Lisa Jardine Memorial Lecture 2023 - Archival pursuits: unediting lives and letters

All editors and archivists have biases hidden even from themselves, but what do we do when they wilfully mislead us? Does it matter if their sins in this area are merely those of omission?

On 9 February, Nadine Akkerman, Professor in Early Modern Literature and Culture at Leiden University, joined the Intellectual Forum to give the annual Lisa Jardine Memorial Lecture, speaking on editorial practice and letters.

She spoke about how archivist and first biographer of Elizabeth Stuart, M. A. Green, may have purposely mislaid letters and even encouraged their destruction in order to ‘protect the reputation’ of the sender, as Lisa Jardine argued in her final collection of essays. In a similar way, Nadine said, we can blame 19th century notions of decorum and historiographical practice for J. A. Worp’s exclusion of many materials from his edition of Constantijn Huygens’s correspondence – a fact brought to light by its very recent digital enrichment, which stirred up information that had long been sitting unseen deep under the archival surface.

Just as Green perhaps acted to protect the reputation of women, as Jardine argued, Nadine claimed that Worp seems to have wanted to protect the reputation of Huygens as a serious man of letters. He therefore excluded not only those exchanges Huygens had with women, but also those he continued with men where they concerned apparently frivolous activities such as ‘perfumery’. Other editors have enacted interventions which are equally well-meant, and intended to help the reader – turning cipher codes into plain text, for example – without considering the long-term impact of their decisions. Such intervention, especially when undertaken silently, are not only prescriptive and presumptuous, but can easily result in the erasure of entire networks.

Nadine reflected on editorial practice, while attending to another voice from the past, that of Erasmus, and his battle cry Ad fontes! In doing so, she drew attention to new strands of the Anglo-Dutch exchange which Jardine long sought to crystallise, and which she has spent much of her intellectual life immersed in.

About the speaker

Nadine Akkerman is a Professor in Early Modern Literature and Culture at Leiden University. Her research is always underpinned by extensive archival work, and is centred primarily in the seventeenth century. It encompasses Anglo-Dutch history, women’s history, diplomacy, the English Civil Wars, and masques as well as espionage and the life and letters of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. She is particularly interested in uncovering voices yet to be written into history.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Young Academy at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). She has written three history books, two volumes of edited correspondence, twelve book chapters and seven journal articles. She has appeared on radio, television, and numerous podcasts, and was the subject of a television documentary in 2020. An award-winning scholar and author, she won a Studieprijs Stichting Praemium Erasmianum in 2009, a World Cultural Council Special Recognition Award in 2017, and the Ammodo Science Award for fundamental research in the humanities in 2018. She is listed as one of the 400 most inspiring women in the Netherlands in 2018. She is also the Principle Investigator of FEATHERS, a five-year research project investigating early modern manuscript culture and the mediation of authorship, and has been a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford; The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters; and Birmingham University, as well as holding a NIAS fellowship.

A recording of the talk is available on our College YouTube channel.