19 Dec 2012

Developing a Curriculum for Undergraduate Work in the Digital Archives

Rebecca Frost Davis has posted a really interesting consideration of teaching with digital archives. This key paragraph outlines what Frost Davis sees as the current issues facing universities:

"The seminar, “Digital Scholarship in the Online Archive,” is important because Coates, Mandell, and McGrane describe ways that undergraduates can use existing digital archives.  Too often, instructors are daunted by the prospect of undergraduate digital scholarship because it seems to require substantial digital work from scratch on the part of the instructor and student.  Or it may be that undergraduate digital scholarship only seems possible at those institutions with a digital humanities initiative (like Hamilton College) or digital scholarship lab (like the University of Richmond).  But, in fact, many digital resources are already available either openly online or through library subscriptions (see, for example, the resources aggregated by NINES); building projects on these resources is a significant skill in the digital age, whether we call that “remix,” “mash-up,” or “curation”.  And such work develops  literacy for archival work; as students become familiar with how digital archives are constructed, they are more prepared to do their own archival work."

See her full blog post here.

Thanks to @Alisonharvey_ for this.

29 Oct 2012

The 'Real' James Bond: the Cold War MI5 Diaries Released

To coincide with the release of the new James Bond film "Skyfall" the National Archives Blog features a post concerning the ‘real’ James Bond and the MI5 Diaries which are available for a limited time to download for free.

The candidate for the 'real' James Bond is "Forest Yeo-Thomas, a Second World War secret agent, codenamed ‘White Rabbit’, whose Special Operations Executive file was released to The National Archives in 2003."

"The latest collection of Security Service (MI5) files are made public today and the undoubted highlights are the ten personal diaries of Guy Liddell, Deputy Director General of MI5 during the early Cold War.
Liddell dictated his personal thoughts on the day’s events to a secretary every evening and the pages of tightly-typed notes make fascinating reading."
You can download the files from their website free for one month.

22 Oct 2012

Advice for Archival Study: paper resources for film

Tips for working in a film archive (paper resources and ephemera)

When someone says ‘film archive’, you might assume they mean old projectors, flammable film stock, concrete bunkers and digitized home movies.

Not exactly, in my experience at least. The study of ‘film’ is rarely just the text itself – it is the text embedded in context, industrial and cultural, and its interrelation with a vast array of other histories – advertising, leisure, urban development, print culture, visual culture, local industry, etc.

My own film archive experience is in this sense far more paper-based than moving image based. As someone who works with a history of cinema as one of cinemagoing, what people see on cinema screens is obviously just as important as how, where, why they see it, and questions about these practices cannot be researched or inferred through films texts alone.

While paper materials often accompany the big film archive centres that focus predominantly upon housing and preserving moving images – the BFI, for example, holds some 45,000 books, 20,000 unpublished scripts, 6000 collections of personal papers and 2,000 items of cinema ephemera plus 4 million still images – some centres, like the Bill Douglas Centre and Exeter, are exclusively ephemera based, retaining everything but the moving image itself.

The idea of a film archive as an exclusive entity is in itself problematic, just as a ‘literary’ archive very rarely contains only paper and text. You will find film related ephemera and material present in numerous other kinds of holdings and repositories not exclusively designated for film. When researching the filmmaker Elinor Glyn, for example, business records relating to her work with British film companies and major American studios in the 1920s were to be found in Reading Special Collections – by no means a film archive, but of course a logical home for the work of a woman who, despite professing herself as the ‘ savior of the British film industry’ was, first and foremost, a novelist.

Tip 1, therefore, is an obvious point, but worth stressing -- spread the net as wide as possible in beginning any kind of research that may seem on the surface relatively discipline-exclusive. Archiveshub  is one of the best ways to keyword search and throw up locations for materials, rather than going straight to a film archive to find, say, documents relating a screenplay writer or director. You may find materials housed in the most unexpected places, just as these materials themselves before they reach the archive are found in the most unexpected places (the original cut of Carl Dreyer’s haunting 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, for example, was thought lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative until rediscovered in the janitor’s closet of a mental institution in Norway some 50 years later).

