The Archive of European Intellectual Life

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Friday 2 July 2021

Special Collections has been involved in a very exciting cataloguing project this year, in collaboration with the Institute of Intellectual History in St Andrews and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.

Essays of James H. Burns

Funding was granted by the St Andrews Restarting Interdisciplinary Research Fund (SARIRF) for 6 months for the cataloguing and digitisation of the Archive of European Intellectual Life. The driving force behind the application was Professor Richard Whatmore, head of the Institute, and Katie Eagleton our own Director of Libraries and Museums. Professor Whatmore has been collecting the archives of prominent intellectual historians for several years, and presenting them to Special Collections to look after.

Arrival of the papers of Sylvia Kedourie and Elie Kedourie

This internationally important collection comprises the archives of major figures in twentieth-century European intellectual life, and is constantly growing. They have been arriving in boxes, bags, drawers, folders, concertina files and packets of brown paper tied up with string – always enticing to archivists. Some feature already on the website of the Institute’s Intellectual History Archive – others are being scanned and uploaded to the Library Collections website for the first time. This will provide ease of access to large sections of newly catalogued papers. Of course this is a major development at a time when researchers are unable to travel and access archives in person.

The project concerns the papers of the following intellectual historians:

  • Jacob-Peter Mayer, German-Jewish refugee, editor of Marx and Tocqueville;
  • István Hont: defected from Communist Hungary, world-famous historian of economics and political thought;
  • Sylvia Kedourie and Elie Kedourie: Iraqi-born scholars of the Middle East, founders and editors of Middle Eastern Studies;
  • James H. Burns: Aberdeen-trained professor at UCL, prominent medieval historian;
  • Kenneth Minogue: LSE professor, Margaret Thatcher’s “favourite academic” and president of the libertarian Mont Pelerin Society;
  • Nicholas Phillipson: organiser of the Edinburgh Festival, celebrated historian of Scottish intellectual life.

The second part of the project is an ambitious digital humanities pilot with EPFL, a research institute in Switzerland specialising in computer science and engineering, including digital humanities projects such as the Venice Time Machine and the Europe-wide ‘Time Machine: A common history for the continent’.

JP Mayer’s difficult handwriting © Meyer Estate

Professor Béla Kapossy, currently Director of the College of Humanities, leads a team at the forefront of big data, artificial intelligence and machine-learning initiatives to scan manuscripts, read handwriting and construct 3D images. They will work on the intellectual history archives to investigate ways to improve online discovery, and to perfect transcription methods and large-scale cataloguing while managing the data risks of sensitivity and privacy often found in collections of modern personal papers. This will provide a foundation for computational approaches to archival research at St Andrews.

Miriam Buncombe is our cataloguer, Luisa Izzi and Federica Papiccio make up our scanning team – between them they cover most of the southern European languages as well as Medieval Latin. For additional expertise we brought in Farshad Sonbodel to help us with the Arabic component of the Kedourie collection, and Maia Sheridan, Manuscripts Archivist, has been tidying up loose ends from earlier work.

Miriam is now coming to the end of the cataloguing phase, and blogs describing her findings will appear over the next few weeks, to give a taster of the stories, ideas and events illustrated by the archives of these European thinkers.

Maia Sheridan
Manuscripts Archivist

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