Today, amongst other things, I’ve been editing readers’ letters for the next issue of British Archaeology. This is always one of my favourite editing jobs – and one of the most frustrating.
I enjoy it because it’s good to hear from readers in this direct way, to learn a little about who and where they are and what interests them. I receive correspondence from some highly informed people, who can add important insights or information – and pictures, too – to stories run in earlier issues. Sometimes there are some truly striking letters, as is the case this time – two quite unexpected stories from different parts of the world, that will interest academics as well as a wider public (I’m working with a tabloid journalist-friend on the second part of that, watch the media on August 7).
This is part of the nature of the magazine, one of its very special features: it is almost entirely written and illustrated by archaeologists, describing their own excavations and research, or bringing their specialist knowledge to comment on the work of others. What isn’t like that, has been written by me – and I’m an archaeologist, too. You won’t see a lot of press releases driving things here.
But editing letters is also frustrating, as I have to cut, cut and cut to fit in what I think are the ones that really deserve to make the pages. It can take a long time to remove those last 25 words.
Pictured is a letter from my personal collection. When I was a student at the Institute of Archaeology in London (now part of UCL), library sales seemed to be quite a regular feature, with tattered old books and offprints lined up outside the librarian’s office. They were typically duplicates or just unwanted material from collections left to the library or acquired as job lots – I remember buying a lot of stuff from Ian Cornwall’s library, which he gave to the Institute on his retirement (which seemed rather sad at the time). This letter was stuck inside something (I forget what, I bought it for the insert): addressed by a cousin to the great archaeologist Gordon Childe, a hero of mine at the time, and on the back some pencilled notes in Childe’s hand.
Emails are not the same.