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This report is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

The Email Explosion
Preserving the Digital Correspondence of Carcanet Press
Fran Baker
As regular readers of PN Review will know, the magazine – and its publishing house – have a long-standing connection with the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester. The archive of Carcanet Press and PN Review is one of the Library’s outstanding modern collections. Filling around 1,300 boxes, it contains manuscripts, proofs and letters of poets, editors, critics, translators and many others from across the globe, dating from 1969 to the present. It provides a unique research resource for those interested in recent and contemporary literature, and has already formed the basis of numerous research projects, seminars and exhibitions.  

Mark Fisher, in his 1989 publication Letters to an Editor, observed that the fledgling Carcanet Press (lacking the benefit of a telephone) was ‘entirely the fruit of the epistolary art’. The typewriter was such a familiar sound at Pin Farm, the Press’s first home near Oxford, that a local starling learned to imitate it. Today, at Carcanet’s office in the centre of Manchester, the typing may be quieter, but correspondence – in digital form – is still at the heart of the Press’s operation. However, only a tiny proportion of these emails are printed off for posterity and sent to the Library, meaning that the correspondence files in the archive have been dwindling in size since the late 1990s. The remainder of the email has been residing on hard drives and local networks at the office – safe for the time being, but potentially at risk as time passes and technology moves on.

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