THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

9 posts from April 2020

29 April 2020

Writing Tools for Interactive Fiction

by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications. 

Are you spending more time indoors and hoping to get your creativity flowing? Thinking about writing fiction? Interactive Fiction is a fast-growing collection area for the Library, and myriad tools for all levels can help you to bring your story to life.

Interactive fiction (IF), or interactive narrative/narration, is defined as “software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment.”

The British Library has been collecting examples of UK interactive fiction as part of the Emerging Formats Project, which is a collaborative effort from all six UK Legal Deposit Libraries to look at the collection management requirements of complex digital publications. Lynda Clark, the British Library Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction, built the Interactive Narratives collection on the UK Web Archive (UKWA) during her placement, as well as conducting analysis on genres, interaction patterns and tools used to build these narratives.

 

IF_tools

Source: Clark, L. (2019). Interactive Narrative Reports, Appendix A. Internal report (The British Library). Unpublished.

Many of these tools are free to use and don’t require any previous knowledge of programming languages. Because of Legal Deposit Regulations, most of the items in the Interactive Narratives collection can only be accessed on Library premises (you can read more on what UKWA content is available while the Library is closed here). Luckily, because this a contemporary collection, many of the original websites are still live and accessible.

Twine

Twine is an open-source tool to write text-based, non-linear narratives. Created by Chris Klimas in 2009, Twine is perfect to write Choose Your Own Adventure-like stories without knowing how to code. The output is an HTML file, which facilitates publishing and distribution, as it can be run on any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser. If you have any knowledge of CSS or Javascript it’s possible to add extra features and specific designs to your Twine story, but the standard Twine structure only requires you to type text and put brackets around the phrases that will become links in the story (linking to another passage or branching into different directions). There is an online version or a downloadable version that runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux. There is a Twine Cookbook (containing ‘recipes’, instructions and examples to do a variety of things) a wiki and a series of written and video tutorials.

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Some quality cat dreams. (from Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000)

Charlie Brooker used Twine to plot out Black Mirror’s interactive episode Bandersnatch. As the most used tool in the UKWA collection, there are many examples of Interactive Fifction written in Twine, from cat and teatime simulators (Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000 and Damon L. Wakes’ Lovely Pleasant Teatime Simulator), to stories that include a mix of video, images and audio (Chris Godber’s Glitch), and horror games made for Gothic Novel Jam using the British Library’s Flickr collection of images (Freya Campbell’s The Tower NB some content warnings apply). Lynda Clark also authored an original story as a conclusion to her placement: The Memory Archivist incorporates many of the themes emerged during her research and won The BL Labs Artistic Award 2019.

Inform 7

While Twine allows you to write hypertext narratives (where readers can progress through the story by clicking on a link), Inform 7 lets you write parser-based interactive fiction. Parser-based IF requires the reader to type commands (sometimes full sentences) in order to interact with the story.

Play-if-card-300dpiHow to Play Interactive Fiction (An entire strategy guide on a single postcard) Written by Andrew Plotkin -- design by Lea Albaugh. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

Inform 7 is a free-to-use, hopefully-soon-to-be-open-sourced tool to write interactive fiction. Originally created as Inform by Graham Nelson in 1993, the current Inform 7 was released in 2006 and uses natural language (based on the English language) to describe situations and interactions. The learning curve is a bit steeper than with Twine, but the natural language approach allows for users with no programming experience to write code in a simplified language that reads like English text. Inform 7 also has a Recipe Book and a series of well-documented tutorials. Inform also runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux and lets you output your game as HTML files.

While the current version of Inform is Inform 7, narratives using previous versions of the system are still available Emily Short’s Galatea is always a good place to start. You could also explore mysterious ruins with your romantic interest (C.E.J. Pacian’s Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean Tower), play a gentleman thief (J.J. Guest’s  Alias, the Magpie) or make more tea (Joey Jones’ Strained Tea).

Bitsy

Bitsy is a browser-based editor for mini games developed by Adam Le Doux in 2016. It operates within clear constraints (8x8 pixel tiles, a 3-colour palette, etc.), which is actually one of the reasons why it is so beloved. You can draw and animate your own characters within your pixel grid, write the dialogue and define how your avatar (your playable character) will interact with the surrounding scenery and with other non-playable characters. Again, no programming knowledge is necessary. Bitsy is especially good for short narratives and vignette games. After completing your game, you can download it as an html file and then share it however you prefer. There is a Bitsy wiki, as well as some comprehensive tutorials and even a one-page pamphlet covering the basics.

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A harsh but fair review.
(from Ben Bruce’s Five Great Places to Get a Nice Cup of Tea When You Are Asleep)

To play (and read) a Bitsy work you should use your keyboard to move the avatar around and interact with the ‘sprites’ (interactive items, characters and scenery usually recognisable as sporting a different colour from the non-interactive background). You can wander around a Zen garden reflecting on your impending wedding (Ben Bruce’s Zen Garden, Portland, The Day Before My Wedding), alight the village fires to welcome the midwinter spirits (Ash Green’s Midwinter Spirits), experience a love story through mixtapes (David Mowatt’s She Made Me A Mix Tape), or if you’re still craving a nice cuppa you can review some imaginary tea shops (Ben Bruce’s Five Great Places to Get a Nice Cup of Tea When You Are Asleep).

ink/inky & inklewriter

Cambridge-based videogame studio inkle is behind another IF tool or two. Ink is the scripting language used to author many of inkle’s videogames the idea behind it is to mark up “pure-text with flow in order to produce interactive scripts”. It doesn’t require any programming knowledge and the resulting scripts are relatively easy to read. Inky is the editor to write ink scripts in it’s free to download and lets you test your narrative as you write it. Once you’re happy with your story, you can export it for the web, as well as a JSON file. There’s a quick tutorial to walk you through the basics, as well as a full manual on how to write in ink. ink was also used to write 80 Days, another work collected by the British Library as part of the emerging formats project.

