Thursday, May 24, 2012

Victoria’s diary online

Images of all 40,000 pages plus of Queen Victoria’s diary - from 1832 to 1901 - have been published online as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for HM Queen Elizabeth II. Hitherto, only relatively little of her diary has been published in any form, and the full manuscripts have only been accessible to scholars by appointment. This initiative - funded by Oxford University and two Jewish foundations - is thus making a valuable primary resource on 19th century history available for the first time to a much wider, indeed a global, audience.

The Royal Archives in collaboration with Bodleian Libraries today announced publication of the ‘first release of Queen Victoria’s Journals.’ This, they said, marks not only the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth (24 May 1819), but also the current Diamond Jubilee celebrations of HM Queen Elizabeth II.’ An official launch was carried out by The Queen who was given a remote control in Buckingham Palace’s throne room to point at a computer screen.

Digital images of every page - 43,765 of them - in the entire sequence of the diaries are now available online. Full transcriptions and keyword searching are also available but only for the period up to February 1840 when Victoria married Prince Albert. Transcription of the remaining diaries is a work in progress.

The announcement has attracted plenty of press in the UK. The BBC drew attention to what David Ryan, assistant keeper of the Royal Archives, said: ‘The virtue of digital access is its ability to reveal the thoughts of Queen Victoria to millions around the world, providing them with a record of the important political and cultural events surrounding a monarch whose name defined an age.’ It also noted that a Twitter account @QueenVictoriaRI will tweet excerpts from Queen Victoria’s Journals throughout the Diamond Jubilee period. The Sun noted this: ‘When asked by Bodleian librarian Sarah Thomas if she herself wrote a diary, The Queen replied to laughter from those gathered to mark the launch: “Mine’s not being published.” ’ The Telegraph says Victoria’s diaries ‘provide a fascinating insight into her life as Queen’.

Hitherto, there have been various published collections of Queen Victoria’s diary entries. The first were Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands and More Leaves, both edited by Arthur Helps, and published by Smith, Elder & Co in 1868 and 1883. Arthur Ponsonby, author of English Diaries, says she made £2,500 from the first publication and used the money to set up university and school bursaries for the people of Balmoral. Of both volumes, Ponsonby remarked: ‘the entries are so much cut and trimmed and edited for public consumption that the charm of personality is almost entirely eliminated’. In the 20th century, John Murray brought out various other editions, some edited by Viscount Esher, starting with two volumes of The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: a selection from Her Majesty’s Diaries 1832-40.

The British Monarchy website has long since offered a few choice extracts from Queen Victoria’s diaries, and both the Arthur Help books are freely available online at Internet Archive. The Diary Review has published two previous articles about Queen Victoria’s diaries (with extracts): The crown hurt me, on the 110th anniversary of the death; and The Great Exhibition, on the 160th anniversary of its opening.

According to the newly established Queen Victoria’s Journals website (established by The Royal Archives and Bodleian Libraries with the involvement of the publisher ProQuest), the diaries detail household and family matters, reflect affairs of state, describe meetings with statesmen and other eminent figures, and comment on the literature of the day.

There is plenty of other interesting information on the website about the diaries. There are, for example, four different versions, none of which covers the whole period, from 1832 to 1901: the original which she wrote herself (only 13 small purple and marbled volumes survive); a manuscript, abridged transcript written by the Queen’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice; a typed transcript prepared for Lord Esher (the first Keeper of the Royal Archives); and four volumes of drafts written by the Queen herself (all relating to visits to and from various members of European royal families).

Without any further information or explanation, the website says ‘The digital version of Queen Victoria’s Journals has been managed and funded by the Bodleian Libraries, thanks to the generosity of the following supporters: The Polonsky Foundation, The University of Oxford, The Zvi and Ofra Meitar Family Foundation.’ The Bodleian, which has managed the project, is part of the University of Oxford; and the other two are both funded by wealthy Jewish interests.

The Polonsky Foundation’s primary objectives ‘are to support higher education internationally, principally in the arts and social sciences, and programmes favouring the study and resolution of human conflict’. Much of this work, it says, is part of ongoing programmes being undertaken in conjunction with various Departments of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, as well as other organisations within the United States and the United Kingdom.’ The Polonsky Foundation, which was set up by Leonard Polonsky, an American who studied at Oxford, and now runs Hansard Global Plc, provides financial solutions for international clients. The Zvi and Ofra Meitar Family Foundation says it ‘contributes to a broad range of organizations and activities in education and culture in Israel and abroad’. It was established by Zvi Meitar in 2004 to support young people outstanding in their field and to promote selected projects.

The new online archive of Queen Victoria’s diaries will remain freely available to British users and some specific libraries elsewhere, but, it will only remain freely available to other users until July 2012.

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