9 november 2009

Siegfried Sassoon electronic collection launches

Arts

Siegfried Sassoon
Manuscripts of Siegfried Sassoon are now freely available online on the First World War Poetry Digital Archive.

Oxford University is marking this year’s Armistice Day by launching the first ever online collection of the manuscripts of Siegfried Sassoon, focusing on his war poetry.

This is the first time these have gone online and they present a comprehensive collection of his war poetry, reassembled from collections across the world.

The work, which will be freely accessible online, will be part of Oxford University’s First World War Poetry Digital Archive, which is funded by JISC. This enables online users to view over 12,000 previously unseen materials such as poetry manuscripts, letters, and original diary entries from some of the conflict’s most important poets including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, and Vera Brittain.

It will add to the Edmund Blunden Collection, which was launched to great acclaim a few months ago.

The launch will also mark the first anniversary of the Archive, which began on Armistice Day last year in conjunction with The Great War Archive and has been a phenomenal success.

Highlights of the new Sassoon collection include manuscript variants of his key War Poetry anthologies The Old Huntsman (1917), Counter-Attack (1918), and Picture Show (1919). 

It is fascinating being able to see the corrections and crossings-out he made to the manuscripts.

Dr Stuart Lee

Director of the Archive, Dr Stuart Lee said: 'Siegfried Sassoon ranked alongside Wilfred Owen as the most widely read of all of the poets of the First World War. He is an important addition to the archive. Technology has enabled us to virtually reassemble Sassoon's manuscripts, which for years have been dispersed across the UK and USA, so they are now freely available for any one to read.

'It is fascinating being able to see the corrections and crossings-out he made to the manuscripts, invaluable to researchers studying the literature of the War, and provides a rich resource to enhance both teaching and learning of the period.'

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon (1886–1967) served, for the most part, on the Western Front in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (the same regiment as Robert Graves). In reaction to what he witnessed there – especially at the Somme – he produced some of the most damning and critical poetry of the war, culminating in his 'declaration' which saw him narrowly avoiding a court-martial and instead being sent to Craiglockhart hospital with 'neurasthenia' (shell shock). It was here that he met fellow patient and poet Wilfred Owen, forming one of the most important literary relationships of the twentieth-century.

A manuscript by Siegfried Sassoon which is featured on the First World War Poetry Digital ArchiveLord Max Egremont, Sassoon's biographer, said: 'As Siegfried Sassoon’s biographer, I greatly welcome The First War Poetry Digital Archive.  It is a very important contribution to scholarship and to the dissemination of what we know about some of the major war poets.

'To see such impressive images of these original manuscripts of poems and letters is both moving and salutary – a reminder of the poets’ ordeal and the power of their writing. It seems to me to be a remarkable achievement to have assembled all this material – and then to have selected what is shown so judiciously. I am certain that this digital archive will add greatly to the knowledge and appreciation of the poets’ work.'

Ben Showers, JISC digitisation programme officer, said: 'Building upon last year's success, JISC's funding has enabled the creation of an invaluable resource for teachers, students, researchers and the general public. As one of the most complete and important online collections of World War One poetry, the Sassoon manuscripts help further highlight the significance of this collection to audiences around the world.'

The University also launched the groundbreaking Great War Archive digitisation project which encouraged members of the public to digitally capture, submit, catalogue and assign usage rights to material they owned originating from the First World War, in addition to the Poetry collection.

The response was huge with 6,500 items submitted and almost 2,000 feeds to an additional Flickr site set up due to the great demand once the date for submissions had passed. Most of these items were previously unseen, other than by their owners and as the First World War moves further away, were at risk of being lost forever.

This is the first time crowd-sourcing has been used to create a digital archive in this area and has become a model for other projects – with the Oxford team receiving requests for advice on setting up similar initiatives from around the world.

The collections have proved useful to academics, teachers and students, as well as interested members of the public. They are surrounded by online teaching resources for Key stages and Further and Higher Education. But they have also become another tool in family and local history and genealogy. Since its launch the Oxford team has united distant family members who have searched the archive for information on their ancestors.