Inky-screenshot@2x A page from 80 Days, written using ink

inklewriter is an open-source, ready-to-use, browser-based IF “sketch-pad”. It is meant to be used to sketch out narratives more than to author fully-developed stories. There is no download required and the fact that is quite a simple and straightforward tool to experiment with IF makes it a good fit for educators. Tutorials are included within the platform itself so that you can learn while you write.

If you want some inspiration before starting to write your own story in ink, you can try selling real estates to supernatural creatures (Eleanor Hingley’s Unreal Estate) or understanding why there’s a ghost stalking your flat (Isak Grozny’s Dripping with the Waters of Sheol NB some content warnings apply). In inklewriter, you can start by trying to kill your first giant (Lee Williams’ Your First Giant) or survive an interrogation (Jon Ingold’s The Intercept).

ChoiceScript

ChoiceScript is a javascript-based scripting language developed by Adam Strong-Morse and Dan Fabulich of Choice of Games. It can be used to write choice-based interactive narratives, in which the reader has to select among multiple choices to determine how the story will unfold. The simplicity of the language makes it possible to create Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style stories without any prior coding knowledge. The ChoiceScript SDK (Software Development Kit) is available to download for free on the Choice of Games website. Once your story is complete, you can publish it for free online. Otherwise, Choice of Games offer the possibility of publishing your work with them (they publish to various platforms, including iOS, Android, Kindle and Steam) and earn royalties from it There is a tutorial that covers the basics, including a Glossary of ChoiceScript terms. The Choice of Game blog also includes some articles with tips on how to design and write interactive stories, especially long ones.

Genres of works built using ChoiceScript are again quite varied from sci-fi stories exploring the relationships between writers and readers (Lynda Clark’s Writers Are Not Strangers), to crime/romantic dramas (Toni Owen-Blue’s Double/Cross) and fantasy adventures (Thom Baylay’s Evertree Inn).

 

BONUS LEVEL: sok-stories

Sok-stories is not a tool to write IF, but it offers a simple and straightforward perspective on game dynamics and the results of interactions. It was developed by Sokpop Collective on commission by Now Play This 2019. There is no expectation of programming knowledge and the output games are very lo-fi you draw everything (characters, items, scenery) and set your own rules to create super-short games. There is no dialogue (unless you want to draw that as well): the main focus is the relationship between the player’s choices and the effects they cause in the game. You interact with the game by dragging and dropping characters on items, items on items, characters on characters, etc. The limited set of commands and the ease with which you can set up the tool and start drawing, make it a really good introduction for younger audiences to the cause-effect rules of games and potentially an educational and entertaining way to spend some lockdown time. Sok-stories requires a fee to download ($3 at the moment of writing), but you can browse a library of already published games for free: you can dig dinosaurs at an archaeological site, play super-abridged versions of old videogames or maybe… make more tea? Anyone?

FiN+Jh

Setting rules in sok-stories

This is in no way a comprehensive list there are a lot of other tools and platforms to write IF, both mainstream as well as slightly more obscure ones (Ren’Py, Quest, StoryNexus, Raconteur, Genarrator, just to mention a few). Try different tools, find the one that works best for you or use a mix of them if you prefer! Experiment as much as you like. To conclude, I’ll leave you with a quote by Anna Anthropy from her book Rise of the Videogame Zinester:

“Every game that you and I make right now [...] makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness. And new voices are important in an art form that has been dominated for so long by a single perspective. [...]

There’s nothing to stop us from making our voices heard now. And there will be plenty of voices. Among those voices, there will be plenty of mediocrity, and plenty of games that have no meaning to anyone outside the author and maybe her friends. But [...] imagine what we’ll gain: real diversity, a plethora of voices and experiences, and a new avenue for human beings to tell their stories and connect with other human beings.”

 

24 April 2020

Domesticity after the Housekeepers

By Jessica Gregory, Curatorial Support Officer of Modern Manuscripts. The Grace Higgens Papers are found at Add MS 83198 – Add MS 83258. For more information on her life see The Charlton Trust.  A biography of Higgens, The Angel of Charleston: Grace Higgens, Housekeeper to the Bloomsbury Group was published by British Library Press in 2013.

As the reality of working from home begins to set in — and a new, intensely domestic form of life begins to take shape — I’ve been thinking about how the Library’s literary collections can sometimes gloss over the day-to-day realities of life in favour more abstract or aesthetic concerns. In thinking through this, I was drawn again to Grace Higgens (1903-1983). Higgens spent most of her working life in the household of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (of Bloomsbury Group fame), where she was employed as a domestic servant from the age of seventeen until her retirement at age seventy. In 2007 the British Library acquired Higgens’ archive, consisting of her diaries, letters and photographs. Her papers shed light on a life dedicated to professional housekeeping in a time when the management of the domestic sphere was changing rapidly and remind us — especially now, if we needed to be reminded — that the cultural life of a society has always depended upon the (often unsung) labour of certain key-workers.

Pic 1

Grace HiggensDiary 1924, Add MS 83204 © Estate of Grace Higgens

 

Pic 2

Grace Higgens describes witnessing the Woolfs on their bicycles looking absolute freaks. © Estate of Grace Higgens

 

As well as providing a a humourous insight into Higgens’ daily life and her opinions of the bohemian crowd that gathered around the house — including descriptions of Virginia and Leonard Woolf — her archives also show us what life dominated by domestic work looked like in the first half of the twentieth-century. When Higgens first entered employment, domestic service was one of the few careers open to her; and the knowledge that her life would be somewhat delimited by the house and garden came as no surprise to her. That so many of us are now struggling with the tighter borders around our own lives in part illustrates the profound changes that have taken place over the twentieth century, which have given many of us the privilege to choose how much we stay at home.

Pic 3 - Copy

UK Government Stay at Home Advert, 2020 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The problem of keeping on top of the housework is only novel to those lucky enough to have not dealt with its pressures previously. The double burden of bread-winning and doing the housework has always been a reality to many working-class women. But for those who could afford to outsource  housework, this was one way in which they could assume more control over their lives; to build the foundations for walls which could support the erection of a ‘room of one’s own’.

