£80,000 grant to unlock secrets of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Press release issued: 19 June 2003
Researchers investigating the life of one of the greatest Victorian engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, will gain a boost thanks to a £83,000 grant to Bristol University from the Arts and Humanities Research Board.
The University Library holds the world's largest collection of private papers connected with Brunel, which have been brought together over the last 50 years by both donations and purchases. However, due to the size of the archive, estimated at over 30,000 pages, it has been very difficult for scholars to use without assistance from Library staff.
The grant, awarded to a team led by the Department of Archaeology, will enable much of the collection to be digitised, catalogued in greater detail, and made available on the Internet so that it can be consulted by researchers around the world.
Brunel had a very close connection with Bristol, as the designer of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the SS Great Britain, the Great Western Railway, and many other great engineering projects. He was narrowly beaten into second place by Winston Churchill in the recent BBC Great Britons poll.
The archive contains vital information about his works and ideas, and it is hoped that by making it more accessible, his achievements can be more readily appreciated.
The digitisation will employ the most advanced technology which has been developed through the University's Institute of Learning and Research Technology. The Department of Civil Engineering is also involved in advising on the technical aspects of Brunel's work.
Dr Mark Horton, the project leader, said: "Improving access to this important resource will enable researchers to better understand Brunel's achievements. For example, it will allow scholars to locate and document on the ground what is actually left of Brunel's work, and so protect it from modern development.
"The Great Western Railway, ending in the Bristol Docks, and the SS Great Britain are already on the tentative list of World Heritage sites, and I hope that this academic research will help to make the case that Bristol's Brunel heritage should be recognised as part of the world's heritage."
Hannah Lowery, Archivist in the Library's Special Collections Department, said: "We are delighted to receive this grant. The Brunel Collection is of great importance and with this money we can make it more accessible, and also ensure that it is cared for in the best possible way. Digitisation will ensure that fragile paper is handled less, and so lasts longer."
The grant is timely given that the 200th anniversary of Brunel's birth occurs in 2006 and celebrations will be taking place in the city of Bristol.
The AHRB funds research and postgraduate study within the UK's higher education institutions (HEIs) and provides funding for museums, galleries and collections based in, or attached to, HEIs in England. It supports research within a huge subject domain, from history, modern languages and literature, to music and the creative and performing arts.