Tag Archives: manuscripts

Copyright takes the Cake

Copyright is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma to me – and yet I know I should try to understand it, because for any historian, access to sources – documents, pictures, other media generally – forms the basis of what we do.

I struggle constantly with the issue of copyright in my blog, since there is a question over any picture I pull from the web to put in a post. My personal compromise is to link the picture back to its original source on the web. That means – where I can – finding the library or art gallery it comes from, rather than just somebody else’s blog post. I’m not sure if this is an adequate safeguard, but since my blog only reaches a few hundred people, and makes no money, there’s probably no harm done. In a book, though, it’s not possible to salve a guilty conscience with a hyperlink.

Any author knows the nightmare of tracking down copyright owners to get their permission to publish images, or permission to use documents which are not in the public domain.

Many years ago, a friend of mine wrote a thesis on the history of a union. Both the friend and the union had better remain unnamed. He had the full cooperation of the union executive throughout his research – until shortly before he was due to submit his PhD, the executive of the union changed, and withdrew its permission. He spent a thoroughly miserable few months removing great chunks of quotations from his work. It was still a good thesis, but a shadow of its former self – as, indeed, was he for a while there.

The problem is worst with manuscripts, where copyright lasts forever. Now that digitization of printed sources has transformed so much research – Trove, I love you – libraries want to move on to digitize manuscript materials as well. There are already some wonderful digitized collections, often cooperative efforts such as the Darwin Correspondence Project and the Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, others more modest such as the University of Otago’s Samuel Marsden Online Archive. The Mitchell Library has just embarked on a project to digitize the Macarthur Papers.

googled images of handwritten recipes

I Googled ‘handwritten recipes’, planning to pull something suitable from the web – but then decided the whole page looks so pretty, I took a screenshot instead. This, I think, makes ME the copyright owner. The system’s crazy.

But the basic issue of manuscript copyright is holding others back. Under current legislation, even old recipe books are copyright. FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) has come up with a unique way to lobby for a change to copyright law. Next Friday, 31 July, is Copyright Day. Anyone concerned about copyright laws is encouraged to find a recipe, cook it, and post a photo of the dish and the manuscript recipe it is based on with the hashtag #cookingforcopyright on Twitter or on FaceBook here

Unfortunately most of my grandmother’s recipes are for cakes and puddings. This may be an unhealthy weekend coming up.

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Historians and Philatelists

There’s a story about a stamp collector whose particular interest was letters posted at sea.  For philatelists who know about these things – and I don’t – there is a wealth of variety in the covers, franks and stamps on letters sent by passengers or crew from naval or merchant shipping, even in the present day.

In pursuit of his hobby, this man sent a polite letter to a naval vessel asking the captain if he would please frank the enclosed stamped addressed envelope and send it back.  Outraged, the captain wrote an angry reply telling him not to waste precious naval time, put it in an envelope, hand addressed it, and sent it off with the ship’s mail – and thereby gave the collector a much more valuable item for his collection than he was expecting. Continue reading

The Value of Manuscripts

It happens rarely – but it does happen.  People steal manuscripts, autographs, stamps, seals, maps and illustrations from libraries.  Last July, Barry Landau, author of The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy (2007), was caught with an accomplice, Jason Savedoff, stealing documents from the Maryland Historical Society.  Since then, police have found about 10,000 documents in their apartment.

‘I cannot believe it,’ Lynn von Furstenberg, the second wife of Prince Egon von Furstenberg and a close friend of Landau’s for many years, told The Daily Beast. ‘The things I’ve been reading about him in the press are not the Barry I know. He’s just this gregarious, sweet, sensitive human being.’

Well yes, maybe.  On Amazon, Landau is described as a ‘historian’ – but as those of us in the profession well know, anyone can call themselves a historian.  There’s no quality control outside the university system, and since non-academic historians do a lot of important work, I don’t really want any – but sometimes someone goes rogue. Continue reading