Through the ages, the upper-classes have employed servants to cook, clean, garden and child-rear, but it was with the new money of the Victorian middle-classes that many families could also employ domestic servants. The pre-modern kitchens of this era meant that supplying heat, food and clean clothes to a family was a full-time job for at least one, if not more, servants. The Victorian era emphasised house-proudnessas an aspiration for women and publications directed at women from the time explained ways to achieve this. Most famously Mrs Beetons Book of Household Management, aimed to inform young wives of all the essentials needed to keep a husband happy and ensure that he would not stray. However, even Mrs. Beeton did not expect a wife to do all the work in the house, even going so far as to give advice on how much to pay domestic servants.

Pic 4

The title page of Mrs Beetons, Book of Household Management, 1861 

By 1901, in the new Edwardian era there were upwards of 1.5 million domestic servants employed in households in Britain. This was the largest employment sector for women in Britain. Domestic service would dominate employment opportunities for women until the First World War. With work needed to be done on the home front, and more opportunities in the growing retail and clerical economy, more women left domestic service. This exodus was exacerbated through the Second World War as employment opportunities proliferated and the modernisation of the household kitchen meant much more labour-saving opportunities. Increasingly, the domestic servant was replaced with the housewife. By 1950, a third of women were in paid employment, but despite the advances of the era – the new NHS, smaller family sizes and an increased availability of part-time work - most womens daily lives were still centred on the domestic sphere.

By the time Grace Higgens bought her own home and retired in 1970, the role of the housekeeper as she knew it had changed beyond recognition. Grace Higgens daily life had been dominated by household chores, but so too were the lives of many married women at the time; only they were not paid. This would become a major concern for the Womens Liberation Movement which emerged in the nineteen seventies. As more women swapped the home for work, the domestic landscape changed once again. In households where both adults worked, domestic work came second to paid work and women increasingly contested assumption that the extrawork in the house automatically fell to them. With the eighties boom more families decided to outsource this work, much like their Victorian predecessors had. The domestic worker returned in a different guise, in that of the casual-contract cleaner, the au pair, nanny, cook, gardener and even the dog-walker.

Now, as we close our front door and return to the domestic sphere once again, many people are figuring out their relative positions for a life lived entirely in the home — if only for a short while. The full-time housekeeper like Grace Higgens may be — for the most part, at least — a relic of the past, but domestic work persists, and its division remains as always unequally distributed along lines of gender and class. Dynamics shift and change as we all adapt to the lock-down landscape. Preconceived roles of men and women in the home may be looser today than in Higgens’ day, but there is only one way to prove the hypothesis that nowadays we divide domestic work more fairly: roll up your sleeves, muck in and spread the load.

22 April 2020

Tour of the Literary Modern Archive and Manuscript Digital Collections

 by Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. Follow the activities of the Modern Archives and Manuscripts department on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS .

Just because the Library has closed its doors doesn’t mean that our manuscript collections are out of reach. The push towards digitisation for these unique and often fragile collection items is guided by a need to preserve them for posterity, but now more than ever, in these unprecedented times, it’s great to be able to share them with our users, near and far.

The Library’s Digitised Manuscripts portal is one of the best places to find high-resolution digital images of our manuscript collections, hosting an incredibly diverse selection of material ranging  from botany in British India to the Zweig collection of Music manuscripts. Literary manuscripts represent a small but important collection within Digitised Manuscripts, but they can be difficult to locate. Of course, if you are searching directly on the Digitised Manuscripts portal and you already know the manuscript’s reference number, the most efficient way of locating any manuscript is by using ‘Advanced Options’ and entering your search into the ‘Manuscript Number’ field.

Manuscript numbers and digitised manuscripts can also be found using our catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts. If a manuscript has been digitised a digital version link will appear in the catalogue entry under the ‘I Want This’ tab. Unlike Discovering Literature, which interprets collection material and builds out context (and is a fantastic resource which will feature in an upcoming English & Drama Blog) Digitised Manuscripts is more like a digital Reading Room experience, reproducing the (often large) collection items in full, for your own discovery, interpretation and research. Both sites work in tandem, and if there’s material you’re interested in it’s always worth looking in both places.

In this blog I’ve included a guide to most of the literary manuscripts that can be found on Digitised Manuscripts, divided chronologically and in some cases by area or author. But first, I want to pick two of my personal highlights.

The Library holds the only surviving letters of Ignatius Sancho (Add MS 89077), one of the most famous Anglo-Africans in 18th-century Britain. According to Joseph Jekyll’s 1782 biography, Sancho was born on a transatlantic slave ship and brought to England as a child. Through a long and complex relationship with the noble Montagu family, Sancho was able to assert a level of intellectual and financial independence which made him into an icon for abolitionists in Britain. Sancho was a man of many talents: a shopkeeper, a composer and an accomplished writer. His Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave.

Photograph of manuscript letter by Ignatius Sancho

Stevenson Papers: The letters of Ignatius Sancho (Add MS 51044). A summary of each letter is given in the British Library catalogue. Nine of the letters were published posthumously in Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782) with some variations. In places, the manuscript has been marked up with sections to be cut before publication. All 15 of the letters written by Ignatius Sancho (but not those by his children) are published in Vincent Carretta's 2015 edition.


In 1758 Sancho married Anne Osborne, a West Indian woman with whom he had seven children. Apart from the letters by Ignatius Sancho, the collection contains letters from his son William Leach Osborne Sancho (or Billy, 1775‒1810) and his daughter Elizabeth Sancho (1766‒1837). The letters are written to Ignatius Sancho’s friend William Stevenson (1750‒1821), a publisher and painter who trained under Sir Joshua Reynolds and to William’s father, the Reverend Seth Ellis Stevenson (d. 1796). The letters have all been digitised and are available to view on Digitised Manuscripts. More information on Sancho and the contents of the letters can be found on Discovering Literature.

