons are erudite but approachable, including classical references and everyday experiences in equal measure.[4] Accordingly, he makes references to natural philosophy, but these are easy to follow. For instance, in his sermon on Proverbs 4:23 (“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” [KJV]), one of those attended by Keble, Barrow cites the opinion of “Aristotle himself … that the heart, that material part and principal entrail of our body, is the chief seat of the soul, and immediate instrument of its noblest operations”[5] — a view that helps him to make sense of this passage on the importance of the heart.

On the other hand, in another sermon attended by Keble (on Psalms 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” [KJV]), Barrow makes a long digression on the vanity of secular learning, including “natural experiments.”[6] As Barrow explains, there is no problem with secular knowledge itself: the problem arises when one shows “intemperate ardour toward it, pride and conceitedness upon having it or seeming to have it, [or] envy and emulation about it.”[7] Earthly knowledge might be useful now, but not in the world to come,
in that new, so different, state; where none of our languages are spoken; none of our experience will suit; where all things have quite another face, unknown, unthought of by us; where Aristotle and Varro shall appear mere idiots; Demosthenes and Cicero shall become very infants; where all our authors shall have no authority; where we must all go fresh to school again; must unlearn, perhaps, what in these misty regions we thought ourselves best to know, and begin to learn what we not once even dreamed of.[8]
Despite his passionate pursuit of mathematical knowledge, then, Barrow evidently felt that such earthly matters wouldn’t matter much in the end.

Natural philosophy again enters Barrow’s preaching when he comments on Epicureanism, a subject that interwove science, metaphysics, and theology. Epicurean philosophy held that the universe was eternal and uncreated, and the world that we know resulted from random collisions between atoms. This materialist philosophy left little room for God, providence, or Christian morality. Such ancient atomic theories had an enormous impact on natural philosophy in Barrow’s time, but Epicureanism in particular continued to scandalize Christian readers. Barrow railed against the Epicureans in several sermons, complaining of their “enterprize of subduing religion”[9] and claiming that they “have earnestly plodded, and strained their wits, to exclude God from any inspection or influence upon our affairs.”[10]

Likewise, Wallis denounces Epicurean materialist philosophy in a sermon published under the title The Life of Faith (1684). Here Wallis rejects the view that the world resulted from a “Fortuitous Concurse of Atomes”, a position rooted in ancient philosophy,
Which yet the Wits of this Age, as they would be thought, (or the Fools rather,) would now cry-up as the more Rational [explanation for the world’s existence] (Without considering, If they must at lest allow Eternity to Matter; why not rather, to a Wise and Knowing Agent:) Only because their Wickedness, hath made them think it their Interest, That there be no God (to call them to account for it:) And therefore would fain perswade themselves, That there is none. And think there is nothing so Absurd, which they would not rather Beleeve, than That there is a God.[11]
For Wallis, it was excusable for the ancients Greeks to conclude that the world was eternal and uncreated since they had no knowledge of Scripture. However, since Christian society had been given God’s own account of Creation, modern-day Epicureans are fools who should know better.

Despite his harsh criticism of materialists and Epicureans, Wallis was an avid student of both ancient and modern natural philosophies, and he sometimes incorporated his extensive knowledge of nature into his sermons. In his sermon listed in the GEMMS database, preached on Canticles 1:4 (“Draw me, we will run after thee” [KJV]), Wallis uses metaphors based on natural things to explain how God draws in believers. Such metaphors were one of his preferred techniques for explaining theological ideas. First, Wallis explains God’s pull on believers in the language of Aristotelian philosophy, arguing that it is “a violent motion” whose mover or efficient cause is God himself.[12] Then he proceeds to compare this motion to the phenomenon of magnetism:
This magnetical attraction, that I spoke of just now, this motus sympathiæ, must be at a convenient distance: lay the iron and the loadstone close together; and you will see no motion, because they are already conjoined, and need it not. Again, lay it at too great a distance, and then it moves not neither, because not within reach of the magnet’s virtue. And so here, some there are at so great a distance from God, that for their parts they scarcely know whether there is a God or no, only as others, and things around them, tell them so; and then they take it upon trust; so that there is in these a distance too great to be drawn by this magnetic attractive virtue. On the other hand, the time will come, when those that now run after him shall attain to him; and instead of desiring him, shall embrace him (in fruition) and then the motion will be ended.[13]
Later in the sermon he compares God’s drawing believers in to the sun’s effect on water during evaporation: “Earthly vapours cannot ascend so high as the middle region, except the sun draws them ... Nor can we so much as look towards heaven, but that God must draw us.”[14]

