Workshop Report

Cardiff University, 9 December 2016

According to AS Byatt in her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession (1990), ‘Literary critics make the best detectives’. Why is this case? Perhaps it’s because literary critics are used to not just looking at a single text and extracting meaning from it: they also work with multiple texts and, following clues and leads, create links between them. They ‘join up the dots’ in these texts to make a critical case for or against something. If the literary critic is a detective then the evidence room, as Byatt would no doubt concur, is the archive itself. In Possession, Byatt romanticizes the archive so that the physical site of the archive, the evidence room, in conjunction with the documents the archive may contain, creates the powerful impression of being the source of all historical authenticity. This Romantic ideal of the archive suggests to us that it is only by delving deep down in to a special collections section of a research library, for example, can we ever have an ‘authentic’ experience with the past. Of course, we can never directly experience the past ‘authentically’ in this way (or any other) but it demonstrates just how powerful this sense of the archive has over our imagination.

The GW4: Remediating the Archive workshop, by bringing into dialogue special collections librarians, researchers and digital specialists, asked the questions: What happens when such archives are remediated (transformed into a different medium, in this case the digital)? What is gained and lost in this process? How can we improve such remediated archives? How can we better engage the public with these new resources? By fostering discussion among the delegates through highlighting special collections and archival holdings across the GW4 and providing an overview of recent and ongoing digitization projects based in the alliance, the day, through a series of talks and workshops explored the opportunities and challenges faced institutionally and by individual scholars working on such digital projects. Continue reading