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George Greenough’s papers – a window into the worlds of 19th-century science, wealth, and empire

By Kurt M Jameson, on 28 October 2022

George Bellas Greenough inherited a fortune at the age of 16 and, as a rich man in his 20s, decided to devote his life to the study of geology. He is best-known for his Geological Map of England and Wales, published in 1820, which used new data and an innovative colouring system to highlight deposits of different types of rocks and minerals. He later became a controversial figure due to his clashes with William Smith, another geologist who had also made a very similar geological map at almost exactly the same time.

George Greenough's colour-coded geological Map of England and Wales (1920).

Greenough’s Geological Map of England and Wales, published in 1820 by the Geological Society. An original copy of his 2nd edition, published in 1839, is held at UCL Special Collections (GREENOUGH/A/2/1).

In the title of Simon Winchester’s book The Map that Changed the World (2001), he is referring to the map created by Smith. Winchester claims that Greenough plagiarised Smith’s map, and that Greenough was an elitist snob who blocked Smith’s entry to the Geological Society due to his class background. However, others have since argued that the creation of Greenough’s map was in reality more nuanced.

A portrait engraving of George Bellas Greenough, early 19th-century.

Portrait of Greenough by Maxim Gauci, mid-19th century. Held at the National Portrait Gallery.

Regardless of whether or not Greenough plagiarised Smith’s work, these maps were ground-breaking in the way that they displayed the minerals and resources that were lying under the ground. This was an exciting development not only for those with an interest in geology or the study of fossils, but also to those who stood to benefit financially. At the time, raw materials were in high demand in order to fuel the industrial revolution. In Simon Winchester’s words: “Landowners realized that they possibly had beneath their lawns, meadows and forests huge seams of coal that could make them rich beyond their dreams.”

This was also a time of a growing British Empire, which may explain why Greenough’s other major publication was a comprehensive geological map of ‘British India’, in 1855. Greenough produced this map with the help of the East India Company, but never visited the Indian subcontinent himself. Some of Greenough’s papers hint at the potential advantages for nations of having more accurate geological information. The following passage is from a draft letter of 1810 which appears to have been drafted or translated by Greenough for Jacques Louis, Comte de Bournon, regarding a collection of minerals that had recently been bought by the British Museum:

“The collection of the late Mr. Greville, celebrated throughout Europe, is now the property of Great Britain, a country the commerce manufactures & territorial revenue of which are intimately connected with the state of its mines & this acquisition has been made at a time when mineralogy engages a more than ordinary share of public attention.” (GREENOUGH/B/4/R/12)

George Greenough's colour-coded 'General Sketch of the Physical and Geological Features of British India'

Greenough’s General Sketch of the Physical and Geological Features of British India, published in 1855. An original copy is held at UCL Special Collections (GREENOUGH/A/3/1).

UCL Special Collections holds a substantial collection of George Greenough’s papers. These papers include original copies and fragments of his own geological maps, his notes on various geological topics and debates, and his notes on other sciences. His diaries from his many expeditions through Europe include descriptions and sketches of the surrounding geology, as well as his observations on the local culture and politics. In one of these diaries he describes his escape from Sicily in 1803, as the French had invaded the Italian peninsula from the north (GREENOUGH/B/2/1/1).

A considerable amount of these papers consist of Greenough’s private correspondence. These letters read like a ‘who’s who’ of the elite scientific community in 19th-century Britain, and include letters from Michael Faraday, Francis Beaufort, Marc Isambard Brunel, and John Herschel. Being from this time period Greenough’s correspondence is almost entirely with other men, although there are some letters from women. In one letter Sarah Frembly appealed to Greenough to use his influence with the Admiralty, as her husband John had been shipwrecked and dismissed from the Royal Navy, leaving her family destitute (GREENOUGH/B/4/F/14).

In later life Greenough also focussed on the field of geography, serving as the President of the Royal Geographical Society from 1839 to 1841. This likely explains why he was in possession of a leaflet for a rescue mission for Franklin’s lost expedition to find the ‘Northwest Passage’ through the Canadian Arctic (GREENOUGH/B/3/5/1), and of prospectuses for the construction of a ‘Grand Georama’ in London (GREENOUGH/B/1/10).

Leaflet for an apeal to raise money for a rescue mission to find Franklin's lost expedition to the Canadian Arctic to find the 'Northwest Passage'.

