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Cataloguing the records of Britain’s longest-running birth cohort study

By Kurt M Jameson, on 30 July 2021

For the last year or so I’ve been working on a project to catalogue the administrative records of the National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) – Britain’s longest running birth cohort study. Although this project has been a little disrupted by the pandemic, I’m very happy to say the cataloguing is now complete!

A selection of blank questionnaires used in the MRC NSHD.

A selection of questionnaires and interview booklets that have been used in the NSHD over the years.

The history and impact of the National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD)

The NSHD is referred to as a ‘cohort study’ or ‘longitudinal study’ because it studies the same group of people over time, collecting data from them at fairly regular intervals (in the NSHD they are referred to as ‘study members’). Monitoring the same group of people throughout their lives means that cohort studies can highlight differences in health and development that arise due to life circumstances and experiences.

Front cover of the book 'Maternity in Great Britain' (1948).

The findings of the maternity survey were published in 1948.

The NSHD began in 1946 as a one-off maternity survey. The 1930s and early ‘40s was a period of anxiety in Britain over declining birth rates and high infant death rates. At the time, this also included concerns over the national economy, and whether Britain would have enough people to run the Empire. A national maternity survey was planned, to understand why people were having fewer children. It consisted of interviews with the new mothers of 13,687 babies that had all been born in Britain in the same week in March 1946. It was directed by James Douglas, a young doctor and pacifist who had gained experience of carrying out surveys and data analysis on air-raid casualties during the war. Ironically, by the time the findings of the maternity survey were published in 1948, Britain was experiencing its post-war ‘baby boom’. Although fears over fertility rates had now subsided, the survey still produced some shocking revelations.

The science journalist Helen Pearson summarises the findings of the 1946 maternity survey in her book The Life Project, which gives a history of Britain’s birth cohort studies:

“Almost every result that tumbled out of Douglas’ tabulating machine showed a country divided by class. The babies in the lowest class were 70% more likely to be born dead than those in the most prosperous, and they were also far more likely to be born prematurely.”

These outcomes were largely the result of the costs involved in accessing good antenatal care at the time. The 1946 maternity survey also highlighted that most women were unable to access any pain relief during childbirth. These findings of the maternity survey contributed to the shaping of the early NHS (launched in 1948), and led to a change in the rules so that midwives were able to administer pain relief more freely.

An extract from the 1946 maternity survey questionnaires, about whether received pain relief during childbirth.

An extract from the 1946 Maternity Survey questionnaires (Reference Number NSHD/2/2).

Although the maternity survey was intended as a one-off, about a third of the babies were selected for a follow-up survey, and it became the basis for an ongoing longitudinal study of health and development. In addition to health, the NSHD became influential in education and social policy. Douglas published the book The Home and the School in 1964, which demonstrated that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds were much less likely to go to grammar school, even when they were judged to be of similar ability. These findings contributed to the introduction of the ‘comprehensive’ school system in 1965.

Although the NSHD’s funding was precarious in its early years, from 1962 it secured regular core funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC). In its later years the NSHD evolved into a study of adult health (including mental health), and the life factors involved in developing certain illnesses and conditions. Today the NSHD remains an active, ongoing study, now oriented towards being a study of ageing. It has just had its 75th birthday as the NSHD study members turned 75 in March 2021. This online talk on the history of the NSHD was given as part of the 75th birthday celebrations:

As mentioned in that talk, the NSHD cohort is representative of the racial demographics of Britain when the study began, rather than Britain’s racial demographics today. As the NSHD study members were born in 1946, before the significant levels of immigration to Britain that happened in subsequent decades, the cohort is therefore overwhelmingly white. However, the impact of the NSHD provided the inspiration for several later British cohort studies, notably the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study, and the Millennium Cohort Study. These three later cohort studies are administered by a different organisation, the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), whose archives are also stored at UCL.

What’s in the NSHD archive?

It’s important to stress that none of the research data are included in this archive – this in an administrative archive whose documents demonstrate which kinds of data were collected, why particular questions were asked, and how the study has changed over time. A key part of the NSHD archive is the series of blank questionnaires and interview booklets, running from the 1946 maternity survey through to the present. From these you can see each and every question that has been asked as part of the study. The topics they cover include health, education, employment, income, housing, family, and social attitudes. The study members also took cognitive and attainment tests at ages 8, 11, and 15.

