“A Thousand Times Worse Than Death”: A Thanatography of the Second Earl of Essex

Project Lead:

Hank Dobin, Professor of English


Jeff Knudson, Senior Technology Architect, ITS
Cecelia Weingart ’19
Hannah Palmatary ’18
Ben Gee ’18
Christian von Hassell ’16

Project URL: http://essex.academic.wlu.edu

Project Description:

Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex, lived a short but eventful life as the final favorite of Elizabeth I—ultimately executed in February 1601 for treason. In contrast, his afterlife has been long—although equally eventful and fascinating. In a letter written to the Queen during his house arrest in May 1600, Essex anticipates his painful legacy:

The prating tavern haunter speaks of me as he lists; the frantic libeller writes of me what he lists; already they print me and make me speak to the world, and shortly they will play me in what forms they list upon the stage. The least of these is a thousand times worse than death.

Indeed, Essex has been printed, painted, and performed thousands of times since his death—with varying degrees of censure and sympathy.

This scholarly project tells the story of Essex’s myriad afterlives. If a biography is the story of a life (and Essex has been the subject of at least four biographies and countless histories), then this project attempts to write the thanatography of his continuing legacy and significance post-mortem (after the word “thanatos,” meaning death). For a brief account of Essex’s life, click on Who Was Essex? Or, for an interactive digital tour of his lifetime, you can visit the Essex LifeMap.

Our primary methodology and innovative feature of this project is to develop a digital timeline of those many representations of Essex and their contexts. This Timeline captures, in a dynamic, interactive fashion, the myriad ways in which Essex—and, inevitably, Elizabeth also since their stories are so entangled—have been represented in the more than four centuries since their deaths.

Mellon Summer Research Grant, Summer 2016 (Digital Humanities)

Palmatary, Hannah, and Ben Gee. Tenth Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Palmatary, Hannah, and Ben Gee. Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities, Davidson College, November 6-8, 2015.
Palmatary, Hannah, and Ben Gee. 17th Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for Undergraduate Scholarship (MARCUS) held at Randolph College, in Lynchburgh, Virginia, on October 10, 2015.

Methodology: Mapplication and Timeline

English 292: Representing Queen Elizabeth


This course, taught by Professor Hank Dobin in Winter 2014, focused on the figure of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and the ways in which she has been represented in literature and film.  Students read works written during her lifetime that address her, or that directly or obliquely represent her, by authors such as Shakespeare and Spenser.  However, the majority of the course examined works about the public and private Elizabeth since her death; those works include dramas, poems, fiction, operas, films (starring actors such as Helen Mirren and Bette Davis), children’s books, etc.  The course work consisted of  a collective project to research and collect such representations, to organize the data and write commentaries, and to construct a Digital Timeline—employing exciting, new tools of the digital humanities—as both a learning exercise and a resource for interested students and scholars.   More than 100 entries describe and analyze individual representations from 1545 until 2014; in addition, almost 100 entries on a second band of the Digital Timeline provide critical contextual information about British history, theater history, and film history.  The project is ongoing and now open to the public.


History 180: Paris in the 19th Century

This course (Fall 2013), taught by Professor Sarah Horowitz, investigates the political and cultural history of Paris in the nineteenth century.  We will discuss the appeal of Paris in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, as well as how Paris became the political and cultural capital of Europe in the period after the French Revolution.  Topics to be covered include immigration, political unrest, the rebuilding of the city under Napoleon III, urban spectatorship, consumer culture, and the birth of the avant-garde. 

As a first-year seminar, this course is also intended to introduce students to the study of history.  We will discuss what history is, how we can make claims about the past, the role of subjectivity in shaping historical narratives and how historians use sources.  This seminar will also help students understand the demands of college-level writing through discussions of the writing process, peer editing and revisions.

Students will participate in a digital humanities based project that utilizes mapping functionality.  Each student posts on the class map once during the term based on the course readings.  Students write about two locations: one that appears in the readings and one that is thematically linked to the readings but with contemporary relevance.  The goals of the assignment are to give students practice writing about individual readings and to give them a sense of the geography of 19th century and present-day Paris.