Tip 2: Ephemera is confusing stuff. It’s fascinating, frequently amusing in its quirkiness, and will suck hours of your research time as you sift through a hundred weird and wonderful postcards or cigarette cards or deeply ugly Monroe memorabilia ...
Monroe dish: Peter Jewell Collection Bill Douglas Centre

...but what to do with all this critically can be daunting. How do you turn a bunch of interesting, fleeting, ephemeral stuff into something more concrete? The BDC’s curator Phil Wickham helps in explaining that the archive contains a history of film culture positioned in ‘the nexus between text and context’ where ephemera ‘can make meaning and create evidence’ (2010: 316). In considering that nexus, any research questions you take into the archive have to be broad enough to effectively accommodate the sometimes seeming randomness of what it contains, but structured enough to bring these material to bear on your project and its aims. My advice in this respect is to utilize the catalogue and squeeze as much info as possible out of it as possible to request the right things where you may be overwhelmed otherwise by a volume of materials, but also to utilize the archivist or curator wherever possible as a key resource—no one knows more about the collection that you’re using than them, after all.

Tip 3: Consider the practicalities of the kind of note taking you want do to. You may be working with objects rather than manuscripts – things that can’t be photocopied or transcribed for more detailed study later on. Always take a digital camera and check if you can use it to enable you to revisit, if possible, the materials you’ve encountered. Any archive is often about the tangible quality of working first hand with materials, but with film ephemera – toys, memorabilia --  these are things that were always meant to be handled, and that experience is significant and worth attempting to retain when writing up your findings.

Works cited

  • Wickham, Phil. 2010. Scrap books, soap dishes, and screen dreams: ephemera, everyday life and cinema history. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 8(3), 315-30.

11 Oct 2012

Archives: a temple and a cemetery

The Cape Archives Repository of South Africa 

I came across an interesting, quite poetic, description of archives from The Power of the Archive and its Limits” by Achille Mbembe in Re-figuring the Archive (2002). The volume consists of essays developed from papers given at a conference in South Africa and focuses on refiguring archives with particularly difficult political histories of preserving, remembering, repressing and forgetting. In line with Derrida's Archive Fever, the definition of the word 'archive' is related to the building as well as the documents. It is particularly fraught and interesting when considering that the building which houses the Cape Archives Repository (South Africa) was once a prison building.

Mbembe writes:
“The archive has neither status nor power without an architectural dimension, which encompasses the physical space of the site of the building, its motifs and columns, the arrangement of the rooms, the organisation of the ‘files’, the labyrinth of corridors, and that degree of discipline, half-light and austerity that gives the place something of the nature of a temple and a cemetery: a religious space because a set of rituals is constantly taking place there, rituals that [...] are of a quasi-magical nature, and a cemetery in the sense that fragments of lives and pieces of time are interred there, their shadows and footprints inscribed on paper and preserved like so many relics.”

18 Sep 2012

Writers and their Libraries Conference

An interesting looking history of the book and history of reading focused conference is coming up in March of 2013 through the Institute of English studies in collaboration with the University of the Andes, Colombia and the University of Lisbon. The IES at University of London is hosting the 'Writers and their Libraries' event at Senate House, focusing on the personal libraries of not just literary figures but of scientists, artists and philosophers, including figures such as: Friedrich Nietzsche, John Donne and  G.F. Watts.

The conference will explore issues of reclamation, representation and interpretation in regards to writers' reading habits, note-taking and other ways of recording and interrogating the experience of reading. Keynotes include: Keynotes include: Professor H.J. Jackson (University of Toronto) and Professor Dirk Van Hulle (University of Antwerp). [Professor Van Hulle is also the director with Mark Nixon (of the University of Reading) of the brilliant Samuel Beckett Manuscript project, which Carrie and I were lucky enough to see in action at the recent British Library Manuscripts Still Matter conference.]

