26 Dec 2011

Re-viewing Austen through an Unseen Portrait

Tonight, BBC2 is airing ‘Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait’.
Martha Kearny follows Dr Paula Byrne, who believes she has come across a portrait of Jane Austen lost to the world for nearly two centuries, engaging with a range of literary scholars alongside art history experts and discussing
our idea of Austen, our desire to know more about her appearance and how this impacts upon her reputation and continued fascination with the author.
As Austen is a writer about whom surprisingly little is known, these kinds of new finds are rather intriguing—as much for the journey they inspire in delving through different kinds of materials in the archiving of literary figures, as for the uphill struggle in establishing (and potentially eventually disregarding) the authenticity of any new additions to a literary history.
I’m watching it now, but it will surely be up on IPlayer asap! The BBC page can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018nz2x

8 Dec 2011

Dickens manuscript illuminates author's workings


"Dense with ink, a spider web of crossings-out, rewritings and even text-speak, the manuscript of Charles Dickens's much-loved novel Great Expectations – which has been published in facsimile for the first time – offers a unique insight into the mind of the great novelist.

Dickens bound and gave his manuscript of Great Expectations to his friend Chauncy Hare Townshend, who bequeathed it to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum in 1868. Fragile and in its original binding, the 1861 manuscript has been at the museum ever since, available to view on the first Saturday of every month but otherwise kept in a safe. Now the museum has worked with Cambridge University Press to scan and reproduce the manuscript in book format for the first time.

It shows Dickens's terrible handwriting, how his lines sloped down to the right and how he would squeeze a few extra words into the space this left at the bottom of a page, and his notes on the times of the tides, crucial to Magwitch's capture at the end of the book.

[...] the last page of the manuscript reveals part of Dickens's original ending to the novel, in four lines crossed out by the author. Dickens was told to change his sad ending, in which Pip and Estella part forever, by his friend and fellow novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

"You can see the beginnings of the original ending," said Wright. "He's boxed it and crossed through it with vertical lines, confirming that a different version of the ending was written. What we don't know, however, is what happened to the remainder of the manuscript with that different ending."

The manuscript also shows the final sentence of the novel to have been, originally, "I saw the shadow of no parting from her but one". When the story was published in 1861 in the periodical All The Year Round, the two final words had been cut."

Alison Flood

For the full story see - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/dec/08/dickens-manuscript-great-expectations?CMP=twt_fd

1 Dec 2011

Lost Jack Kerouac Novels Unearthed from the Author's Personal Archive

Beat poet and author Jack Kerouac’s first novel, entitled The Sea is My Brother, has up till now never been seen in print. Thanks to his brother-in-law, however, it now finally makes it to publication thisweek some 40 years since Kerouac’s death after a discovery in the author’s personal archive.
Up till now sparse knowledge of the novel’s existence had been traced through brief references in Kerouac’s letters, but the size and scope of the volume proved unexpected. The book, written when Kerouac was 20, is based on his experiences as a merchant seaman and and features correspondence between the author and his close friend Sebastian Sampas.
The book’s editor, Dawn Ward, commented on the significance of the find, explaining that the publication of this lost work "is really quite important as it shows how Jack developed his writing process... [he] opens up and shows a side to him that we don't normally see in his books."

17 Nov 2011

Digital Humanities Resource Guide

This website curates a list of digital humanties initiatives with links to the projects. Generally interesting, but particularly so for the list titled "The Archive, Digital Preservation of Analog & Born-Digital Materials", which I have reproduced here:


  • Transcribe Bentham, based at University College London, has been crowdsourcing the transcription of thousands of manuscripts written by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Anyone can sign up to participate, viewing the original documents, and transcribing and encoding them online in a wiki; instructions and a discussion forum are provided.



  • NEW! See also What's On the Menu?, which invites users to transcribe the New York Public Library's collection of 40,000 menus; a project of NYPL Labs.



  • The Rossetti Archive, sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia under the direction of Jerome McGann, provides access to Dante Gabriel Rossetti's complete works, including high-quality images, detailed descriptions and commentary. Related works (contemporary and antecedents) are also included, along with a bibliography.



