The Almanac Archive
When this project is completed, The Almanac Archive will host a database containing images of British almanacs dating from 1750 to 1850. A date search for a given day in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century history will retrieve images from the almanacs in our database that contain relevant entries. Utilizing different search fields in the archive, users will be able to access the information that various almanacs offered contemporary readers as well as any marginal notes that readers recorded. Given the characteristics and uses of the almanac in this period, the potential applications for this project are diverse. Historians of weather, for instance, might track weather patterns or climate change since users frequently noted weather anomalies. Some almanacs include annotations about payments to employees and other financial records, indicating that they may be untapped resources for information about labour and economic history. Likewise, readers’ notes in farming almanacs provide insight into historical agricultural practices. Bringing together annotated almanacs will offer scholars unprecedented access to the daily lives of diverse individuals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, almanacs were an important part of everyday life in Britain. Cheap, useful, and tailored to a variety of different readers, the almanac was one of the most commonly purchased and frequently read texts of the period. As a whole, the genre was characterized both by homogeneity and variety. Each almanac provided a calendar for the coming year, information about astronomical variables such as lunar cycles and the daily hours of sunrise and sunset, as well as other information about civic and natural events (law and university term dates, holidays, eclipses, tide tables, etc.). In addition to these standard inclusions, specific titles also provided astrological prognostications about matters political and meteorological, games, jokes, or specialized information for specific groups of readers, such as farming advice, or lists of fairs. At the turn of the nineteenth century, countless almanac titles targeting specific groups of readers circulated in Britain; even while the Worshipful Company of Stationers held a monopoly on almanac production (which they did until 1774, when copyright laws were relaxed in England; see St Clair 115) the Stationers' Company alone produced over twenty titles. Almanac readers would therefore have had access to the same basic information as all other readers about the regulation of time for the year to come, while they could also satisfy their literary tastes or acquire the informational requirements of their trades through their choice of almanac.
Scholars who have worked on nineteenth-century almanacs have emphasized their popularity and prevalence and their role shaping attitudes about time, the weather, and astronomy. In her study of nineteenth-century almanacs, Maureen Perkins estimates that as many as one in seven people purchased an almanac at the beginning of the nineteenth century — a truly impressive statistic in an era in which literacy was achieved by only about 65% of men and 50% of women (Perkins 14; Suarez 11). Because of the popularity of this genre across social classes, Brian Maidment argues that for Victorian reformers the almanac “was an important piece of military equipment” for advancing particular ideological agendas (Maidment 100).
The extent of the almanac’s distribution and popularity, as well as the confidence that scholars and contemporary commentators have about its impact, suggests that the almanac’s influence on reading practices was significant. In an era in which literacy was on the rise among the working classes, almanac sales figures suggest that many people who bought and read very few other texts would still have purchased and consulted almanacs each year. Reading the almanac’s account of time would quite likely have shaped the experience of reading in general, just as choosing the almanac title best suited to one’s needs would have been an early experience of developing one’s literary taste and identity as a reader. This archive aims to provides scholars and researchers with comprehensive access to these influential texts — some of the most commonly read and consulted pages for each day in British history.
Although almanacs were tremendously influential during this period in history, tracking the specific nature of readers’ experiences with almanacs — as with any other text — presents a challenge. Most evidence of the influence of almanacs comes from contemporary commentaries on, or critiques of, the genre, not from those who used and relied upon these texts. As book historians have argued, however, one way to explore the impressions and habits of common readers at this period is to attend to readers’ annotations in texts. Since recent studies have shown that it was a common practice for readers to make notes in almanacs alongside the printed calendar, extant copies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century almanacs turn out to be templates for coordinating and comparing multiple readers’ daily impressions and activities, as well as their responses to the same texts and information (see Smyth; McCarthy). These notes constitute personalized histories and timelines that parallel the almanac’s printed data, chronologies, and predictions. As such, they provide date-specific traces of the common reader turned common writer, as well as a rich source of information about everyday practices. Our archive will curate copies of almanacs annotated by contemporary readers and display duplicate copies of single publications wherever readers’ notes exist.
The Almanac Archive will contain images of almanacs in our own collection, as well as those for which libraries and archives have generously given us permission to include. We will continue to upload and collect images from almanacs from as many sources as possible. As our collection grows, users of the archive will be able to see what a variety of readers recorded on specific dates in history, to research annotations written by diverse readers on subjects such as agriculture or finances, and to view records written by specific groups of people such as women or children. As the collection grows it will offer an increasingly comprehensive picture of how masses of readers used almanacs and recorded their lives in them, and also, more generally, of daily life on given dates in history.
In addition to developing our database, we have created an exhibition showcasing some interesting features of nineteenth-century British almanacs, and some potential avenues for further exploration. If you are interested in contributing to this project, or have any questions about our archive or exhibition, please contact us.
As we build the alpha version of our archive, we are developing a plan for describing and sharing metadata. We have drafted a Metadata Application Profile that outlines how our metadata is collected, recorded, and related to other standards. The principles outlined in this document will likely adapt in response to technical limitations, funding, and the functionality of our initial prototype. Our draft is available to download here and we welcome any comments about this work in progress. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or suggestions.