The Lyon Archive

About the Archive

Members of the Anglo-Jewish Lyon family created professional and creative lives in England, Jamaica, Australia, and the United States as scholars, poets, diarists, editors, fiction writers, and philanthropists.

This digital archive contains digital copies of writing by members of the Lyon family, including rare diaries by East End resident, A.S. Lyon, Emma Lyon's, Miscellaneous Poems (1812), and interactive digital projects.   

The Lyon Archive has been created as a collaboration among scholars, University of Oregon students, and member of the Lyon family. It's a project created in part to share materials produced by the Lyon family. It's also a project that demonstrates how and why archives function as spaces for interpretation, dissent, and wonder.

Like all archives, the pages, items, and projects published herein offer a partial narrative
about the ordinary literary lives of members of the Lyon family told through sound, visual objects, maps, and movies. The digital projects on this site showcase East End cultural diversity in the nineteenth century and explore methods of using sound and speculation as a method of studying archival silences.

The East End Digital Library and this related project, The Lyon Archive, create spaces for learning about nineteenth-century cultural activities in one of the most talked-about regions of London. These resources, along with Strangers in the Archive, a corresponding book project, focus on writing and perspectives typically ignored in studies of nineteenth-century literary and print culture in London. 

A.S. Lyon's diaries stand as a centerpiece of The Lyon Archive. Kept from 1823-1839 when he lived in Whitechapel, the diaries recount the every-day experiences of a young man trying to educate himself. In the end he fails to secure steady work and emigrates to Jamaica. The final passages in the second diary recount his experience of sailing to the West Indies to begin a new life. In addition to housing Lyon's diaries, The Lyon Archive  contains a cluster of digital surrogates of manuscript materials and published books by members of the Lyon family. Importantly, it includes multimedia projects created by students, scholars, and descendants of the Lyon family that offer responses to the archive's primary materials. 

The Lyon Archive was created with three goals. First, to grant broad access to a family archive of rare and important literary materials. Second, to create a platform for the study of East End literary and print culture. And third, to make the case for the building of digital archives as a means of responding to archival silences and gaps. The essays under the "About" tab and corresponding exhibits explore why this family of writers deserve our attention; the importance of accounting for working class intellectual culture; and the power of reimagining archival creation as a form of resistance against flattening stereotypes. 

In addition to editions of diaries and their transcriptions, Emma Lyon's poetry, and Lucy Henry's collection of short stories, The Roll Call, The Lyon Archive includes exhibits created by students and a Soundscape Map designed to imagine Lyon's experience of moving through London spaces. Podcast interviews with members of the Lyon family reflect on the family's literary legacy and illuminate the provenance of the diaries and their significance for the family and for the preservation of East End and Anglo-Jewish literary culture. 

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 approaches have the power to still or marginalize outlier perspectives, or to skew knowledge of place by imagining it as uniform or static. Instead, I've drawn from the dynamic nature of digital platforms (WordPress and Omeka) to create a dynamic, collaboratively developed, still-growing archive rooted in speculative fictions about place--that is, an archive capable of preserving and producing new readings of the Lyon family and their cultural contexts through the shifting interplay and networked infrastructure of the digital archive. My design builds from Bethany Nowviskie‘s description of the work of speculative archives in which 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.”

The Lyon Archive draws directly from Nowviskie's call for speculation and performance platforms as a mode of memory making and memory keeping. Users of this site have an opportunity not only to read out-of-print poems by Emma Lyon and short stories by her granddaughter Lucy Henry, but to experience these texts as embedded artifacts in a networked archive, and to consider how they might be read as witnesses to and of a corpus of materials on this site. I've also created a Soundscapes Map under the "Interactive Projects" tab which includes movies that imagine the sounds and sights A.S. Lyon might have encountered on his daily walks throughout 1830s London. The map gives users opportunities to wonder about sounds and sights Lyon might have heard but never recorded in his diaries. The point is not just to value what has been saved, but to use what has been saved as a springboard for considering what's been lost. Podcast Interviews with family members recall stories about the provenance of the diaries and the Lyon family literary legacy. These brief interviews remind us of why the past matters, and of the ties linking contemporary lives with archival records, and of memories recorded and lost by those records.

I hope this space will inspire users to rethink the very idea of the archive as not simply a quiet, dusty site for  preservation, but as an active forum and a performance space 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.”

With Drake's work in mind, The Lyon Archive foregrounds the significance of sound and voices, of dissent and wonder, and discursive engagement among records in the digital archive. The Podcast interviews and Soundscapes Map gesture toward Drake's observations about silences as an exercise of power, and the need to resist overbearing or flattening narratives of urban space by finding ways to register written and unwritten voices from the lives of ordinary citizens. 

The Lyon Archive grows of the work of many hands, minds, and hearts. Please be sure to read the "Acknowledgements" to learn about the creative and generous contributors who made this project possible.