  • The Walt Whitman Archive – "an electronic research and teaching tool that sets out to make Whitman's vast work easily and conveniently accessible to scholars, students, and general readers, drawing on the resources of libraries and collections from around the United States and around the world." Directed by Kenneth M. Price (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Ed Folsom (University of Iowa).



  • Preserving Virtual Worlds – exploring methods for preserving digital games, electronic literature, and environments such as Second Life. A collaboration between Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Stanford University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Linden Lab (creators of Second Life).



  • The work of institutions such as the Ransom Center at the University of Texas in preserving born-digital textual materials.



  • Omeka – a free, open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions; developed by the team at Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University "with non-IT specialists in mind, allowing users to focus on content and interpretation rather than programming."
  • 16 Nov 2011

    How May Digital Collections Serve Scholarly Needs?



    "As part of the Collections Interoperability working group, we are investigating the question of scholars’ needs with digital collections: What kind of functionalities, features, and/or services do humanities scholars need in digital collections, in order for the collections to be useful in research?

    The reason we ask is twofold: First, we’d like to know what types of digital collections should be prepared and incorporated into the Bamboo research platform. While there are a few all-encompassing general digital collections, such as the Hathi Trust Digital Library, there are many more digital collections with limited content or specialized focuses, and it is hard to determine how to select collections for incorporation into Bamboo.
    Secondly, a larger question faces libraries and digital libraries about effective collection development strategies for digital collections: How can we build digital libraries that aren’t simply mass collections of materials or are based on libraries’ classifications, but that directly address scholars’ research needs?

    To explore this question, we decided to launch a study that would create a needs assessment for scholars and digital collections. Over the summer, I worked with Indiana University librarian Angela Courtney to contact humanities librarians, digital humanities coordinators, and academic technologists at the twelve member institutions of the CIC academic consortium and participating Bamboo partner institutions. We ultimately convinced nine librarians and staffers to work with us on conducting a survey and interviews with their humanities faculty. The participating institutions are the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Michigan State University, University of Iowa, University of Chicago, University of Minnesota, Penn State University, and the University of Maryland.

    After months of IRB wrangling, writing the test instruments, pre-testing, and consultations, we launched the study in late October. A survey has been distributed to randomly selected faculty members in all of the English and history departments at the aforementioned institutions, and will run through December. Interviews will be conducted in November and December with select faculty members from fine arts and performing arts departments on the campuses who are involved in digital scholarship. Follow-up interviews will also be conducted with survey respondents who indicated a willingness to be interviewed.

    We anticipate that this study will enable us to gain new insights into the transformations occurring in humanities research with the advent of digitized materials. An update will be forthcoming as results are analyzed this winter, and we’re excited for what the data will tell us!"
    By Harriett Green

    11 Nov 2011

    Unpublished Siegfried Sassoon Poems Found

    Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon‘s biographer, unearthed some unpublished poems at Cambridge University. Follow this link to BBC for a listen!


    What she find most noticeable about the poems she discovered is that they aren't the angry war poems one might expect from Sassoon, but rather glorify war at points. 
    Professor Sheffield argues against the dominant view that First World War poets presented of the war and Dr Moorcroft Wilson argues in counter to this.

    8 Nov 2011

    Forthcoming Arnold Dreyblatt Lecture: From the Archives: Installation and Performace 1990-2011

    To mark the launch of the new Visual Culture programme at the University of Exeter, the first of five visiting speaker events throughout 2011/12 will be held on Wednesday November 23rd, 2.00-4.00pm. This event will take place on the University’s Streatham Campus, in the Queens Building, LT4.



    The event will feature a talk by the artist Arnold Dreyblatt, entitled ‘From the Archives: Installation and Performance 1990-2011’.

    Arnold Dreyblatt (b. New York City, 1953) is an American media artist and composer. He has been based in Berlin, Germany since 1984. In 2007, Dreyblatt was elected to lifetime membership in the German Academy of Art (Akademie der Künste, Berlin). He is Professor for Media Art at the Muthesius Academy of Art and Design in Kiel, Germany.
    Dreyblatt's visual work creates complex textual and spatial visualizations for memory. His works, which reflect on such themes as recollection and the archive, include permanent works, digital room projections, dynamic textual objects and muti-layered lenticular text panels. His work been exhibited and staged in galleries, museums and public spaces such as the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art, Berlin; The Jewish Museum in New York; the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna and the Akademie der Künste, Berlin. Permanent public art works are on display at the HL Holocaust Center in Oslo and the Jewish Museum in Berlin. He has received numerous commissions and awards including the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts and the Förderpreis der Akademie der Künste.

