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Heidi Kaufman, Strangers in the Archive: Literary Evidence and London’s East End

Strangers in the Archive

Literary Evidence and London’s East End

Heidi Kaufman

Strangers in the Archive is a literary detective story about the search for archival evidence of Maria Polack’s life and work. Polack’s novel, Fiction Without Romance (1830), is believed to be the first by an English Jew. Polack wrote and taught in the East End of London, traditionally the scene of some of London’s poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Nineteenth-century realist discourse, journalistic writing, and new media forms—such as book illustration and photography—frequently imagined the East End as a cultural underbelly of London, a ghetto space overpopulated by dangerous immigrants and serial killers. Strangers in the Archive intervenes by showing how archival materials can expand and re-shape our understanding of both the East End and spatial narratives desirous of casting it off as universally Other. A study situated at the intersection of critical ethnic studies, urban studies, and archival theory, Strangers in the Archive recognizes the silenced history of East End literary culture while demonstrating how the study and creation of digital archives can respond productively to cultural silences and marginalized perspectives.

A corresponding digital project (still under development), The East End Digital Library, includes editions of work by Emma Lyon, A.S. Lyon (Emma’s brother who kept diaries during his residence in the East End), Lucy Henry (Emma Lyon’s granddaughter), and Maria Polack:

Heidi Kaufman is Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon and author of English Origins, Jewish Discourse, and the Nineteenth-Century British Novel: Reflections on a Nested Nation and co-editor of Caribbean Jewish Crossings: Literary History and Creative Practice (Virginia).

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