Another personal favourite are three notebooks by Virginia Woolf, containing the working draft for one of her most famous novels, Mrs Dalloway, under the working-title The Hours, dated from 27th June 1923. This handwritten draft was chosen by Vita Sackville West as the manuscript that she would like to keep as a lasting memory of Woolf. It was presented to the Library by a member of her family. When the notebooks were bound by the British Museum, the original cloth and paper covers were kept and can be seen in these images.

Photograph of manuscript draft of Mrs. Dalloway from notebook by Virginia Woolf
Notebooks of Virginia Woolf for her novel Mrs Dalloway, 1925 (Add MS 51044) and for essays published in The Common Reader, 1925. © The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

 

Restoration and 18th century

The British Library holds a wealth of original manuscripts from the Restoration and 18th century period. Unfortunately, very few manuscripts currently appear on Digitised Manuscripts. A greater selection can be found on the Library’s Discovering Literature site.

  • Agreement between John Milton and Samuel Symmons (Add MS 18861)
  • Ignatius Sancho
    • Letters to William Stevenson (Add MS 89077)
  • Thomas Hobbes
    • A minute or first Draught of the Optiques (Harley MS 3360)
    • The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (Harley MS 4235-4236)
    • The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (imperfect) (Harley MS 6858)

 

Romantics and Victorians

The majority of our literary treasures have been digitised for their long-term preservation and for use as surrogates. For restricted manuscripts, including the ones below by William Blake, Charlotte Bronte and Lewis Carroll that have been digitised, all readers will be asked to initially consult these images before accessing the original manuscript(s). We are looking to upload images of further literary manuscripts in the near future.

  • William Blake
    • Four Zoas (Add MS 39764)
    • The Notebook (Add MS 49460)
  • Charlotte Bronte
    • Jane Eyre, (Add MS 43474-43476)
    • Shirley (Add MS 43477-43479)
    • Villette (Add MS 43480-43482)
  • Lewis Carroll
    • Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, (Add MS 46700)
    • Diaries 4 and 5 (Add MS 54343-54344)
  • Thomas Hardy
    • Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Add MS 38182)
  • John Keats
    • Poems (Egerton MS 2780)
  • Edward Lear
    • 'History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipplepopple' (Add MS 47462)
  • William Wordsworth
    • Poems (Add MS 47864)
  • Charnwood Autographs (Add MS 70949)

 

The Romantics and Victorians pages of the Discovering Literature site can be found here.

 

Oscar Wilde

As part of a cultural exchange project working with Chinese institutions the British Library created a number of exhibitions, online learning resources, knowledge exchanges and events based on the Library’s literary treasures. This included the digitisation of a number of Oscar Wilde manuscripts that are now available on Digitised Manuscripts. The Library holds two main collections of Wilde material, the first Add MS 37942-37948 was presented by Robert Ross in 1909 and the second Add MS 81619-81884, the collection of Mary, Viscountess Eccles presented in 2004.

  • Autograph draft of Lady Windermere’s Fan (Add MS 37943)
  • Autograph draft of Mrs Arbuthnot (Add MS 37944)
  • Typescript draft of Mrs Arbuthnot Add MS 37945
  • Autograph draft of An Ideal Husband (Add MS 37946)
  • Typescript draft of An Ideal Husband (Add MS 37947)
  • Lady Lancing, early autograph draft of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 37948)
  • Typescript draft of Lady Windermere’s Fan (Add MS 81621)
  • Autograph draft of A Woman of No Importance (Add MS 81622)
  • Typescript draft of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 81624)
  • Photographs of early productions of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 81626)
  • Autograph draft of ‘A Note on Shakespeare’ (Add MS 81643)

A Chinese language version of Discovering Literature was created as part of the project.

 

First World War

In commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, the British Library partnered with Europeana to digitise and provide free access to as many collection items as possible created during the time of the war or relating to it. This included a wealth of literary material such as Wilfred Owen’s handwritten haunting poems often annotated by Siegfried Sassoon.

 

  • Laurence Binyon
    • ‘For the Fallen’ (Add MS 45160)
  • Rupert Brooke
    • ‘The Dead’ and ‘The Soldier’ (Add MS 39255 M)
    • Letter from Rupert Brooke to Harriet Monroe (Add MS 42181 B)
    • Exercise-book, containing eleven poems (Add MS 42509)
    • Scribbling pad, with notes in pencil, containing: (a) notes of military lectures and personal memoranda made whilst in the Royal Naval Division training at Blandford and (b) drafts of war poems, some cancelled, consisting of lines of War Sonnets and unpublished fragments (Add MS 42510)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
    • Casement Petition Papers (Add MS 63596)
  • Thomas Hardy letter to Edmund Gosse (Ashley MS B3341)
  • Samuel Koteliansky
    • Papers and correspondence (Add MS 48969-48975)
  • Wilfred Owen
    • Poems (Add MS 43720- Add MS 43721)
  • Dollie, Ernest, Maitland and Muriel Radford
    • Correspondence (Add MS 89029/1/9, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 59)
  • Isaac Rosenberg
    • Poems, prose and letters (Add MS 58852)
    • Letters, poems and books (Loan MS 103/77/1-3)
  • Siegfried Sassoon
    • Letters to his uncle, Sir William Hamo Thornycroft (Add MS 56099)
  • Philip Edward Thomas
    • Poems (Add MS 44990)
  • Royal Literary Fund Annual Reports (Loan 96 RLF 3/19-20)

Interpretation of some of the above collection items and articles based on key themes relating to the War can be found on the British Library’s World War One website. The Europeana 1914-1918 website hosts content from a variety of European institutions and private collections.

Parts of the Library’s literary collections have also been digitised by external companies. These are mostly subscription services and access is usually provided via the computers in the Reading Rooms. However, whilst the Library is closed it may be worth checking whether your local or University Library may provide remote access.

