Curatorial Labour, Voice, & Legacy: Mary Dorothy George's Catalogues

Between 1930 and 1954 Mary Dorothy George wrote for the British Museum lengthy catalogue entries that describe over 12,000 British satirical prints published between 1771 and 1832. Since producing this monumental piece of scholarship, George has been a vital interlocutor between the historian and the archive, between then and now.

This seminar talk will describe research combining archival and data driven methods to ask what sort of interlocutor George is. It explores George’s writing as a corpus of text and identifies features of her curatorial voice. This is used a basis for interpreting George’s interpretations of late-Georgian satirical prints, with a focus on how the circumstances of production shaped her use of language and her decisions about what to - and not to - include in her descriptions of prints.

This attention to the archival record is important because whilst circumstances of production are encoded in the architecture of the printed catalogue, in a database, online, or presented as linked open data these cues become detached from curatorial descriptions, flattening historical context and creating an irresistible impression of labour free objectivity. Projected into the digital age, Mary Dorothy George’s legacy is uncoupled from her labour. By attending to the voices of curators like George, this paper makes the historical case for rethinking and challenging that uncoupling.

James Baker is a Senior Lecturer in Digital History and Archives at the University of Sussex and at the Sussex Humanities Lab. His research interests include the authority of the digital record, the history of knowledge organisation, historical interactions with information technologies, and the history of the printed image. He is also a Software Sustainability Institute Fellow, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

 

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