Preserving our efforts for the future – how can I safeguard my “literary legacy”?

Yesterday I asked what the future is likely to be for private websites, in a much more regulated internet dominated by corporations and their lawyers.  This led me to consider what will happen to my own literary legacy – rather too grand a term! – when the time comes.  The preservation strategies of yesterday – mirroring and free availability – are unlikely to work any more.

It’s hard to say how much of what I have written will still be of value in 20 years.  But one area that will definitely hold its value is the translations of ancient texts that I have published over the years.  Some were made and donated by others.  Some I commissioned.  Some I did myself.  A few were done as online collaborations.

In every case no translation existed in English when “mine” was made.  In some cases a translation has come along since, but mostly they remain the only English translation ever made.  There are advantages to being a pioneer!  So these things are likely to be useful for the foreseeable future.

When I die, my domain names will vanish and my websites will go offline.  The master copies exist locally on my hard disk and backup drives, but these will no doubt be erased by my executors.

It’s not easy to see what to do.  I’ve just done a couple of Google searches, but these have mainly produced rubbish.

Possibly one solution would be to compile all these scattered translations into a single PDF, which could then be made available on Archive, Academia, and to deposit libraries.  I could perhaps “publish it” formally, and give it an ISBN.  Indeed I could create print copies, and deposit them with legal deposit libraries.  That would be another avenue of preservation.

But it would be quite an undertaking to do this.  Like Dr Johnson, if more humbly, I do not even have a list of everything that I have done.  But I could do this.  The more recent material will be in PDF form already, on the blog.  Older material will be in HTML.  The most important of these is the translation Jerome’s Chronicle, which was in tabular form and very hairy to lay out in HTML, and will have its own special problems.

Perhaps the first step is simply to create a handlist of translations that I have created or published.  If St Augustine did this, in his Retractiones, then I need not be ashamed to do so.  Once a complete list exists – or reasonably complete – then the task of creating the preservation volume could begin.

I suppose that I could create that list as a page on this blog, in the first instance.  That might work.

The other bunch of material, of less importance, is the blog.  I wonder if there is a tool to export from WordPress to PDF!!  If not, maybe there should be!

Interesting thoughts, anyway.


16 thoughts on “Preserving our efforts for the future – how can I safeguard my “literary legacy”?

  1. You could zip your entire site and put that zip on a drive (google or onedrive) and allow anyone who wants to upload this content as is. If so, I would gladly do so. You could save your work an additional 20 or 30 years of life (mine). It’s just a small step into eternity but providence will take care of the rest.
    Kind regards.

  2. Perhaps you should make a list of the most important texts first. If those are in HTML and can be copied to Word, they can then be converted into A PDF, if you consider that the best form for preservation and availability.
    Perhaps too there is a librarian at the Bod who would know more about what can be done and how they deal with this themselves.

  3. These are very timely reflections, Roger; thank you for them. I am no expert, but I have used Zenodo ( to archive some material in PDF form and it seems excellent. It is free, open access, rock-solid (run by CERN in Geneva), and automatically gives each article a DOI (digital object indicator) for permanent findability. They tell me they are negotiating with Google Scholar for greater visibility in that search engine. One article I placed there a few months ago has had 150 downloads as of today. I’ve found it very easy to work with. More information here:

  4. Also, WordPress does have a PDF generator for an entire blog. I have not used it because I found a simpler method for what I needed, but it is available.

    Personally, I like the idea of using sites like As well, having made such a PDF, one might also make it available on a platform such as Amazon which might ensure a longer availability while maintaining low cost.

  5. Horace in Ode 3.30 discussed the relative merits of physical storage devices (line 1) and sites (2), and in my opinion got it right: the long-term preservation of a literary legacy depends more on the continued existence of interest groups that will take care of it than on the format or medium selected.
    Even his own prediction (8-9) failed up to a point: the institutions that he trusted would guarantee the preservation of his memory disappeared or changed beyond recognition. And yet the transmission was uninterrupted, and will probably continue so, not because of pontiffs, monasteries, government libraries or online repositories, but because there are people interested in that legacy who will come up with new ways of keeping it safe, unthinkable for us now.
    This doesn’t mean that nothing will be lost, since so many good things have disappeared over the centuries, or that we should not concern ourselves with making the best possible arrangements. What I mean is that one needs to trust that such people will exist, since without them no legacy can hope to last long, however reliable the PDF appears, or the printed copy, or the repository.

  6. The fact is we are all working against atrophy. Human interest is the only thing that seems to preserve anything over long stretches of time. I am planning to print my own journals in hopes that my ancestors will read them, but who knows if they will even care to?

  7. The reverse entropy of nothing into the infinity of preservation will indeed delight one’s ancestors, Whether or not they will pass it down to us is a question best left to our descendants.

  8. Thank you Joel, and thanks for the post on your blog. I assume you meant “entropy” rather than “atrophy” and “descendants” rather than “ancestors”! Happens to us all…

  9. Although I have not written anything of any interest to the wider world, I have been pondering the same question over the past year, perhaps increasingly aware of my mortality. In the past months, I decided to print bound copies of my copious footnotes on life, organised into annual volumes, which I hope my children might one day cherish to pass down to their children and grandchildren.

    I don’t know if that is too much ego, but as typesetting is my first love, I find this a delightful project and welcome distraction from the sometimes dreary nine to five. Whether anyone after me will actually be interested in my reflections is another matter entirely, but I do hope that the rollers of eyes will eventually pick them off the shelf and perhaps learn from my mistakes.

    For the technicalities of this undertaking, I suggest you use which uses LATEX 2ε to parse your post to Word or PDF. I typeset my work in Affinity Publisher, export to PDF and then submit to Doxzoo, to be printed in hardback demy volumes. It is a treat when a volume arrives in the post, albeit wrapped in a brown paper bag.

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