Via Mercurius Politicus: A list of resources for manuscript and book history, including online collections, exhibits, and flickr streams.
One of my extra-curricular activities (not associated with the William Blake Archive) is to translate the letters of Robert Southey, and I started with those held at the University of Rochester’s department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation. This was the first time I had worked directly with primary source material, and it was fantastic. I was able to feel the paper, examine watermarks, and see how pages were folded together. I also discovered that writing on the last page of longer letters was partially centered so that when the seal was opened or removed, it would not tear any of the letter’s contents.
Lately, however, I’ve been working with terrible reproductions of letters located all over the world. I receive them as photocopies, and I imagine a strange history which may or may not include multiple generations of photocopies, or digital photographs that have been scanned, printed, and photocopied again for good measure. Whatever the process, by the time I receive them, the letters are often faint, blurry, held at strange angles (so that only a section of the page is in focus – such as a narrow column down the center), and occasionally with an arm or hand in the margin. Needless to say, I have developed a strong appreciatation for quality reproductions of primary materials.
Also on the subject of manuscripts, the Blake Archive is planning (at some point in the future) to begin publishing some of Blake’s manuscripts. The first will be “An Island in the Moon,” and is currently undergoing final rounds of encoding updates and proofreading. Ali and I have also been working on an article detailing the long, frustrating, and exciting process of preparting a manuscript for digital publication, so stay tuned!