Charles Harpur Critical Archive


The Charles Harpur Critical Archive (CHCA) is a digital archive and a scholarly edition of the poetic works of Charles Harpur (1813-68), the most important poet of colonial New South Wales, whose works up to this point have not been easily accessible to the general public. A Romantic celebrator of Australian landscape, a political satirist, a love poet and early environmentalist, Harpur and his works remain relevant today.

Charles Harpur’s verse has been a fairly steady presence in the Australian cultural scene. However, the efforts of the interventionist early editor of his posthumous collection Poems (1883) were perpetuated in later selections and anthologies. The resulting misrepresentation of his achievement was not recognized until the 1940s. Efforts were subsequently made to bring the whole body of his poetic work under editorial control but these either failed completely or involved compromises that deprived readers of the full picture. In part, this was because Harpur was a habitual reviser, and because the papers he left behind at his death fell into a confusing state over the following decades, as his widow Mary Harpur sought to secure his legacy. The majority of the the more than 2700 versions of his 685 works in verse, together with the notes he wrote for them, have never been published.

To address this situation the CHCA archives the basic materials for an edition (images and diplomatic transcriptions of the original documents, both handwritten and printed) and provides edited reading texts, together with textual commentary and explanatory notation. Upon the first release scheduled for 2017 the archival responsibility will have been discharged. The editing is ongoing. The texts are presented, whether in transcription or as edited, at the level of the version rather than the work. The CHCA includes specialized tools, like the ‘Compare Tool,” which allows the reader to compare changes in the successive versions of the same work across biographical periods. In addition, the “Timeline of Compositions” allows the reader to identify versions of poems written at roughly the same time and then to choose them, one at a time, via the Browse menu. Finally, “TILT” is being developed to permit synchronous scrolling of facsimile images of documents alongside their transcriptions.


Project Director: Paul Eggert


Field(s): critical infrastructure, textual scholarship, digital archives, participatory community