Survival of the Weakest: Preserving and Analysing Born-Digital Records to Understand How Small Poetry Publishers Survive in the Global Marketplace

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Humanities


Drawing on previously inaccessible born-digital records, this project seeks to understand how small poetry publishers survive in a global marketplace dominated by large, multinational publishing firms. It focuses on the specific case of Carcanet Press, an internationally-recognised poetry publisher. In March 1999, Carcanet bought the core of the poetry list of Oxford University Press. With Oxford's complete abandonment of the field, a small provincial press had become a world-leading publisher of poetry. But this evolution did not happen overnight. Founded in 1969 by Michael Schmidt and Peter Jones, Carcanet moved from Oxford to Manchester in 1972. The press went on to build a diverse list, including poetry in translation and by neglected women poets. Among the distinguished writers associated with Carcanet are Elizabeth Jennings, Ted Hughes and many others.
The central argument of the project is that Carcanet has successfully targeted niches of poetry "users" interested in a total artistic experience not limited to solitary reading. From its origins, Carcanet actively promoted its list in literary festivals and other events, before leveraging the technological revolution to engage with new audiences. The Carcanet brand is a good example of "disruptive innovation" (to use an influential concept developed by the Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen). While other firms relied on the prestige of poetry in traditional literary centres, Carcanet has created new markets from its base in Manchester. In short, Carcanet has found a way to turn non-consumers into new consumers of poetry - who read poems on their tablets or phones, listen to podcasts and watch videos of poetry performances.
Despite its importance in the literary landscape, Carcanet has attracted little scholarly attention - in part because the largest part of its archive is closed to researchers. This archive, which comprises born-digital as well as analogue records, is held at the John Rylands Library (Manchester). The project will preserve and make accessible internationally-significant archival materials held in the uncatalogued part of the paper collection and in the digital collection (currently closed due to data protection issues). The opening of rich archival materials will lead to the production of new knowledge on small poetry publishers and on the overall issue of born-digital records.
Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of Carcanet, the project will offer unique insight into a publishing house central to the contemporary literary landscape. It will also provide a model to preserve and make born-digital records more accessible to researchers, in order to produce new knowledge. While we still have letters, manuscripts and other physical documents from the past centuries, we are in danger of losing digital documents created in the last decade. By fostering close collaborations between scholars and archivists, the project seeks to answer one of the most pressing challenge in the humanities and social sciences: the transition from print to digital.

_My monograph will be the first history of Carcanet Press, from its humble beginnings in 1969 to its current world-leading position.
_The project's digital resource will incorporate newly catalogued archival materials related to Ted Hughes and Elizabeth Jennings, oral history interviews of key figures associated with Carcanet, selected emails produced by the press, as well as data visualisations based on this digital archive.
_An exhibition/ display at the JRL will include key archival findings and artefacts as well as a "memory booth" to allow visitors to share their memories of Carcanet.
_A one-day workshop and international conference will bring together archivists and scholars to find solutions to the problem of born-digital records in literary and publishers' archives. Major contributions will then be published in a special issue of a leading journal.

Planned Impact

The project will impact on an internationally recognised museum/ library/ holding of Special Collections (John Rylands Library), as the catalogued section of the Carcanet archive will increase by 46 boxes. The activities associated with the project (digital resource, workshop, exhibition/ display, conference) will also increase awareness of the rich materials in this archive. As one of the five National Research Libraries, the University of Manchester Library has been actively engaging with the transition from print to digital. In 2012-14, the Carcanet Press Email Preservation Project - funded by a small grant from Jisc, under its Digital Infrastructure Programme - resulted in the rescue and preservation of 215,000 emails and 65,000 attachments generated by Carcanet. In 2014, this project received the Digital Preservation Coalition's prestigious biennial award for "Safeguarding the Digital Legacy." But a major problem is that due to data protection issues, this archive is currently embargoed to researchers. Connecting archivists with scholars and broader audiences, the project will unlock the digital archive, so that born-digital records are preserved and made accessible to produce new knowledge.