A page from the ‘Picture Intelligence Test’ given to the NSHD study members when they were aged 8, as part of the 1954 data collection of the NSHD..

A page from the ‘Picture Intelligence Test’ given to the NSHD study members when they were aged 8, as part of the 1954 data collection (NSHD/2/8/3).

In 1962, the NSHD study members turned 16, which meant it would be much harder for the study to keep in touch with them. As a result, the NSHD began sending birthday cards to each study member every March (remember the NSHD study members all have roughly the same birthday!) Each year the card would have a new design, sometimes chosen through competitions. In a recent article, Hannah Elizabeth and Daisy Pailing explain how the NSHD birthday cards have evolved over time, how they led to the development of close bonds between the NSHD and its study members, and how the birthday cards demonstrate “the growing awareness of importance of emotion within British social science research communities”.

The male and female designs for the 1962 NSHD birthday cards.

The first NSHD birthday card was sent out in March 1962, when the study members turned 16. The 1962 card is the only NSHD birthday card to have designs for different genders: female, left (NSHD/8/2/1/1); and male, right (NSHD/8/2/1/2).

The 1996 NSHD birthday card design.

The 50th birthday card, sent out in March 1996, featured pictures of NSHD staff members (NSHD/8/2/1/36). James Douglas (top, centre) was director of the NSHD 1946-1979; Michael Wadsworth (top right) was director 1986-2006; and Diana Kuh (bottom right) was director 2007-2017.

The archive also contains a wealth of planning documents, progress reports and grant applications, which demonstrate the rigorous and constant scrutiny involved in the study, and which also document the way the study has evolved over time. These records will allow researchers to see not just which questions were asked but why those particular questions were asked, and not others. These documents also capture the way that the importance of ethics and consent have changed over time in scientific research.

NSHD Progress Reports to the MRC in 1965 and 2012.

NSHD Progress Reports to the MRC, from 1965 (left, NSHD/3/1), and from 2012 (right, NSHD/3/9/3).

This cataloguing project was given the title ‘Interconnections’ due to the links between social science and medical science in the NSHD. The NSHD archive will therefore be of particular interest to researchers of either field.

You can now browse the catalogue for the NSHD archive through the UCL online catalogue: https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/CalmView/.

To make an appointment to access the archive in our reading room at the UCL Institute of Education, contact ioe.arch-enquiries@ucl.ac.uk.

The Wellcome Trust logo.

This cataloguing project has been funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Announcing the winners of the 2021 Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize

By Erika Delbecque, on 28 June 2021

French translations of Beatrix Potter, English testimonies to the Holocaust and women of the South Asian Diaspora – these were just some of the collecting themes amongst the applications for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, which is open to all students at London-based universities. The prize, which is generously funded by Anthony Davis, aims to encourage collectors who are at an early stage of collecting books, printed materials or manuscripts.

Because the standard of applications was particularly high this year, the panel made the exceptional decision to award two prizes.

The winners

Books from Daniel Haynes’ winning collection

This year’s winner is Daniel Haynes for his collection ‘The money earned by herself’: women artists of the Roycroft Press. This printing house was founded by Elbert Hubbart in New York State in 1895. It became the most influential Arts and Crafts press in America and a commercial success. Following the trend to revive 15th-century printing techniques and skills started by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, the Roycroft Press produced books that were hand-printed and illuminated. Daniel’s collection focuses on books that contain evidence of women illuminators, highlighting the contributions made by artists whose role has often been overlooked. Daniel, who is a studying for an MA in Library & Information Studies at UCL, will receive a cash prize and the opportunity to work with a member of staff to select a new item for UCL Special Collections. He will also be entered into the national book collecting competition that is organised by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association.

The runner-up winner is Erick Jackaman with their collection Read My Genders: A Trans for Trans Collection. They collect a wide range of contemporary material that is published by trans people for trans people, including self-published novels, zines and leaflets. Erick is currently studying for an MSc in Digital Humanities at UCL.

Pink spines on a book shelf

The pink spines in Erick’s collection

“The whole experience of applying for the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize has been such a joy for me”, they said. “When I started writing my application back in March, it didn’t occur to me how valuable the application process itself would be or how much I would learn throughout. Speaking [to the panel] filled me with a sense of wonder for the potential of my collection.” Erick will also receive a cash prize and the opportunity to select a new item for UCL Special Collections.

