About the Project
The Lyon Archive is one of the smaller archives contained within the Archive's East End, a site dedicated to the study of nineteenth-century East End culture. The nineteenth-century East End of London is frequently understood as a space of crime, dirt, and foreigness. This project focuses instead on the vibrant cultural expressions of people living in this space and misunderstood by more sensational narratives of danger and despair. This project aims to find new critical lenses for reading the so-imagined infamous East End by recognizing perspectives typically ignored in studies of literary London.
The Lyon Archive is structured around A.S. Lyon's diaries, which he kept during the period when he lived in the East End of London, from 1823-1839. Yet, this archive reaches beyond the East End in its display of documentary editions of unpublished manuscript materials and rare editions of published works by members of his family. My goal is both to make these rare materials available to the public and to use this space to explore new ways of studying the past. How can a digital archive produce knowledge of place or of a literary family? How do digital archives enable new interpretive work or illuminate features of the paper technologies used to create the primary materials reproduced on this site? I use this space to explore both the scholarly possibilities digital archives create for our understanding of rare literary materials and new methods of reading rare materials that make them more accessible to a broader audience.
In addition to including editions of diaries, published works of poetry, and short stories produced by members of the Lyon family, The Lyon Archive also includes an archive of digital objects and exhibits created by students, and a Soundscape Map that imagines Lyon's experience of moving through London spaces. Podcast interviews with members of the Lyon family help to illuminate the provenance of the diaries and their significance for the family's history. No two pieces of paper or voices in The Lyon Archive are alike. And none, this site argues, is an insignificant part of the way members of the Lyon family and their community narrated and constructed their lives in writing.
My intention in building this digital archive is not to create a single grand narrative about the Lyon family or their East End world; for, such narratives have the power to still or marginalize outlier perspectives or to skew knowledge of place by imagining it as uniform. Instead, I focus on the digital archive's power to create a dynamic, speculative archive, capable of holding and producing new readings of the Lyon family and their cultural contexts through the interplay of a collection of digital editions and archive objects. My work on this site builds from Bethany Nowviskie‘s description of the work of speculative archives. She explains,
“digital humanities collections—archival and otherwise—are more likely to be taken by their users as memorializing, conservative, limited, and suggestive of a linear view of history than as problem-solving, branching, generative, non-teleological. This is a design problem. We’re building our digital libraries to be received by audiences as lenses for retrospect, rather than as stages to be leapt upon by performers, by co-creators. In other words, they’re not the improv platforms they should be: spaces for projection, planning, performance, speculation. Whether we’re talking about born-digital records or those historical documents and artifacts that have undergone the phase-change of digitization—once they’re online, I don’t want special collections, anymore; I want speculative ones.”
As a generative space, The Lyon Archive grows out of remediated paper fragments. Some of those fragments, such as diaries, appear on this site under the "Editions" tab. Others are created, imagined, and produced in an effort to understand writing by this family within the context of the culture at large. For example, several of Emma Lyon's poems were set to music by Isaac Nathan and were performed publicly on the London stage by John Braham. Both men are well known for their collaborations with Byron on The Hebrew Melodies. Since recording technologies did not exist in the early nineteenth century, we have no way of knowing what the experience or sound of such performances might have been like. Yet, we can use the digital archive's power to re-create such moments as an interpretive stage. In the future this wite will host a sound recording of a live production of Emma Lyon's poems, performed by University of Oregon musicians. For the first time in over two hundred years we'll be able to hear a performance of Lyon's poems and Nathan's music. The experience will be nothing like the original nineteenth-century performances. However, hearing the poems sung and set to music will point to the dynamism of an important region in London more often associated with dirty or uneducated immigrant communities. Along the way, users of this site have an opportunity not only to read out-of-print poems by Emma Lyon, but to experience them through a remediation process; and to consider along the way how sound functions as an interpretive act, or how it opens up new interpretive possibilities for experiencing the nineteenth-century's multi-genre arts (music and poetry).
This space will, I hope, inspire users to rethink the very idea of the archive as not simply a quiet space of preservation and dust, but as an active forum that invites productive exchange and experiential learning from a number of texts and participants. As Jarrett M. Drake's work on liberatory archives notes of traditional physical archives,
“Silence is an important exercise of control and power. By preventing or discouraging verbal communication [in traditional archives] between people, the enforcers of said silence . . . remove our human instincts to connect with other human beings as human beings.”
By design The Lyon Archive is a noisy space. It has been created as a sound and visible archive to facilitate the collective invention of new approaches to spatial narratives, nineteenth-century culture, and the Lyon family's talkative, noisy community. I will continue to build exhibits and tools that invite and make room for new materials, expand cultural networks of individual lives that appear on this site, and start or continue conversations about the materials housed on this site.
About the Font:
This site uses the David Libre font. According to Google Fonts, “David Libre is a Libre David Hebrew, based on David Hadash Formal, released by Monotype Corporation in 2012. David Hadash Formal is a modern digitization made from original large scale technical drawings for the typeface drawn by Ismar David.” Meir Sadan created the David Libre font for Google.