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Improving access to our Latin American archives

Rebecca JWebster20 August 2018

Posted on behalf of Adersh Gill – a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections

Volunteering with UCL Archives over the last year has been really enjoyable. I was given the opportunity to improve the archive catalogue on the Santa Rosa Milling Company, a British owned milling company that operated in South American in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. The goal of the project was to make it easier for researchers, whose likely focus is on the economic history and development of South America, to gauge whether learning about the Santa Rosa Company’s history would be useful for their work.

The Santa Rosa Milling Company kept extensive documentation and I was asked to improve the archive description for the company’s minute books. The minute books recorded the monthly meetings of the company’s directors. This particular project required someone to be able to summarise the minute books with enough detail to be useful to researchers but not too much that it would take too long to read. Perhaps the main challenge was being able to decipher the hand-writing of the various secretaries recording the meetings, fortunately the archives team were always happy and willing to help whenever I ran into trouble.

The project offered a rare way for a student to learn about the history of South America particularly Chile, using the Santa Rosa Company’s history to gain an insight into the development of the regions. The Santa Rosa Milling Company also offers a case study about an early form of globalization, the company was headquartered in London whilst the majority of company activity occurred in South America; in addition one can learn about the less obvious impacts and ripple effects from the defining historical events of the period through the company’s response to them. The processing of reading through the minute books was in itself a learning experience for me. In particular the company’s post WWII history provides a valuable example of how global companies operated under the Bretton Woods era, when capital flows and currency exchanges were much more tightly regulated. Going through the minute book and seeing how a company on a day-to-day basis had to interact with various regulatory agencies provided a deeper level of understanding for a financial regulatory system which can seem quite abstract when described in a textbook.

Overall the project far exceeded my expectations both in what I expected to learn from it and how enjoyable I found the cataloguing, not to mention how welcoming and nice it was to work with the archives team. This is definitely an activity I would recommend to curious students.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for SANTA ROSA. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.

An eminent female academic at the IOE: Clotilde von Wyss (1871-1938)

NazlinBhimani10 August 2018

I have been doing some research on some of the women teacher trainers at the IOE  in order to understand their contribution to pedagogical practice in London during the interwar years.   One of the teacher trainers I have been most intrigued with is the relatively unknown Clotilde von Wyss.[1]  Von Wyss  taught at the London Day Training College (which became the Institute of Education, University of London in 1932), from 1903 to 1936. The following presents a mere glimpse into her contributions to pedagogical practice during the early 20th century.

As was typical in the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, most women became qualified teachers in order to have a professional career, and many women remained unmarried in order to retain their independence.  Many women teachers progressed in their careers by taking up headships and some, mainly the ‘intellectually gifted women’ from the middle classes, went into teaching in higher education.[2] Von Wyss followed this path and trained as a teacher at Maria Grey College, Brondesbury and gained a distinction in her Cambridge Teachers’ Certificate. Prior to her appointment at the London Day Training College (LDTC), von Wyss taught at various schools including St. George’s High School in Edinburgh from 1894 to 1897.  During this time, she was also an external student at the Heriot-Watt College where she took classes with the distinguished naturalist Sir Arthur Thomson.

Clotilde von Wyss (1871-1938)

From 1897 to 1900 she taught biology at her old school, North London Collegiate, after which she took up a lectureship at the Cambridge Training College.  In 1903, she began to work on a part-time basis at the London Day Training College (LDTC) where she taught biology, hygiene, nature study, art and handicraft. She was soon appointed as a full-time member of staff supporting the Mistress of Method and Vice-Principal, Margaret Punnett (another eminent female academic), with the welfare of the women students.[3]

Von Wyss’s pedagogical contributions are significant.  The 1929 issue of the student magazine, The Londinian, reviews the annual biological exhibition which von Wyss organised and provides evidence of novel teaching methods including the use of visual illustrations, objects, story-telling and peer-learning to communicate complex concepts. Her students presented these concepts to other students using the items on display, which included a dissected cat, the digestive organs of a rabbit, and a frog which was used to detect a heartbeat. There was also a section where the students learnt about amoeba and another which focused on genetics or the ‘principles of heredity’ and the role played by chromosomes:

Miss Gascoyne … was demonstrating the principles of heredity by means of charts…[and the] story of the black gentleman cat who married a sandy lady cat was touching in the extreme. How he longed for his little boys to be tortoiseshell, something like him and his dear wife!  But they never could. That distinction was confined to the girls of the family. And all because of a wretched chromosome with a hook in it![4]

She was a progressive educationalist and expected the trainee teachers to demonstrate aspects of child-centred learning in their teaching practice. Her written comments on her observations of student teachers’ classroom teaching practice are held in the IOE’s archive. They give a sense of what she considered to be the necessary characteristics for a teacher and ‘good’ teaching. Of utmost importance was for teachers to understand the world of the child so that they could see things from the child’s perspective.  She was critical of students who derived teaching material from text-books, particularly if they imparted it in a mechanical way.  She wanted the subject to come alive for the child and recommended first-hand observations.[5]

