The Leverhulme Trust has awarded a grant of £124,201 to the University of Reading for a project exploring literary archives: “Diasporic Literary Archives: Questions of Location, Ownership and Interpretation.”
The project is led by the University of Reading with network partners including the Beinecke Library, (Yale University), Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine (IMEC), Centro di Ricerca sulla Tradizione Manoscritta di Autori Moderni e Contemporanei, Pavia, National Library and Archives Service of Namibia, and University of Trinidad and Tobago.
The project, which will take place between January 2012 and December 2014, will create an international network to investigate issues and practices relating to the location, ownership and interpretation of literary archives.
Further details about the project are available here: http://media-newswire.com/release_1155808.html.
Literary archives are often dispersed across various institutions. This is certainly the case with the archives of Franz Kafka, for whom Worldcat lists 113 repositories with archival holdings, despite the fact that Kafka intentionally destroyed much of his papers during his lifetime. Large collections of Kafka papers are held at the Bodleian Libraries (University of Oxford) and Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach. These institutions recently cooperatively purchased a collection of Kafka’s letters, a collaboration that “is thought to be the first time that a literary archive has been purchased jointly by two institutions in different countries with the intention to share access and scholarly activities.” An encouraging step in light of the legal proceedings concerning Max Brod’s literary estate, an estate that contains diaries, manuscripts, and letters that Kafka bequeathed to Brod, with the one caveat that Brod burn them (he didn’t).
For more details about the collaboration between Bodleian Libraries and Deutsches Literaturarchiv see http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2011-april-04 . For more information about Brod’s literary estate consult Elif Batuman’s article “Kafka’s Last Trial,” The New York Times Magazine (September 26, 2010).
In “ Raiders of The Lost Archive: Writers’ Papers Don’t Necessarily Belong at Home ,” The Economist (August 13, 2011) questions “does retaining writers’ collections really offer a broader cultural benefit?” and suggests that “literary protectionism may have passed its peak.” The argument suggests that literary archives, and especially born-digital archives, lack the immediate magic and aesthetic value of other cultural artifacts (namely paintings). Will the increase of born-digital archives undermine the current market for literary papers? Does evaluating literary archives on their aesthetic merits, by comparing them with paintings and other art objects, overlook their fundamental cultural value?