Samantha Callaghan, Metadata Analyst, King’s Digital Laboratory
Early Modern Collection Catalogues: Open Questions, Digital Approaches, Future Directions was a workshop held at the British Museum, 15-16 February 2018, and intended to outline and discuss some of the issues that the Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s Catalogues of his Collection research team had encountered during their work. To that end, the team invited an international selection of experienced people working with similar types of digital projects or projects in the same time period to respond to the team’s presentations. Many respondees also had the opportunity to present on their own projects/approaches.
It was a congenial two days to meet and discuss, sometimes with much fervour, issues that are common across much of the work undertaken in digital spaces of the Enlightenment period. Below is a mix of reportage on particular sessions, reflections on how the work of the Georgian Papers Programme (GPP) complements or diverges from some standpoints taken by speakers, as well as a broader reflection on the greater digital project landscape in which the GPP sits. Some recurring themes from the workshop included: gaps within the Linked Open Data network for Eighteenth century projects, audiences and models, and workflows.
Venue: The Great Hall, Strand Campus, King’s College London
Professor Paquette lectured on Spain’s role in the American Revolution. He is especially interested in the Anglo-Spanish relationship, and the outbreak of war between these two countries in 1779. George III strenuously sought to prevent long-standing rivalry with Spain from leading to war and he sought in vain to end hostilities at various points. Using the Georgian Papers and other manuscript sources, Paquette traced the evolution of Spain’s relations with Britain during the American Revolution, when the two Powers clashed from Honduras to Gibraltar. What emerged is a portrait of George III’s ‘personal diplomacy’ and British strategic priorities in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Atlantic World more generally.
You can listen to Professor Paquette’s lecture here
(The lecture itself begins at c. 11.25, following an introduction to the Programme and Professor Paquette. We apologise for the poor sound quality especially for the questions from the Q&A session at the end).
Gabriel Paquette is Professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and was the 2017 Sons of the American Revolution Georgian Papers Programme visiting professor at King’s College London. His research explores aspects of European, Latin American and international History. His first book, Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire, 1759-1808 (Palgrave, 2008) analyzed the intellectual origins of the later eighteenth-century reforms undertaken by the Spanish Crown in the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish America; in 2013 he published Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770-1850 (CUP). He is now working on a synoptic history of Western European ‘seaborne’ empires in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to his principal areas of research, Paquette has written on the history of Anglo-Iberian relations, Spanish American Independence, Marx and Hegel, Romanticism, and early nineteenth-century Liberalism.
The Sons of the American Revolution
The Sons of the American Revolution is an historical, educational and patriotic non-profit corporation whose members are direct descendants of the men and women who supported the cause of American Independence during the years 1774-1783. The National Society of the Sons of the Revolution is collaborating with King’s College London to sponsor visiting professorships at the College and hosted by various departments. The visiting professors work on their own research and disseminate their findings relevant to the GPP to academics, archivists and the wider public. The Georgian Papers Programme is very grateful to the Sons of the American Revolution for sponsoring this research opportunity and its ongoing support of the Programme more generally.
Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s
The Department of Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies (SPLAS) at King’s, which has hosted Professor Paquette, has historic roots in the early development of the academic study of the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds. This long tradition allows it to build in innovative ways on profound expertise in research and teaching across these languages, literatures and cultures. Modern Languages research at King’s achieved a ‘power’ ranking of 9th in the UK according the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, which assesses the quality and quantity of research across the UK’s universities. This research underpins teaching in SPLAS, which is developing new collaborations across the department that reflect and develop this fundamental relationship. Its courses reflect the diversity of interests within the Department, covering four continents and ranging from modern Brazilian music to Medieval Spanish literature. The Modern Languages departments at King’s ranked 7th in the UK in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by Subject and 8th in the Guardian University guide 2018. The Department has an extremely successful and vibrant graduate student culture, embracing both a PhD programme and an MA in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies. Its alumni contribute to the field of Hispanic and Lusophone studies in the UK and beyond.