The project will also impact on the career of the Project Archivist and Administrator (PAA), who will develop expertise in the collections, in web management, information handling (catalogues), events management (co-organising the workshop and the early stages of the conference), communicating with academic and non-academic audiences (talks, tour of the JRL), and in working on an exhibition/ display. The project will create in the PAA expertise uniquely placed to collaborate with the PI and JRL on follow-on projects around the JRL collections.

The project will benefit other emerging professionals (workshop/ conference delegates), publishing industry professionals, archivists in the public and private sector, and broader publics (poetry "users," museum-goers) through a series of impactful activities.

Impact Activity 1: Creation of an open-access digital resource
The open-access digital resource will incorporate information about two widely popular writers associated with Carcanet Press: Ted Hughes and Elizabeth Jennings. It will also include oral history interviews of key figures associated with the press, in the form of video and audio recordings. Finally, the digital resource will include selected emails from the Carcanet digital archive, currently closed to the public.

Impact Activity 2: One-day workshop
The workshop at the JRL will bring together thirty participants immediately receptive to the newly catalogued materials in the Carcanet collection - including publishing industry professionals, biographers, creative writers and poetry readers. This wide audience will be targeted through a roundtable with well-known writers, a poetry reading and a reception that will conclude the workshop.

Impact Activity 3: Exhibition/ Display
To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Carcanet, a small exhibition at the JRL will feature key archival findings as well as first editions, poetry recordings and short video interviews of major figures associated with the press. A "memory booth" will enable visitors to add to the archive by sharing their memories of Carcanet. Visitors will also be able to read selected archival emails, using tablets made available by the JRL. The display will offer a pioneering model for other museums, libraries and Special Collections interested in improving usage of their born-digital collections.

Impact Activity 4: Three-day international conference
The project conference at Loughborough London campus will involve archivists working for a wide range of institutions, including publishing houses and museums. Bringing together established and early-career professionals, the conference will encourage and strengthen links between international academics and the archive and museum sector.


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Description The research funded on this grant provoked and structured (through a one-day workshop [January 2019]) much needed debate between scholars and archivists. These collaborations are particularly valuable to solve the issues related to born-digital archives - including the central question of access to these archives.
Exploitation Route The journal special issue (submission date: April 2020) will make an interdisciplinary intervention in the debates on the preservation, findability and accessibility of born-digital records. Bringing together scholars and archivists, this special issue will offer a collaborative model to solve the problem of "dark" digital archives closed to researchers.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Impact Activity: One-day workshop The one-day workshop in Manchester (17 Jan. 2019) assembled thirty-five participants immediately receptive to the significance of the Carcanet Press collection: scholars, archivists, but also publishing industry professionals, creative writers and poetry "users." This audience was targeted through two roundtables, a poetry reading and a reception that concluded the workshop. The roundtable featured both well-known and emerging speakers such as Michael Schmidt (the founder of Carcanet Press) and poets Rebecca Goss and Alex Wong. The workshop was a key pathway for involving writers, readers and members of staff associated with the early days of Carcanet in the late 1960s and 1970s. This includes Helen Tookey, Grevel Lindop, Roger Garfitt, Judith Willson and Michael Schmidt. All of them made significant contributions during the workshop, helping our understanding of this important period in the postwar literary landscape. These contributions will be followed by further oral history interviews, that will later be added to the digital resource.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Institute of Advanced Studies Open Programme
Amount £2,200 (GBP)
Organisation Loughborough University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2019 
End 05/2019
Description Leverhulme Visiting Professorship
Amount £36,918 (GBP)
Funding ID VP1-2018-035 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 12/2019
Description Workshop "Carcanet approaching 50: Poetry Publishers, Archives and the Digital Revolution" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of Carcanet, the workshop offered unique insight into a publishing house central to the contemporary literary landscape. More generally, it asked how independent poetry publishers can compete against multinational publishing firms in an increasingly concentrated economy.
The workshop brought together publishing industry professionals, biographers, creative writers and poetry readers (total of 35 participants).
It sparked questions and discussion afterwards, and will lead to the publication of a journal special issue in 2020. It also resulted in further oral history interviews that will be made available on the project digital resource.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019