Bloomsbury Publishing launched a digital version of the Winston Churchill archives in October, 2012. The archive is held in the Churchill Archives Centre (CAC) at Churchill College, in Cambridge.
The content, amounting to more than 800,000 pages from 1874 to 1965, is comprised of letters, public and political papers including correspondence with Stalin and Roosevelt, literary papers, and speeches. This documentation of over six decades of the life of the famous wartime prime minister contains correspondence with constituents, government leaders, and important figures in British 20th-century society. In addition to critical policies carried out during World War II, documents address the rise of the Cold War standoff with Soviet Russia, as defined in Churchill’s seminal “Iron Curtain” speech. It will support research topics on many aspects of British culture and politics in addition to World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.
On the provenance of the Churchill materials, the CAC reports that “Churchill College began to collect papers in 1965, with the papers of Clement Attlee being the first collection. The Archives Centre was purpose-built in 1973 to house the papers of Sir Winston Churchill. His papers dealing with his life after 1945 were given to the college by his wife but the papers dealing with his life pre-1945 remained in family ownership (though housed in the Archives Centre) until 1995 when they were bought for the nation. The grant to purchase the papers also included funding for a dedicated team of archivists to catalogue the papers. This task took a team of five archivists five years to complete: the catalogue to the Churchill papers was finished at the end of 2000 and was made available online 12 months later.”
The archive consists of two parts: the Chartwell papers (acquired in 1995), which cover the years up through July 1945; and the postwar material, known as the Churchill papers, covering 1945–65. The Chartwell papers, initially arranged and cataloged by the British Public Record Office (PRO), comprise 3,640 files in approximately 1,385 boxes. The postwar Churchill papers comprise 1,412 files in approximately 800 boxes. The online archive is planned to include more than 800,000 individual page files.
More than 90 percent of the materials are being digitized for the first time. The content is primarily high-quality image files with less than 1 percent color images, and some full-text files. Full-text is primarily limited to the planned contextual essays, ebooks, and document annotations. The publisher inidcates a commitment to select original documents for transcription, placing a priority on those referenced by the contextual essays, but also inviting users to recommend items for transcription. It is curious, since a large part of the correspondence is in typescript, why it was not OCR'd to render a broader range of at least minimally searchable text.
The publishers designed the database to include an expanding collection of secondary pedagogical and contextual resources, including ebooks, reading lists, and teaching modules on themes such as “Churchill and Empire” and “The Cold War.” It will link to selected external resources including video and audio files, contemporary newspaper articles, and biographical databases. (Some external links are to subscription resources such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.) An announcement indicated that individual book titles would also be published as ebooks by RosettaBooks LLC, with up to 40 originally expected by spring 2013.1
Selected documents from the CAC and the Chartwell papers have been on exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York from June to September 2012.2