The other finalists were:

  • Humphrey Price for his collection of works by Clare Leighton
  • Howard Kordansky for his collection of books and pamphlets on the role of the German Jewry in the First World War
  • Jemma Stewart for her collection of floriography or the language of flowers

See the finalists present their collections online

Join us for special sessions of the 2021 UCL Rare Books Club Online to hear some of the finalists speak about their collections and show some of the items. These lunchtime sessions are free to attend and open to all.

 

‘Well really, have we come to that?’: Excerpts from UCL’s LGBT History

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 15 June 2021

Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about the internal documents that sheds light on the history of LGBTQI+ student life at UCL. 

 

In March 1972, Jamie Gardiner, a PhD student in the UCL Department of Mathematics, now a lawyer and human rights activist in Australia, founded the Homophile Society, or Gaysoc at UCL.  As far as we know, this was the first gaysoc to be founded in a UK university and affiliated to its student union.

This Thursday, 17 June, Dr Luciano Rila, who – appropriately – teaches in the Mathematics department, will give a talk on Zoom, ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ partly based on the registration file that is preserved in the College archive to help tell that story.

I don’t want to cover the same ground as Luciano, but thought it might still be interesting to share a few images from that file, and why we have these records (and why we don’t have others).

Regarded as an object, the file is as dull as every other UCL administrative file of its time.  It’s one of many others recording the registration of affiliated societies, the kinds of societies that students have always liked to form: political and social, serious and frivolous.  But this file is a bit different.  The title of this piece comes from a letter written by Dick Bishop, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to the College Secretary, Arthur Tattersall, demanding to know ‘Who decreed that it is in the general interest that the College should be identified with sexual predilections in this way?’

Internal letter about the approval of UCL's 'Gaysoc'

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 6

And J.T. Aitken, Professor of Anatomy, was ‘disturbed … I cannot understand why people should be allowed to make a parade of their aberration’.  Tattersall shared these concerns, and involved the Dean of Students, Professor Eric Brown, who wrote to the President of the Union, Pete Johns, about the ‘risk of offending individuals in the College’.  Fortunately, Johns declared his absolute opposition to suppressing Gaysoc, suggesting that the authorities should surely be more concerned about those societies that were based around socialism and anarchism, which are dedicated to ‘overturn[ing] the whole fabric of society itself’.

 

Discussion of the approval of UCL's Gaysoc

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 15

As I’ve said, we have records of a lot of these societies, because there happened to be an established process for authorising them, which meant the central bureaucracy kept files meticulously, with reference numbers, information about who has consulted them, everything properly attached, and every page numbered.  They are usually very slim files, containing only one or two pages, just recording the foundation, subscription, office-holders and so on.  The Gaysoc file, on the other hand, contains a whopping 22 pages, and it’s not hard to see why: nobody cared much about the Northerners’ Society or the Brewing Society, but some members of UCL were definitely alarmed by the ‘Homophile Society’.

In other words, it’s only where there’s been some kind of trouble that there’s a bit more information.  And this is how an institutional archive like the College archive tends to work.  We have a lot of registers, minutes of Council and other administrative bodies, staff and student personal files and so on, because that’s our main function.  But there are other aspects of life at UCL that, in the past, we were never required to preserve, the unofficial side that would tell us more about how life was actually lived.  The Gaysoc file happens to contain a Freshers’ Week programme for 1972, which I think is unique in this series of files:

Gaysoc Freshers Week Programme

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 7

It was originally preserved as evidence of ‘concern’ about ‘homosex’, but now it can tell other stories, about gay social life at this time, about links with the Gay Liberation Front and Campaign for Homosexual Equality.  We are lucky to have in the College archive other material that tells these unofficial stories of staff and student life at UCL: rag mags, periodicals, campaign literature, photographs.  But these have come to us in a really unsystematic way, sometimes without any context.  For example, we don’t know why we have a copy of this wonderful poster by Alan Wakeman, published by Gay Sweatshop:

Poster on 'What exactly is Heterosexuality'

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

or this terrifying account of gay-bashing, in a 1976 leaflet:

Description of students attacked at a Gaysoc event

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

We’ve recognised that this has implications about representation in the archive, that doing only ‘top-down’ collecting silences important voices and stories.  We have a rich collection in the College archive, but will certainly be doing more ‘ground-up’ collecting to ensure those voices can be preserved and heard for the future.

