Diasporic archives

Leverhulme International Network:

Diasporic Literary Archives: Questions of Location, Ownership and Interpretation

Recent accelerated interest in book history, and what Derrida has called 'archive fever', has already issued heavier scholarly demands on literary archives and manuscripts and this trend is likely to continue. However, literary archives are not passive objects of enquiry and challenge as many ideas of cultural property and authenticity as they confirm. Their unique status as sources of cultural authority means that the stakes are high when engaging questions about the politics and ethics of location, the management and preservation of material, and impediments to access and retrieval.

Given that authors migrate, papers become dispersed among collectors, families, publishing businesses, and archives in different countries, the diasporic character of literary archives demands serious attention. This is made more complex by the fact that writers, agents and estates are becoming more attentive to the political and commercial issues involved in the donation, deposit or sale of their papers. Furthermore, in the digital age new technologies hold the potential to transform our understandings of location, access and preservation, affecting in turn the nature of the creative process and of manuscripts, and the forms of scholarship that respond most productively to these.

This project makes a timely multi- and cross-disciplinary intervention in the rapidly changing environment of literary archives. It establishes an international perspective on literary archives by examining the complicated and sometimes competing motives of different stakeholders.

At Reading, a team of five researchers will co-ordinate and manage the network - Dr David Sutton from the Library, Dr Alison Donnell and Dr Andrew Nash from the Department of English Language and Literature, Dr Daniela La Penna and Dr Sophie Heywood from the Department of Modern Languages. This Reading team will be working with the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University; the University of Trinidad and Tobago; the Centro di Ricerca sulla Tradizione Manoscritta di Autori Moderni e Contemporanei at the University of Pavia; the Institut Memoires de l'Edition Contemporaine in France and the National Library and Archive Service of Namibia.

Five workshops will be held across the three years in the different partner countries, to showcase notable archives and assess changes in technology, law and policy. The network will also produce an international online location register.

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