Examples like these demonstrate two of the reasons why early modern preachers included natural philosophy in their sermons. Firstly, preachers used their platform to decry ideas about the natural world that they viewed as dangerous. Secondly, knowledge of nature could help to clarify theological ideas and make them relatable. However, preachers like Barrow and Wallis might not have been typical in this regard: these were scholars with particularly close ties to the world of science and mathematics. We would need a much longer study to determine how many preachers made connections like these between the sacred and the secular, and how often they did so.

The GEMMS database would be an ideal starting point for such an in-depth study. In the first place, GEMMS can direct researchers toward sermons, like those of Pell, that have never been printed and have rarely been studied. In addition, GEMMS has many records of drafts and copies of sermons that would later be printed. By comparing different versions of a sermon, we might find that an author (or an editor) decided to trim or augment the scientific content for the published version. Finally, GEMMS can point readers toward sources like Keble’s notes that reflect how listeners responded to these ideas—including, for instance, whether they too were scandalized by Epicureanism, and whether they even paid attention to these parts of the sermon. In any case, sermons certainly warrant further study by scholars of science and religion in the early modern period.


[1] Mordechai Feingold, “Barrow, Isaac (1630–1677),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004. (Accessed 16 Aug 2018).

[2] Domenico Bertoloni Meli, “Wallis, John (1616–1703),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004. (Accessed 16 Aug 2018).

[3] Christoph J. Scriba, “Pell, John (1611–1685),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004. (Accessed 16 Aug 2018); Mordechai Feingold, Parallel Lives: The Mathematical Careers of John Pell and John Wallis,” The Huntington Library Quarterly 69 (2006): 451-468.

[4] Irène Simon,“The Preacher.” in Mordechai Feingold, ed. Before Newton: The Life and Times of Isaac Barrow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 303-32.

[5] Alexander Napier, ed. The Theological Works of Isaac Barrow, 9 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1859), III, 198.

[6] Napier, III, 266.

[7] Napier, III, 266.

[8] Napier, III, 267.

[9] Napier, I, 215.

[10] Napier, I, 450.

[11] John Wallis, The Life of Faith. In Two Sermons to the University of Oxford, at St. Mary’s Church There; on the 6th. of January, 1683/4. and June the 29th. Following (London, 1684), 29.

[12] John Wallis, Sermons: Now First Printed from the Original Manuscripts of John Wallis, D. D., edited by W. Wallis (London, 1791), 92.

[13] Wallis, Sermons, 94-95.

[14] Wallis, Sermons, 111.

~ Adam Richter

Saturday, 21 April 2018

GEMMS Online Launch

GEMMS is excited to announce the launch of our website and online database on April 21, 2018. The website is freely available through Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance hosted by the University of Toronto ( The website provides information about the project as well as links to related resources and access to the database. The database currently includes bibliographic information about 10,882 sermons and 55 reports of sermons from 680 manuscripts in 22 repositories in the United Kingdom and North America. These numbers are continually growing as our team adds new data.

GEMMS Advanced Search

Recently, our Research Assistants in England, Catherine Evans and Hannah Yip, have been conducting research at repositories including the London Metropolitan Archives, Sheffield Archives, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Thoresby Society Archives. Over the next several months, Jeanne and Anne will be travelling to libraries and archives in Ireland, Scotland, and London. Meanwhile, our Iter Fellows, Adam Richter and David Robinson, have been busy adding data from North American repositories and expanding location and biographical data in records.

GEMMS Manuscript Record

Our two main emphases over the coming year are making sermon scholars aware of this new resource and facilitating processes to allow these scholars to contribute their own data.

