Touching History: On Holding Eighteenth-Century Literature in York Explore Archive

By Charlotte Crawshaw

Last week, Drs Adam Smith and Jo Waugh accompanied a group of students to York Explore Archive to consult a collection of texts printed in York in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Guest blogger Charlotte Crawshaw reports.

Last Wednesday a group of second year students visited the York Explore Library Archives as a part of the Civil War to Civil Society: British Literature, 1640-1740 module.  Here, we got to meet and talk to Laura Yeoman, the Library’s brilliant Access and Engagement Archivist.

Laura brought out a variety of example texts for us to look through, all of which were published in the Eighteenth Century, from Travels of Sir Thomas Herbert, published in 1634, to Eboracum, published in 1736. Simply having the ability to see these texts first-hand in the original form gave true meaning to the subject, it gave us a further understanding of the history of book publishing. On this trip we were able to observe and touch original texts from the Eighteenth Century; some of which, such as Eboracum by Francis Drake, were the original copies and therefore had handwritten notes from the author themselves.


It was highly interesting to be able to physically engage with texts that were perfect examples of those which we study on Civil War to Civil Society; it provided a fuller understanding of the different publishing forms and the reputability of certain publishers judging by the frontispiece of the text. Laura had a vast variety of different texts from different publishers –  the majority from either London or York, prominent publishing places in the Eighteenth Century. It was exceedingly informative to be able to study these texts in their original and physical forms; being able to physically touch along the pages where the novel was cut by the owner of the copy was really intriguing, since it provided us all with an even further understanding of the history of book publication.

Laura’s knowledge of these texts proved helpful throughout this trip to the York Explore Archive; the trip was extremely beneficial in aiding our understanding of the course, it provided us with a further understanding of the history of book publication, specifically in London and York. Additionally, the texts published throughout the Eighteenth Century in York supplied us with more information into the history of York itself and its contribution to literature through time. Although this is not usually part of the module – future students should consider visiting the archives themselves to aid with their own understanding of the module as well as to have the chance to observe historical texts in their most original forms.

York Explore is a public library and archive open to all. If you would like to consult these remarkable resources, you can find out more information here.

2EN600. Civil War to Civil Society: British Literature, 1640-1740 is an optional second year module directed by Dr Adam J Smith. If you’re a first year and you like the sound of this, keep an eye out for this module when choosing your classes for next year.