Leaflet for the rescue of Franklin’s lost expedition (GREENOUGH/B/3/5/1)

The Greenough papers arrived at UCL in two separate deposits, the second deposit of which (‘Part B’) is newly-catalogued. The catalogue for the Greenough papers can be browsed via the UCL Archives online catalogue: https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/CalmView/. The Greenough papers will be of particular interest for any researchers of the history of geology, but may also prove useful for research into other aspects of 19th-century Britain.

To make an appointment to view any of the papers in the Greenough collection, please contact us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk.

“We Are Not Alone”: Legacies of Eugenics in Education and Society

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 17 October 2022

This post has been co-authored with Professor Marius Turda.

The IOE Library has on display a shortened version of the exhibition “We Are Not Alone”: Legacies of Eugenics which was first shown at the Weiner Holocaust Library in 2021 and which is now at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The exhibition was curated by Professor Turda (Oxford Brookes University) with some content from UCL Special Collections (Galton Laboratory Collection and the IOE Library’s History of Education Collection) as well as content from the LSE’s Library. Following the opening of the exhibition, the Weiner Library hosted a Roundtable Discussion where all who worked on the exhibition shared our research. Both Indy Bhullar, Curator for Economics and Social Policy at the LSE Library, and I were subsequently invited by Subhadra Das (previously Curator of Science Collections at UCL Culture and now an independent scholar) to publish this research as short stories for the Wellcome Collection. The following provides some background on eugenics and the resources that are currently on display at the IOE Library.

The title of the exhibition, “We are Not Alone” is inspired by a widely circulated Nazi eugenic poster from the mid-1930s. After the introduction of the 1933 ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring’, Nazi propagandists claimed that their eugenic programme of forced sterilisation was in no way different to provisions already existing in the penal legislation of countries such as the USA and Sweden, and which was about to be introduced in other European countries such as Britain, Hungary, and Poland. ‘We are not alone’, they said, hoping to garner international support for their plans to eliminate ‘defectives’ from society and to ‘purify the race’.

Eugenics was a global movement. The exhibition highlights this aspect, providing historical examples from Britain, USA, Italy, Sweden, and Romania, whilst recognising that eugenics programmes targeting individuals with mental disabilities and ethnic minorities were not stopped after 1945. They continued during the post-World War II period in countries as diverse as the USA, Scandinavia, Japan, Czechoslovakia, and Peru. The exhibition aims, therefore, to offer a historically informed account of our eugenic past, present, and future, balancing various elements of continuity and discontinuity, of idiosyncrasy and similarity between eugenic movements across the world.

The internationalisation of eugenics reflected a general appreciation in many parts of the world that science was the sufficient and necessary foundation for the long-awaited renewal of the human race. As a self-styled scientific theory of human betterment and planned breeding, eugenics was based on the principle that people who were deemed socially and biologically ‘unworthy’ of reproduction should be excluded. In the name of future generations, eugenicists dissolved aspects of the private sphere, scrutinising, and working to curtail reproductive, individual, gender, religious and indigenous rights. The boundary between the private and public spheres was blurred by the idea of public responsibility for the nation and the race, which came to dominate both. In the twentieth century, the state and the society at large increasingly adopted a eugenic worldview, even though none of it was based on proven scientific arguments. Instead, eugenics relied on speculations about social norms, cultural, ethnic and gender differences, and racial worth. Ideas of economic and social productivity also flowed readily from eugenic arguments, and eugenicists argued that if an individual was found to be socially ‘unfit’, it was appropriate for them to be ‘weeded out’. ‘Unfit’ had become a label for those members of society who were deemed ‘pathological’, ‘criminal’, ‘asocial’, ‘foreign’ and ‘undesired’.

Eugenicists claimed to act in the name of future generations by ensuring the continuity of people who were believed to be ‘hereditarily healthy’. Some eugenicists highlighted the primacy of heredity in shaping character and behaviour, while others insisted equally on the role of education and the environment. Not surprisingly, they also disagreed over which eugenic measures were deemed practical and efficient, and which ones should be rejected on ethical, scientific and religious grounds. In Britain, for instance, the Eugenics Society set up a committee to draft a sterilisation bill in 1929, chaired by the society’s president, Bernard Mallet. Two years later Major Archibald Church (1886–1954), a Labour MP and member of the Eugenics Society, introduced a sterilisation bill in the House of Commons, but it was rejected. One of his Labour colleagues, physician Hyacinth Morgan (1885-1956) rebuked the bill sharply: ‘Some when inebriated see beetles; the eugenist intoxicated, sees defectives’. In 1932, another sterilisation committee was established under the chairman of the Board of Control, Lawrence Brock (1879-1949). But these efforts led nowhere, as no sterilisation bill was introduced in Parliament again.

