By Nazlin Bhimani, on 8 November 2017
The Newsam Library at the Institute of Education has a large collection of education institutional histories. These form a discrete collection and provide a rich source of information on individual schools, colleges and universities and their communities across Britain. The books and pamphlets mainly date from the early twentieth century up to the present day. Older materials, dating mainly from the nineteenth century, are held in the History of Education Collection in the closed stacks. This post focuses on the school histories which make up a significant part of the collection.
In anticipation of the half-day symposium on writing institutional histories, jointly organised by ICHRE (International Centre for Historical Research in Education) and FNLA (Friends of the Newsam Library and Archives), we present a guest blog by Dr. Barry Blades on his use of the IOE’s School Histories Collection to write his book, Roll of Honour.
The School Histories Collection consists of hundreds of monographs of individual British schools, covering a range of institutions spanning the educational spectrum. The voluminous histories of elite public schools stand next to brief studies of charity schools for waifs and strays. Publications marking the centenaries of ancient grammar schools are shelved next to accounts of elementary schools which no longer exist or have been absorbed into other institutions. A school’s place in the hierarchy of schooling is generally mirrored by the status of the publishing house which was commissioned to tell its story. Many of these histories – the vast majority relating to English, Welsh and Scottish institutions – were written by alumni: former pupils, teachers (especially retired Deputy Headteachers) and governors determined to place on record the distinctive development and particular achievements of their alma mater.
It is easy for the outsider to criticise the esoteric, celebratory and partisan nature of these histories. The great majority were intended primarily for the school community itself. Few beyond the immediate community would identify the school in question from headline titles such as Where the Fat Black Canons Dined, Further Up Stephen’s Brae, or Hyacinths and Haricot Beans. Subtitles were generally more informative. These histories were aimed predominantly at a readership already familiar with the institution, namely the ‘Old Boys’ or the ‘Old Girls’. An institutional history might cover hundreds of years, but in most there will be at least one section for the alumnus which refers to their particular period of attendance and school life as they experienced it. Headteachers inevitably dominate the story. The tenures of these deified – and very occasionally demonised – individuals commonly provide a chronological structure to a story of growth and development. Teachers, and especially those with nicknames deriving from their idiosyncratic mannerisms or behaviour, are fondly remembered. Heroic deeds on the playing field and battlefield are fixed in print and validate memories of achievement and loss. Narrative triumphs over analysis.
Yet, what may at first appear to be the greatest weaknesses of published school histories is, for the historian investigating the history of education more generally, their greatest strength. The rich detail, the human stories and the relatively obscure anecdotage contained therein tell us so much about the ethos, culture and formative traditions of individual institutions. These ‘secondary’ sources thus become a form of ‘primary’ material when the researcher asks questions relating to continuity and change and similarity and difference in any given period or aspect of schooling. Many of the histories were, of course, constructed using primary sources, their authors making full use of the archive material still retained by many institutions. School logbooks, magazines, headteachers’ annual reports, governors’ minutes, the records of alumni organisations, and ephemera including school photographs and fixture lists are the real archival treasures upon which these broader accounts are based.
Roll of Honour, the first book in the Schooling and the Great War trilogy, includes material from over one hundred such histories and drew ideas and inspiration from many more. Wherever possible I used extracts which were evidently drawn directly from the institutional archives. Other material was subjected to the usual tests of authenticity, accuracy and reliability. School histories vary considerably in their coverage of national events. This was particularly noticeable when searching for references to the Great War of 1914 to 1919. A few histories cover the wartime years in detail. In others, there is little or no reference at all to the impact of the war on the daily life of the school or even to the conflict in general. In many, the wartime experiences of alumni take centre stage. Taken collectively, however, these histories formed a major component of my research; an evidence base which could be cross-referenced and triangulated with material from other archival collections, official publications, newspapers, contemporary autobiographies, printed secondary works and digital resources.
For the researcher who wants to find out more about how different institutions created, developed and maintained their distinct cultures and particular identities, then dig deep into the School Histories Collection. For the researcher who wants to discover how institutional imperatives tempered directives from national and local authorities, or how schools responded to national and local economic and social circumstances, then test your hypotheses in the School Histories Collection. For those of you who are historians of the school curriculum, or teachers and teaching methods, or pupil origins and destinations – or indeed any given period or particular aspect of British schooling – I can assure you that delving into the School Histories Collection will be most rewarding.
By Vicky A Price, on 19 October 2017
First Stop; Stratford Library
UCL Special Collections have been busy putting together an exhibition that combines items from the Main Library exhibition East Side Stories and Newham Borough’s own archival items.
This ‘pop-up’ exhibition features historic photographs, archival documents, maps and rare publications that tell of East London’s rich and fascinating past. As the banners tour all of Newham’s 10 public libraries, we’ll be running a range of different workshops to deepen engagement and to create opportunities to record local people’s oral histories. Many of these activities will take place in Newham Heritage Week.
Poetry from the Archive
We’ve kicked things off with three poetry workshops in Stratford and East Ham libraries. These groups are already well established and participants enjoy writing poetry in an inclusive and positive environment. They were keen to engage with the forthcoming exhibition and the archival items we brought to them. Poems ranged from sombre, thoughtful pieces about racial tensions and migration, to playful tales of the quintessential cup of tea at a Newham street party in the 1920s.
London Memory Archive and UCL East
The oral histories we record will be the beginning of a new initiative, the London Memory Archive, which will be part of UCL East’s Culture Lab. It’s a timely opportunity to start developing a collection that reflects the memories and perspectives of a local community that UCL will soon be neighbour to.