 

To learn more about UCL Records, check out their main pageTo book a ticket for ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ please visit their Eventbrite page

Kaladlit Okalluktualliait (Greenlandic Folktales): Contentious histories of preserving indigenous oral traditions

By Erika Delbecque, on 17 May 2021

This blog post was written by UCL student Sae Matsuno (MA Library & Information Studies) as part of a two-week work placement at UCL Special Collections. Sae’s Twitter handle is @O_Aspirations. 

19th-century folklore books that travelled from Greenland to UCL

Rasmus Berthelsen, title page of Kaladlit Okalluktualliait, Godthåb, 1859-1863. © UCL Special Collections.

Kaladlit Okalluktualliait (1859-1863) is a multi-part work (four volumes) of Greenlandic oral folklore collected, written, illustrated, published and preserved. The organiser of this large-scale preservation project was a Danish geologist/colonial official Hinrich Rink (1819-1893). As Inspector of South Greenland, Rink requested all Greenlanders to record in writing their local legends and poems. He worked with native artists/catechists to illustrate the stories and translate the texts into Danish. Among them, Âlut Kangermio – better-known as Aron of Kangeq (1822-1869), Rasmus Berthelsen (1827-1901) and Lars Møller (1842-1924) are notable figures.

The three volumes housed in UCL Special Collections were originally owned by the Peckovers, a leading Quaker family in Wisbech, England; and donated in 1967 to Library Services by the UCL emeritus professor L. S. Penrose (1806-1974). For the last few years, the item has drawn more attention through the National Trust exhibition at Peckover House (2019), publication in Art History (Hatt, 2020) and the Liberating the Collections project at UCL Special Collections (2021).

Voices, languages and tensions in colonial Greenland

Kaladlit Okalluktualliait is a finely executed print work, including woodcut plates, many of which were hand-coloured. One example is an illustration for “The Man Not to Be Looked at by the Europeans”. In this story, an Inuk was made by his mother’s charm unbearable for European sailors to see. As no Europeans dared to look at him, the man had the freedom to steal from them. Angry sailors came to attack the man, but no one could shoot him even when he challenged them to do so.

An illustration for “The Man Not to Be Looked at by the Europeans”. Kaladlit Okalluktualliait, Godthåb, 1859-1863. © UCL Special Collections.

Winter house (Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, 1875). Courtesy of HathiTrust.

In the history of printing, Kaladlit Okalluktualliait is considered as one of early milestones of the print culture in Greenland. (Oldendow, 1953; Thisted, 2001) Rink continued to collect folktales and translated them into other languages. Among them, Danish (Eskimoiske Eventyr og Sagn, 1866) and English (Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, 1875) editions, of which copies are also held at UCL Special Collections, can be accessed via HathiTrust Digital Library. Tales and Traditions and Danish Greenland (1877) – written also by Rink – are of note, as they were richly illustrated by Âlut, Berthelsen and other indigenous artists.

Dog sledges in front of winter houses (Rink, Danish Greenland, 1877). Courtesy of HathiTrust.

Rink certainly played a central role in promoting Greenlandic cultures (see the chapter “The Greenlanders Sketched by Themselves” in Danish Greenland). However, I hesitate to call their relationships “collaboration” because of the power imbalances between Denmark and colonial Greenland. In this context, many questions arise. Who decided which folktales were to be included in the volumes? Were the artists allowed to create their works in their own ways, or did they follow Rink’s instructions? Who chose illustrations that accompanied the texts? What have been the benefits of this project for the Inuit?

As I read the relevant literature (see below for references), it becomes more clear that there are complex ambiguities between preservation and exploitation, sounds and pictures, as well as between spoken and written languages.

For instance, Hatt characterises the production of Kaladlit Okalluktualliait as a process where “[t]radition was eroded”. (2020: 313) His article helps us to critically think about:

1) transforming indigenous oral traditions to texts and images, as a result of which the stories may lose their orality (e.g. accents and vocal expressions) and get detached from the local storytelling practice;
2) translating those texts into other languages, through which cultural values and nuances may not be fully expressed or understood;
3) publishing and selling the intangible heritage of indigenous peoples as collectibles, while Inuit communities can be excluded from the life cycle of collections.