The exhibition presents us with the opportunity to review how assumptions and attitudes rooted in eugenic principles became entrenched in British education. From the beginning, eugenics appealed to educationalists, school reformers and feminists who advocated teaching the nation’s children and the youth ‘sound morals’ alongside physical education and modern ideas of hygiene. These were considered prerequisites for maintaining a healthy body and mind, and in society’s advancement towards a eugenic future. Educationalists such as the co-founder of the London School of Economics, Sidney Webb (who was instrumental in the establishment of the London Day Training College –now the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society), was a key supporter of eugenics. Other examples include heads of colleges such as Margaret Tuke, Principal of Bedford College and J. J. Findlay of Owen’s College, Manchester, the London County Council’s Schools Inspector, W. H. Winch, and the educational psychologist Cyril Burt.

The cases display the intelligence tests or IQ tests from the Psychology and Human Development (PHD) Collection at the IOE. These tests were adapted by Cyril Burt from the IQ tests developed in Paris by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon at the turn of the twentieth century. Burt’s ‘mental footrule’ was used to rate the intelligence of a child and his evaluation of mental deficiencies influenced the outcome of the 1924  Hadow report on psychological testing and the  1929 Wood Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee and the Board of Education. The latter recommended the reclassification of children considered to be ‘mentally defective’ . Also on display are publications by the experimental psychologist, H. R. Hamley and director T. Percy Nunn on The Education of Backward Children: and, Juvenile Delinquency in England and Wales as well as A Textbook of Hygiene for Training Colleges by Margaret Avery, Vice Principal of Warrington Teacher Training College.

Image of the title page of Margaret Avery's textbook 'Hygiene'

Besides focusing on biological hygiene, Avery devotes an entire chapter on eugenics. This chapter provides examples of how eugenic thinking persists in the present day and is consistent with recent statements made by some politicians currently in power. For example, Avery states that while there are many ‘causes of pauperism’, one of them is that the working classes simply ‘lack…”grit”‘(p. 310)–a message that is not dissimilar to the one recently expressed by the (now previous) prime minister in relation to ‘British workers being the worst idlers in the world’. In relation to immigrants, Avery states: ‘We should welcome the right type of immigrant and discourage the wrong type’ and ‘we… receive the off-scourings of other countries, and these are racially very undesirable’ (p. 320). Once again, this mirrors the views of the present government on refugees and immigrants. Avery ends her chapter by stating that Christianity is on the side of the eugenicists because it, ‘more than any other power, has given us a sense of the infinite value of human life, and the eugenicist is trying to prevent the wreckage of human life’ (p. 323). While the Church has spoken out against these messages in Britain, the story is far from different in the United States (see Witnessing Whiteness by Kristopher Norris). Avery’s book continued to be published in several editions until 1951. It was the recommended textbook for the Board of Education’s teachers’ examination in hygiene. Undoubtedly, it will have influenced the thinking of generations of teachers and their students.

Although the true impact of eugenics will never be known, its legacies continue to penetrate deeply and widely into the fabric of our society. Continuing education and engagement with eugenics, as well as its public condemnation, are essential components of our efforts to comprehend a hidden and ominous past, while also pursuing a fair and just society.

RIC Visiting Fellows appointed

By Erika Delbecque, on 3 October 2022

UCL Special Collections and the UCL Research Institute for Collections are delighted to announce that we have appointed two inaugural RIC Visiting Fellows. The Fellowship programme is an opportunity for external researchers to visit UCL for up to six weeks to conduct research on a topic centred on our holdings of archives, rare books, and records.

A photograph of Dr Shirin Hirsch

Dr Shirin Hirsch

Dr Shirin Hirsch will be working on a project called Young people against racism: School-student strikes and 1980s London Schools. She will be using the Ken Jones and the Marina Foster archives to explore the active role of school-students in the construction of anti-racist policy and practice in 1980s London schools.

