A Visit to Blackburn Museum

Blackburn Museum When thinking of literary heritage manuscripts and objects, it’s too easy to focus purely on those items that were created or once owned by notable authors. The holdings of Blackburn Museum go some way to redress the balance, showing the importance of the collector in preserving our literary heritage.

Blackburn is not a town that is renowned for its cultural impact. In the 18th century, it became known as a key town in the burgeoning textile industry, one of many North West towns that was to benefit from the expanding cotton industry over the course of almost two centuries. Today, all that is left of this boom in Blackburn are the grand buildings, such as the town hall or the refurbished Waterloo Pavilions. The famous Thwaites Brewery, a feature of the town since 1807, is the last remaining business from Blackburn’s industrial past. The collection of R.E. Hart at the Blackburn Museum is another sign of the town’s affluent history. Continue reading


The English Literary Heritage Survey: Some Early Thoughts

bronte-parsonage-museum[1]The English Literary Heritage project has been conducting a survey for the past few months, and it is beginning to yield some interesting insight. What visitors to museums, archives and literary houses are telling us partly builds upon expectations but also reveals different priorities for both individuals and groups.

The emerging reasons for people to visit literary exhibitions and houses are not too surprising. The majority of people want to see more of a subject they already know something about, rather than learn something new. This is to be expected, as much of the draw of seeing manuscripts and other literary objects more often than not relies on an established relationship with a specific author’s work. More surprising, are the things that people value within the museum context. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on ‘Turning the Pages’

Aerial-view-of-BL‘Turning the Pages’ is a software solution for the display of digital manuscripts. It has been in development by Armadillo Systems since 2001 and has become more sophisticated over time, allowing users to access manuscripts from a variety of devices and engage with them in different ways. The main advantage of the software is to create digital ‘books’, focussing on the ability to manipulate the image on screen by turning digital pages and thus giving a user something approaching the haptic or tactile experience of looking at physical manuscripts. The images give a good impression of the three-dimensional manuscript, and a safe way for many people to examine old vellums, parchments and the like without any fear of damaging the precious original. Continue reading

The Challenges of Exhibiting Manuscripts

9256404614_622b8a2963_zLiterary manuscripts often lend themselves more to quiet and considered study than being displayed in a public space. Reading, for most people, is a solitary and thoughtful activity, usually undertaken in a comfortable chair, not standing in a public exhibition space jostling with other visitors. Manuscripts, unlike paintings or historical objects, are not just physical artefacts, they contain a plenitude of words and meanings that can be an overwhelming prospect for the museum visitor. As Jeff Cowton, curator at the Wordsworth Trust, writes, ‘To the initiated, a row of a favourite author’s manuscripts is something to dream of; to the uninitiated, such a display may fail to inspire even a wish to learn more’. To make those uninitiated connect with manuscripts and leave enlightened is the chief challenge of the literary exhibition. Continue reading