‘Hardy and Heritage’ is a collaborative PhD project between the University of Exeter and Dorset County Museum which aims to create a digital database of over 4,000 letters written to poet and novelist, Thomas Hardy (1840 -1928). These letters form part of Dorset County Museum’s Thomas Hardy Memorial Collection, the largest Hardy collection in the world, recently selected for the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Programme register.
Working with Exeter’s Digital Humanities Team, the digitisation project will make the letters remotely accessible to a wider audience, raising awareness of literary heritage in the South West. 100 of these letters have now been released on the Hardy’s Correspondents website, which brings to the public images and searchable, fully annotated transcriptions of the texts.
Further digital developments will include the use of new mobile technology to interpret, entertain and educate, enhancing access to the newly catalogued archive and informing Dorset County Museum’s existing multi-disciplinary software development.
The letter was an essential form of communication in the nineteenth century, with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, in 1840, leading to something of a communication revolution. This collection sheds light on the social practice of letter-writing and reveals Hardy’s involvement in a global network, engaged in social, intellectual and political debates from science and war to education and female emancipation, with correspondents from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Syria, Tasmania and the USA.
Correspondents include prominent writers (e.g. Grant Allen, J.M. Barrie, Browning, Havelock Ellis, George Egerton, Gissing, Kipling, T.E. Lawrence, Levy, Meredith, Charlotte Mew, Ezra Pound, Siegfried Sassoon, Swinburne, Wells, Woolf), artists and illustrators (Augustus John, George Du Maurier, Helen Paterson), musicians (e.g. Elgar, Holst) and actors, as well as charitable and political organisations, family and fans.