In this blog entry, two keen volunteers from the Literary Archives project write about their experiences working with the Melvyn Bragg and Tony Harrison collections.
I recently mentioned that a number of students from the School of English volunteered to help organise the Bragg collection. However, this was just one part of the volunteers' work for the Special Collections Literary Archives project, to which 20 students have contributed. The papers of Tony Harrison (previously mentioned in these blog entries), have been the main focus of their work.
Two students have written about their volunteering experience - and so, over to them...
Sarah Webster: "It's not every day that you are handed a box containing hundreds of letters and personal correspondence addressed to leading poets and academics of the 21st century and told to sort it out. Through the Literary Archives project I have helped to preserve and order such correspondence and feel very privileged to have been involved in such a fantastic opportunity.
"The project has not only given me the chance of gaining experience and training in archiving, but in archiving some really fascinating papers. 'You never know what you might find' epitomises the Bragg collection, an absolute treasure trove of material. I found letters from addresses as humble as Bragg's local dry-cleaners alongside correspondence from Sandringham and No 10 Downing Street. The vast range of people writing to and involved in just one man's life was staggering and goes to show how the one can have such a huge influence on the many.
"To have made this material available to the public and for academic use and research is really satisfying, and I would certainly recommend the project to other students who are passionate about literature or interested to explore the mechanics of archiving."
Patrick Jones: "The experience of archiving for Special Collections has been fascinating and rewarding - everything I hoped it would be when I volunteered. As well as learning valuable preservation skills, and giving something back to a facility that has been vital to my studies, I have also gained an intimate insight into the life and work of Tony Harrison.
"My preconceptions of Harrison - a widely admired contemporary poet with a distinctively political and strongly English voice - were both affirmed and enlarged. Throughout the sessions I interacted with a wide range of material, from personal correspondence to manuscripts and proofs in varying degrees of completion. I was struck by the sheer breadth of his work, encompassing not just poetry but theatre, film and music.
"Two items from his personal correspondence were particularly memorable. Both John Berger and Werner Herzog, two artists I very much admire, wrote to Harrison and stressed, like ordinary fans, the importance of his poetry to their lives. The letters' poignancy and sincerity was touching and emphasised Harrison's enormous cultural stature.
"I will take many things away from the project. Most notably, I would now seriously consider archiving as a future career. It was great to become immersed in these artefacts of literary/cultural history and help make them available to future scholars. Equally, the project has inspired me to write some letters of my own. Here's hoping that Werner Herzog replies!"
Many thanks to Sarah and Patrick for sharing their thoughts - it makes it all the more worthwhile for the Special Collections team.