One key resource is Gale’s Nineteenth Century Collections Online, which includes images of the Lord Chamberlains Plays dating from 1824 until 1899, (Add MS 42865-43038, Add MS 53092-53701 and 53702-53708) as well as copies of manuscripts relating to George Bernard Shaw, G.K. Chesterton and the Coleridge family.

Other products containing British Library or other related literary collections include:

 

17 April 2020

To Sir With Love, a new appreciation for an old favourite

by Helen Melody, Lead Curator, Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. Read more about E.R Braithwaite, and To Sir With Love on the Library's Discovering Literature pages, here.

How are you spending the lockdown? Being at home could mean a chance to read all those books that you have never quite got around to. Or then again it could be an opportunity to re-visit some old favourites which in my case includes E.R. Braithwaite’s To Sir With Love. Published in 1959 this semi-autobiographical book tells the story of Rick Braithwaite who finds work teaching in a tough East End school in the early 1950s. It is an exploration of prejudice, teenage rebellion and triumph over adversity which sees the teacher come face to face with racism and kindness in post-war London. This is a great book to read at any time, but the difficulties that Rick faces in trying to interest his teenage class in their education will probably ring especially true for anyone faced with home schooling their children at the moment. 

I feel very lucky that the Library has an annotated typescript of To Sir with Love in its collections, which forms part of the archive of the publisher Max Reinhardt, who managed The Bodley Head Press. Selected pages from the typescript have been digitised for Discovering Literature which means that you can enjoy reading an excerpt from the book, complete with E.R. Braithwaite’s handwritten annotations, even when the Library is closed.

 

Photograph of typescript draft of To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite

Typewritten draft, with copious manuscript amendments, of Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love, published by The Bodley Head, 1959. Add MS 88987/2/10

In this insert from Chapter IV, Rick goes to an interview for a job as a Communications Engineer only to be rejected because the interview panel feel that their white workforce would not wish to be managed by a black man. The incident highlights the racism that was present in Britain at the time but which Rick had not experienced whilst serving as an RAF serviceman during the war. His disillusionment is complete when he telephones the other companies to which he had applied for work to inform them that he is black, only to be told that the jobs (for which he had been offered interviews) have been filled. Rick reflects on his upbringing and the Britishness which he felt growing up but which he realises does not mean that he is British in the eyes of British people. His pain is palpable and upsetting, yet for the purposes of the story his decision to turn his back on his pre-war profession leads him to teaching, which forms the basis of the book.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to anyone, along with its sequel, Paid Servant (1962), which Braithwaite wrote about his subsequent time as a social worker. Please do take a look at the Discovering Literature webpages and those relating to Beryl Gilroy, the pioneering teacher and writer. Gilroy’s autobiography, Black Teacher, was published in 1976 whilst her novel, In Praise of Love and Children written in 1959 and only published in 1996 was featured in the Library’s Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition in 2018. Hopefully it will provide inspiration for all those parent-teachers out there.

 

 

 

15 April 2020

Collecting Literature on the Web: a Q&A

A Q&A with Carlos Rarugal, Assistant Web Archivist about the UK Web Archive’s literary collections, and the challenges faced by colleagues trying to collect the web, conducted by Callum McKean, Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. For more news and information about the work of the UK Web Archive, visit their blog or follow them on Twitter.

‘Oh, you work at the British Library? You guys have everything, right?’ My colleagues and I hear this more often than you’d think. Usually it’s in reference to the Legal Deposit Act, which states that one copy of every book (which includes pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, sheet music and maps) published in the United Kingdom must be sent to the British Library (and, that five other UK libraries have the right to request a free copy within one year of publication). But books — even if they include unusual printed formats — aren’t everything. So much knowledge, entertainment, culture and community is created and shared without ever going to print in the traditional sense. This is why Legal Deposit legislation was updated in 2013 to include regulations around ‘non-print’ works, making provision for the collection of works published online or offline in formats other than print, such as websites, blogs, e-journals and CD-ROMs. The UK Web Archive (which celebrated its 15th birthday this year!) exists to collect, make accessible and preserve web resources of scholarly and cultural importance from the UK domain in line with this legislation. But the Archive also plays an important role in selecting and curating this material. I spoke to Carlos Rarugal, Assistant Web Archivist, about some of their literary collections — the challenges they face — and how you can get involved.

Hi Carlos. Considering the UK Web Archive is relatively young, it’s often presumed that it’s focus is exclusively on contemporary material, but I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of content about contemporary reception of older literary material, like the Dickens Bicentenary and the 19th Century Literature collections — how do you decide which anniversaries to collect?

Hi Callum. The Dickens Bicentenary and 19th Century literature collections are examples of what we call Special Collections, in that they’re actively curated, either by Library staff or outside experts. Web Archiving happens in two streams, called a Domain Crawl and a Frequent Crawl. The Domain Crawl takes place once a year over several months and is a ‘shallow crawl’ of all known UK hosted web-sites. As you can imagine, this involves many millions of web-sites, so we deliberately cap the amount of data per site to 500 megabytes and refer to it as a ‘shallow capture’ because it’s unlikely to capture the whole complexity of the original website.

The Frequent crawl is different because it’s curated and deals with a relatively small subset of websites, around 100,000, each including a unique database record and metadata. Special Collections are often created to highlight frequently crawled sites because a curator or external partner outside of the UK Web Archive, with access to tools, has added the site for crawling, or the public has nominated the topic for inclusion, or curators and archivists within the UK Web Archive team itself were made aware of the occasion. Our network of internal and external experts means that we’re particularly good at capturing material relating to contemporary reception of historical events, as well as more active events as they happen. (As you can imagine, our whole team is very busy with the Pandemic Outbreaks collection right now).

Screenshot of UK Web Archive's 19th Century Literary collectionA screenshot taken from the UK Web Archive's 19th Century Literature Special Collections Page, showing the breadth of content being captured, from news and blogs to academic journals.

