Book Ecology and Migrating Collections: The English Lake District and the Pacific Northwest

 Lake District travel writing is an established genre of historical and cultural significance dating back to the 1750s. The northwestern district of England, historically encompassing the counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, and Lancashire (now Cumbria), has been a tourist destination since the mid-eighteenth century when a state-sponsored road-building program opened a major northern thoroughfare from Lancaster to Keswick. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the region was cherished for its combined natural beauty and poetic associations. It also, however, became the site of repeated conflict and confrontation over shared cultural heritage and environmental encroachment; and the landscape continues to this day to bear the imprint of philosophical ideas and literary aesthetic values along with the scars of land use battles.

This paper presents the unique bibliographic challenges and opportunities of the digital humanities research project based on the SFU Library’s collection of rare English Lake District travel books, which dates back to the early eighteenth century but has a rich concentration of books from the Victorian period. The project aims to create an electronic archive from which to map roads of communication from the remote region Wordsworth immortalized in the English Northwest to the Canadian Pacific Northwest and comparatively analyse three networked ecologies: bibliographical, geographical, and digital. The project opens new methodological prospects and poses one of the most challenging problems of twenty-first century collections: the question of migration.

Strongly attached to a specific place, the SFU Lake District Collection calls attention on the one hand to a book’s unique constitution in relation to space and time and on the other to the problems and challenges involved when an entire ecology of books travels to a new environment—a situation underlined by the fact that the books themselves are about travel and the production of nature. This paper will address what’s at stake when the Victorian memorializing view of natural, common space, inherited from Wordsworth and more than a century of domestic travel writing, itself begins to travel – not only between geographic locations but also between print and digital media.

Answering the question of the ecological evolution, migration, and adaptation of cultural artifacts from the localized English Lake District in a distant place like Vancouver is timely and important. Precisely from a particular location such as the Pacific Northwest we can begin to take account of the current high stakes in cultural heritage, the environment, and the globalization of space. Charting and analyzing a rare book collection as an ecology, one that is as fundamental to the archives of colonial memory as it is to today’s environmental and cultural heritage practices, this paper proposes to contribute to our understanding of the place of book histories and collections in networking and memorializing mobile spatialities from the local to the global, from a remote region in the Northwest of imperial England to the colonial Pacific Northwest.