The Georgian Papers Programme is a project to digitise 65,000 items relating to the Georgian period (1714–1837), including many pieces written by and about George III. It was launched in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen in 2015 with a ten-year mission to catalogue, study and share the Georgian papers held in the Royal Archives and Royal Library.
Arthur Burns is the Director of the Georgian Papers Programme in the United Kingdom and Professor of Modern History at King’s College London. We spoke with him to learn more about the programme and what it has revealed about George III.
“The Georgian papers form a significant part of The Queen’s private collection. The Royal Archives have been opening up access to such papers and teaming up with organisations to make them available for study and so they can be shared widely. As King’s College has a reputation for the digitisation of archival material, we were seen as a good partner for the project.”
The partnership between Royal Collection Trust and King’s College London in the UK is strengthened by partners in the United States of America: the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the College of William & Mary. Other participating US institutions include the Library of Congress, Mount Vernon and the Sons of the American Revolution. Arthur Burns commented:
“There are several north American partners involved in the programme, reflecting the great interest in George III in the United States. As there are significant anniversaries coming up in 2020, there’s a heightened interest in the king and his role in the period leading to the formation of a new state and beyond.
“Working in partnership, The Georgian Papers Programme has been set up to provide easy access to a digital resource that can also be used to carry out new research and publish new information. For example, in his new book 'The British Are Coming', Rick Atkinson has drawn heavily on material made available through the programme.”
Arthur Burns outlined the aims and objectives of the programme:
“The core purpose of the programme is to digitise the Georgian Papers, which amounts to approximately 425,000 pages of material. Around this goal we’re also creating a catalogue and a way of searching it. We are also tasked with creating greater public engagement with these assets of national importance. And also to create a programme of visiting academics to look at and study the items we digitise.”
A new approach to archiving is being trialled with interlinked stages of digitisation, interpretation and dissemination; with the work being carried out by teams of librarians, archivists, digital specialists and scholars. The archives were uncatalogued and their scale means that only basic cataloguing can be carried out, with new tools being used to speed up the transcription of original texts.
When asked what the key findings about George III have been, Arthur Burns said:
“For me, the most exciting discoveries are in George III’s essays, some 8,000 pages of material that reveal the king’s character and his many areas of interest. We’re not sure why or when he wrote these pieces and we don’t know who was educating him and what input they had on the content. We do know that they reveal someone of a curious nature, interested in so many subjects and matters of national concern.
“What’s also fascinating is the detailed insight we get into the royal family’s life. Letters from the queen, his daughters and written by the king reveal a lot about their domestic and public lives. The description of the assassination attempts on George III written by his daughters are personal, evocative and shine a different light on the king.
“The papers have undoubtedly provided evidence to change the way we view George III. They help us move away from being judgemental. We thought we knew certain things about the king and his family and it turns out there’s so much more to them than we assumed. The connections that are being made now through digitisation are so revealing, opening up new themes and areas for exploration.”
Learn more about the Georgian Papers: www.georgianpapers.com