For further details see the conference blog: http://writersandtheirlibraries.wordpress.com/ and the GLAM website: http://glam-archives.org.uk/

30 Aug 2012

The Great Parchment Book: conserve, digitally reconstruct, transcribe, and publish the manuscript

This is a fascinating project  to conserve, digitally reconstruct, transcribe, and publish the manuscript known as the Great Parchment Book led by London Metropolitan Archives, with contributions from Derry City Councils Heritage and Museum Service, and University College London (UCL EngD VEIV Centre in collaboration with UCLDH).

The website describes the manuscript as follows:

"The Great Parchment Book consists of 165 separate parchment pages, all of which suffered damage in the fire in 1786. Due to its fragile state, it has not been accessible to readers since this date. The uneven shrinkage and distortion caused by fire has rendered much of the text illegible. The surviving 165 folios (including fragments and unidentified folios) are stored in 19 boxes, loosely tied into bundles drawing together as far as possible the passages dealing with the particular lands of different livery companies and of the Society. Much of the text is still visible (if distorted) and requires flattening and digital imaging to improve legibility and to enable digital access to the volume."
The blog includes posts with images of treatment trials to try to restore the manuscript to improve its readability for scholars. The treatment trials involve using physical treatments such as magnets and pegs to flatten out creases as well as ways to “virtually restore” the book using a mix of imaging, computer vision, and computer graphics techniques. It really is an excellent and innovative project to read about. 

Pegging                                                                        3d mesh

12 Jul 2012

Gandhi Archive sold by Sotheby's to Indian Government

Sotheby's has announced the sale of the Gandhi-Kallenbach archive to the Indian government for an undisclosed amount. The archive contains numerous letters between Gandhi and the architect Hermann Kallenbach -- the two were close friends who met when both men were working in South Africa in 1904.

While the archive was original scheduled for auction, this was cancelled after a private contract was signed between the Indian ministry for culture and the auctioneers. The archive will now be held at the National Archives in New Delhi where it promises to offer new biographical source material for both figures.

20 Jun 2012

Archive Impact and Outreach: the Bill Douglas Centre at Exeter Guildhall

The Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Film and Popular Culture has recently launched  a display cabinet outside its own walls to bring public interest to the archive and museum. Making use of empty space in Exeter city centre, volunteers from the BDC have taken over a shopfront in the Guildhall shopping centre as a neat way to promote their unique archival holdings, online catalogue and activity open days.

The BDC's Facebook page states the hope of the project to attract 'local people who previously haven't known about our collections', giving the general public 'a chance to discover them online and by visiting the galleries'.
A clever way to forge stronger links between the local community and the archival treasures of regional centres, the display features some high quality reproductions of  early film fan magazines a a few selected objects from the collection. Well worth a visit.

6 Jun 2012

Jeff Cowton Discusses the composition of Wordsworth's "The Prelude"

From wordsworthcentre.co.uk
Jeff Cowton: The Growth of a Poet's Poem

Jeff Cowton discusses the composition of William Wordsworth's "The Prelude", describing the drafts and the Wordsworth Trust's plans for exhibits based on the drafts. Jeff attended the conference which was the starting point for this blog and enriched the discussion at the event, it is fascinating to hear in more depth about his and the Trust's work. To see a photograph of the manuscript and a transcription side by side click here

15 May 2012

Exeter Loans Du Maurier’s notebook to the British Library

The University of Exeter has loaned The Rebecca Notebook – the key document that defended Daphne Du Maurier against plagiarism – to the British Library for the major new Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition.

Obviously, this is some great publicity for archives and heritage collections at the Uni where Carrie and I currently work and study (and as regularly as possible try to champion the collections), and draws attention to the excellent Du Maurier holdings we have here.

The notebook has been on public display along with other items such as Du Maurier’s writing desk within Exeter’s recently revamped Research Commons. The book was donated to Exeter in 2001 by Du Maurier’s children; it contains draft material for her most famous novel Rebecca, and as such was used as evidence in a plagiarism case launcehd against the writer in 1947, proving the authenticity of her authorship of the novel.