Von Wyss was also known for her innovative use of new technology in the creation of audio-visual learning materials  – two letters from the mid-1930s confirm the arrangements she made for showing the film ‘Wood Ant’ at the Autumn meeting of the School Nature Study Union at County Hall and later at the LDTC in which ‘her ants’ which she had nurtured for the students to observe were featured.[6]Her lessons for the BBC’s Broadcasts to Schools made a profound influence on science teachers throughout the country. Many teachers used her biology and nature studies textbooks which contain her own illustrations.[7]

Von Wyss built up a reputation as a formidable naturalist.  Her editorship of the School Nature Study Journal, in which the educational merits of nature study, a syllabus for the subject and the appropriate teaching methods were discussed. She had  the backing of such influential people as L.C. Miall who was Professor of biology at a Yorkshire College (later part of the University of Leeds), J. Arthur Thompson, the renowned naturalist under whom von Wyss studied in Edinburgh, the writer H. G. Wells, C. W. Kimmins who was the Chief Inspector of the London County Council, and Sir Percy Nunn who was director of the LDTC/IOE during von Wyss’s tenure and who also chaired the Union from 1905 to 1910.[8]

Her contributions to the study of science were acknowledged publicly when in 1914, she was appointed Fellow of the prestigious Linnean Society. [9] She also was a member of the textbook selection Committee at the London County Council Committee and assessed nature study and hygiene courses at other teaching colleges. Her obituary in Nature describes her as a ‘brilliant and inspiring teacher’ whose students ‘went out to teach with a feeling of power and confidence’ and ‘teachers of many years standing still remember her with affection and gratitude’.  She ‘never lost sight of the interdependences of theory and practice’ and ‘like all true teachers, she was also continually a learner’. [10]

Given this, how can we ensure that women academics such as von Wyss (and Margaret Punnett, Susan Isaacs, Marion Richardson, Geraldine Montmorency, etc), do not remain hidden?  One suggestion is to name one of the recently refurbished rooms at the IOE after them.  I can quite easily imagine walking into ‘The Clotilde von Wyss Lecture Theatre’.  Their names would certainly arouse curiosity and may even result in further research.

REFERENCES

[1] Apart from E. W. Jenkins’ work on The Nature Study Movement(1981) in which he introduces von Wyss,  Richard Aldrich’s biographical introduction to her in his  Centenary History of the Institute of Education(2002), and some passing references to von Wyss , there is little of significance with respect to a study of her pedagogical practice.

[2] Fernanda Perrone, ‘Women Academics in England, 1870–1930’, History of Universities12 (1993): 339, 347.

[3] Richard Aldrich, ‘The Training of Teachers and Educational Studies: The London Day Training College, 1902–1932’, Paedagogica Historica40, no. 5–6 (October 2004): 624.

[4] ‘Harold’, ‘The Biological Exhibition’, The Londinian, no. Summer (1929): 15.

[5] Correspondence with Gaumont-British Instructional Ltd dated20thMarch (1935?) and 7thOctober 1935. ‘Von Wyss Staff Records (1909-1949)’.

[6] British Broadcasting Corporation, ‘Notes on the Courses: Nature Study with Clotilde von Wyss’, in Broadcast to Schools (January to June 1929)(London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1929), 17.

[7] Diploma Report dated 29/05/22. In: Clotilde von Wyss, ‘Diploma Reports 1922 Women Students’ (London Day Training College, 1922), IE/STU/A/7, UCL Institute of Education Archives.

[8] E. W. Jenkins, ‘Science, Sentimentalism or Social Control? The Nature Study Movement in England and Wales, 1899‐1914’, History of Education10, no. 1 (March 1981): 39.

[9] ‘Societies’, The Athenaeum, no. 4542 (14 November 1914): 512.

[10] R. F. S., ‘Obituary: Miss Clotilde von Wyss’, Nature142 (26 November 1938): 944–45.

The Flaxman Manuscripts – a volunteer’s experience

Rebecca JWebster20 July 2018

Posted on behalf of Euan Guckian, a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections.

During the final term of this year I have had the opportunity to work with a couple of John Flaxman’s journals and notebooks for the UCL Special Collections team. Flaxman (who most reading this will recognise from his works in UCL’s main library) was a famous sculptor, and leading figure of the neoclassical movement, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The collection was split into two books. The first comprised Flaxman’s journal from his time spent in Naples in 1788 and was filled with sketches and watercolours, as well as brief descriptions, of the various sculptures he saw and ruins he explored while there. The second contained notes on lectures he gave on the role, features, principles and history of sculpture, and was also interspersed with quick yet still interesting pencil sketches. My main role centred on summarising each page so that a visitor to the collection could quickly find whatever topic most interested them, either paraphrasing Flaxman’s notes or lifting them straight from the page.

