The British Library has just launched an online initiative to make the work of great Romantic and Victorian writers in its collections more accessible and useful to the public. The “Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians” project puts “1,200 Romantic and Victorian literary treasures, new insights by 60 experts, 25 documentary films, 30 inspirational teachers’ notes and more” up for open access, as a teaching, research and study aid, or for pure enjoyment.
The materials collected for the project include “numerous original manuscripts, first editions and rare illustrations,” as well as “a rich variety of contextual material – newspapers, photographs, advertisements and maps … presented alongside personal letters and diaries from iconic authors,” amounting to “over 8000 pages of collection items … [covering ] more than 20 authors through 165 newly-commissioned articles, 25 short documentary films, and 30 lesson plans.” The writers covered range from the very earliest Romantics, with William Blake and Robert Burns, to the borderlands of the 20th century, with Oscar Wilde and H.G. Wells.
The project has been supported financially by The Exilarch’s Foundation, a UK charity established by Dr. Naim Dangoor, a prominent Iraqi Jewish emigre with a long record of supporting educational and cultural initiatives, as well as the British Library Trust and British Library patrons. Although based on the British Library’s own collections, the project also covers many other UK archives and museums, including The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Charles Dickens Museum, and the Tennyson Research Centre, and has involved the digitization of some of their collections.
As per the news of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opening up its collections online, it’s great to see more and more museums and national archives turning to the Internet to make their holdings available to the people they exist for. This is the kind of non-scholarly open access that anyone can benefit from and enjoy.