Baldock – Question 1
1Is digital representation of archival materials making print representation obsolete? Are there specific ways you see the two working in tandem?
British Library Scholarship Student and PhD Student in English – University of Sheffield
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the case of the archive I have worked with – that of the poet Wendy Cope housed at the British Library – digital correspondence in the form of emails is, to a large extent, replacing and perhaps rendering obsolete, handwritten letters. Emails are not archival materials that started life as paper manuscripts and were then digitized, but materials that were born-digital and never inscribed on paper. Contemporary archives, therefore, serve to complicate progressive narratives of obsolescence and supersession in relation to print and digital. Born-digital materials, I would argue, have their own implications for the way that archives are formed, cataloged, and represented by archivists, and accessed by researchers.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Wendy Cope’s is one of a new generation of hybrid archives. It contains around 40,000 of the poet’s emails dating from 2004 to 2011, as well as 15 boxes of paper material.1 As communication practices change, contemporary writers are increasingly using email and other forms of social media to communicate with their friends, literary networks, publishers, and readers. In turn, their archives reflect and represent these practices.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Cope’s emails were captured from her online email account using forensic software and then stored in digital form in a secure environment, which mimics the way her emails would have appeared in their original context. This makes scrolling through Cope’s vast inbox an entirely different experience from handling the handwritten letters and postcards contained in the paper archive. Something of the materiality of handwritten manuscripts and letters has been lost. The emails appear disembodied and uniform and the quirks of an individual letter writer, such as individual handwriting style, paper choice, and layout on the page, can seem to be flattened or erased by the impersonality of the computer screen.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 However, from my own experience conducting research with the archive, the paper and born-digital elements are still very much intertwined. It is beneficial and necessary for scholars to be able to look at the two together and to compare the handwritten with the digital. While emails may not bear the scribal marks of their makers in the same way as letters, they are date and time stamped, making it possible to determine, down to the exact second, when emails were sent. It is also possible to read correspondence as a conversation, tracing a discussion through the inbox and sent items. I found the size and relative completeness of the email archive a rich source of context when looking at handwritten and typewritten drafts of poems. I was able to compare handwritten drafts of Cope’s poems in notebooks with emails both sent and received in a particular month, thus providing me with an insight into the correspondences and contexts that shaped and inspired particular poems.
- ¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0
- Other examples of hybrid literary archives include the Salmon Rushdie Papers at Emory University, http://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/rushdie1000/, and the Robert Creeley Papers at Stanford University, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf7b69n911/. [↩]