Successful Funding Bids
To support the project, and to help lay the foundations for a longer term relationship with Newham and its library and archive services, we’ve sought external funding. We are pleased to announce that we have been successful in a UCL Culture Beacon Bursary grant and a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. This means that we are able to buy the equipment needed to make archival quality recordings, receive specialist oral history training, pay for the printing of the exhibition and promotional material and all workshop resources, as well as support volunteers’ involvement throughout.
We hope that we will be able to collaborate with Newham in further touring exhibitions that make use of the research and digitisation that takes place for the Main Library exhibition and also gives us a chance to bring a different edge to the narrative told. Newham has an incredible collection of historic photographs, for example, which often bring the content of an item from UCL’s collection to life.
Be sure to check back for further updates and photographs of Special Collection’s outreach work!
By Vicky A Price, on 13 October 2017
UCL Special Collections has been busy getting the new academic year off to a good start. While many of the team are immersed in teaching and collections management, the Outreach team have been focussing on new projects, new partnerships and volunteer recruitment.
The VSU’s volunteer recruitment fairs are an extremely valuable opportunity for us to meet new and returning students and to tell them about what we do. It’s always interesting to find out what people are studying and whether they’ve ever been tempted to use the Special Collections reader service – or whether they’ve already done so. It’s also a key point in the year for us to recruit volunteers.
Almost every stage of our department’s work is supported by volunteers; from conservation, sorting, catalogue enhancement and collection research to digitisation, transcription and outreach projects. We would not be able to function anywhere like the way we do without their help – and we’re confident that we provide valuable experiences for volunteers too.
This year already looks to be an interesting one for volunteer roles and opportunities. Our projects include collecting oral histories as part of the Newham touring exhibition project (blog post to follow soon – watch this space); using OCR (text recognition) software to transcribe our digitised collection of Jewish pamphlets; helping to conserve and clean collection items with our Senior Conservator Angela Warren-Thomas; and using our cataloguing system to improve accessibility to our archives, Little Magazines and Poetry Store collections. All of our volunteers receive a thorough induction into what we do and what we offer, and all the training that they’ll need to work on the project of their choice.
If you’re reading this and would like to volunteer with us, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are looking forward to the Museums and Heritage Volunteer Recruitment fair on 24th October – if you’re nearby, come and say hello!
By Helen Biggs, on 6 September 2017
What: UCL Rare-Books Club
When: 1.15-1.45pm, Tuesday 12 September
Where: UCL Special Collections Reading Room, South Junction
After a very successful launch event, we’re excited to bring you the second talk in our series of Rare-Books Club talks.
This will talk will take place on Tuesday 12 September, 1.15pm–1.45pm, in the UCL Special Collection Reading Room, South Junction (next to the UCL Shop!). Jacquie Glomski, UCL Honorary Senior Research Associate, will present a talk on John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily.
John Evelyn’s Instructions concerning Erecting of a Library (London, 1661) was a translation of Gabriel Naudé’s Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque (Paris, 1627, 1644), the most famous and influential early modern treatise on book collecting. Evelyn’s translation shows that he kept up with French trends and was concerned that English Restoration bibliophiles should not lag in their enthusiasm for establishing great libraries.
This is a chance not only to hear about Jacquie’s research, but also to see UCL Special Collection’s copy of this fascinating volume, which will be on display in the Reading Room.
By Kathryn Hannan, on 31 August 2017
It might be a repeat from my last post but I don’t think I can emphasise enough how much added value our volunteers bring to our archive collections and how much we enjoy having them working with us. We have been very lucky to have a volunteer, Sara Abou El Ella, working on a catalogue enhancement project with the Nicholas Hans Papers at UCL Institute of Education Archives. The Nicholas Hans Papers have been catalogued since 1999 but there were two boxes of additional papers that had been added at a later date. These boxes included correspondence, photographs, postcards and some very special magazines written in Russian by Nicholas Hans. I catalogued what I could and with some help from one of our researchers was able to write a brief overview for the Russian magazines but could not describe the content of them. Luckily for us, and future researchers, Sara is fluent in Russian! Sara has written up her experience of translating and cataloguing these magazines.
Many days in the Life of Nicholas Hans
post written by Sara Abou El Ella
This title is very similar to a famous Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. For me my Wednesdays were absorbed in the reading of Nicholas Hans magazines.
I started cataloguing a small part of the Nicholas Hans Collection in the Institute of Education at UCL. As a volunteer my task consisted in reading and then summarising the contents of five magazines written and hand drawn by Nicholas Hans ‘in 1920 while interned on the island of Principo in 1920 with other refugees leaving from Russia’ (quote from a note written by Grace Hans & included with the magazines).
All his magazines follow the same structure. Nicholas Hans rarely included articles or pieces from other authors. Hans hand-drew every single issue focusing on the front and back covers as well as adding decorations and other drawings inside the magazines. The issues would start with a letter from the editorial staff followed by a brief introduction of the issue’s topic. The main article would follow the topic of the introduction and discuss it in depth. In the final pages of the issue Hans would draw and write rebuses and charades. Moreover, in a couple of issues he also included fairy-tales or poems, for example: Cinderella.
Typically, I would start my work on the collection by reading the different articles and simultaneously translate and summarise them. Each section was divided according to its title. One of the biggest challenges was to decipher Nicholas Hans’ handwriting. Besides, the magazines required careful handling since they are very fragile. In some cases they were stained and the colours of the drawing faded, but it was still possible to discern both the words and the drawings.
It was extremely fascinating to be able to handle and work on such a fine archival specimen. I believe I was particularly stricken by the profound longing that Hans had for his country. This feeling was partially suppressed by the awareness that it was impossible for him to go back to Russia. In my opinion the ability to transpose these feeling through satirical articles and aggravating drawings was very enriching and interesting to analyse.