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Literary Archivist

 February 25, 2016 | Simon Jenkins


With handwritten stories by the young Bronte sisters, manuscripts by Wilde and Waugh, the private correspondence of writers such as Henry James, Thomas Hardy and TS Eliot, and the notebooks of our post-war poets – the University of Leeds has one of the finest literary collections in Britain.

It is a genuine national treasure. No UK University outside Oxford and Cambridge has so rich a literary history, nor library collections which document this heritage so well.

Campaign donations from Mick and Ingrid Yates and from Liz and Chris Pointon enabled us to appoint Literary Archivist Sarah Prescott to open up our literature collection to the world and make the most of these amazing materials. Sarah is working to:

  • enhance the detail and descriptiveness of our cataloguing;
  • bring to light hidden gems within the collection;
  • enable scholars to deepen their research by mining more thoroughly the rich seams of our collections;
  • make more of this material available online;
  • create more opportunities for the public to enjoy these unique collections.
  • develop new teaching programmes which will use these materials to enrich the experience of all our students – not simply those studying literature.

Initially working with a novel by Graham Greene, Sarah catalogued how the work had changed, from the author’s initial handwritten draft, through his many changes and revisions, to the finished published novel. She later moved on to working with poetry created by Leeds’s own Tony Harrison, working with him to catalogue the various stages from first idea to published work.

This has now opened up opportunities for research and teaching and created new understandings of how writers hone their work.

Further funding will allow us to do so much more. Untold treasures remain hidden in the depths of our literary collection, uncatalogued and rarely seen. Through further support for the work of the Literary Archivist we will open up this important part of our cultural inheritance, and make the use of these amazing collections as outstanding as their contents.

In this Yorkshire Post article Sarah is interviewed about Special Collections’ designated cookery collection.

Literary Archivist