Definitely worth reading

The following works tackle questions of materiality across different archival settings, including the impact of the digital on our understandings of materiality and archival engagements.

Carrie Smith. The Page is Printed: Ted Hughes’s Creative Process. Liverpool University Press, 2021

This monograph offers the first full-length study of Ted Hughes’s poetic process.  Smith poses the questions: Does it matter when and where a poem was written? Or on what kind of paper? How do the author’s ideas about inspiration or how a poem should be written precondition the moment of putting pen to paper?

Extract from the chapter, ‘Birthday Letters: An Archive of Writing‘:

The Page is Printed

Some of the typescripts have up to seven layers of paper. Coming across these pages in the archive is a shock: some of the papers are entirely made up of many separate slips of paper attached together, which dangle, fold in on themselves, and move precariously as you turn over the page. These papers are delicate, and, because Sellotape loses its adhesive qualities as it ages, it is difficult to see how these papers can be preserved in their nebulous form without being taken apart and remade. The papers taped over the top are only fastened at one edge and can be lifted to read the words beneath. These pieces of paper create a draft in which two versions exist simultaneously in a physical expression of the uncertainty that characterises both the final printed poems and their drafting.

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Bitstreams: The Future of Digital Literary Heritage. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021.

In this new book, Matthew Kirschenbaum returns to the intersection of digital media, textual studies, and literary archives. He asks: What are the future prospects for literary knowledge now that literary texts—and the material remains of authorship, publishing, and reading—are reduced to bitstreams, strings of digital ones and zeros? What are the opportunities and obligations for book history, textual criticism, and bibliography when literary texts are distributed across digital platforms, devices, formats, and networks? Indeed, what is textual scholarship when the “text” of our everyday speech is a verb as often as it is a noun?

Extract from the chapter, ‘Archives Without Dust’:


I am looking at a high-resolution digital image of a hard copy printout of a working draft of the Pulitzer Prize–winning book. It is one of the manuscripts that survived the house fire that engulfed Toni Morrison’s Grand View-on- Hudson residence at the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge on Christmas Day in 1993…The haunting digital image in front of me registers as a testament not only to the resilience of paper and ink in the face of fire, smoke, and water but also to the efficacy of the collective array of memory institutions that ensure that treasures such as this are—in the novel’s own parlance—passed on. Despite the screen that separates a researcher from the painstakingly preserved originals, it is easy to picture scholars doing much the same work they have always done: scrutinizing drafts for variants, poring over the author’s correspondence, squinting to decipher handwriting on the pages of yellow legal pads.

Suzanne W. ChurchillLinda KinnahanSusan Rosenbaum, Digital Baedeker: A Feminist Experiment with Mina Loy’s Archive 

From: The Contemporary Poetry Archive: Essays and InterventionsEdinburgh University Press, 2019

Extract from the chapter:

The Contemporary Poetry Archive

Our aim is not to create a comprehensive digital archive, but to provide a platform for accessing and understanding Loy’s published and unpublished writing and artwork. Through feminist methods of building a digital Baedeker for the archive, we seek not to emphasise the preservation of great authors or works, but to activate networks of interested readers and scholars engaging in ongoing conversations…

We aim to develop forms of digital scholarship and theory commensurate with the en dehors garde. As Elisabeth Frost argues, to look back at history with the inclusion of female experimental writers and artists ‘challenges the way in which avant-gardism itself has been conceptualized’. Digital platforms offer new technologies for documenting and analysing women’s negotiations with the historical avant-garde, allowing us to chart an alternative en dehors garde that proves to be neither a mere supplement to, nor a plea for inclusion within, the current critical models of avant-garde formation. Open-source tools enable us to transform our scholarly methods and products in the same spirit of avant-garde innovation and collaboration that animated Mina Loy’s feminist designs a century ago.

Laura Hughes. In the Library of Jacques Derrida: Manuscript Materiality after the Archival Turn. New Literary History Vol. 49, Iss. 3,  (2018): 403-424. 



Based on research in the Jacques Derrida collection acquired by Princeton University in 2015, this article takes an expansive view of what is considered to be a manuscript through close readings of the material makeup of literary artifacts. In particular, Derrida’s copy of Hélène Cixous’s first book, interleaved with surprising documents, and a handful of small notes Cixous gave to Derrida, suggest that the two writers’ overlapping collections extend the scope of their friendship posthumously. These overlaps allow for the reader in the archive to contribute to the afterlives of these artifacts. The article invokes the ontological fluidity posited by new materialisms and new philologies to show how the holistic consideration of a literary artifact offers inroads into the divide between life and matter.

See also: Princeton University Library Acquires Jacques Derrida’s Personal Library

Derrida's annotations on a page from Sur Racine by Roland Barthes (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1963).
Derrida’s annotations on a page from Sur Racine by Roland Barthes (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1963). Photo: J. L. Logan