Public access to the database will be launched at the Canada Milton Seminar on April 21 in a presentation conducted by the Iter Fellows ( We are grateful to Professor Paul Stevens for offering us this opportunity. On May 28, Jeanne and Anne will introduce the project at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in a joint session of the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies and the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities ( Catherine Evans and Mathilde Zeeman are currently organizing a one-day workshop, “Early Modern Sermons: Performances and Afterlives,” on November 2, 2018, at the University of Sheffield (proposals are due by May 21, 2018 to where Catherine and Hannah hope to introduce the database to more scholars in the UK.

Our second focus is on enabling all users to be able to contribute data to the database. At this stage, contributors may download and fill in a template on the website and submit it to the project via email ( GEMMS Research Assistants will then enter the information in the database, and contributors will be acknowledged for their contributions. At a later date, we hope to update this process to make it easier for contributors to submit data.

The GEMMS project was formally launched on May 4, 2017, at Dr. Williams’s Library in London, and we are grateful to the staff there, especially Jane Giscombe and Dr. David Wykes for their enthusiastic support of this initiative. Jane created the design for the website home page, while Dr. Jon Bath and Dr. Brent Nelson at the University of Saskatchewan designed the website and database and have worked tirelessly to create an effective user interface. Iter has supported this initiative with research fellowships as well as providing ongoing hosting of the site, and we appreciate the ongoing support we have received from Dr. William Bowen and Dr. Ray Siemens. Members of our board have offered helpful feedback as well as contributing data, while our research associate, Dr. Jennifer Farooq, continues to efficiently perform administrative tasks and supervise our research assistants.

Friday, 23 March 2018

GEMMS Launch in Toronto and Online

GEMMS is looking forward to our launch, taking place on 21 April 2018 at the Canada Milton Seminar in Toronto.

The seminar is hosted by the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at Victoria University in the University of Toronto.  Our presentation will be from 9:oo to 10:00 am in Old Victoria College Room 115. We hope to see you there!

For more details, see the seminar program at:

If you can't make it to Toronto, please join us on social media as we also launch GEMMS online. The GEMMS website and database are ready to go and will be accessible online from 21 April.

Our database now includes information on almost 700 manuscripts and over 10,000 individual sermons. The manuscripts range from beautiful fair copies of complete sermons to notebooks containing hastily scrawled notes by auditors. While most were preached in the British Isles, a few come from North America. GEMMS now includes manuscripts housed in repositories in England, Wales, Scotland, and the United States.

What comes next?

Following our launch, the database – via our new website – will be available to researchers for searching, as we continue to add new records. Users will be able to search the database for sermons by specific preachers, on specific texts or on specific occasions, as well as by date and preaching location. Users also will be able to search by sermon type (notes, outlines, drafts, autograph copies), repository, and genre (e.g. funeral sermons). The website includes Search FAQs and a Search Guide to help refine your searches. We anticipate that in the following months researchers will let us know what features they find useful and suggest future enhancements and searching capabilities.

Users also will be able to contribute their own data by submitting a form available on the website. GEMMS researchers will enter your data and publicly credit you for your contribution(s).

This is only the first stage in our plan for engaging with sermon scholars. We are working on the next stage, which will allow users contributing data to retain their own collections within the database, as well as to offer corrections and additions to existing records. Our hope is that this stage of the project will provide opportunities for researchers to share information and collaborate in new ways across disciplinary and geographic boundaries.

As we attempt to engage with researchers who will find our data useful, we encourage them to visit our social media sites and spread the word via Twitter about our new resource. (@GEMMS_sermons).

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Funeral Sermons for Women: Celebrating GEMMS Sermon #10000

GEMMS has now added its 10,000th sermon, a funeral sermon commemorating Bridget, viscountess Beaumont, who was buried at South Carlton, Lincolnshire, on 1 June 1640. Since funeral sermons are among the most common sermon genres in the database (258 to date), this one is an appropriate choice to mark this milestone in our progress. These artefacts add substantially to the study of funeral sermons in general, and especially of women as subjects of sermons, a study that has generated vigorous historiographical debate about their value as historical and biographical sources.[1] In examining a religious culture where women were regularly praised in funeral sermons (often commissioned by their grieving husbands) for their domestic virtues (as good daughters, wives, and mothers) and as models of pious “mediocrity,” one can only celebrate access to an increasing archive of sermons that have survived in manuscript, although never printed. This sermon is one of 84 funeral sermons for women currently in GEMMS, and these sermons may help develop and complicate our understanding of this elusive and disputed genre.