Dr Hirsch, a Senior Lecturer in History based jointly at Manchester Metropolitan University and the People’s History Museum, is a specialist in histories of race and resistance in Modern Britain. She is in the early stages of writing a book on anti-racism in post-war British history with a focus on resistance from below, which her research at UCL Special Collections will support.

Focusing on items from the Graves Library collection, Dr Yelda Nasifoglu will study the circulation of mathematical works in Britain up to c.1700 for her project entitled Reading and Collecting Mathematics in Early Modern Britain. She will examine early modern book catalogues and individual copies from our collection to gain more insight into the mathematical book trade of this period.

Dr Nasifoglu is an historian of early modern mathematics and architecture, and an Associate Member of the Faculty of History, University of Oxford. She obtained her Ph.D. from McGill University for her dissertation entitled ‘Robert Hooke’s Praxes: Reading, Drawing, Building’, in which she studied shared practices in the scientific and architectural work of the 17th-century virtuoso Robert Hooke (1635–1703).

The Fellows will be visiting UCL in October and November of this year. During this period, they will participate in the programme of workshops, talks and lectures run by the RIC and UCL Special Collections. The events will be advertised on the RIC website and the UCL Special Collections Twitter feed.

Digitising the Annual Reports of the Institute of Archaeology, Volumes 1-13 (1938-1958)

By Vicky A Price, on 15 September 2022

This blog was written by Katie Meheux.

Volumes 1-13 (1938-1958) of the Annual Report of the Institute of Archaeology (formerly University of London, now UCL) have been digitised and made available as an open access resource through UCL Digital Collections and the Internet Archive following a project initiated by the UCL Institute of Archaeology Library and funded by UCL Special Collections.

The Annual Report was the Institute’s first annual journal, a tradition still continued today by Archaeology International. Each volume combined administrative information with academic research articles. Administrative reports outlined teaching, outreach, exhibitions, projects, excavations, collections, and lectures from visiting scholars – all the Institute’s day-to-day activities and a snapshot of its students, who came from all over the world. Research articles highlighted the international archaeological interests of the Institute’s staff – not just the academics, but librarians, photographers, and technicians too. Students also contributed research articles in a tradition now continued by Papers from the Institute of Archaeology.

A photograph of the spines of three hard back bound books. They look quite old and have library stickers on them from the Institute of Archaeology.

The Institute of Archaeology volumes – in need of conservation and looking their age.

The Report was the first journal produced by a university archaeology department in the UK and forms an important research resource for the history of the Institute of Archaeology and archaeology as an international discipline. Like all archaeological journals, the Report reflected and absorbed changes within the wider discipline and as such, charts key developments and changes in archaeological practice during the twentieth century. Volumes also allow us to see how the Institute chose to present itself to the contemporary British academic community and its wider public audience.

A close up of a page in a book with the title 'contents'. The paper is slightly coloured with age.

Contents page of the first volume of Annual Reports of the Institute of Archaeology.

The COVID pandemic, which caused extended periods of closure and limited access to libraries during 2020 and 2021, highlighted the problems of retaining such a valuable research resource as print only. There was also a conservation imperative behind the project; to protect the fragile print copies held by the Institute library. The Annual Reports join other open access Institute of Archaeology resources, notably the Gordon Childe Skara Brae Notebooks (1928-1930), digitised as a joint project with Historic Scotland. British archaeological societies and organisations have been making historic journal content available for over twenty years, both independently and through the Archaeological Data Service (ADS), the leading digital repository for heritage data in Britain. Digitising historic journals means they can be used in new ways; for example, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust volunteers have been using open access historical journals to enhance the regional Historic Environment Record (HER) for north-west Wales.

Although print copies of the Reports can be found in libraries world-wide, providing online access will assist researchers, students, and the public and help to raise awareness of the rich and significant history of the Institute of Archaeology. Digitising the journal will broaden access for scholars, students, and the public, raise awareness of the rich and significant history of the Institute of Archaeology, and protect an increasingly fragile ‘in demand’ print resource for the future.

A close up of a page of a book depicting a grand building's entrance.

A picture of the Institute of Archaeology at St Johns Lodge – the frontispiece of the first volume.

Liberating the Collections 2022: A Volunteer’s Experience of Searching UCL Special Collections

By Erika Delbecque, on 23 August 2022

This guest blog post was written by Jane McChrystal , who spent five months volunteering at UCL Special Collections as part of the Liberating the Collections project.

