An enjoyable UROP experience for one of our students

Sophie McKenna writes:

I am currently working in the fifth week of my UROP placement, in which I am undertaking research for the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) at the University’s Special Collections. MAPP is a digital humanities project, which aims to create a digital resource that links publishing archives held in the UK, America, and Canada. I am working as a researcher for MAPP’s pilot project: a case study on the archives of the Hogarth Press, the publishing house founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

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Painted wooden door plaque, 52 Tavistock Square. Special Collections, Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

I am working with files containing editorial correspondence from 1920 to the 1950’s, and financial records dating from 1920-1934. My task has been to prepare these files for digitisation, by selectively interpreting their value as both a source and a subject for future scholarly research. By making this archive globally available in a digital format, MAPP will provide an innovative way for researchers to explore the various processes of publishing production.

The first stage of digitisation I undertook was to take high-resolution photographs of each individual page of the order books, and each page of correspondence. These photographs are currently stored on the University of Reading’s library server and will eventually be used by researchers in theModernist Archives Publishing Project.

In addition to presenting images of the physical archive in digital format, an important part of the digitisation process is the manual transcription of the files. A large part of my work has involved transcribing into Excel the order books kept by Leonard Woolf, in which he handwrote the financial records of the Hogarth Press. Transcription can be a slow and difficult process, due to the extensive nature of the records: for each title published, each individual entry lists the name of the customer; the date of despatch; the date of payment; the price paid, and the number of copies sold. Later order books contain balance sheets, records of profit and loss for individual titles, and notes on production and publicity costs. Additionally, due to the quirks of idiosyncratic penmanship, I have often found it difficult to correctly identify the names and addresses I am responsible for accurately transcribing, so I have taken time to research and check the entries that I need to confirm are correct. However, as the process has continued, I have found this aspect to become easier, as I have learnt to recognise certain names and addresses!
Once completed, my transcriptions will be included in the MAPP database alongside the physical images of the order books, as this enables visitors of the website to personally explore the archive in a visual format, and the transcription alongside the images will allow for a verified clarification of the handwritten material that is often difficult to interpret.

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Here I am, standing next to the archival camera I used to photograph the documents in the archive.

The correspondence files I have studied offer a fascinating insight into the world of publishing. It could easily be assumed that publishing records only contain financial records and numerical data, which may be of limited use to scholars of literature and history. However, by reading letters containing active discussions over copyright permissions; prices of publication; requests for reprints and general production; sales, and editorial demands, it is easy to imagine and explore the busy world of publishing.

I have been able to construct ‘stories from the archive’, which can then be preserved in the digitisation process, by selecting specific examples of these publishing activities found in the correspondence of the Hogarth Press archive. For example, correspondence between the Hogarth Press and Messrs Lowe & Brydone (Printers) Ltd, reveals that in 1940, there was a failed attempt to reprint Sigmund Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego and Collected Papers, Vol. 1, due to a low paper supply; caused by the need for paper rationing during World War Two. By preserving stories such as these, MAPP can show how publishing history can be used in innovative and unique ways.

In order to access the archive at Special Collections, researchers must obtain permissions from Random House, the publisher who now owns the archive, and the relevant author’s estate, who hold the copyright for the materials pertaining to the author. In order to help future researchers, I have used the online WATCH database to create my own spreadsheet in Excel, which lists the relevant copyright information for all the authors who have files in the publishing archives at Special Collections. By creating a database which singularly holds the contact details for all copyright holders, it will be much easier for researchers to find the information they need to acquire copyright permissions.

This placement has provided me with invaluable experience. By working at Special Collections, I have been able to carry out research in a practical environment, and I have learnt skills which will continue to be useful in my academic work. Formal research experience is not usually available to undergraduate students, and so I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to assist the Modernist Archives Publishing Project. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to attend my first conference: a series of talks about Digital Humanities held at the British Library. I was then given the opportunity to help create an academic poster detailing the aims and achievements of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project, and had the privilege of presenting this poster with my co-workers at a Digital Humanities event held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which was a wonderful opportunity to present and discuss my research with academics. Furthermore, I have enjoyed working at MERL so much that I am now interested in pursuing a career within the heritage sector, and my UROP placement has given me the opportunity to explore this kind of work environment. Overall, I would highly recommend undergraduate students at Reading to apply for UROP placements, due to the unique experience of practical research within the university.

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Dr. Nicola Wilson and I, presenting the MAPP poster at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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