The Notebook appears in a section of the exhibition that looks at how writers are inspired by the rivers, seashores and other waterscapes of the country, alongside some other regionally related mauscripts such as the Exeter Book from Exeter Cathedral.

Christine Faunch, head of heritage collections (and a speaker back at our original conference), said of the loan: “These unique items are a fantastic resource for our students, who regularly consult them for dissertations, and our academics. However, we are also committed to sharing our historic documents with wider audiences.”

For full information (and further words from Chris), see Exeter’s news pages.

For more information on Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, click here.

8 May 2012

The curious case of the stolen Hemingway letters

This piece on the Hemingway letters reads like a short crime story! It has theft, prison, letters with incendiary content...
Letters by Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Morley Callaghan were stolen from a Toronto book dealer in 1993. these letters are now estimated to be worth $1 million and the dealer believes they are still out there.

The letters discuss one of the most famous fights in literary history (are there many?) — a 1929 boxing match in Paris between Hemingway and Callaghan, during which Hemingway was bloodied, then knocked to the mat.


2 Apr 2012

Manuscripts Still Matter: British Library Conference

A great looking upcoming event at the British Library -- Manuscripts Still Matter (Mon 30 Apr 2012, 09.00 - 18.00, Conference Centre, British Library £20).

Both Carrie and I will be there, and will be tweeting throughout (@LisaRoseStead / @CarrieRSmith) and following up with a full report on the day here on the blog. Full details below:

Manuscripts Still Matter is the second conference of the UK Literary Heritage Working Group. The highly acclaimed first conference Manuscripts Matter, held in 2006, focused on collecting modern literary archives and included discussion about the loss of British archives to overseas buyers and the perspectives of institutions, dealers and creators of archives. Now, Manuscripts Still Matter will consider the situation for archival institutions, archive creators and a broad range of users given the changing financial and political climate since.

The day will begin with discussion of the situation for literary archives since 2005 and later sessions will consider the archives sector as a whole. The programme includes a session on the use of archives by the Creative Industries, which will include the British Library’s Artist in Residence, Christopher Green, and discussion of funding of the heritage sector with the Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Carole Souter, and others. An in conversation session with the poet, Wendy Cope and former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, will consider the feelings of writers and poets on using archives, and seeing their own papers archived. Finally the programme will include a series of short presentations on different literary archive collections designed to demonstrate the vibrancy of the UK archives and manuscripts sector that the Working Group wishes to champion.

Conference fee includes a buffet lunch and refreshments.

27 Mar 2012

Free Public Lecture: Betjeman's Devon

The University of Exeter's Dr Paul Williams will be giving a free public lecture April 25th at Sidmouth Library, titled 'Public Space and Popular Genres: Betjeman's Devon'.

Using examples from John Betjeman’s poems and films about Devon, the talk will explore Betjeman’s preoccupation with the environments in which people live and interact. As well as being a best-selling poet, Betjeman was in demand as a radio and television broadcaster. In this illustrated talk, Dr Williams will argue that Betjeman used popular forms of expression to find a voice for the theme of public interaction that he wanted to protect in Britain’s towns and villages.
The lecture is from 6.30 - 745 pm, free entry available by advanced booking.

21 Mar 2012

Wastelands to Wonderlands Exhibit at the BL

A new exhibition at the British Library, titled Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, is to feature over 150 works on display, including the notebook of William Blake, Lewis Carroll’s diary and the Lake District handbook of William Wordsworth. The original written version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will be displayed with Carroll’s illustrations, and for the first time the library is showing materials from Laurie Lee’s archive, which it acquired two years ago.

The exhibition explores the links between landscapes and literary classics, showcasing archival materials that show how British writers have been inspired by and have shaped the nation’s understanding of place and landscape.

Other featured writers include Ted Hughes, Virginia Woolf, Chaucer, J G Ballard and Angela Carter.

The exhibition is part of the London 2012 Festival.

For more information on the BL website, click here. The exhibit will run from the 11th May.

