Gladstone’s library secures international funding for digitisation project

A $400,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York will enable 15,000 of William Ewart Gladstone’s letters and 5,390 of his annotated books to be made accessible to a global audience for the first time.

Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales is delighted to announce that, with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the US Friends of Gladstone’s Library, it has begun work on a three-year project to digitise 15,000 of Gladstone’s letters and 5,390 of his annotated books. Conserving physical print and manuscript collections alongside the creation and preservation of digital facsimile collections is a vital task for all cultural institutions. The ‘Digital Gladstone’ project will help to secure the future of the physical books and letters that belonged to Gladstone, safeguarding them for future generations of scholars, teachers and students.  It will make a collection of international significance accessible for the first time to a global audience.

Within the world-renowned collection held at Gladstone’s Library are two special collections of particular significance: the Manuscript Archive and the Gladstone Foundation Collection. Both are unique and irreplaceable in terms of their cultural and historical importance.

The Manuscript Archive comprises approximately 300,000 documents of which around 15,000 relate directly to William Gladstone, including letters written by or to him and papers that pertain to crucial events in his own life and that of the British nation. The three-year project will digitise this correspondence and make it available online.

The Gladstone Foundation Collection comprises around 20,000 books which have been positively identified as belonging to William Gladstone because they bear his handwritten annotations and/or were listed by him in his diaries. Previous work undertaken on the Foundation Collection in 2006 in partnership with the University of Liverpool resulted in a dedicated catalogue, GladCat, an electronic research resource which provides extensive searchable details of Gladstone’s annotations and marginalia. Work will also be undertaken to enrich and update GladCat, making use of the latest technology so that the Gladstone Foundation Collection can be made more widely accessible as part of a full digital repository.

Gladstone’s correspondence and the annotations in his books give the clearest possible insight into the mind of one of the greatest statesmen of the nineteenth century, a man whom Andrew Carnegie called ‘the world’s greatest citizen’. His forward-thinking on human rights, democracy and religious tolerance has much to teach us today. As well as being a leading politician on the world stage, William Gladstone was a devoted father and husband, who cherished the time he spent at home in Hawarden.

His letters reveal intriguing details about an extremely broad range of issues from the family’s domestic life to the political campaign trail while marginalia in his books leave today’s readers in no doubt as to Gladstone’s thoughts on other political figures or issues of the day. Both books and letters offer an enormous wealth of as yet untapped primary source material which deserves to be accessible to all but will be of inestimable value to anyone studying the social or political history of the 19th Century in particular.

Funding has so far been used to purchase scanning and IT equipment which is housed in an office set aside as a dedicated digitisation studio. The digitisation process can, therefore, run as a discrete programme allowing the usual daily work of the library to continue unhindered. Funding has also enabled the Library to appoint a full-time Project Manager, Elizabeth Fife-Faulkner, and Imaging Technician, Irina Schmidt, who are assisted by members of the Library staff and a team of volunteers. An Advisory Board provides practical advice on aspects of the project relating to their areas of expertise: Anne Welsh (UCL), Dr Matthew Bradley (University of Liverpool), Phil Sykes (University of Liverpool), Dr Antonis Bikakis (UCL) and Dr Kathryn Piquette (UCL).

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