Leigh Penman


How Large was Hartlib’s Archive? A Quantitative Analysis and Comparative Reassessment

2011 Seminar Series / Thursday 9 June, 2011

Dr Leigh Penman (University of Western Australia) provides both startling new quantitative insights into the original scope of Samuel Hartlib’s correspondence, and a rich narrative explanation of why his epistolary corpus has descended to us in such partial form. In the first half of the paper, Penman describes the dimensions and attributes of the intelligencer’s extant archive, most of which survives among the holdings of Sheffield University Library (and was previously digitized by the Hartlib Papers Project). He also introduces some brand new Hartlib letters he has located in other international repositories, and uses an algorithm – developed in partnership with a theoretical physicist – to estimate the total extent of the original archive. Penman goes on to speculate on why only around 42% of this original corpus has descended to us. In a painstaking reconstruction of the archive’s passage through space and time – and through different ‘microsociologies’, in Penman’s memorable phrase – he describes the steady attrition of Hartlib’s papers through thefts and fires while he was still alive; the sale and scattering of papers by his two sons following his death; and the relocation of the papers to Brereton Hall in Cheshire around 1664, where they fell prey to the systematic manipulations of John Worthington, William Brereton, and others. He also discussed further archival tampering in the nineteenth century, evidence for which is liberally scattered throughout the papers (for example in the wrappers of the surviving ‘bundles’), as well as in several long-overlooked scholarly articles.