    Dreyblatt will be speaking about his work from 1990 – 2011. He will take the audience through his processes and include still and moving image documentation.


    The talk is free, but booking is essential, and can be made here: http://www.arnolddreyblattlecture.eventbrite.com/

    6 Nov 2011

    What would Dazed and Confused have done differently? - They'd archive

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/nov/05/dazed-confused-gang-still-cool

    Reading the above article I noticed this paragraph:

    "If they could have done anything differently, I ask, what would they change? "We'd archive," says Hack, immediately. "There were these Jake and Dinos Chapman sculptures that they made for one of our events. They all got trashed, of course. No one knew to give a shit. And when Radiohead debuted OK Computer for us nobody thought to record it – there were no smartphones then, nobody took cameras into clubs. Everything felt very … temporary.""



    27 Oct 2011

    The Black Hours - Online Exhibition of a rare black manuscript

    An extraordinary online exhibition of a Book of Hours named The Black Hours, was given this name becase the manuscripts are written and illuminated on vellum that is stained or painted black. The anonymous painter of the Black Hours is an artist whose style depended mainly upon that of Willem Vrelant, one of the dominant illuminators working in Bruges from the late 1450s until his death in 1481. The website describes it as follows:

    "The text is written in silver and gold, with gilt initials and line endings composed of chartreuse panels enlivened with yellow filigree. Gold foliage on a monochromatic blue background makes up the borders. The miniatures are executed in a restricted palette of blue, old rose, and light flesh tones, with dashes of green, gray, and white. The solid black background is utilized to great advantage, especially by means of gold highlighting."
    Unfortunately the very thing which makes the manuscript so unusual is difficult to preserve:

    "The black of its vellum—the very thing that makes the codex so striking—is also the cause of some serious flaking. The carbon used in the black renders the surface of the vellum smooth and shiny—a handsome but less than ideal supporting surface for some of the pigments. The Morgan's Black Hours is awaiting conservation treatment. In the meantime, we are pleased to offer a virtual facsimile."

    Manucript - http://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/BlackHours/manuscript.asp

    20 Oct 2011

    Archiving a 100 year history of fan magazines

    This October is the 100th anniversary of the film fan magazine!


    The publication of the very first issue of ‘The Pictures’ marked the birth of a rich 100 year history of film magazines, and Exeter's Bill Douglas Centre archive holds a copy of this first edition, amidst a wealth of other fan papers spanning the history of cinema.



    To commemorate, a short piece offering a brief history of the British fan magazine and my research with these objects in the archive is now up on the University of Exeter homepage news and events section, and also in the Western Morning News.

    11 Oct 2011

    #libcampuk: special collections

    Just a quick post to direct you to an interesting discussion on the role of special collections and how to promote/expand them. Topics covered: issues surrounding outreach, the merits of physical or online exhibitions, hidden special collections etc.


    The blog post is a summary of the issues discusses at 'Library Camp UK'.


    Here is - the blog post


    http://www.librarycamp.co.uk/

    3 Oct 2011

    "early drafts were locked away for a reason"?

    An article in the Telegraph titled "It's exciting to find  manuscripts abandoned by writers or musicians but early drafts were locked away for a reason" posits that newly discovered works "are best consigned to the cutting-room floor of history" as their authors intended. The argument stakes this claim firstly on the fact that many of these pieces were deemed substandard by their creators and secondly that the wishes of many artists are ignored in the publication of works which they desired to be destroyed. 


    This kind of argument draws on the idea of the perfect, completed text as was intended by the author-god of that textual world. This calls into question the place of archival materials in scholarship at all, if  Peter Stanford is unsure about making unpublished 'completed texts' available, then it would follow that the use of manuscript drafts (especially of a work with a final published version) is entirely put of the question. Giving the shade of the author final control over what they intended to be published must also exclude volumes of letters and journals being published. And so on. 


