By Helen Biggs, on 8 March 2018
Women are by no means absent from UCL Special Collections’ archives, records, manuscripts and rare books, but it is not unfair or exaggerated to say that overall our collections are heavily dominated by men – by and large they were first collected by men, containing works created by men, that were quite often produced for men, too.
For International Women’s Day this year, we’ve been tweeting about some of the women featured in our collections. A complete guide to all the women who sit on our shelves is a pipe dream for the moment, but we can at least celebrate some of the women whose lives and works have captured our attention!
Today’s highlights were:
- Grace Aguilar, novelist, poet, and writer on Jewish history and religion.
- Spare Rib, the Women’s Lib magazine we hold in our Little Magazines collection. The British Library has digitised their archives of Spare Rib.
- Biochemist Professor Patricia Clarke, who had a particular interest in ensuring more women became scientists, and had the same career prospects as men in the sciences.
- Harriet Martineau‘s reflections on female writers in the early 19th Century.
- Crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale, the first woman tenured professor at UCL.
- The behind the scenes influence women have had on our collections, such as Helga Sharpe Hacker, whose donations to UCL included an important Byron manuscript.
- The National Union of Women Teacher‘s (NUWT) archive, a rich source of information on equality in teaching and a host of political campaigns in the first half of the 20th Century.
- Virginia Woolf, who with other women of the Bloomsbury group, makes a few brief but valuable appearances among our collections.
- Agnes Kate Foxwell, a UCL graduate whose book Munition Lasses describes some of the dangerous but vital factory work undertaken by women during the First World War.
Our work promoting the women on our shelves, and celebrating women’s suffrage, doesn’t stop at a few social media posts. Next term, we’re excited to be welcoming a visit from the Girls’ Network, and hope to be once again working with Newham Libraries to create a touring exhibition for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. There’s our own ongoing exhibition, Dangers and Delusions, just one of the many Vote 100 events happening around UCL. We’re also more than a little curious to explore the many exhibitions and activities created and hosted by our colleagues at other organisations – like the National Trust’s Suffragette City, which just opened today.
By Robert J Winckworth, on 16 February 2018
On Friday 9th February, I attended a day course ‘Managing Photographs in the Archive’, run by The Archive-Skills Consultancy Ltd (http://www.archive-skills.com/) presented by Margaret Crockett, Janet Foster and Dr. Jessamy Harvey.
Attendees from as far afield as Singapore and the Western Isles were present, and the day started by defining what archives are, and when photographs might be considered archives.
UCL Special Collections holds a wide range of photographs, including those donated to us from other UCL departments (Estates, Development Office, as well others that no longer exist). Whilst we have begun to survey them, a great deal more work is necessary to better streamline and catalogue what photographs we have and in what format.
Context is vital in determining when photographs are considered to have archival value, and we have a great number that do not have any accompanying documentation, annotations or dates. We also have multiple photographs of the same event or royal visit (just how many photographs of Princess Anne do you need?), and photographs of staff parties from 20 years ago that are not of archival value, no matter how interesting the clothes or hairstyles might be.
The photograph above is not dated, but does however have information on the reverse relating to who took it. Looking more closely at the buildings and doing some research online, we may be able to determine when it was taken. Also, in this circumstance, we know that it is an aerial photograph showing the Wilkins Building, Gower Street frontage and what is now the Cruciform Building.
Other photographs we have are a little more difficult. We have several boxes of albums of various events (dinners, farewell parties, receptions) all donated from the Secretary’s Office. In some, but not all cases, the albums are labelled with the particular event. However, we do not know who took the photos and a lot of dedication will go into finding out who everyone is. This leads to further questions, such as is it really worth keeping photographs of staff leaving parties?
One of the most interesting and challenging sessions during the day was Identifying Photographic Processes, including ambrotype, daguerreotype and tintype. Identifying the historical photographic process is essential for preservation, as each format has its own characteristics, and using appropriate packaging is vital. Furthermore, identifying the process can be extremely useful for dating the photograph when no other information is available.
We were fortunate to have the use of pocket microscopes (retailing at a very reasonable price so I was told) to identify the layers of photographs and see if paper fibres were visible on magnification. One could also look at any damage such as fading or abrasion.
Our final morning session looked at preservation, including the packaging, storing and handling of photographs, and I sensed that I could easily spend what is left of our budget on enclosures, four flap folders and more Melinex.