20 Mar 2012

Literary Pilgrimages to the West Country

Reclamation and Representation keynote Professor Helen Taylor (University of Exeter) will be talking at an upcoming event at Exmouth Library, exploring the rich history of Devon’s literary past from Austen to Coleridge, Salinger to Waugh. The event offers a fascinating look at literary history and literary tourism in the region.
The talk will take place on Weds 28th March in Exmouth Library.
Tickets can be booked from the library (at the very agreeable sum of a mere £2), contactable at exmouth.library@devon.gov.uk, and further information can be found on the WordQuest Devon site: http://www.auneheadarts.org.uk/site/projects/wordquest/index.html

17 Mar 2012

A Publisher's Archive: Charles Pick

Publisher Charles Pick’s archive has been recently opened, offering a glimpse into his lengthy career and working relationship with big literary names including John Steinbeck, JD Salinger, John Le Carre and Roald Dahl.

The archive, donated by his son to the University of East Anglia, includes a large collection of letters, interviews and press cuttings. For more info, see the Guardian coverage and UEA pages.

2 Mar 2012

Salman Rushdie talks about his archive: Live twitter stream

Search for the hash tag  or follow @rogerwhitson and @briancroxall for tweets from "a digital dialogue with Salman Rushdie and Erika Farr" about Rushdie's archive at Emory University, digital practices and his memoir written using the archive.

See a list of the tweets at - Storify

29 Feb 2012

Based on Baskin: young local artists and the archive

Exeter is currently hosting Based on Baskin -- an exhibition of original prints by young people aged 13-19 years from across Devon, taking their inspiration from the work of Leonard Baskin, the poetry of Ted Hughes and the collaboration of these two artists.

The young people came to view original Baskin prints which are held in the Heritage Collections Department at the University and found out about more about both the printing processes he used, and his working relationship with Ted Hughes, illustrating poetry collections such as Cappricio and Crow.

The exhibition also offers the chance to see some reproductions of a selection of Leonard Baskin’s held within the University’s archives.

The project and exhibition are a collaboration between Double Elephant Print Workshop, the University of Exeter Arts & Culture Department and University of Exeter Art Society members, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

If you happen to be in Exeter, do drop by -- it's well worth a look, the launch on Monday was wonderful--some beautiful original work and great ideas about how to use the archive in original and creative ways.

For more information follow this link: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/about/vision/arts/exhibitions/

The exhibition runs till the end of April and is held in Kay House, Duryard.

9 Feb 2012

Can you help create an archivist's tool kit plugin for Omeka?

Interest Level in Omeka Plugin for the Data Transfer from Archivist's Toolkit
"After recently taking a look at Omeka, a thought occurred to me.  Wouldn't be great if records from the Archivist's Toolkit, AT for  short, (http://www.archiviststoolkit.org/) could be published to an  Omeka instance. This would clearly seem to have value to institutions  that use the AT for cataloging work, but don't have an accessible  public publication platform.

Taking a quick look at the code needed to do this, it seems that it  would require an Omeka plugin, and an AT plugin. The Omeka plugin would handle authentication, and metadata and/or files sent to it by the AT plugin, then create the Omeka records (Collections, Items, and Files). The AT plugin on the other hand would allow users to select AT records to publish to Omeka. Ideally this can all be done with one- click. Now, I saw that there is a plugin for importing EAD finding aids already, however, this only allows transfer of one of the record types in the AT, not other relevant ones (i.e. Accessions, Assessments, and Digital Objects) which an institution may be willing to publish.

So from my point of view, there is value in doing such a project; however, there are few questions which I hope this group can help answer.

1. What would be the general interest level be in this?Are there a lot institutions that use both tools now, or could such a product drive adoption of Omeka by folks currently using the AT?

2. Would there be interest in supporting this plugin on Omeka.net? I can even imagine a plan which would host both the AT database also.

