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The Norris Photography Project

Rebecca JWebster9 April 2018

This is a guest post by Euan Guckian, UCL Special Collections volunteer.

Over terms one and two this year I have had the opportunity to sort and catalogue the photograph collection of Arthur Norris for the Special Collections team. Norris was a railway engineer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, spent several years (roughly 1909-1916) working in Latin America. He captured scenes from across the continent, annotating some of them for his mother back home in Britain.

Already gathered into region specific files, alongside a separate one for a soccer game played at one of the highest points in the Andes, my first responsibility was to sort them into a more coherent order. I was at first helped by the extensive notes provided by Norris on the back on the photos, but as the years went on I was fortunate to have a date and location. A sense of lethargy that anyone who has committed to keeping at diary will be familiar with. Having sorted each file, my next job was to list them digitally, this comprised either paraphrasing Norris’ notes or, in their absence, describing concisely what would be considered each one’s important features.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/9

Having previously studied the modernisation of Latin America during this period, it was interesting to see the region enter the 20th century from such a visual perspective. This was most obviously represented by the numerous photographs of the laying of tracks, carving of tunnels, building of railway bridges, and constructing of train stations taken by Norris from Buenos Aires to Lima. Amongst my favourite photographs, was a shot taken from 13,000ft above sea level of an Argentine mountain range. It came with instructions from Norris to place it next to another to create a carefully framed panorama. Unfortunately, after weeks of searching I never found it. There is plenty however, that would be appeal to those with an interest in Latin America. These include, depictions of rural village life, as well as that of the region’s capitals, all alongside photographs of ceremonies both native to South America, and those, such as bullfights, brought over from Spain.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/1

You can see the full catalogue for the Norris photographic archive here. To arrange a visit to consult the collection please email us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk

 

The Tiny Furniture Project

KathrynHannan3 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.

Model school furniture

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.

Outreach Touring Exhibition Makes its Way to Stratford

Vicky APrice19 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.

The exhibition in Stratford Library

The exhibition in Stratford Library

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.

Posters for the exhibition in pride of place at Stratford Library

Posters for the exhibition in pride of place at Stratford Library

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.

The Saturday morning group in full swing

The Saturday morning group in full swing

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!

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On the Hunt for Volunteers

Vicky APrice13 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.

Helen welcoming the new volunteers!

Helen welcomes the student crowds to our stall at the Big Volunteer Fair.

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: v.price@ucl.ac.uk

We are looking forward to the Museums and Heritage Volunteer Recruitment fair  on 24th October – if you’re nearby, come and say hello!

Many days in the Life of Nicholas Hans – translating and cataloguing Russian magazines

KathrynHannan31 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.

 

Front page of the first issue, NH/10/8/1 ©UCL IOE Archives

Front page of the first issue, NH/10/8/1 ©UCL IOE Archives

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).

NH/10/8/3 ©UCL IOE Archives

NH/10/8/3 ©UCL IOE Archives

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.


 

The catalogue records for these magazines are now online and there is more information about the collection on our libguide.