Georgian Papers Programme
On April 1, 2015 the Georgian Papers Programme was launched at Windsor Castle in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. A collaboration between King’s College London, founded by George IV, and the Royal Collection Trust, the Programme is digitizing, disseminating, and interpreting an extraordinarily rich collection of materials, including correspondence, maps, and royal household ledgers. The Programme involves a number of international partnerships: notably with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and The College of William and Mary, the primary American partners, and also the Library of Congress and the Washington Library at Mount Vernon.
The project involves the digitisation of all the historic manuscripts from the Georgian period, totalling more than 350,000 pages, of which only about 15% have previously been published. While the vast majority of the collection comprises papers from George III, papers from Kings George I, George II, George IV and William IV are also being made available.
It is hoped that the work will transform the understanding of Georgian Britain and its monarchy, at a time of profound cultural, political, economic and social change which created the modern nation.
By Arthur Burns, Academic Director of the Georgian Papers Programme, King’s College London
As we launch the second tranche of digitized documents for the Georgian Papers project, this is a good moment to reflect on the progress of academic research related to the project. On 4 September 2017 the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle hosted a one-day symposium for the Georgian Papers Programme, organised by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. It provided an opportunity for those associated with the programme — whether as members of the core project team at King’s, the Royal Archives and the Omohundro, representatives of participating institutions such as the Library at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Library of Congress, or as fellows of the project — to hear extended reports from a significant proportion of the now more than thirty scholars whose research into the Georgian papers has been supported by fellowships from the Omohundro, King’s, Mount Vernon and the Sons of the American Revolution.
To all of those present it felt as if a significant and exciting milestone had been reached. The event not only demonstrated the extent and the range of the research already undertaken, but also made clear that this research has indeed begun to realize the Programme’s ambition of unlocking the potential of this unique archive to support new interpretations of important themes in eighteenth-century history across the globe. It also embodied a further ambition: to forge a community of scholars meeting on the common ground of a single archive to discuss the intersections and insights of their research in ways that highlight aspects of their projects which might not otherwise appear significant.
There is not enough space here to describe each of the papers presented in what was a very successful symposium. However, we anticipate that many of the fellows will soon themselves discuss their findings either in their own blogs here or in other venues. But this is a good opportunity to reflect on what the symposium reveals about the research taking place in association with the project, and to note some emerging themes.
The symposium made apparent what those already familiar with the archives suspected, but which, in the absence of full indexes and catalogues (which the project will produce), has hitherto been hidden from those who have not physically visited the Round Tower: the sheer range of research projects for which the archives contain significant materials. We explored the full chronological scope of the archive collection, which is still in the public mind largely associated with George III. Daniel Reed‘s (Oxford Brookes University) presentation of his research into royal chaplains concentrated on the period between 1714 and 1760, whereas Jane Levi‘s (King’s College London) discussion of the provisioning of royal banquets focused on the coronation festivities of George IV.
As these two examples also suggest, the range of themes discussed was also exceptionally wide. Those parts of the archive which have previously been published focus in particular on the political and military history traceable in royal correspondence, or the life of the court and the royal family. These topics were duly represented in the presentations with Rachel Banke‘s (University of Notre Dame) reconsideration of Lord Bute and George III’s respective contributions to imperial reform in the 1760s, Jim Ambuske‘s (University of Virginia) reflections on George’s reaction to the loss of America, and Andrew O’Shaughnessy‘s (Monticello and University of Virginia) discussion of the evidence the archive provides on the conduct of the war in America. These presentations demonstrated that — even on subjects of long-standing academic interest where we might think we know the sources — revisiting the archive can still bring fresh insights, not least as our sense of what might be ‘relevant’ material expands, and the selective nature of earlier editions becomes more apparent.
