Paul Carlyle, Carcanet Project Archivist, writes:
In late 2019 the University of Manchester Library was awarded funding by Arts Council England to confront the difficult and fascinating challenge of both managing and providing access to modern literary archives in digital formats. Palladium (Providing Access to Large Literary Archives in a Digital Medium) is the name of the project supported by this funding, a project regular readers of this blog may already be familiar with. For this project, we are looking specifically at the vast email archive of the Carcanet Press, the celebrated Manchester-based literary publisher, which forms a substantial part of one of the Library’s richest and most important literary collections. This is the latest phase of work that began almost a decade ago, and builds on the excellent, pioneering contributions of colleagues at the Library as well as more recent activities.
The Carcanet archive contains more than 300,000 emails, including attachments, with more on the way. The emails document all aspects of the Press’s work from the early 2000s to the present, and will prove invaluable to researchers interested in Carcanet and its authors, as well as wider literary debates involving the Press and its related, though independent, magazine, PN Review. The email archive, however, presents some difficult problems, not least the daunting number of items it contains and the inherent long-term technical challenges that come with managing digital formats. Over the next few months the Palladium project team will:
- Consider the long-term preservation and management of Carcanet’s email archive, and develop workflows and tools for the accessioning of email archives in general
- Examine the considerable technical, legal and ethical issues relating to email archives (such as the obsolescence of digital formats, data protection and copyright)
- Explore ways to provide researchers with access to the email archive, and support both current and new areas of digital scholarship
- Invite creative responses to the email archive from artists and writers.
We are particularly excited by the opportunity to use and develop ePADD, free and open source software developed by our colleagues at Stanford University’s Special Collections and University Library. (My colleague Jessica Smith wrote about ePADD and the Carcanet email archive last year.) As part of the Palladium project, we are looking at ways to modify ePADD, so that it can enhance our ability to appraise and provide access to large email archives. Palladium also supports the work of another project involving the development of ePADD, a collaboration between the University of Manchester, Stanford and Harvard.
As well as being an experiment in archival methodologies, the Palladium project is also an experiment in remote working. Like many others in the UK and across the world, staff at the University of Manchester Library have worked mostly from home throughout the covid-19 pandemic. Members of the project team live in different UK cities – some have yet to even meet one another in person – and they are collaborating with colleagues based on the east and west coasts of the US. Digital collections certainly lend themselves better to this style of working than paper ones, thanks to current technology. But it is a novel way of working for many of us, and it will be interesting to see how it influences our working practices now and in the future.
Keep an eye on the blog for news of our progress with the project, and our continuing experiments with ePADD.