    As an example of poor literary executors Stanford uses Max Brod, who is responsible for the crime of not destroying Kafka's manuscripts. This is perhaps a poor choice of example as Stanford does acknowledge that Brod's actions mean that we have texts that are "now regarded as classics of 20th-century literature". He finds, however, that preserving a literary heritage is secondary to the "thrill" of rooting through papers and the money to which this can lead.  


    The legal tangles aside, Stanford's article betrays interesting sentimental attachment to the idea of the perfect, published text intended by its author. The stability of this idea is is being constantly challenged by the use of draft material in scholarship. Whilst there certainly is money to be made in lost works and archives, these works are important to scholarship despite, or even because of, their unfinished nature.


    27 Sep 2011

    Lost Hitchcock Film Found in Garden Shed

    From a garden shed ‘archive’ to preservation for future generation of film historians and eager audiences… Non literary, but interesting archive related news nonetheless: a lost early Hitchcock film has been discovered in New Zealand and screened for the first time in Hollywood.

    The 1923 silent feature titled The White Shadow was found in a garden shed after being lost for some 80 years. The film represents the earliest known feature from the infamous British director of such film history classics as Vertigo, Psycho and early features Sabotage and The Lodger.

    The print was found in a garden shed in Hastings, part of a collection assembled by film fanatic Jack Murtagh. Peter Jackson's Park Road studio worked on the degraded reels, making a new print to enable the film to be screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre last week.

    The Telegraph’s coverage of the find can be found here.

    Dead Sea Scrolls Digitized

    It's a bit of a tongue twister. but the Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized and are now available online - http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/ as part of the Israel Museum.

    The website records the initial discovery of the scrolls:

    "The first seven Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by chance in 1947 by Bedouin of the Ta'amra tribe, in a cave (later given the name "Cave 1") near Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Three of the scrolls were immediately purchased by archaeologist Eliezer Lipa Sukenik on behalf of the Hebrew University; the others were bought by the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Mar Athanasius Samuel. In 1948 Samuel smuggled the four scrolls in his possession to the United States; it was only in 1954 that Sukenik's son, Yigael Yadin, also an archaeologist, was able to return them to Israel, and they were ultimately entrusted to the Shrine of the Book Foundation. They have been on display in the Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, since 1965.
    Over the next few years, from 1949 to 1956, additional fragments of some 950 different scrolls were discovered in ten nearby caves, both by Bedouins and by a joint archaeological expedition of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française and the Rockefeller Museum, under the direction of Professor Father Roland de Vaux. The richest yield, from Cave 4, just opposite the site of Qumran, consisted of some 15,000 fragments. The last cave, Cave 11, was discovered in 1956, and the scrolls found there were in a reasonable state of preservation. Since then, only a few small scraps of parchment have been found in the Judean Desert (though not in the close vicinity of Qumran)."



    As the Official Google Blog explains, the digitization allows you to click on the Hebrew text and see an English translation (see below) and that:
    "The scroll text is also discoverable via web search. If you search for phrases from the scrolls, a link to that text within the scroll viewers on the Dead Sea Scrolls collections site may surface in your search results. For example, search for [Dead Sea Scrolls "In the day of thy planting thou didst make it to grow"], and you may see a link to Chapter 17:Verse 11 within the Great Isaiah Scroll."






    19 Sep 2011

    British Library ebook treasures

    The British Library has digitized and made available for ipad various handwritten notebooks from their collection - William Blake, Lewis Carroll, Leonardo da Vinci, Jane Austen and Gerardus Mercator .
    http://www.ebooktreasures.org/category/books-by-institution/british-library/

    For a limited time Alice's Adventures Underground - Lewis Carroll's notebook is available free!



    Sample of page from Blake's notebook




    From the BL website: "This small notebook, which came into Blake’s possession in 1787 following his brother’s death, was used by Blake for over thirty years to record sketches and to work on drafts of his poems. The dense, closely-filled pages provide a fascinating insight into Blake’s compositional process, and allow us to follow, line by line, correction by correction, the genesis of some of his best-known work, including poems such as ‘London’ and ‘The TygerThis eBookTreasures version contains the complete manuscript along with commentary on selected pages."


