Archives in the News

Happy new year, everyone! After a snowy start to the semester, classes began here at UMW on Tuesday and we’re all excited to dive into our 2019 projects. We’ve got a few interesting things coming up that we’re looking forward to sharing with our community, and it’s already shaping up to be a busy year. While we work away on our endeavors and hammer out the details of future blog post topics, we wanted to share with you some neat ways archives and special collections have popped up in the news lately.

Copyright law enthusiasts and lovers of archival materials celebrated this January 1, known in some circles as Public Domain Day. January 1, 2019, marked the first time in over twenty years that published works entered the public domain. This means that works from 1923, previously covered by copyright restrictions, are now freely available for anyone to use! Duke University Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a very informative site explaining why 2019 is such an important year in copyright law.

The list of newly open materials includes films by Charlie Chaplain, literature by Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, and a song called Yes! We Have No Bananas. But this is just a small sampling of the thousands of works that now reside in the public domain. Duke’s site lists many more, and an article from Motherboard provides some helpful tips about how to download all the new free stuff.

Title page of a book that reads: The World Crisis v. 1, 1911-1914, by the Right Honorable Winston S. Churchill. First Lord of the Admiralty 1911-1915. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924

The World Crisis, by Sir Winston Churchill, is now one of the books freely available in the public domain.

Going much further back in the archives than 1923, NPR recently reported on a discovery that could change the way scholars understand the production of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Scientists discovered lapis lazuli in a dental sample of an 850-year-old female skeleton. Considering the extreme expense and relative unavailability of lapis lazuli at the time, the discovery suggests that the woman may have been a scribe, countering the somewhat prevailing idea that it was only male monks responsible for the artistry seen in medieval texts. The theory, noted in the article, posits that the artist would moisten the tip of a paintbrush in her mouth to bring the bristles to a point. The pigment would leave behind a residue that built up over time.

An example of a medieval illuminated manuscript, depicting ornate text and four scenes in the life of David, enclosed in a large decorative letter "D".

An example of illuminated manuscript. Saul and David, in “The Bohun Psalter and Hours” (England, 14th century): London, British Museum, MS Egerton 3277, f.29v

The last interesting little item we’d like to bring to your attention is one that hits close to home for those of us who work in archives and otherwise help preserve cultural history. Earlier this month, the New Yorker published an article describing a “lost story by Sylvia Plath.” A researcher “stumbled over it” while studying Plath’s archives, housed at Indiana University in the Lilly Library. The New Yorker’s treatment of Plath’s early work, “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” is a good and worthwhile read, but even better is the response from the library’s twitter account.

That’s right, everyone–items in archives are definitely not lost! We’re always exploring ways to increase the discoverability of our collections for our many users. In the spirit of discovering that which might be “lost,” we invite you to explore our digital collections and our finding aids, and to come visit us in person here in Special Collections!

January 17, 2019