Friday, January 31, 2020

History of digital: the Archer Martin papers

When we did a survey of readers of this blog, one of the suggestions received was that I report occasionally on my own projects.

Well, one of my current commitments is a biography for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. It's of the British Columbia lawyer, scholar, and controversialist Archer Martin, Chief Justice of British Columbia 1937-40.

Right now, an interesting part of the project is the digitization project into which I have been drawn. From the history of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that I wrote almost a decade ago, I knew the essentials of Archer Martin's career, but on agreeing to do the DCB biography, I established that the BC Archives holds a dozen boxes of his personal correspondence. It seemed essential to consult them, given that Martin was one of those severely cantankerous mid-20th century judges, and fought with just about everyone he encountered. (How cantankerous?  Well, he continued to wear that wig for about forty years after everyone else.

But the papers, strictly hard-copy, are in Victoria, and though I spent a couple of hours exploring them there last summer, clearly more was needed.

With the support of a small grant from Kerzner Fund of the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, I was able to hire some researchers in Victoria. The archivists there were very accommodating, and recently my team has been happily photographing its way through the boxes and dropboxing great digital files to me along the way. I've recently agreed with the BC archives that I will provide the complete file when it is assembled, and the Archives will make the collection available to its users online.

My short biography remains unfinished. Maybe I'll report further as it comes into shape. But the archive assembling itself on my harddrive is a marvellous thing. Readers with particular knowledge of or interest in Archer Martin, I'd be glad to hear from them.

Archival research by smartphone. The twenty-first century: it has its good qualities. 

Image: from BC Museum and Archives
Follow @CmedMoore