    Sample Page from Lewis Carroll's notebook

    From the BL website:
    "Later known as Alice in Wonderland, this is the original manuscript given by Lewis Carroll to Alice Liddell for Christmas 1864. One summer’s day in 1862, he took Alice and her sisters on a boat trip on the Thames by Oxford, where he taught as a mathematician. Along the way he entertained them with a fabulous story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world entered through a rabbit hole. Ten year-old Alice begged him to write it down, and eventually he did, giving her this meticulous manuscript of the tale for Christmas.

    This eBookTreasures version has transcription throughout as well as superb narration by Miriam Margoyles."





    30 Aug 2011

    Reel British History: new archive facilities at the BFI

    The British Film Institute have recently completed a new Master Film Store at a cost of £12m, built to house more than 45,000 cans of British film and preserve a national cinematic legacy. The facility in Warwickshire employs state of the art technology to ensure the longevity of its fragile treasures. Old film stock is notoriously difficult to store safely, likely to disintegrate entirely under the wrong conditions or combust due the highly flammable nature of the nitrate stock of much early film. The expansive new facilities of the Master Film Store offer a safer environment for these fragile materials.

    The new facility presents an alternative to archival digitization projects, which, whilst helping to retain the content of older materials on the point of deterioration, is both an expensive and time consuming process, limiting the selection of films to be restored. As an alternative to the long-practiced approach of format conversion, the new facility presents a more cost-effective method, allowing the original material to be accessed safely.

    The preservation project seeks to protect national film heritage in the manner of other decorative arts, raising awareness of Britain’s role in the development of global film culture and forming part of a £25m strategy for Screen Heritage UK (SHUK). The strategy represents the largest award ever given to an archival project. SHUK will allow people to search online catalogues of national and regional archives and access a number of films online. The project will launch early next month; further details of the SHUK strategy can be found here.

    An interesting little film of BFI Head of Collections and Information, Ruth Kelly, showing BBC News around the old starage facility can also be found here. Kelly shows the old and new facilities, and offers examples of deteriorated film and the problems faced in storage and control.

    23 Aug 2011

    The ‘Edible’ Archive

    The Scottish Council on Archives (SCA) have launched a new archive project for 2011 seeking to compile a wide ranging history of Scottish recipes. As part of the National Archives Awareness Campaign, the SCA has been inviting both archives and the general public to contribute recipes to the project drawn from a variety of sources, including family history, personal recipe books, letters and archival documents. The project includes plans to host a feast in Edinburgh bringing many of the collected recipes to life in cooked dishes.

    A full article on the archive and some of its bizarre (and frankly extremely off-putting sounding) entries can be found here News.scotsman.com. The archivists spearheading the project make the point that it’s not so much the recipes they’ve searched for as the stories these recipes tell—one such illuminating example is a rice pudding recipe written in code in a letter from a Scottish soldier in India in 1808. The recipe is used as a practice exercise for his encryption skills. Not exactly poetry, but interesting nonetheless! Plus,Link who doesn’t like rice pudding.

    The SCA website can be found here, with an awareness campaign for the Edible collection.

    I’ll end with a ‘delicious’ sounding example from the collection for the baking of Locust Bread, taken from the archive of Mount Stuart in Bute, which was brought back to the island by the 4th Marquess of Bute following a trip to Tangiers…get baking.

    KHUBZ EL JARADE
    Locust Bread

    The best way to catch locusts is to repair to the nearest wall, the higher the better. Here, if the season be propitious, numbers of these insects will be found flying with such force against the wall that many will fall senseless to the ground.

    Of those that fall, pick up the females - they are somewhat larger and rather lighter in colour. Pull off the head as the head is pulled off a shrimp. Then squeeze the body and there will exude the eggs, like dark and diminutive caviare, to the amount of nearly a teaspoonful from each animal. When half a kilo of this spawn has been obtained in a small basin, mix with half a kilo of flour and bake into small loaves.

    Be careful not to let an opportunity pass to make this dish, as these little beasts make their visitation to the North of Morocco, at least, every nine years only. The last swarm occurred in Tangier in AD 1947.

    14 Aug 2011

    Digital Humanities spotlight: 7 important digitization projects

    The 7 projects can be read about here, the one that stood out particularly was the following:



    "Long before there was Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, there was the Republic of Letters — a vast and intricate network of intellectuals, linking the finest “philosophes” of the Enlightenment across national borders and language barriers. This self-defined community of writers, scholars, philosophers and other thinkers included greats like VoltaireLeibnizRousseauLinnaeusFranklinNewtonDiderot and many others we’ve come to see as linchpins of cultural history. Mapping the Republic of Letters, which we first looked at last year, is a fascinating project by a team of students and professors at Stanford, visualizing the famous intellectual correspondence of the Enlightenment, how they traveled, and how the network evolved over time, bridging humanitarian scholarship and computer science."