The afternoon session on Managing Copyright in Photographs was of most interest. I find copyright a complex area at the best of times, but it seems more intricate relating to photographs. The session covered copyright ownership, copyright duration, photographs of known and unknown authorship and due diligence. The session outlined the main issues facing archivists with dealing with copyright, and highlighted a lot of further reading and case studies, which will be most useful. Copyright in general is something that I feel I need to learn more about, particularly with the enquiries we receive regarding the use of our images.
Overall, the day was most enlightening, with a lot of content to take on board. Managing our photographic collection is one of my priorities for the year ahead. This will include surveying what we hold, appraising and weeding the photographs held by UCL Records (an awful lot of weeding) and and ordering preservation material for photographs where necessary.
By Tabitha Tuckett, on 12 February 2018
Two upcoming events at Special Collections this week:
DANTE READING: Monday 12 February, 6-7.30pm, Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, WC1H 0AB (admission free)
Dante readings continue at 6pm tonight with Inferno Cantos 33 and 34 on Count Ugolino, the centre of Hell, and Lucifer (with images from library Dante collections across the world) before moving on to cheerier things as term progresses. More details here.
SMALL PRESS COLLECTIONS ON DISPLAY: Wednesday 14 February, 2-4.30pm, Special Collections Reading Room, South Junction, University College London, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT (admission free)
Looking forward to seeing you at these or future events.
By Tabitha Tuckett, on 29 January 2018
Why is the Mediaeval Italian poet Dante important to us now? Can his work tell us anything about how to approach our own lives? And what does UCL Special Collections have to offer those interested in Dante?
To find out, or just to unwind at the end of the day with some beautiful poetry, try our weekly readings from Dante’s Divine Comedy (in English and Italian), followed by discussion with UCL’s Professor John Took, every Monday, 6-7.30pm at the Warburg Institute, Woburn Square. More information here:
Or, if you prefer an in-depth talk without the readings, we’re running these on Tuesdays every fortnight, 7-8.30pm, at the Italian Institute of Culture in Belgrave Square:
Tonight’s reading is from the Inferno, but tomorrow’s session is on love. Both courses are free and open to all.
Look out later in term for displays of selected items from our outstanding collection of rare and early editions of Dante’s works. Read more about UCL Special Collections’ Dante Collection, or search the library catalogue using ‘Dantecollection’ (without spaces between the words).
By Kathryn Hannan, on 3 January 2018
This is a guest blog post by one of our archive volunteers, Sara Abou El Ella, who was working in the IOE UCL Archive department with items from the collection of David and Mary Medd.
The Tiny Furniture Project
blog post by Sara Abou El Ella.
For a few weeks now, I have been busy cataloguing and sorting scale models of school furniture used by David and Mary Medd in 1976. They were at the forefront of public architecture and design and created an inextricable bond between architecture and social progress.
This archive project required particular attention and care since many of the furniture pieces were detaching from their main bodies. Despite this, I enjoyed unpacking all the objects and grouping them together, since many of them were spread in different boxes and they had never all been itemised. I would say that a particular challenge involving this project was comparing all objects to the furniture handbook. Some of them presented very similar characteristics and appearance making them hard to locate in the handbook and some of the objects were not listed therefore I had to catalogue them separately.
After this very rough introduction, I would like to give the readers a taste of a typical day volunteering at the UCL Archives. I arrive around 1.30pm and stay until 3.30pm or 4pm. This project required more attention and time to be dedicated to it. The first task is to gather the special conservation paper sheets to protect the objects. On my first day, I read a book written by Catherine Burke to become more acquainted with the project and with the architects. Secondly, I carefully read the index and catalogue in the handbook to compare the numbers, characteristics and type of every object which should be contained in the collection. The third task, the most crucial and important of the project, is to open all paper wrappings in the different boxes, group together all items of the same nature and write their number, short description and wrap them all individually for better conservation purposes. One of my favourite objects was the reproduction of a small piano and wardrobes which had little hangers attached to them. For this blog I tried to recreate a small classroom and include some of the most iconic pieces of furniture present in the collection.
Because of the small damage and the rust which accumulated on the objects I hope to volunteer with the UCL Special Collections Senior Conservator to clean and conserve this collection. This is a very exciting opportunity to improve the access to this archival material and be able to present it to different researchers and for object handling sessions in schools.