Today’s post is part II of a meditation on skin and ink inspired by Flavia’s recent adventures in body art. Part I is here.
Last week, the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Sue Hodson, gave a small group of readers a tour of some of the literary manuscripts from the collections that reveal the different ways in which writers wrote–some revised as they wrote in longhand or on a typewriter (Jack London and Charles Bukowski), others clearly didn’t save their drafts as their work was printed in clear, neat, meticulously spaced tiny letters on the page (Wallace Stevens). That was fascinating–it made me long to see the famous Mark Twain papers collected here.
More fascinating for the historians among us–or at least for me–was the conversation we got into about preservation issues. Hodson pointed out that the most durable and long-lasting materials for literary and historical texts are some of the oldest technologies like vellum and other parchment, whereas the newer technologies and media for storing information were some of the least stable and most ephemeral. In general, she said, the further you progress in time, the less stable the archival materials become. So, seventeenth and eighteenth-century paper made with rags is a much more stable information storage medium than cheap nineteenth-century paper made from wood pulp, and that wood-pulp paper is more durable than a great deal of later twentieth-century media. Continue Reading »