This sermon also illustrates the mysteries that remain to be unravelled as researchers use the GEMMS database to locate and examine the sermons themselves. Both library catalogues and the headings of sermons provide varying amounts of preaching information, often frustratingly incomplete. While most preachers and auditors of funeral sermons did record the subject’s name, often along with the date and location of the sermon, many subjects of manuscript funeral sermons have left no other traces of their lives. For example, we are unlikely to learn much about the Mrs. Roe (or Row) whose funeral sermon was preached by Nathaniel Harding in Plymouth on 7 December, 1690 (GEMMS-SERMON-003708), although we can use the sermon to confirm and/or qualify conclusions about the generic characteristics of funeral sermons.

The situation of GEMMS-SERMON-010000 is more unusual: an identifiable subject commemorated by an obscure preacher. The sermon appears in the British Library’s Sloane MS 1470, and the library’s manuscript catalogue provides a full description of both the sermon and its accompanying material:
A Commemoracion of the Right Honourable the Lady Bridget Viscountess Beaumont, the truly pious, virtuous and loyal consort of the Right Honourable Sapcotes Lord Viscount Beaumont of Swords, delivered at her funerall in the parish church of South Carlton, (the antient burying place of her worthy progenitors) upon Munday the first of June, anno Domini, 1640, by John Hodgson, Rector of Motton; written Aug. 3 1658, by me Wm. Bannister.' ff. 249-267.
Prefixed are dedicatory letters from Wm. Bannister, to Mrs. Anna Simpson, dat. London, 3 Aug. 1658, and from John Hodgson to Sir Thomas Monson, Bart., dat. Motton, 19 Jan. 1640; and at the end are two letters from the last named writer upon the same date, the first to Thomas, John, and Elizabeth, children of Sapcotes Viscount Beaumont of Swords, by Bridgett, daughter of Sir Thomas Monson, Bart., the second to Ursula, wife of Sir John Monson, K. B.[2]
The deceased was the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Monson and the first wife of Sapcote Beaumont, whom she married on 28 May, 1632, as well as the mother of three children. Her father was a man of some notoriety. Having risen to prominence in Lincolnshire under Queen Elizabeth, he had progressed to national offices under James I through the patronage of Henry Howard, earl of Northampton. His rising career hit a snag, however, when he was implicated in the Overbury affair after fulfilling Frances Howard’s request that he recommend Richard Weston as Overbury’s keeper. Although pardoned in 1617, Monson never quite got his career, or his finances, back on track.[3]

The preacher, John Hodgson, cannot be identified with certainty. The catalogue record identifies him variously as rector of Motton or Moulton, Lincolnshire, but he does not appear in the list of ministers at Moulton in The Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd). He cannot be the John Hodgisson appointed rector at Morton in 1562, but the name may suggest a family connection to this area.[4] The most likely candidate for the preacher of this sermon seems to be a John Hodgson ordained by William Laud and instituted rector at Burton by Lincoln in 1628. As Burton was the home of the Beaumonts it seems reasonable that the local rector would have been selected to preach the funeral sermon at nearby South Carlton, where Lady Beaumont was buried among her ancestors.

The various dedicatory letters Hodgson prepared in January 1640/41 suggest that he hoped either for encouragement to print the sermon or for some other form of patronage. If these were his motives, however, it is odd that he addressed these letters not, as might have been expected, to the widower, but to the deceased’s father, her sister-in-law, Ursula Monson, and her three children. With the possible exception of Ursula Monson, none of these individuals were in positions to assist the preacher. Thomas Monson, who was in poor health, would die in May 1641, while Lady Beaumont’s children were all under eight years old. Ursula’s husband, however, would become Sir John Monson when he inherited his father’s baronetcy a few months later, and had already established his loyalty to Archbishop Laud by participating in a controversy over John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, and would offer legal advice to Charles I during the civil wars.[5] Although the sermon never seems to have been printed, if the identification of Hodgson above is correct, then he may have received some benefit from the sermon, since in 1642 he resigned at Burton to become rector of Donington, Lincolnshire, where he apparently remained until 1669.[6]

