Session 15 — The Ecology of Archives

Saturday 09:30 - 11:00

High Tor 4

Chair: Sharon Howard

The Organisation of Physical Archives and the Challenges this Presents in Creating Digital Resources

  • Ralph Morton

Coventry University

The last two years have seen the creation of the British Telecom Correspondence Corpus at Coventry University. Working with material from the vast public archive of BT I have extracted, transcribed and, using TEI compliant XML, marked-up just over six hundred business letters written by nearly four hundred authors on a wide variety of topics spanning the years 1853-1982. Though this is a crucial era in the development of business correspondence, it is currently under-represented in correspondence and business English corpora.

The wealth of authentic language data available in the public archive of BT makes it a very promising subject for linguistic study. However there are a number of things about the way that archive material is collected and organised that make archives problematic as sources of corpus material. Many of these issues are relevant to the creation of digital resources in general. One major challenge is the identification of suitable material on an item level. Archive collections are typically organised by ‘series’, meaning types of records and documents relating to particular events are grouped together, but finding individual text types and individual items can prove difficult.

In this talk I will discuss the way in which the public archives I worked with are organised and catalogued, and the general implications that this has for the digitisation of that material. I will also talk about the specific challenges of working with the BT archive to construct the BT Correspondence Corpus, looking at letter identification, letter selection, and metadata extraction. Finally I will discuss how, despite these challenges, the creation of digital resources can enhance physical archive collections.

Corpus Newtonicum: Towards a Digital Knowledge Site of Isaac Newton's Manuscripts

  • Cornelis J. (Kees-Jan) Schilt

University of Sussex

In 1727 Isaac Newton died as one of the world's most famous natural philosophers. Remarkably, of the many draft manuscripts he left, only a few concern what we now call physics or mathematics. Instead, they contain thousands of pages on alchemy, theology and chronology or world history. Newton compiled experimental reports of his alchemical experiments, copied rare alchemical tracts, wrote lengthy treatises defending a heretical form of Christianity and rewrote the history of ancient empires. And not just once: he painstakingly composed sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, deleting, adding, starting all over, to the extent that we sometimes have over 50 versions of a single paragraph. Ordering these manuscripts, or even reliably dating them, has hitherto been an impossible task. And apart from a few selected short documents, no one has yet dared to edit them.

Anno 2014 the majority of these draft manuscripts, which amount to over 6 million words, have been transcribed by the Newton Project using TEI P5 and MathML. For the first time in history we can actually start to analyse the logical structure of the many projects that Newton worked on, and use his manuscripts to catch a glimpse of his working practices. Classical notions of editing, which have so far served digital editors rather well, are difficult to apply to this vast and complex Corpus Newtonicum. Moreover, they wouldn't do justice to the richness and depth of Newton's research. Using the concept of Peter Shillingsburg's knowledge site, this paper explores some of the challenges and possibilities of digitally editing Newton's draft manuscripts, the fading borders of various types of editions in the digital world and the changing role of the editor.  

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

  • Margaret Linley

Simon Fraser University

 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.