Archival Expedition: Part 1

By Dr. Amanda Golden, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Poetics at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry

During the Spring 2011 semester, students in Dr. Golden's class completed a paper assignment using MARBL collections. Here, in a series of three blog posts, she talks about the experience she and her students had teaching from and researching in MARBL.

As the Post-Doctoral Fellow in Poetics at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, I have had the opportunity to study Emory’s archival resources this year. This term in my Midcentury Poetics course (American Studies 385, cross listed as English 389 and Women’s Studies 385) we have been analyzing poetic expression following the Second World War. In class, we have analyzed several different types of primary sources—including periodicals, material from writers’ journals, correspondence, and manuscripts—in order to interpret poets’ responses to and roles in shaping midcentury academic and artistic culture. I began the term, for instance, with my images of Sylvia Plath’s annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) in order to introduce the difficulty of modernism and post-war poets’ response to it. (Sylvia Plath’s copy of T. S. Eliot’s Complete Poetry and Plays is in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College.) We also discussed facsimiles of Sylvia Plath’s manuscript drafts of her Ariel (1965) poems housed in Smith College’s Mortimer Rare Book Room, Robert Lowell’s manuscript drafts, which are in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, and examples from Anne Sexton’s teaching notes for a course on her own poetry at Colgate University (1972).

With the help of Elizabeth Chase, I placed on hold five selections the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library’s Ted Hughes, Anthony Hecht, and J. M. Edelstein Collections. These items included the poet Anthony Hecht’s Correspondence with Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath’s prose, and an unprocessed box of materials that J. M. Edelstein collected related to Robert Lowell. During their visits to MARBL, the students selected from these materials. In their essays, the students analyzed the archival materials they had chosen alongside the primary and secondary sources we read in the course. 

[Above: An excerpt from the Smith College letterhead Plath frequently used for drafting her works. Ted Hughes Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory Unviersity.]

I was most excited to place on hold the unprocessed box that Edelstein had collected. (Read Part 2 of this blog on Monday to see an image of this box, compared with an image of a fully-processed box).  Unlike the archival storage boxes that hold files from other collections, Edelstein’s box of Lowell materials is made of rough, corrugated cardboard. It contains periodicals and file envelopes that lack an apparent order. In addition to seeing Sexton and Lowell’s neatly filed correspondence, I wanted the students to experience the process of discovery in exploring a box of materials without knowing what it would contain.

Read more about Amanda’s students’ experience with the Edelstein papers on Monday, in Part 2 of this post…

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