3. And most importantly, what are the options available to found development/support of this work? Is there any small grants that could be applied for, or would users be willing to pay for this
product. "

31 Jan 2012

Children's literature from the archives: 'Girls and Boys in Storyland' Exhibitions

Two new exhibitions of children’s literature are taking place at Exeter Central Library and the University of Exeter in April 2012. The exhibitions are being organized by Exeter Central Library and the University's Heritage Collections to showcase highlights from their exciting archival collections of early children’s books. From Margery Meanwell (aka Goody-Two Shoes) to Matt
Merrythought (the boy who was always happy), the displays will give visitors a chance to see how boys and girls were depicted in rhymes, stories and illustrations from the nineteenth- and early-twentieth centuries. The exhibition's new blog is can be found at http://girlsandboysinstoryland.wordpress.com/

20 Jan 2012

Links to Helpful Archives and Cultural Heritage Web Sites

We would just like to draw your atention to this amazing list of websites and resources from archiveinfo.com


New Resource: Paper Through Time


(Thanks to @wvmierlo for bringing this to our attention)

The project aims to to better understand paper composition and conservation by analysing paper specimens from 14th-19th centuries.

From the project website:

"Historical papers vary considerably in their present-day condition for reasons that are not fully understood. This website shares the results of research on 1,578 paper specimens made between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The papers tested were selected from collections at the Newberry Library and The University of Iowa, and were analyzed using nondestructive instrumentation. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kress Foundation, and The University of Iowa provided funding support.

The results of this 2007-10 project show that the oldest papers are often in the best condition, in part, we believe, because they contain high levels of gelatin and calcium. “People often wonder why in the digital age we should be concerned about paper stability,” says principal investigator Timothy Barrett. “Artifacts on paper often contain valuable information related to human history that is not accessible in a digital image. Not only do these artifacts need to be preserved for future generations, but paper copies that can be read without electronic hardware will continue to be essential backups to the digital record long into the future.” The results of this research will be of special interest to paper historians, paper and book conservators, and producers of archival papers."

Press release: http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2012/january/011712paper.html

13 Jan 2012

Daily Record of Researching in the Plath Archive

Peter K Steinberg is recording his experiences of working with the Plath archive at Smith on the blog - http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com/

The posts include images, description of items in the archive, the general feeling of working with the papers, information about places she visited in the area and demonstrations of her typewriter etc.

Update from the Plath archive: Day 1
Recording his initial searches

Update from the Plath archive: Day 2
Including transcribing Plath's letters and and image of a greetings card in the collection

Update from the Plath archive: Day 3
A tour (with photos) of some of  the places Plath visited and an image of her prom dress which is in the Smith collection

Update from the Plath archive: Day 4
Including a video of Peter typing on Plath's Royal typewriter.

See also Peter's records of his time at the Lilly Library, Indiana - Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5 

7 Jan 2012

Dickens Exhibit at the British Library

The British Library currently has a free exhibition on Charles Dickens as part of the Dickens 2012 celebrations—which you’ve probably noticed merrily swamping the BBC over Christmas, with a pretty good adaptation of Great Expectations and a number of documentaries fromArmando Iannucci’s views on Dickens’ style to Sue Perkin’s wonderful programme about the long suffering and overlooked Mrs Dickens.

The British Library exhibit , titled ‘Charles Dickens and the Supernatural’, focuses on Dickens’ exploration of and relationship with supernatural phenomenon in his works, correspondence and writing, and showcases a number of prints, first editions, copies of the Victorian periodicals over which Dickens presided such as Household Wordsand All the Year Round, and original letters and illustrations from his works.

The exhibit space is fairly small in the Folio Society Gallery, but well worth a look if you’re around the BL, particularly for its display of the marvellously sensationalist penny magazines of Dickens youth, such as The Terrific Register, which covered everything from ghouls and ghosts to cannibalism and incest.

I also caught the Illuminated Manuscripts [not free] exhibition while there-- ‘Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination’-- beautiful and fascinating, especially one illustrated pilgrimage map, much like a medieval religious pop-up book, made into an interactive digital display enabling the viewing to chart the root through each intricate illustration and direction. Wonderful: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/royalman/about/index.html