One of the collections which I think will be of particular interest to readers of this blog is the Poetry and Zines Special Collection.  This must be a very difficult collection to build in some ways, as this activity often happens in the nooks and crannies of the internet — can you say a little bit about how these collections are built? 

It would be fair to say that we have archived millions of websites that have yet to be discovered or accessed by the public. Websites that feature zines, poetry zines and journals have been captured, though their numbers are few. Contributions come from the curatorial team responsible for contemporary published collections, especially Debbie Cox and Jerry Jenkins (ed note: whose extensive work on Artists’ Books has appeared on this blog). We rely on them and their highly specialised knowledge and professional connections to build these obscure collections. Our work is always collaborative in this way. We try to partner with as many Curators and Archivists as possible, and also with external experts who are keen to get involved in web archiving.

One of these experts, Pete Hebden, who we were lucky enough to work with recently, just posted to the UK Web Archive Blog talking about his experience of exploring and helping to build this collection. If your readers are looking for a place to start, I’d recommend they take a look.

You spoke about contemporary events earlier, two of the largest collections which are available from home seem to be the ones relating to Black and Asian Britain and LGBT issues. This isn’t surprising given how active the online discourse around social justice has become in the past ten or fifteen years. The Library has been active in these spaces more generally, with exhibitions such as Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land and Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty, and their corresponding web spaces, Black and Asian Britain and LGBTQ Histories. But these are highly controlled spaces, sensitively and co-operatively curated by experts and activists. Collecting web-content  — which is relatively uncontrolled, and sometimes hurtful and offensive — must present huge issues in terms of data-protection and hate-speech.

Yes, definitely. There are quite a few sensitive areas in the UK Web Archive: adult sites, for instance, aren’t promoted but are still archived. Personally, I think it’s important that we archive all sides of the story; and if certain narratives are controversial, we should pay particular attention.  All sides of the conversation will be important for the historians of the future, who will see value in a discursive and highly active medium with a rich research potential. We are limited, of course, but more-so in technical than curatorial and legal terms.

If a site is public, then we are simply operating within our obligation as outlined in the 2013 Non-Print Legal Deposit act. Whether or not we can capture this content is a more of a technical issue, as many sites that include forums for discussions are highly dynamic (PHP or Javascript heavy) and very difficult to capture using our current setup. The discussions online are also occurring more frequently on app-based platforms, which again we are unable to capture, and sites such as Facebook (to name a few) are designed to inhibit crawlers and so we are prevented from archiving.

Under these regulations, if archived content is illegal, it will be suppressed from public access. The content we collect grows daily by gigabytes and is not ‘processed’ at the point of archiving; rather there is a delay to archived content being made available (to both curators and the public). Only parts of our archived content is full-text indexed, so it would not be possible to perform deep searches on recent crawls.

There are times when content can be removed from public access for other limited reasons; for example if sensitive personal data has been mistakenly published on a live website. Our Notice and Takedown process is robust and we are quick to respond; thankfully, there have only been a handful of such requests in the past few years. Archiving under GDPR is permitted as stated in Article 89 which allows ‘archiving in the public interest’.

Screenshot of UK Web Archive's black and Asian Britain collection
The Black and Asian Britain Special Collection page is one of the largest, and contains a wide variety of literary material, from author pages to literary festivals and Twitter pages.

You mentioned social media and how difficult it is to archive. Whilst there’s clearly work going on in this area, I think the Archive does a good job of capturing some of the everyday interactions that happen online, especially on public forums. One of the most charming hubs, and I think it’s important too, is the one relating to Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK. The internet seems able to bring people with similar interests together across huge geographical distances. Most of this activity happens on specialist forums. Everything is represented here, it’s a real curiosity shop, from fans of Japanese Anime to Pylon enthusiasts. Some of the collections that might interest our readers are the Comics UK Forum and the Writers Online Forum. What are some of the issues around collecting this kind of highly social material?

People are fascinated by the spectrum of content in the Online Enthusiast Communities of the UK Collection, and although a lot has been tagged into that collection, it’s likely that more sites that have already been archived are waiting to be added to it, or have yet to be nominated and are waiting to be archived. Whilst all Collections remain active, only a few at a time have the focus of curators and archivists. When a Collection is in focus, curators, archivists, and external partners all work together to focus on adding targets en-masse, with a sustained amount of archiving within a short time frame. Collections in focus need attention so that time-sensitive content is quickly captured. For example, Twitter or news articles that should be captured, perhaps daily, require curation to add/amend the crawling schedules of those websites.

Another issue when archiving uncommon content is the lack of discovery; if we are unaware of their existence then it is unlikely that we will capture that content, even in the Domain Crawl. This issue is compounded when delving deeper into a site, that is, looking at their online forums where regular discussions occur. Without the proper intervention of users, these overlooked forums may not be crawled, and if they are, they may only be shallow crawls that occur infrequently. We do have forums that are being captured often, sometimes daily, however, it is rare that we would have a frequent crawl of a forum unless a user updated a record accordingly. The complex structure of forums, and the fact that they often sit behind a login, makes them more difficult to capture effectively.

Screenshot of UK Web Archive's Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK collection

The Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK page is a fascinating insight into how communities of shared interest, including those of a literary bent, evolve online.

Thanks Carlos

10 April 2020

Postcards for our times

Postcard from Angela Carter Archive showing Prince Charles and Princess Dianna

Postcard from the archive of Angela Carter Archive, Add MS 88899/3/4-24. © Courtesy of Susannah Clapp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

When was the last time you sent a friend a postcard? Perhaps now’s the time. Yes, you could Whatsapp or videocall or email, but who doesn’t love post? Even if receiving it in this day and age does throw up multiple questions. Should I wash my hands after touching it? Did the postwoman wear gloves? My dad even took to quarantining the daily newspaper for a while until the absurdity of reading 24 hour-old ‘news’ got the better of him. Still, once you’ve got past the hurdle of welcoming an item from the outside world into your home, there is all the joy of the postcard to appreciate. A written message and a visual element to admire, and perhaps some witty interplay between the two, depending on the acuity of the sender.

