When Anne Lister rose to worldwide fame in the summer of 2019, new stories emerged beyond those featured in the BBC series Gentleman Jack, which contributed to a new wave of interest in Lister’s story and those of her contemporaries. However, there were only a few books and academic papers that included extracts from Anne Lister’s extensive archive. Previous work by historians and authors using this resource had been understandably limited to select periods of Lister’s life. Due to the considerable extent of her famous journals, previous efforts to transcribe Lister’s mix of abbreviated writing and crypthand had proven quite laborious.
The information in Anne Lister’s journals remained relatively inaccessible until the digitisation of these volumes led to a transcription project facilitated by the West Yorkshire Archive Service. Over 150 volunteers from around the world joined this effort, which underscored the benefits of a structured, collaborative approach to tackling ventures of this nature . This project accelerated information retrieval from Lister’s journals and brought together a diverse group of contributors. Their perspectives shed light on nuanced aspects of Lister’s life and introduced her and her contemporaries to new audiences. The community shared Lister’s intrigues online, publishing their findings in blogs and social media, and reaching new audiences.
The Origins of Packed with Potential
The continuous growth of interest in Anne Lister led us as individuals to explore this history online and we soon found others who shared a drive to elevate Anne Lister’s legacy. Sparked by this energy and fuelled by the accelerated influx of information, Lívia Labate (pictured here with Diane Lawrenson’s sculpture ‘Contemplation’) began to compile a list of books about Anne Lister to simplify the paths many had taken in pursuit of written works about Lister . But then she wondered: why stop there?
On November 12, 2019, “Packed with Potential” (PwP) was launched with a mission to encourage open, collaborative, and accessible research on Anne Lister’s life and historical context . This platform introduced a variety of resources and tools such as trackers, interactive timelines and travel maps, compilations of publications as well as new research articles, which were designed to facilitate a cohesive exploration of Lister’s world with a low barrier of entry. A notable example of this is the Anne Lister bookshelf, which aims at compiling a comprehensive list of books mentioned in Lister’s journals . What started with a simple list of books had transformed isolated efforts into a rich tapestry of interconnected research endeavours bringing people together over their shared interest in Anne Lister and her contemporaries.
Collaborations and First Community Events
During a time of isolation and uncertainty for many in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a desire to foster these new (and often international) connections through accessible online events began to take form.
On Lister’s 230th birthday, PwP held a Bake-off for Anne Lister thematic bakes . The event was attended by both long time Lister enthusiasts and casual Gentleman Jack fans [5, 6]. It served as a positive and fertile ground for strengthening connections and encouraging dialogues across time zones.
Members of the PwP community also joined events engaging with other communities, both academic and non-affiliated, and divulged new research and the project itself [7, 8, 9]. Through these experiences, the importance of community-building events alongside research was emphasised. Furthermore, these reinforced the connection that individuals interested in Lister shared, which was driven by a common purpose, passion, and excitement for discovery.
The Anne Lister Research Summit
The Anne Lister Research Summit was born out of a desire to create an inclusive and welcoming space for Lister scholars, enthusiasts, and curious minds alike, bringing them together in a vibrant confluence of presentations, workshops, discussions, and other activities .
In this event, participants immerse themselves in a supportive learning environment that encourages sharing ideas and knowledge with anyone who is interested in Anne Lister and her contemporaries, irrespective of their background or research experience. Now in its fourth year, the Summit stands as a testament to the community’s commitment to elevating Lister’s legacy through open dialogue and scholarly exploration.
Through various initiatives and scholarly contributions, our current understanding of Anne Lister and her contemporaries has been significantly enhanced in the last four years. As Anne Lister research evolves, promising avenues for further exploration and collaboration appear on the horizon.
While the path ahead is teeming with potential, our community remains steadfast in its commitment to fostering an environment where knowledge is shared openly, discoveries are celebrated collectively, and ideas are shared and discussed among audiences who observe Lister and her contemporaries through lenses borne out of diverse backgrounds. We endeavour to do so in the same open and inclusive way, maintaining the commitment to divulge and further elevate Lister and Lister-adjacent histories and legacies in a globally accessible platform.
References West Yorkshire Archive Service. 2019. “Anne Lister – Diary Transcription Project | Catablogue.” Catablogue. https://wyascatablogue.wordpress.com/exhibitions/anne-lister/anne-lister-diary-transcription-project/.  Labate, Lívia, Steph Gallaway, and Marlene Oliveira. 2019. “Books about Anne Lister.” PACKED WITH POTENTIAL. https://www.packedwithpotential.org/resources/book-concierge-list-of-books-about-anne-lister-and-ann-walker.  “About Us.” 2020. PACKED WITH POTENTIAL. https://www.packedwithpotential.org/about/about-us.  Packed with Potential. 2020. “Anne Lister’s bookshelf.” PACKED WITH POTENTIAL. https://www.packedwithpotential.org/projects/anne-lister-bookshelf.  Packed with Potential. 2021. “#AnneListerBakeOff.” PACKED WITH POTENTIAL. https://www.packedwithpotential.org/projects/anne-listers-cuisine/anne-lister-bake-off-2021-birthday-celebration.  Diva Magazine. 2021. “Anne Lister is 230 this weekend and we’re celebrating in style.” https://genealogystories.co.uk/packed-with-potential/.  Calderdale Libraries. 2021. “Anne Lister: Gateway to Research.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgaSQGRj-wo.  Historians Collaborate. 2021. “Collaboration in Action.” https://www.annelisterresearchsummit.org/.
Steph Gallaway is a Digital Media Producer in the U.S. She was a volunteer #AnneListerCodeBreaker for the West Yorkshire Archive Service, and currently serves as a chair of the Anne Lister Research Summit and a core maintainer of www.packedwithpotential.org
Marlene Oliveira is an Independent Researcher based in Portugal. Her research focuses on the lives of Anne Lister, and Ann Walker, their contemporaries, and their historical context. Marlene was a volunteer transcriber of Anne Lister’s journals, and currently is a chair of the Anne Lister Research Summit as well as a core maintainer of and contributor to the research website Packed with Potential.