One part history and one part cautionary tale, the South Sea Bubble financial crisis continues to intrigue scholars and warn investors nearly three hundred years after it occurred. Contemporary stock market events and analysis have reawakened interest in the event, attracting scholars from a wide range of disciplines who are investigating the financial, political, and cultural legacy of the South Sea Bubble.
Within the Kress Collection at Baker Library, Harvard Business School is a remarkably comprehensive grouping of pamphlets, books, broadsides, prints, and ephemera related to the South Sea Bubble. The goal of the South Sea Bubble project is to unify these resources, provide enhanced intellectual access to them, and invest in their long-term physical preservation.
The impetus for the project came from increasing interest in the Bancroft Collection, a specialized sub-collection within the Kress Collection that focuses on the South Sea Bubble. As the project evolved, the decision was made to include additional materials that were not part of Bancroft in order to provide a comprehensive research resource. Materials from the main Kress Collection as well as the Bleichroeder Print Collection were combined with the Bancroft Collection to form a new, “virtual” collection that is referred to as the South Sea Bubble Collection.
The project began in 2001 and consisted of four major parts: cataloging, conservation, digitization, and the creation of the online guide to the South Sea Bubble Collection. The cataloging phase focused on producing enhanced online catalog records for all materials in the collection, including expanded subject access and detailed physical descriptions. The conservation initiative involved an item-level evaluation of all the materials in the project, followed by the treatment and rehousing of all items in need of stabilization.
The main focus of the digitization efforts was the presentation of the rich visual resources in the collection, ranging from playing cards to sheet music. In addition, there is now full-text online access to two popular out-of-print Kress Library publications relevant to research on the subject. Finally, the online guide was designed to create a dynamic Web product to inform researchers of the resources available in the South Sea Bubble Collection, to facilitate the use of the collection, to provide access to new digital content, and to build a framework for future additions to the collection.
The South Sea Bubble project challenged every aspect of curatorial responsibility and intellectual access, providing valuable learning opportunities and seeding ideas for the future. It was also a collaborative effort in the truest sense of the word, drawing on the expertise and creativity of a range of talented and committed people. It is the intersection of these talents that has made this project a success and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with everyone who contributed to this accomplishment.
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