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Dorset Museum's Thomas Hardy Archive, courtesy of Dorset Museum 2019

Credit: Dorset Museum's Thomas Hardy Archive, courtesy of Dorset Museum © 2019

University of Exeter, Dorset Museum and Dorset History Centre mark pioneering research

Experts from the University of Exeter, Dorset Museum and Dorset History Centre have celebrated their pioneering research, including on the life and work of the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.

The three organisations have now signed a Memorandum of Understanding to mark past work and welcome future collaborations.

The Thomas Hardy Memorial Collection, the largest Hardy collection in the world, recently selected for the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, is owned by Dorset Museum and managed by Dorset History Centre, the archives service and local studies library for Bournemouth, Christchurch, Dorset and Poole. 

The collection includes the Dorset County Chronicle, from which Hardy took notes for his stories of Wessex – his “part real, part dream country” – and the manuscripts of three of his fourteen novels: Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887). Dorset History Centre also holds the records of the borough authority, landed estates, courts, prisons and hospitals. 

A new research project Thomas Hardy’s Global Correspondents, led by Professor Angelique Richardson at the University of Exeter, aims to make available to the public over 5000 letters written to Hardy, Emma Hardy and Florence Hardy, which form part of the Hardy archive. Hardy’s position as one of Britain’s preeminent writers meant he received thousands of letters from friends, fellow artists, publishers, campaigners, fans, and other members of the public, from across the world, expressing admiration or seeking to enlist his support. The letters show that Hardy’s progressive views, including his anti-imperialism and anti-racism, meant he played a key role in debates of the time – from women and suffrage to war and animal welfare – they also show how much he inspired other artists and writers.

So far 100 of these letters have been made publicly available for the first time as the first phase of the project. The letters have been digitised by the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Lab, and images and fully annotated transcriptions of the letters are available online, with more to be added in the future.

Professor Richardson said: “Dorset History Centre and Dorset Museum are key partners of the University of Exeter, collaborating with us on a number of projects and offering our students both excellent research resources and valuable opportunities to develop new expertise and employability skills. We are delighted to mark this relationship and future work.” Dr Jon Murden, Director of Dorset Museum, said: “This Memorandum celebrates over ten years of collaboration with the University of Exeter and we are greatly looking forward to working with the University and Dorset History Centre on the next stage of the Hardy's Global Correspondents Project”.  Sam Johnston, County Archivist at Dorset History Centre, said: “We are delighted to be working with the University and colleagues at Dorset Museum to bring Hardy’s work to a global audience.  Hardy’s archives provide the key evidence of the author and his world – the context for his writing.  It is great to see this superb resource opened up for public benefit.”

Professor Richardson has been collaborating with Dorset Museum and Dorset History Centre since 2009 when she worked with them on the successful fundraising campaign to purchase the Hardy Players Transcripts on behalf of Dorset’s inhabitants and many visitors and the academic community. 

Professor Richardson is now working with both organisations to explore Thomas Hardy’s involvement in the social, legal and political worlds of Dorset and the wider world and to examine ways in which Hardy draws on these experiences in his fiction, often as part of his concern for social justice. She is also supervising two Collaborative Doctoral Award Students, Laura Cox and Sophie Welsh, with Dorset Museum and Dorset History Centre, in collaboration with the University of Southampton.

Professor Henry French from the History Department at Exeter has worked with Dorset History Centre and the National Trust on the History Centre's National Lottery-funded project, ‘Home and Away: Unlocking the Bankes Family Archive’. Between 2015 and 2018, the project catalogued over 800 boxes and more than 32,000 documents relating to the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy between the 13th and the 20th centuries, making this collection much more accessible to the public. Exeter History PhD student Amy Ridgway contributed via a placement, and the project enabled several Exeter undergraduate history students to write dissertations on the family and on Kingston Lacy which built for the family after the destruction of their home at Corfe Castle during the Civil War.

Date: 20 November 2020

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