Interdisciplinary potential

As much as we appreciate the artistry of Kaladlit Okalluktualliait, we should also put these historical and ongoing tensions at the centre of our attention. By doing so, the print work can be used as a gateway to engage with indigenous oral traditions, as well as to explore and better understand how these traditions function (or stopped functioning) in Inuit societies. This item can be a meaningful part of interdisciplinary teaching, learning and research across Indigenous Studies, Postcolonial Studies, History, Literature, Arts and more.

References:

Hatt, M. (2020) ‘Picturing and counter-picturing in mid-nineteenth-century colonial Greenland’. Art History, 43(2), pp.308–335. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-8365.12498 [Accessed 4 May 2021]

Hauser, M. (1993) ‘Folk music research and folk music collecting in Greenland’, Yearbook for Traditional Music, 25, pp.136–147. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/768690?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed 30 April 2021]

Kahn, L. and Valijarvi, R. (2020) ‘The linguistic landscape of Nuuk, Greenland’, Linguistic Landscape, 6 (3), pp. 266-295. Available at: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10094235/1/Kahn_linguistic_landscape_nuuk__centrevsperiphery_final.pdf [Accessed on 30 April 2021].

McDermott, N. K. (2015) Unikkaaqtuat: traditional Inuit stories. PhD dissertation. Queen’s University. Available at: https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/12806/McDermott_Noel_K_20154_PhD.pdf.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y [Accessed on 30 April 2021].

Montenyohl, E. L. (1993) ‘Strategies for the presentation of oral traditions in print’, Oral Tradition, 8(1), pp.159–186. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/160495057.pdf [Accessed on 30 April 2021].

Oldendow, K. (1958) ‘Printing in Greenland’, Libri, 8(3-4), pp.223-262.

Petterson, C. (2012) ‘Colonialism, Racism and exceptionalism’, in: Loftsdóttir, K. and Jensen, L. (eds.) Whiteness and postcolonialism in the Nordic region: exceptionalism, migrant others and national identities. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, pp.29-41.

Thisted, K. (2001) ‘On narrative expectations: Greenlandic oral traditions about the cultural encounter between Inuit and Norsemen’, Scandinavian Studies, 73(3), pp.253–296. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40920318?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed 30 April 2021].

Community Curated Exhibition Tours Newham Libraries

By Vicky A Price, on 7 May 2021

The Outreach team at UCL Special Collections have been working hard on a new community collaboration with Newham Heritage Month – The New Curators Project. This project set out to provide 10 young people from East London the chance to develop the skills and experience needed to start a career in the cultural heritage sector. Successful applicants would receive a bursary, training from industry experts and they would create an exhibition and online event for a real-life audience as part of Newham Heritage Month in May 2021.

With funding from Foundation for Future London and UCL Culture, we ran two months of workshop featuring visiting facilitators (who delivered sessions on public history research, curatorship, digital communications and using archivers in historical research). We also worked with the cohort to devise an exhibition and online talk that used resources from (among others) Newham’s archive, UCL Special Collections and personal photography from participants. It was a whirlwind of activity, all leading to Newham Heritage Month programme this May.

While we felt confident that the partnership with Newham Heritage Month would be a hugely valuable one, and we knew the visiting facilitators would provide insightful, exciting presentations, we could not have anticipated how well the participants would work together or how good-natured and multi-talented a group they would be. It has been a pleasure to deliver.

This week, we were delighted to see the exhibition arrive at Stratford Library:

Two colourful pop-up banners stand in Stratford public library.

The first side of the travelling exhibition made by participants on The New Curators Project.

Two colourful pop-up banners stand in Stratford library.

The second side of the travelling exhibition made by participants on The New Curators Project.

The exhibition will spend the rest of May travelling to eight other public libraries in Newham, and the group will be putting on a free public talk (online) on 28th May.

This is just the beginning for The New Curators Project, as we intend to run it annually. In time, we hope to see a growing alumni of past participants finding careers in the cultural heritage sector, and perhaps delivering content on future iterations of this project!

Contributing towards providing accessible pathways into the cultural heritage sector and demystifying roles within the field can sometimes seem an insurmountable task, especially when also trying to address the current lack of diversity in the sector. However, this is a practical step that will now take pride of place in our Outreach programme at UCL Special Collections.  At the same time, the project is an opportunity to strengthen a valuable community partnership with Newham Heritage Month and Newham’s public libraries.