It was striking, nevertheless, how many presentations used the archive to illuminate quite different topics and approaches to history: thus as well as food history, we heard from Bruce Ragsdale (Mount Vernon GPP fellow) on estate management as evidenced in George III’s agricultural activities, Felicity Myrone (British Library) on George as collector of topographical prints and drawings, Miranda Reading (King’s College London) on a key early nineteenth-century pressure group, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Cynthia Kierner (George Mason University) on disaster relief in Georgian England, Flora Fraser (Mount Vernon GPP fellow) on the lives of Flora MacDonald and Horatio Nelson, and Anya Zilberstein (Concordia University) on animals in the Royal Archives.
The range was equally impressive in geographical terms, underlining that the Georgian Papers are not just an archive for British and North American history, but for all regions touched by the global Georgian: thus Suzanne Schwarz (University of Worcester) took us to Sierra Leone for reflections on the African Institution and its royal patrons and Vincent Carretta (University of Maryland) explored his search for evidence of Africans present in Britain in the eighteenth century. It was also striking how many of the papers adopted at least a transatlantic and, in several cases, a more far-reaching geographical frame, even when their focus was firmly on Britain. This reminded all present that we can no longer think of Britain in isolation during this period, and indicates that the nature of the Georgian royal archives, reflecting the global responsibilities and interests of the monarchs, of itself enforces a recognition of this.
The colloquium also prompted some general reflections. First, several papers made clear how important an understanding of the nature of the archive — of its origins, arrangement (and re-arrangement), selective publication and weeding — will be in allowing new insights into key issues (a theme explored further in Karin Wulf’s blog being published alongside this one). Thus it was clear from Felicity Myrone’s work just how significant decisions about arrangement and cataloguing of archives in the nineteenth century may have been in cementing views about the significance of George III as an eighteenth-century collector which may now need to be revised. This underlines the importance of the approach to the digitization and interpretation of the archival papers that this Programme has adopted, in which archivists, conservationists and academics work alongside each other rather than in sequence, sharing insights the significance of which only becomes fully apparent when discussed with those with a quite different expertise.
Secondly, it was clear that in exploiting the archives as evidence of the development of approaches to kingship and policy-making they are best understood when read alongside other key royal collections of books, art and material culture, with the interconnections offering the possibility of unlocking key questions of chronology and causation.
Thirdly, it became apparent that silences in the archive are often of equal significance as direct evidence. Over the course of the day there was at least as much interesting discussion of what researchers had not found as of what they had discovered. Several papers highlighted the absence — at least in those parts of the archive where we might most readily anticipate encountering it — of evidence relating to activities which from other sources we know were of significance to the royal family, one notable case being philanthropy. How should we explain this? Is it that these things were in fact less significant than we have hitherto believed? Is it that the evidence was disposed of by others who regarded it as too sensitive, personal or insignificant to merit or allow preservation? If so what does that say about our own understanding of these themes? Or is it that the evidence indeed survives, but in a different and unexpected part of the archive, to emerge as the cataloguing and digitization process continues? If the last, this may have important implications for our understanding of how contemporaries understood these themes themselves.
Two final reflections: the first regards the importance of serendipity in the archive. All archival scholars experience this, of course, but the fact that the Georgian papers still await definitive cataloguing and have been exploited for only a limited range of projects in the past increases its significance for researchers. Several of the papers reflected serendipitous discoveries and the resultant change of direction and approach to a theme prompted by encounters with unexpected documents in the archive. It will be part of the challenge of the digitization project to preserve this opportunity for chance encounters for remote users.
Finally, I want to return to the importance of building a research community around the papers, one united not by a shared approach or a geographical proximity, but by having worked in a particular archive. The symposium demonstrated the opportunities this presents for interdisciplinary exchange, revelations of significance not apparent from a focused project perspective and for fresh inspiration to pursue new insights that such a community affords. We hope to perpetuate that opportunity as our community of fellows grows, but will also seek to expand the community around the project over the next few months in a new initiative – The King’s Friends – which we are launching alongside the second release of papers. In the meantime, it remains only to thank Karin Wulf and her team at the Omohundro for organizing such a rewarding event.