The sermon’s paratexts present other puzzles involving the motives of William Banister (1614/15-1685) of Turkdean, Gloucestershire, who copied the sermon eighteen years later, on 3 August, 1658, and penned a new dedication to a Mrs. Anna Simpson. The occasion may have been the death of Sapcote Beaumont that year, but Banister’s connection to the deceased and her family is unclear, although there may be a family relationship through a Dorothy Banister in the sixteenth century, whose first husband was Thomas Monson of Belton.[7] Anna Simpson remains unidentified. The fact that the sermon was recopied and newly dedicated is important in revealing how complex the transmission history of such a text might be. Even if we cannot yet identify motives and connections to explain the fact, we can register this history, and investigate further into the ways in which this manuscript found its way into the Sloane collection.

The library catalogue describes Lady Beaumont in conventional terms as a “truly pious, virtuous and loyal consort” to her husband. One additional piece of information provided by the manuscript heading is the biblical text, 2 Corinthians 4:17 (For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison), which also seems conventional rather than offering any clues about the deceased. Only a reading of the sermon and the paratexts will show whether Hodgson’s commemoration reveals anything of her as a person.

While some of the funeral sermons for women in the GEMMS database commemorate upper class women like Bridget Beaumont or the wives of well-known preachers, such as Philip Henry’s wife Katherine,[8] we hope that the database’s identification of sermons preached for Mrs. Roe and other anonymous women – few of which would ever be printed – will increase our understanding of funeral sermons for women, of their transmission in manuscript, and of a religious culture with roots in a wider range of classes, social contexts, and religious piety than hitherto known to scholars.


[1] Patrick Collinson, “‘A Magazine of Religious Patterns’: An Erasmian Topic Transposed in English Protestantism,” in his Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism (London: Hambledon Press, 1983), 499-525; Peter Lake, “Feminine Piety and Personal Potency: The Emancipation of Mrs. Jane Ratcliffe,” The Seventeenth Century 2 (1987): 143-165; Eric Carlson, “English Funeral Sermons as Sources: The Example of Female Piety in pre-1640 Sermons,” Albion 32.4 (2000): 567-97; Lyndell O’Hara, “Far Beyond Her Nature and Sex”: The Making of a Protestant Hagiography, 1590-1640, PhD diss. (Fordham University, 2006); Ralph Houlbrooke, Death, Religion, and the Family in England, 1480-1750 (Oxford: OUP, 1998); Jeanne Shami, “Reading Funeral Sermons for Early Modern English Women: Some Literary and Historiographical Challenges,” in Arthur Marotti and Chanita Goodblatt, eds., Religious Diversity and Early Modern English Texts: Catholic, Judaic, Feminist, and Secular Dimensions (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2013), 282-308.

[2] British Library, “Sloane 1470,” in Explore Archives and Manuscripts, (Accessed 16 July 2017).

[3] Alastair Bellany, “Monson, Sir Thomas, first baronet (1563/4–1641),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn, Jan. 2008. (Accessed 16 July 2017).

[4] Moulton (CCEd Location ID: 172889),” and “Morton (CCEd Location ID: 8335),” The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835 (CCEd) (Accessed 17 July 2017).

[5] Bertha Porter, “Monson, Sir John, second baronet (1599–1683),” rev. Sean Kelsey, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn, Jan. 2008. (Accessed 17 July 2017).

[6] This information is pieced together from three separate records in the CCEd (Person IDs 80933, 98863, and 146188). The date of resignation from Burton by Lincoln (20 April 1642) in record 98863 matches the date of institution at Donington in record 146188, which indicates that the records refer to the same person. He also may be the John Hodgson admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1623 who graduated BA from Clare College (1626/27) and MA in 1630 (A Cambridge Alumni Database, [Accessed 17 July 2017]).