    10 Aug 2011

    Missing papers from National Archives

    Recent reports have brought to light the troubling loss of important documents and papers from the National Archive. The Archive lists some 1,600 folders of documents reported missing since 2005, including items such as letters from Sir Winston Churchill to General Franco, minutes of Harold Wilson's meetings with the Queen, and documents from the courts of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I. Some files have not been seen since the early 1990s and fewer than half have been recovered.

    Despite negative commentary from scholars and historians on the handling of these materials (outlined in greater detail in this Telegraph online article), an archives spokesman said missing files amounted to 0.01 per cent of the collection. There is also an ongoing programme in place to search for lost items.

    Many missing items relate to key moments in British history. Here’s hoping it’s an unfortunate but temporary misplacement...

    26 Jul 2011

    A response to - "Online is fine, but history is best hands on"

    By Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead

    We appreciate that we are a little late coming to the party on this one, but we have just come across this article in the Guardian - Online is fine, but history is best hands on (via the excellent http://archivesinfo.blogspot.com/). The article discusses the importance of seeing the original document over an online version. Although it makes some sensible points, points which have been made frequently on this blog, for example that during research in an archive:

     “Perhaps another document will come up in the same batch, perhaps some marginalia or even the leaf of another text inserted as a bookmark”.

     The author calls this the “serendipity” of research and certainly there is an element of unexpected discovery when undertaking archive work, however, the argument for seeing the original can be put in more concrete terms than the “mystery” being lost in online versions. What can be lost are slight differences in shades of ink colour, watermarks, water stains even etc – the genetic makeup of the document can be lessened. That said, the problem with Hunts argument, aside from its slightly melodramatic reverence of the ‘original’, is its unpleasant derision of the non-scholar, he writes:

    “Why sit in an archive leafing through impenetrable prose when you can slurp frappucino while scrolling down Edmund Burke documents?”

    The unpleasantness of this statement, even on the level of a physical shudder at the noisy, uncouth “slurp” of the person on the street, is offensive. It is the underlying message about access, however, that is worse. Although Hunt refers to the British Library, which is a public library, Hunt is unhappy with the public access search engines provide, he writes:

    the arrival of search engines has transformed our ability to sift and surf the past. What once would have required days trawling through an index, hunting down a footnote or finding a misfiled library book can now be done in an instant”

    One commentator picks up on this and responds:
    Thus making this information accessible to people who aren't full-time academics and/or living in London. God forbid, eh?”

    There also seems to be an element in the Hunt-esque argument of a sense of unfairness in the ease of access for the new generation of scholars, researchers and (again, god forbid) non-affiliated ‘ordinary’ interested people. As if, because the archive was formerly often something difficult to access, something that required travel grants, networking, extensive planning and a big investment of valuable time for the individual, it should equally represent a right of passage for the next generation. With this element of difficulty removed, the argument seems to suggest that ease of access somehow automatically will equate to lazy scholarship, idly flicking through sacred manuscripts on Iphone apps. The view that location and context for access fundamentally impacts upon ‘proper’ academic contemplation seems a difficult one to support, however, especially since there seems to be no consideration of any negative consequences that the hushed environment of the archive in which the academic seemingly sits in reverence, ‘leafing through impenetrable prose’ (all worthy scholarship should deal with this sort of prose, obviously) might have upon interpretation. Is it not possible that aura inspires a reverence that’s perhaps not always deserved, or that the sheer difficulty of access and the time/money/effort that goes into many archive research trips encourages the researcher to make links, connections and observations that aren’t always justified by the material, simply to make the effort worthwhile? 

    Although some of the reactions to this article were political, regarding Tristram Hunt’s position in the labour party, many were simply unsettled by Hunts preference to limit access to important documents to those who have the travel grants/geographical or scholarly access. Although seeing the original document is an important enterprise, the widening access new technologies allow and also the protection for fragile documents is of equal importance.