In touch with real thing

December 8, 2006

It was a pleasure to read Ronald Schuchard's celebration of the value of introducing undergraduates to manuscripts (Features, December 1).

There are indeed "seeds of a mini-revolution" within universities to make library special collections in general, and literary manuscripts in particular, more open and relevant to undergraduates and taught postgraduate audiences.

Recent survey work by the UK and Ireland Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts has found increasing evidence that manuscripts are being integrated into taught courses for critical study, textual editing and creative writing all over the country.

At Exeter University, for instance, undergraduates enjoy the magical encounter with manuscripts by Daphne du Maurier and Ted Hughes among others, and student and staff feedback attests to how memorable - and how unique to the home university - this kind of learning experience can be.

Touching as well as seeing the "real thing" is important, as is the academic steer for students to move from wonder to interpretation. In my experience, a sense of privilege makes undergraduates among the most careful of handlers, and their appreciation makes a strong case for an integrated teaching and research mission for special collections in any institution.

Jessica Gardner
Head of special collections Information Services
Exeter University

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