Digitizing Correspondence

Project website: http://letters.xmera.org/


On 17 September 2009 CELL held a workshop sponsored by JISC, Digitizing Correspondence. This workshop brought together a number of strands arising from the individual correspondence projects in which CELL is involved. It was particularly concerned with how the networks of correspondence that existed in early modern Europe might be reproduced by interactions between distinct projects online. While individual projects work on distinct collections, Digitizing Correspondence provided a forum for discussion of general issues and an opportunity to seek synergies between projects.

Digitization of Letter Collections

The rapidly growing availability of digital images is changing archival scholarship. Increasingly the researcher is able to work not from a transcript, printed edition, photocopy or scratchy microfilm, but can access a full colour digital image either taken with their own camera, accessed online or - for a price - delivered via e-mail from an archive on the other side of the world. The ubiquity of digital images of archival documents is changing the way in which we conduct and present our research. It is also influencing the expectations of our readers.

Letters and letter collections present particular problems to an archivist embarking on a digitization project. Letters are not uniform in size, shape or length; carry physical evidence of their transmission, which researchers need to see; and often include enclosures and related materials. Letter collections are frequently spread across several archives; rarely complete; and of unknown extent (often very large).

Digitizing Correspondence supports and encourages the development of standards and protocols that will promote the digitization of letter collections and their incorporation into metacollections of correspondence. A full report [PDF] - and appendix [PDF] - were submitted to JISC.