Recently the British Library acquired the email archive of English poet Wendy Cope. The archive contains over 40,000 items and presumably includes everything from emails sharing links, to organising lunch with a friend, to spam for viagra. Cope herself suggests that most of them are probably ‘not very interesting’ and one gets to wondering why such a haul, which also includes manuscript material in the form of school reports and early work to accounting books, would be valued at 32,000 pounds by such an esteemed institution.
Cope is known for her comic stylings which include such works as Making cocoa for Kingsley Amis and her parodies which include;
My true love hath my heart and I have hers
We swapped last Tuesday and felt quite elated
But now whenever one of us refers
To ‘my heart’ things get rather complicated.
I’m now picturing her making cocoa and writing little ditties on the back of shopping dockets. Which begs the question what value could her archive possibly have for future scholars and the curious of Britain? I guess when we see Wendy Cope herself as an example, a product maybe, of Britain of its school system and a commentator on its literary history we start to see the value it might have. The curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts at the BL explains “That very direct and succinct voice of hers, which comes through so strongly in the poems, seems to have been present very early in her teenage years”. As an acquisition Cope’s archive provides a good view into the changing nature of collection material and an important insight into the considerations a cultural institution must make about the future significance of material produced as a result of our electronic age.