[7] The marriage produced two daughters, Margaret born in 1562 and Dorothy born in 1574, A. R. Maddison, Lincolnshire Pedigrees (London: Harleian Society, 1902), 2.681.

[8] There are two funeral sermons for Katherine Henry in GEMMS: two witnesses of a sermon by Samuel Benion (GEMMS-SERMON-002401 and GEMMS-SERMON-007569) and one witness of a sermon by Matthew Henry (GEMMS-SERMON-oo7570).

~ Anne James and Jeanne Shami

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Job Opportunity: GEMMS Research Assistant in the UK

Deadline extended: Applications will be accepted until October 31, 2017.

The Gateway to Early Modern Manuscript Sermons project is seeking a student enrolled in a UK PhD program in a related field of study (including but not limited to early modern English literature, social, political, and religious history, theology, and book history) to assist with data collection. The duration of the position is twelve months, with a 3-month probationary period. There is a possibility of extending the contract. We estimate that the researcher will work approximately 20 hours per month during the term of the contract, though the number of hours is negotiable with the principal researchers.

The purpose of this project is to develop a group-sourced online bibliographic database of early modern (1530-1715) sermon manuscripts in the UK and North America. The role of the Research Assistant is primarily to collect metadata for the database in selected UK repositories identified by the principal researchers. The Research Assistant also may have the opportunity to present research, contribute to social media to promote the database, and conduct workshops for groups of potential contributors and users.


Collect metadata on sermon manuscripts at libraries and archives in the UK (repositories to be selected in consultation with the principal researchers) and enter this data into the database.

Advise principal researchers of difficulties encountered and significant discoveries of additional materials.

Check and correct data currently in the database. 

Write posts for the GEMMS blog based on sermon manuscripts examined.


The Research Assistant will be compensated £15/hour to a maximum of £3600 plus travel expenses as required. In consultation with the principal researchers, the student will develop a mutually beneficial research schedule.


Candidates must be enrolled in a PhD program in a related field at a UK university. Candidates whose work involves substantial use of early modern sermons in manuscript will be preferred.

Candidates must also be willing to travel within the UK to conduct research and internationally to attend conferences.

Candidates must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing and must be able to work well independently.

Candidates must have accurate word processing skills and be attentive to detail. Familiarity with databases is an asset.

Some knowledge of Latin and/or Greek would be useful.

Application Procedure:

Applications will be accepted until October 31, 2017. We anticipate hiring to be completed in November and work to begin in January 2018, though an earlier start date may be possible.

Please submit a cover letter outlining your qualifications and availability, a current CV, and the names and contact details for two referees to or or by mail to Jeanne Shami or Anne James at: 359 Administration-Humanities Bldg., University of Regina, 3737 Wascana Pkway, Regina, SK, S4S 0A2, CANADA

Thursday, 9 March 2017

GEMMS Announces Database Launch

GEMMS is looking forward to our official launch, taking place on 4 May, 2017 at Dr. Williams's Library, London, from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. 

If you plan to attend, please register by sending a message to

Our database now includes information on almost 500 manuscripts and over 6500 individual sermons. The manuscripts range from beautiful fair copies of complete sermons to notebooks containing hastily scrawled notes by auditors. While most were preached in the British Isles, a few come from North America. All manuscripts included to date are housed in the UK.

What comes next?

Following our launch, the database – via our new website -- will be available to researchers for searching, as we continue to add new records. Users will be able to search the database for sermons by specific preachers or on specific texts, as well as by date and preaching location. It should also be possible to search by sermon type (notes, outlines, drafts, autograph copies), repository, and genre (e.g. funeral sermons). We anticipate that in the following months researchers will let us know what features they find useful and suggest future enhancements and searching capabilities.
We will also begin developing plans for the next phase, which will allow other researchers to share and store their own data as well as to offer corrections and additions to existing records. Our hope is that this stage of the project will provide opportunities for researchers to share information and collaborate in new ways across disciplinary and geographic boundaries.

As we attempt to engage with researchers who will find our data useful, we encourage them to visit our social media sites and spread the word via Twitter about our new resource. (@GEMMS_sermons).