Never having studied sculpture, or even art more generally, it was fascinating to see the thoughts and considerations of a master of the craft. Of particular interest to me were his lecture notes on how art underpinned the entire “circle of Human Knowledge” which to Flaxman included everything from astronomy to philosophy and religion. Beyond this there is loads that would be appeal to those with an interest in art both classical and neoclassical, but also in the life and thought of an artist so central to UCL’s identity and history.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for MS FLAXMAN. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.

 

Transparency can be tricky. Conserving UCL’s iconic buildings plans and drawings.

AngelaWarren-Thomas29 June 2018

Written by Laurent Cruveillier on June 29, 2018

The College Plans, belonging to the Records Office Collections within UCL Special Collections, Archives and Records Department, are housed in part at the National Archives and in part at UCL. They are architectural plans and drawings of several landmarks of the UCL campus, such as the Cruciform, the Rockefeller Building of the “New” Chemistry building.

If most of these plans and drawings, dating from the end of the 19th and early 20th century are in stable condition, some show conservation pathologies that prevent their usage by students, scholars or the public, or would impede their handling for digitization and cataloguing purposes.

They present naturally occurring conditions in working documents, such as pin holes, folds, dirt and smudges, creases… but these objects are also often torn, cockled, warped, and bear historic repairs, many of which are made with pressure-sensitive adhesive tape that needs to be removed. Those conditions are worsened by the fact that most paper substrates are brittle, particularly the different kinds of tracing paper.

A conservation campaign was then launched to stabilize as many records as possible. The work started with surveying 485 items of the collection, and identifying the unstable ones.

The plans and drawings were prioritized according to their state and their relevance for the curators of the collection, and were treated according to a protocol aiming at stabilizing them with minimal intervention:

  • Setting of tears using wheat starch paste
  • Repairs and consolidation of regular paper objects using different thicknesses of remoistenable repair tissue prepared with wheat starch paste and methylcellulose.
    Some of the tissue was toned with black acrylic paint for the repairs over black media on the recto of objects.
  • Repair and consolidation of tracing paper using remoistenable tissue prepared with Isinglass: a fine protein adhesive prepared using swim bladders of sturgeon fishes.
  • Adhesive removal using poultices prepared with methylcellulose and ethanol, or heated spatulas and other solvents.
  • Structural infills
  • Photographic and written documentation:
    Condition and treatment records
  • Housing in polyester pockets.

These interventions were carried out by paper conservators at UCL Special Collections Conservation Department, and also involved the participation of UAL – Camberwell College MA Conservation intern students, who were given the opportunity to add working collection objects treatments to their portfolios while learning and practicing different techniques, such as preparing Isinglass, removing adhesives or repairing tracing paper.

Priority was given to stability for handli

ng purposes, also respecting the nature of each substrate. For instance, repairs on tracing paper were done with extremely thin tissues to avoid being visible by transparency. Due to their aesthetical value, some objects were nevertheless given extra care, with the usage of toned tissues for repairs and infills. One plan with a large lacuna even received an infill digitally produced to minimize the visual impact of interrupted lines.

In the images, one can see the detail of record Ref. Nº ROC 86, a drawing for a decorative swag of the Board Room in the Rockefeller building before and after conservation. It was extremely rewarding for the conservators to discover that the ornament was still in place. As recommended in writing on the May 1907 document, the sculptor hadn’t “adhered” exactly to the drawing, but his execution of the motif still allowed super-imposing the final result with architect J. Carmichael’s vision.

Dante display and other events

Christopher JFripp15 May 2018

Last week saw the launch of a new UCL Special Collections display outside the Donaldson Reading Room entrance on the 1st floor of the Main Library. Dante’s Divine Comedy: Modern Visual Representations features a selection of printed materials inspired by the great medieval Italian poet’s literary masterpiece. Produced over 700 years ago, the Divine Comedy is still celebrated today for its incredible imagery of the afterlife. The twentieth-century publications chosen for the display contain their own distinctive illustrative depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, but are united in the way they seek to capture elements of Dante’s extraordinary imagination. The display is scheduled to run until Tuesday 26th June.

Detail from Gyabo Szebó Belá’s untitled woodcut, in La divina commedia: XX stampe in legno – xilogravuri – fametszet – Holzschnitte [Bucharest?]: Dacia, 1976. UCL Special Collections, DANTE FOLIOS DD95 SZA

Running alongside this display and throughout the summer term are two public programmes dedicated to Dante. Weekly readings of the Divine Comedy take place on Monday evenings at the Warburg Institute, Woburn Square (6:00 – 7:30 pm), while talks about Dante, his life and works take place on alternate Tuesday evenings at the Italian Cultural Institute, Belgrave Square (7:00-8:30 pm). Both programmes are free and open to all. On Tuesday 29th May, UCL Special Collections will be at the Italian Cultural Institute to present a selection of highlights from the Dante Collection from 18:00-19:15 pm. In addition, Tabitha Tuckett (Rare-Books Librarian) will be providing expert insights on the Collection in a public talk at 18:30 pm. We hope to see you there.

If you wish to consult materials held by UCL Special Collections, please send enquiries to the following email address: spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk