British Library and the National Trust announce new partnership to uncover hidden links between collections

The British Library and the National Trust have announced a new partnership to increase public knowledge about how their collections have intertwined through the centuries.

The partnership launches initially with two new doctoral fellowships set up to uncover lost connections between the Library’s collections and National Trust properties. More broadly, it is an opportunity for both organisations to develop a new strand of collaboration, working together on areas of strategic importance and engaging the public with how their collections connect with each other in unexpected ways.

Research themes for the two fellowships include people, places and lives connected with both organisations. In addition to what is outlined below, the projects provide scope for the fellows to define areas of focus depending on their own research interests and will include a range of opportunities for personal and professional development.

The two new fellowships, combined with wider research by staff at both organisations, underpin a future ambition for further research collaboration and joint programming. Future activity, it is hoped, could include larger-scale research projects, cultural events and exhibitions across both the Library’s and the National Trust’s sites.

The partnership builds on existing areas of collaboration for the Library and the Trust. For example, the British Library is home to the National Trust’s oral histories and wildlife sound archives, and the two have collaborated before on research collaborations such as the current Locating a National Collection project.

1. Creative Networks and Authors’ Houses

This fellowship will investigate connections between houses of writers now owned by the National Trust and the ways in which those literary figures inspired and collaborated with each other. In the 19th and early 20th century in particular, there was a rich interconnection between the arts – cultural figures formed broad professional and personal networks – and their houses became spaces of collaboration, creativity, and social change.

Through letters, diaries, visitors’ books and other archives held by the British Library, writers to be researched include Bernard Shaw (Shaw’s Corner), Virginia Woolf (Monk’s House) and Rudyard Kipling (Bateman’s). For example, a correspondence between Shaw and Woolf began in 1940 over the biography Woolf was writing of the artist and critic Roger Fry.

2. Library Dispersal and Acquisition

This fellowship will investigate printed books and manuscripts which may once have been kept in National Trust properties and are now held by the British Library. Initial research reveals up to 40 instances of these but early findings suggest there could be many more.

For example, during one of the most famous dispersals involving the Trust’s greatest library at Blickling in 1932, the Marquess of Lothian sold many of his books at auction – it is not known whether any ended up in the British Library. By investigating items such as original sales catalogues it is hoped that the Fellowship will identify further connections.

Eligibility and how to apply

The two initial fellowships are three-month, doctoral placements, running between January – March 2022. Applications close on 18 October 2021. For further information and to apply, please visit  https://www.bl.uk/research-collaboration.

Funding for the two initial fellowships is from Royal Oak Foundation and the British Library.

National Trust’s Head of Research Dr Anita Weatherby commented: “High-quality research is crucial to our cause and underpins all the work we do to understand, conserve and interpret our places. We are delighted with this new collaborative research partnership with the British Library which will allow us to uncover previously unknown links between our two places and collections and enable us to share new findings and stories with our supporters.”

Allan Sudlow, Head of Research Development at the British Library commented: “The National Trust shares our commitment to research that deepens our understanding of the remarkable heritage and collections in our care, and opens up opportunities to engage the public with new discoveries. We welcome the opportunity to co-fund and support this unique fellowship programme for early career research. There are many hidden connections and synergies across the Library’s collections with the people, places and stories associated with National Trust properties. We hope this is a first step to uncovering some of them, and we look forward to sharing them with audiences across the country.”

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