Coffee Mornings: Powering the Exploration of an Unfamiliar Archive

By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.

On the 20th October and 15th December 2016, King’s College London hosted coffee mornings for the fellows of the Georgian Papers Programme. These coffee mornings were opportunities for King’s academics to get to know the research undertaken in the Royal Archives. Most importantly, they were an opportunity for the fellows to share their research, their plans, and their ideas. As academic liaison, my hope, and the hope of my colleagues on the programme, is to encourage the development of a cohort of scholars sharing their knowledge of the archives.

While the Georgian Papers Programme will digitise the collections in the Royal Archives associated with the long eighteenth century, part of this process involves understanding the papers George and his family left to posterity. This is one of the most exciting parts of the process because so little is known about the contents. For a long time these papers were housed by the Duke of Wellington before he graciously donated them to the Royal Archives.

However, the full extent of the collections is still unknown and a lot of activity on the programme is about learning what is in the archives. There are index cards that record the addressee and receiver for correspondence, and our colleagues at the archives have initially surveyed the collections, giving us researchers an overview of the material, then alongside the digitisation there is a team cataloguing the items. Moreover, after the material goes up on the website another team enrich the catalogue by adding metadata information that provides keywords to help navigate. Finally, there is an exciting computer programme being written that can read the handwriting of George and some of his family, so there will also be the ability to search the collections through a keyword search. However, until all this is complete, researchers working in the archives still rely heavily on the expertise of the archivists and the experience of fellow scholars. And this is why these coffee mornings are so useful.

During the first meeting, we were joined by Bruce Ragsdale, Suzanne Schwarz, Felicity Myrone and Adam Crymble. There was also a good collection of King’s academics, including a welcome from Paul Readman, Vice Dean for Research in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, giving a sense of the institutional context of the Georgian Papers Programme and the work of King’s. We also were joined by Katie Sambrook, who provided an overview of the possible connections with the College’s special collections, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office collection. Likewise, Geoff Browell described the King’s College archives.

Each of the fellows gave a brief sense of their research plans. Bruce presented a short overview of his work on George Washington and the possible connections between Washington’s interest in agriculture and George III’s interest. Adam gave us a fascinating oversight of his project to create a digital archive of a single meal of George III. Suzanne shared images of the sources about Sierra Leone that were fundamental to her research. Finally, Felicity Myrone described her current project cataloguing George’s maps and its intersections with her work on the provenance of material in the Royal Archive. We discussed issues related to agriculture, digital humanities, the history of collections and the Royal Navy. Taken together, I was struck by the breadth of projects associated with the Georgian material.

For the second meeting, Arthur Burns welcomed the fellows to the College and described his interest in the programme and his vision for the future as he takes the leadership of developing the academic programme at King’s and further afield. Afterwards, Cindy Kierner presented an overview of the ideas in her project, focusing especially on the natural disasters she is interested in examining further. Meanwhile, Daniel Reed told us about the work that he has undertaken so far connecting ecclesiastical material from a wide variety of archives. He explained his aim was to make further connections with the Royal Archives. There then followed an interesting discussion about the various intellectual and practical linkages between both Cindy and Daniel’s work. Ultimately, the session was a fantastic opportunity to exchange ideas about incorporating the Royal Archives material into broader strands of eighteenth-century research.

In each case, it has been a pleasure to see the connections that have developed and our aspiration is that over the next five years there will be a growing scholarly community discovering and writing about the Georgian Papers.

In fact to develop this aspiration, King’s College London have announced a new fellowship scheme for Summer 2017. The deadline is 31 March 2017. Please go here for more information and to apply.

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