The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2003; 343 pp.
Most scholarly works on Anne Boleyn are biographical ones, tracing the details of her life (with particular emphasis on her time as Queen of England and her death by beheading) through the consultation of various primary sources: letters, diaries, documents of state, et cetera. Drawing upon a mixture of traditional “hard” primary sources and modern digital-based methodologies, Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen brings a fresh angle to the already dense body of literature surrounding the elusive personage embodied by Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Creation of Anne Boleyn differs from the traditional narrative model in Bordo’s examination of both Anne’s life and the changing cultural representations of her as society evolves. Divided into three parts, the book begins with Bordo’s own retelling of Anne Boleyn’s experience. Here, she examines the usual batch of primary sources used by scholars and fiction authors alike, coupled with an investigation into the manner by which such individuals manipulate these sources to present a specific image of Anne to their audience. Next, Bordo includes a second section exploring the shifting representations of Anne’s character in popular culture, from contemporary accounts through the first half of the twentieth century. Picking up where the previous section leaves off, the final chapters of The Creation of Anne Boleyn focus on popular notions on Anne in late-twentieth and early twenty-first century society, specifically her portrayal via film and online.
From inception to publication, The Creation of Anne Boleyn serves as an exemplary representation of the digitized research process. The project’s origin within an email correspondence between Bordo and an English journalist (Bordo xii) is, itself, indicative of the increasingly expansive influence of digital media in modern scholarship. As an American author writing on an English subject, Bordo conducted much of her research digitally via online communication and database collections of images, text transcriptions, and articles (Bordo, 117). The book itself is accompanied by both a Facebook page and a WordPress blog, meant to chronicle the research and production processes, as well as provide a forum for readers to contribute to discussions and offer feedback. This use of social media as a means of directly connecting with the public allowed Bordo to work collaboratively with her audience, and to incorporate their input into the final product.
Bordo’s extensive use of digital tools in The Creation of Anne Boleyn puts a unique spin on the traditional narrative featured in most other scholarship surrounding Anne Boleyn. In fact, the completion of the book itself would have been considerably more difficult without the aid of digital media. Some of Bordo’s strongest writing features in her analysis of the perpetually-changing cultural representations of Anne over time. Much of that research involved watching a number of films about Anne (many of which are, I’m sure, are available for viewing or rental on streaming sits such as Netflix) perusing other popular blogs and websites, and online interactions with audience members, whether in the form of formal interviews or casual Facebook conversations. The wide variety of digital means through which scholars can connect more easily not only with their topic of research, but also with the public, opens several new doors in terms of the production and presentation of scholarly works. With its combination of such digital aides and traditional methodologies, The Creation of Anne Boleyn offers readers a glimpse into what increased digitization holds in store for the research process, along with an interesting view of the production and publication of scholarly works in the modern digital age.