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Rupert Brooke's signature

E.M. Forster’s hierarchy

The papers of the writer EM Forster, held in the King’s College Archive Centre, provide a good example of how the hierarchy works. This collection includes 42 series. At 63 boxes and 72 volumes, it is one of our larger collections. The schematic diagram below only shows selected parts.

Diagram showing the hierarchy of the Forster collection
Larger image

First, look at the Novels series. You can see that the next level down includes a file and a sub-series, each of which relates to different novels. Although EMF/1/3 is called a ‘file’, it’s physically 4 'guard books'. Remember, in this case, the word ‘file’ refers to a level of description, not an object. Guard books are volumes with blank pages into which loose documents have been pasted using materials which are consistent with the long-term preservation of the documents.

In the large Correspondence series, the level below the series includes a file, an item and a sub-series. This mixture of levels may seem illogical but it is actually done for a good reason. Each of the descriptions immediately below the Correspondence series level relate to a particular correspondent. Within the D.H. Lawrence sub-series, the copy of a letter Forster sent to Lawrence is kept separately to the ones Forster received from Lawrence.

While a person’s archive often contains drafts or photocopies of letters sent by that person, it is rare but not unheard of to hold the originals. This is due to provenance. Once a letter is sent, the physical letter is no longer the property of the person who wrote it, (although the copyright is – we’ll look at copyright in section 6), and is thus unlikely to be in his/her personal papers.

Look at the different ‘file’ level descriptions. They are all different sizes. Most catalogue entries include data about the extent, or size, of the object(s) being described and this information should not be neglected when using archival catalogues.

We shall look at the catalogue of the papers of Rupert Brooke, held at King’s College, Cambridge, in the activity at the end of this section and from Section 7 onwards.

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