This article reconsiders the importance of antiquarian interests and research methods in the making of George Ballard’s encyclopedic biography of learned women, Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain who have been celebrated for their writings or skill in the learned languages, arts and sciences (1752). Ballard has a contested legacy in women’s literary history: many critics draw attention to the exemplary bias in his collection and question his rhetorical aims. However, this article presents new manuscript evidence suggesting that Ballard’s initial research for the project was much more inclusive than previously thought. The article also contends that his antiquarian approach to life-writing in the Memoirs offers a unique perspective on women’s contributions to book history, specifically suggesting that his appreciation for “artefacts of the written word” results in a text uniquely attuned to women’s role in both creating and circulating textual artifacts of the past. In the process, Ballard reveals an appreciation for the extratextual dimensions of women’s lives that significantly predates our own “modern” preoccupation with identifying the diverse cultural practices of women writers.

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