Salman Rushdie Archive

Contributor: 

Authors: Erika Farr, Dorothy Waugh

In 1988, the Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa—or death sentence—on author Salman Rushdie for his depiction of Mohammed in his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie subsequently went into hiding, and needed great portability in his writing devices throughout the 10-year fatwa period. This need led Salman Rushdie to become one of the world’s first major novelists to depend upon computers and digital technologies, including applications such as MacWrite Pro and ClarisWorks.

When Emory University’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL) acquired Rushdie’s archival materials in 2006, the collection included a nearly unprecedented large born-digital component, including the computers upon which Rushdie wrote most of his novels. This hybrid physical and digital archive has become an important early exemplar of how to respect both donor and researcher needs while preserving and providing access to born-digital materials.

Redacting particular information, including financial and legal files (until his death) and personally identifying information about those with which he corresponded (phone numbers, home addresses), became an important concern for the archivists charged with processing and making this collect accessible. It also raised important questions about the challenges of working with such large quantities of data—conducting this work manually was incredibly labor-intensive and time-consuming.

The acquisition of Rushdie’s personal digital archive consequently pushed us to consider not only how we would manage and provide access to the data on his computers but also about how we would work with and provide access to all of our born-digital collections. Early work on the Rushdie computers has served as a foundation upon which to build the policy and workflow that now guides the management of born-digital materials at MARBL. Key to this process has been the identification of tools that can support the development of more efficient and sustainable workflows. The incorporation of BitCurator into those workflows has helped streamline the acquisition and processing of several born-digital collections since Rushdie, including the digital archives of Lucille Clifton, Mildred Thompson, and Natasha Trethewey. The multiple tools packaged within BitCurator have in particular offered scalable strategies for the appraisal of data, and allow us to extract and record vital information about the types of files, number of files, and sizes of files found in our collections.

At the time of writing, MARBL provides onsite access to the processed contents of Salman Rushdie’s Macintosh Performa 5400 via a dedicated reading room workstation, from which researchers can emulate Rushdie’s original computing environment or search and browse his files. Files from the personal digital archives of Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, Nathaniel Mackey, Mildred Thompson, and Turner Cassity can also be accessed from dedicated reading room laptops.