As we continue our blog series on Digital Literary Collections and following on from Callum’s post on the epistolary novel, I’d like to draw attention to the humble postcard. Sometimes overlooked within the correspondence section of a literary archive, many of our contemporary literary archives contain substantial numbers of postcards and greetings cards. Unlike the heavyweight genre that is the literary letter, they may not be as painstakingly performative and endlessly quotable as their paper counterparts. But these cardboard cousins offer us a more intimate and arguably less self-conscious view of literary friendships. And the images chosen by the senders can themselves offer insights into the workings of a writer’s imagination.

In Susannah Clapp’s article Angela Carter in Postcards on our Discovering Literature: 20th Century website, she recalls her friendship with Carter as played out in postcards ‘dashed off throughout the 1980s from Australia, the States, Europe, London’:

These cards told more than one story. The cartoons, paintings and photographs Angela chose sometimes contradicted, at other times re-emphasised her words on the other side. Some of the images glance at a conversation we had been having, or at an episode in Angela’s life. Sometimes, of course, the picture hints at nothing. Soon it will be harder to uncover the hidden history here, to know what is random and what is allusive.

The images which Carter sent to Clapp reveal her preoccupation with Shakespeare in the early stages of work on Wise Children, as well as her delight in lampooning authority figures, and her aesthetic tastes (there’s something particularly Carteresque about the red splatter of Mount Etna exploding in a card sent to Clapp in 1987). For further commentary see Susannah Clapp's article Angela Carter in Postcards, or her beautiful little book, A Card From Angela Carter.

Postcard from Angela Carter Archive  showing Shakespeare portrait

Postcard from Angela Carter Archive showing erupting volcano

Postcards from the archive of Angela Carter Archive, Add MS 88899/3/4-24. © Courtesy of Susannah Clapp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

As a great sender of postcards, it follows that Carter also received many in return. The large collection in her archive includes examples from other writer friends, such as one from ‘Jim’ [J G] Ballard, congratulating her on ‘your demolition job on Our Saviour’, referring to a documentary she had written and narrated irreverently deconstructing visual images of Christ. Aptly, Ballard chose a reproduction of Dalí’s surrealist painting of Mae West as a vehicle for his message, while comparing her achievement to that of other surrealist artists: ‘Breton + Ernst would have been proud of you’. Given the visual sophistication of both writers’ work it’s not surprising that they both enjoyed this means of communication. (For more on Ballard’s interest in and influence on visual art see Roger Luckhurst’s article on our site.)

And of course, sometimes the postcards we find in a writer’s possession were never sent but were kept for inspiration, such as Winston Levy’s souvenir postcard of the Empire Windrush that hung on his daughter Andrea Levy’s wall as a visual reminder of the true story that prompted her to write Small Island.

Postcard from Andrea Leavy Archive showing photograph of the Empire Windrush

Postcard of Empire Windrush purchased by Winston Levy on board ship, 1948 © By kind permission of Andrea Levy

I’m off to look through my postcard collection… Meanwhile, if anyone is feeling lonely and in need of post during lockdown, see the brilliant Shaun Usher’s offer to send a ‘letter of need’.

08 April 2020

Born-digital Literary Archives — How We’re Capturing the Future

by Callum McKean, Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. For more information about the challenges and opportunities posed by born-digital material elsewhere in the Library, see the Digital Scholarship Blog and the extensive work of the Library's Digital Preservation Department.

I. Capturing a Moving Target

If you’re adjusting to working from home, look around your working area: maybe you have a home office or you’ve repurposed the dining table, or you're out in the garden. Did anyone in your team — when making the move — scramble to transport the filing cabinets or stacks of unsorted paper that had accumulated on their desks to their new workspace? If not, this is sufficient evidence that the way a lot of us work has radically changed; a platitude that doesn’t get less true with repetition. Your computer (and, more often than not, the network) has at least partially relegated or replaced the paper in your professional life with ‘Digital Objects’ — a useful but deceptively complex archival term — defined by the Society of American Archivists as, “a unit of information that includes properties (attributes or characteristics of the object) and may also include methods (means of performing operations on the object)”. If the word ‘object’ seems ontologically insufficient to carry such a definition, with its emphasis on process, relationship, and contingency, then this is part of the problem we’re facing. (Archivists — and traditional archival methodologies — have a clear (and often justified) tendency to fetishise permanence and fixity). 

This shift towards the ‘digital’ is no less dramatic in the personal archives of the novelists, poets and playwrights collected by the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts department at the Library, whose historical remit (c.1950-) traces the rapidly evolving landscape of personal computing in the latter half of the twentieth century and the explosion of the internet and social media, which is by no means complete, in the twenty-first. This shifting landscape means that, more often than not, we collect ‘hybrid’ archives comprised of traditional paper material and — depending on the donor’s enthusiasm for new forms of technology — a variety of digital formats, including floppy-disks, CD-ROMs, spinning hard-drives, USB sticks, and even laptop computers. Creative writers are, much more-so than institutions, academics and scientists, given to superstition and mysticism regarding the tools of their trade. Most are methodologically conservative and eager to link their ability to produce work to their idiosyncratic habits and tools. (On this blog, Chris Beckett’s discussion of Will Self’s use of post-it notes and typewriters in one of our most significant hybrid archives is an excellent case-study of how complex these interrelationships can become).

 

Photograph of Amsaft branded Floppy Disk form the Archive of Wendy Cope

A double-sided Amsoft branded Compact floppy disk from the Archive of poet Wendy Cope, dated 1989.

