It is now just over a year since HM The Queen formally launched the Georgian Papers Programme at Windsor Castle. That event marked the culmination of numbers of conversations with potentially interested parties and supporters and detailed work on scoping and costing. What would it take in person power, building works and academic investment to transform access to the uncatalogued 18th century Royal Archives, to unlock their potential for academic research and public engagement?
Well, where are we now? At Windsor the creation of a joint King’s College London- Royal Archives post of project Coordinator has supported the completion of the scoping and costing of digitisation and enhanced physical access and allowed some toes to be dipped in the water about the potential richness of the content. With the appointment of new posts at King’s and the Royal Archives in February-March 2016, digitisation has begun and cataloguing is underway in Windsor while at King’s the focus is on requirements gathering on search strategies or the stuff under the bonnet that will allow you to be confident that your search terms really are locating the material which is of interest. Work is equally underway in testing the potential of handwritten transcription and how best to support microsite development and innovative interrogation of available text.
Building work now in progress inside Windsor’s tower will result by early July 2016 in a modern archive facility. Regular five day access is also planned with the caveat that the Castle is the home of the Monarch and some work day closures are to be expected.
The academic challenge for the Programme is perhaps no less complex than adapting an iconic tower. How do you begin to secure interest and support for a research strategy when you are not confident about what is there? We began by speculating on the basis of the known-knowns and in a variety of exploratory seminars we have shared ideas about potentially rich lines of enquiries on subjects as diverse as breeding stocks, social networks, diet and the impact of female patronage. In this we have been fortunate to benefit from the leadership of King’s Centre for Enlightenment Studies and the input of colleagues from the British Museum, the Science Museum, the National Maritime Museum, Yale, Harvard and, of course, the Royal Archives and Royal Library. Just how much value the Royal Archives might add to our understanding was hinted at in the joint Centre and Programme public lecture by Professor Amanda Vickery on ‘The Political Day’ which reflected a painstaking compilation of the detail of political and influence networks around Westminster.
The move to testing the known-unknowns has been informed by the approach suggested by King’s primary US Programme partners, The Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture and the College of William and Mary. In 2015 the Omohundro funded two month long fellowships for researchers willing to explore the potential of the archives for their own research and to feedback on their findings to the Programme. Two fellowships were equally funded by King’s, and although the value for specific lines of enquiry has inevitably varied, researchers all reported back on the potential richness of the untapped archives .In 2016 the Omohundro, in a fantastic vote of confidence, has committed to funding up to eight fellowships a year for the duration of the Programme to 2020 through its Lapidus Initiative.
What next for 2016? First digital content is now being made digitally available in King’s Archives Services and the Swem Library of the College of William and Mary to allow professional librarians, archivists and information scientists to test strategies for enhancement and access. In June, at the annual Omohundro conference in Worcester, MA, existing ideas on access and discovery were shared and tested. Already, the first of a succession of Omohundro and King’s supported fellows planned for this year, has spent time in the Royal Archives continuing to transform our understanding of the potential of the Royal Archives while undertaking their own research. They will be soon joined by the first of five fellows to be appointed annually by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. In November the Programme will welcome Professor Andrew O’ Shaughnessy, the first Sons of the American Revolution supported visiting professor to King’s and the Royal Archives.
For news on the progress of digitisation and access, opportunities for fellowships and engagement with the Programme please keep an eye on this site which mirrors the Omohundro site, which can be found here: http://gpp.wm.edu/.
Patricia Methven, Programme Manager
Georgian Papers Programme, King’s College London