For literary scholars, it’s the next best thing to being there.

After many years of tedious work, Dr. Chris Hodgkins, a professor of English at UNCG, and Dr. Robert Whalen of Northern Michigan University, have thrown open the doors to their Digital Temple of George Herbert. By subscribing to the Temple, scholars and lay readers can access ultra-high-quality, searchable reproductions of two surviving manuscripts and a first edition of “The Temple,” a collection of poems by the Welsh-born poet and Anglican priest who lived from 1593-1633.

The Temple debuts with a free presentation in the Hodges Reading Room of UNCG’s Jackson Library. Hodgkins and Whalen will show off the project and answer questions beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 6.

“There’s no substitute for holding the book in your hand, feeling the pages, smelling the pages,” says Hodgkins, who describes himself as a “one and a half cheers for digital kind of guy.” “The idea is not to replace a paper archive, but to make it possible to give thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people over the years, access to these materials.”

While acid-free paper in a dry room is the surest to way to preserve texts with the exception of cuneiform tablets, Hodgkins says, space, accessibility and searchability are a huge plus for digital editions. They also allow for immediate updates and additions.

In 2010, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) gave Hodgkins and Whalen a $250,000 Digital Humanities Scholarly Editions Grant to complete the project. The Temple went live last month, published through the Rotunda Portal of the University of Virginia Press.

Subscribers get access to Hodgkins and Whalen’s textual and interpretive notes, and pages of original sources they can actually zoom in on for a closer look. They can also read various versions in parallel for comparative study.

While University Libraries will be subscribing for all UNCG faculty, students and staff, unaffiliated individual subscribers to the Temple also get a steal, Hodgkins says, paying only $138 for lifetime access. That’s not much more than the going rate for print editions of Herbert’s works. And Hodgkins and Whalen are applying for a larger NEH grant to digitize Herbert’s complete works, using valuable rare first editions held at UNCG..

Jackson Library has one of the world’s largest Herbert collections thanks to Dr. Amy Charles, a Herbert biographer and scholar who taught at UNCG from 1954 until 1985. Charles collected nearly every early edition of Herbert’s poetry. UNCG later acquired a first edition of “The Temple,” printed in 1633, in Charles’ honor.

Hodgkins, who has been at UNCG since 1991, remembers seeing a medlar pear tree that Charles brought over from Herbert’s garden in England and planted near the clock tower in front of the library tower. The tree was uprooted by a storm, but he still hopes to find the dedication plaque that stood at its base.

“It’s become a sort of Rosebud,” he says, alluding to the sled in Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” “It will probably turn up in a huge storehouse somewhere.


By Michelle Hines