What becomes apparent when attempting to capture, preserve, arrange and fix these ‘Digital Objects’ is that an undeniable materiality — often partially erased by the term ‘digital’ — is fundamental to their structure. The history of computing is a history of design miracles, both technical and aesthetic. Recovering a long-forgotten Word Perfect file from an Amstrad Floppy Disk is an archeological task, demanding attention to the structure and format of the data, its physical housing, and the software-codex able to make sense of it. Like a dig, it requires sensitive excavation equipment capable of moving the object without altering or destroying it. Similarly, capturing a hard-drive demands knowledge of how it reads, writes and stores data mechanically in order that when we act upon it we capture everything (including, interestingly, apparently empty space) and disturb as little as possible. (In a strange turn, archivists have learned to use software and hardware first developed by law-enforcement for these and other tasks).

 

Photograph of Kryoflux machine used for magnetically reading legacy floppy disks

A Kryoflux machine reads a 3.5” floppy disk using magnetic resonance technology to achieve a complete capture where possible, often helping us to recover partially-corrupted legacy data.

II. Representing exchange

Next to draft material, correspondence is another major component of the traditional literary archive. The movement from paper to digital has been just as pronounced in this area too, with e-mail becoming the dominant mode of communication for the vast majority of our donors. Unsurprisingly, the collection of e-mail archives presents its own challenges, both technical and curatorial. In much the same way that a letter might come to us within an envelope, an e-mail message is held within a machine-readable envelope — from which it is possible to glean similar kinds of data about sender, receiver, the path which the messaged travelled through on its journey from one to the other. All of this data must be preserved in order to retain the integrity of the archival collection, but much of it must also be withheld from public access for a significant period of time in order to comply with legal restrictions relating to the use of personal data.

Photograph of letter addressed to BS Johnson from Samuel Beckett

Screenshot of e-mail metadata

A side by side metadata comparison of a letter and an e-mail. The envelope sent by Samuel Beckett to B.S. Johnson contains critical metadata about dates and receiver, as well as about the French post-offices through which the letter travelled before reaching Johnson. The e-mail metadata contains much of the same information (highlighted) in a machine-readable format.

As well as these technical challenges, the preservation and access provision for e-mail archives must take into account its threaded nature  — its a conversation and so is not particularly amenable to the archival logic of ‘deliverable units' which guides our approach to paper manuscripts. Additionally, any robust archival process must consider e-mail's increased tendency to include rich media; including attachments such as word-processing files, images and sometimes even audiovisual material. The scale of the challenge for collecting institutions is huge. The largest e-mail archive held at the Library, (of the poet Wendy Cope, comprised of around 25,000 individual messages) contains everything from family correspondence, professional booking requests, draft revisions and shopping lists. Making sure that this material complies with data protection regulation in the UK before it is released is obviously a considerable task. Fortunately, software tools like ePadd, an e-mail archiving tool developed at Stanford University, exist to alleviate some of the issues; allowing us to filter and process messages more efficiently through the implementation of a tool-assisted approach.

Screenshot taken from Stanford University's ePadd E-mail Archiving Project

ePadd’s user friendly interface allows curators to filter messages by correspondent, attachment and assign user-generated labels.


III. Managing Scale

Scale is a double-edged for born-digital literary archives. The growing size of these collections undoubtedly renders some established archival cataloguing techniques inadequate. Equally, as the the kinds of media stored on consumer-level storage devices become more complex, traditional techniques for information organisation and control become either too labour intensive or impossible to adapt to this new context. Nevertheless, the scale of structured metadata available for these new kinds of collection items allows us to explore new techniques for data visualisation and ‘enhanced curation’ in ways that would be impossible for more traditional archival collections.

 

Bar chart showing file type distribution in a born digital archive Screenshot showing enhanced metadata for a born digital archive

Examples of how structured metadata can allow us to visualise and compile data in interesting ways using computing languages such as Python. The bar graph shows a time distribution for files in the Virago archive, with the 24 hour clock on the x axis and number of files on the y axis. The text describes some statistics and metrics for the same archive.

 

What next?

The processing, preservation and access provision for born digital literary archives is very much still an open field. The future is uncertain, but consequently still very exciting. Although there are many challenges ahead, if we are willing and able to leverage the technology, there are innumerable new discoveries to be made about the collections we hold, some of which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. In this way, our driving motivation for born-digital is no different than it is for paper -- to preserve, interpret and provide access to our collections for the inspiration and enjoyment of everyone. 


03 April 2020

Epistolary Novels and Social Distancing

by Callum McKean, Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives and Manuscripts. Read more about 18th century letter writing culture, and the epistolary novel, on Discovering Literature Restoration & 18th century, here.

Broad technological change is often experienced as a distortion or shift in our lived experience of communication with one another. In this way, as in so many others, the twenty-first century mirrors and repeats what was rehearsed in the eighteenth-century. As Dr. Lucy Curran writes in the article linked above — cementing the relation between technology, speed and infrastructure: “the 18th century is commonly known as the great age of letter writing: postal routes rapidly expanded, and the epistolary novel emerged as a hugely popular genre”. As communication at a distance became more viable and wide-spread, so did novel forms of self-expression and self-construction, or, as Curran writes, ‘just as social media streams today allow modern celebrities to present versions of their intimate lives for public consumption, so early modern and 18th-century figures carefully constructed themselves in their letters for particular audiences keen to read these kinds of works”.

Photograph of the frontispiece of Samuel Richardson's "Letters Written to and for Particular Friends"The frontispiece of Samuel Richardson's Letters Written to and for Particular Friends, a letter-writing manual, which inspired perhaps the most famous epistolary novel, his Pamela (1740)

This knotty relationship in the epistolary novel between the secluded self and the social self, between private relationships and their performance, and between sociality — as mediated by rapid technological change — and isolation, has much to tell us about our current moment. Like it or not, the selves we construct through social media, instant messaging and video conferencing software are collected and stored somewhere (if even just in the minds of others) and they exist -- to a large extent -- outside of us. Reflecting on how others navigated these choppy waters in the past can teach us a lot about what it means to be performing, constructing, confiding and loving in a time of enforced social distancing. If you're curious, Dr. Lucy Curran's article for Discovering Literature: Restoration & 18th century is a great place to start.