Saving francophone literary manuscripts

In September we participated in a one-day workshop in Paris entitled Saving francophone literary manuscripts: towards a global charter for their material and immaterial deposit”, organized by the French research team, ‘Francophone Manuscripts’ based at the CNRS/ École Normale Supérieure.

This team is leading a project to promote the preservation and conservation of literary manuscripts in the francophone world:

“The lack of resources for conservation makes the preservation of literary manuscripts in Francophone Africa and the Caribbean an urgent issue. While we wait for countries to put adequate structures in place, for obvious symbolic reasons such manuscripts must be kept in a place that is legally clearly identifiable as being exempt from any neo-colonial initiative. We therefore need to reflect upon how to construct a global network of libraries where they can be deposited which will allow us to respond to this urgent conservation issue: this might for example be a constellation of sites in francophone countries, with a strong emphasis where possible on placing them in countries in the global South. 

At the same time, a bank of digital images from these archives must be set up, using digitisation techniques suited to the demands of scholarship, and the establishment of a francophone digital gateway must be prepared. This gateway will allow the community of researchers from the global South and North to have access to these Caribbean and African archives. It will be put together with progressively more complex resources: the placing online of a vast bank of digital facsimiles, manuscript transcriptions, with encoding, classification and an online interface for visualisation. 

Such a project will not be possible without the development of a jointly prepared charter for the material and immaterial deposit of manuscripts, which takes into consideration the legal steps necessary to protect African and Caribbean cultural heritage from western predations. This is the subject of the meeting of international specialists from the South and the North. The objective will be to define a legal and scientific structure for the deposit of manuscripts that is acceptable to the literary estates, and to the network of libraries from the South and North whose task it will be to preserve them, as well as to the university researchers who will have to use, develop and promote them.”

The one-day workshop in Paris established the initial framework for discussion of the shape this charter ought to take. Discussions were rich and wide-ranging. Several key themes recurred throughout the day:

  • The need for the charter to ensure the rights of nations and literary estates are protected, and how it can take into account the particular needs of the institutions that carry out conservation work and the global community of researchers who use them. The potentials for tension between these different stakeholders and how these might be resolved were explored.
  • How to work within existing legal frameworks, charters and partnerships.
  • The complex questions of ownership and copyright raised by digitisation.
  • The question of whether to extend the project beyond the francophone literary world, and make the charter applicable to all languages.

For further information on the work of this project, visit their website (in French) and consult the PowerPoint slides on their work (ITEM Manuscrits Francophones).


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