In March I was presented with an exciting opportunity – discovering the work of women authors published before 1750, held by UCL Library’s Special Collections. I’d been invited to join a team of volunteers for the library’s Liberating the Collections project, by Head of Rare books, Erika Delbecque. Next, Erika convened an online meeting to introduce volunteers to each other and some members of the library team. During the meeting the librarians showed us how to identify works catalogued in the Special Collections using the Explore service, knowledge which could then be applied to the pursuit of the individual projects Erika had assigned.

There were some initial qualms- what if there weren’t any works by women authors pre 1750 in UCL’s collections, or I couldn’t work out how to find them? Luckily, my supervisor, Jo Baines, Academic Liaison Librarian / Archivist, was at hand to reassure me that there were, as I’d hoped, many different ways of approaching the collections to find relevant texts, so it was fine, at this stage to try out a variety of search methods and see what worked.

Initially, I set out in quite a random fashion. I didn’t make much headway, but I was able familiarise myself with Explore and become more confident about finding my way round the collections. And then, Covid struck in April, leaving me quite foggy for a number of weeks.

Once the fog lifted, something had become clear, I needed a system. A simple idea occurred to me. How about approaching my searches with a list of women authors who lived between the 14th and 18th centuries? In this instance, Wikipedia was my friend and it helped me to compile a list of 353 authors. I then selected some who looked the most promising and noted the subjects they addressed, and the literary forms they employed, such as poetry, meditations or drama. Consequently, I was able to match the authors with the collections they were most likely to be found in and the carry out a simple author search in the catalogue of the relevant collections.

The title page of
Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M-y W–y M–e by
Mary Wortley Montagu (Dublin : Printed for P. Wilson, J. Hoey, Junior, and J. Potts, 1763). [SSEES Library, Rare Books Room, KMisc51]

The Rotton and Strong Room collections yielded eleven works by Aphra Behn, a good result, but not too surprising, as she was about the only seventeenth-century woman author I was already familiar with. Today, she is remembered chiefly for a novel, Oroonoko, the tale of a doomed affair between Oroonoko, an African prince and his love, Imoinda, set largely in Surinam played out against the background of a slaves’ revolt, and later adapted into a more successful play.

Before my search, though, I wasn’t aware of her four other dramas and poetry, mainly composed of paeons of praise to various illustrious individuals and members of royalty. I really knew very little about this literary form, but as I went ahead with further searches, I came to realise how popular it was, which makes sense when you consider the important role of patrons in literary life at the time.

And then I came across a gem in the Rotton collection, a collection of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters to various eminent men in England, concerning her travels in Europe, Africa and Asia with her husband, a British ambassador, which lists the name “Mary Astell” among its contributors.

Mary Astell (1666-1731), sometimes referred to as England’s first feminist, was the author of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest, a Lockean philosopher and the founder of a charity school for girls in Chelsea.

She also belonged to a circle of scholarly women in Chelsea, which included Lady Mary Chudleigh, Elizabeth Thomas and Elizabeth Elstob and Wortley Montagu. Each lived in quite different circumstances, ranging from the wealthy, aristocratic Wortley Montagu to Astell.

Astell was a single woman, whose family had fallen on hard times and, as such, had no prospect of marriage to a social equal. She survived on the patronage of women, like those in the circle, who shared her interests in feminism, the oppressive nature of marital relations and the importance of a good education for girls and women.

I returned to the catalogue in search of their names and found four other works by Montagu in the Rotton Collection, largely made up of more letters about her experiences in the different countries she lived in. It is fortunate that these letters were preserved in the eminent men’s libraries and published after their estates were distributed. These texts were then picked up by collectors who donated them to UCL Library.

So, what next?  On 24th August I look forward to sharing my discoveries at a meeting of UCL Library’s Rare Books Club, where participants will have a chance to take a look at some of the texts I found and learn about the work of two fascinating women authors previously buried in the Special Collections, together with the stories of some other important women in their orbit.

All in all, these experiences of taking part in Liberating the Collections have lived up to every expectation I set out with and beyond. Working with Jo as my supervisor has been one of the most enjoyable of them and, thanks to her knowledge, flexible approach and supportive attitude, I found a path to these heroines.