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Exploring Women Owners of UCL’s pre-1750 Rare Books

Erika Delbecque16 August 2021

This guest blog post was written by Dr Steph Carter, who spent six months volunteering at UCL Special Collections as part of the Liberating the Collections project

The initial phase of the ‘Liberating the Collections’ project at UCL Special Collections has begun to highlight under-represented and marginalised voices in the collections. One area of research has been women owners, contributing not only to the existing narrative of pre-1750 books in the UCL Special Collections but also to the growing scholarly interest in early modern women book owners.

Working primarily with the UCL library catalogue, 5000 provenance statements were examined for evidence of women owners and straightaway provided ample data to pursue research on the lives of these former book owners. However, research into women book owners brought to the fore the intensely acute disparity that is so common between men and women when it comes to historical documentation and searching for biographical details. Biographies of identifiable women tend to be tied into the biographies of their fathers, husbands or brothers, typically comprising little more detail than a wedding date and how many children were born. An added complication is the repeated use of the same first name through successive generations of a single family.

[Seder berakho] (Amsterdam, [1687 or 1688]), front endpaper [STRONG ROOM MOCATTA 1687 B2]

A Hebrew text from the 1680s includes the inscription ‘Rebecca Mocatta’ on the front endpaper. This is undoubtedly part of the surviving Mocatta Library, the majority of the collection having been destroyed by bombing in 1940. The Mocatta family were established in London by 1671 with the merchant and diamond broker Moses Mocatta. At his death in 1693, Moses identified a niece called Rebecca; his son Abraham later had a daughter also named Rebecca. Rebecca also continued to be an important female family name in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the book remained in the Mocatta family collection until at least the early 19th century as there are manuscript notes on the front flyleaves detailing information about births in the family between 1797 and 1809.

John Harington, Orlando furioso in English heroical verse (London, 1591), title-page [STRONG ROOM OGDEN B 2]

Of course, even with a family name it is not always possible to identify the correct lineage. The Countess of Warwick, Mary Rich (1624-1678), is a known author and book owner. She was addicted to plays and romances in her youth, so it is not ridiculous to assume that she is the author of the inscription ‘Mary Rich’ on the title-page of Sir John Harington’s 1591 translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso – the Italian poem that is a source for Much Ado About Nothing.

However, another ascription, ‘Margarit Riche’, is also present on the title-page and an inscription on p. [186] of the main text refers to a note on the marriage of Robert and Elizabeth Riche in 1616.

John Harington, Orlando furioso in English heroical verse (London, 1591), title-page [STRONG ROOM OGDEN B 2  

These details do not match with the genealogy of the Earls of Warwick, suggesting that this book may have been owned by a completely separate family and passed down through female members of that family.

Despite the limitations of researching and identifying women book owners, the Mocatta and Rich examples contribute to a growing narrative of what the editors of Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern England describe as ‘the myriad ways in which women bought, borrowed, accessed, wrote in, made, recorded, cited, and circulated books’ (p. 4). Such research on women book owners will also contribute to a broader engagement with the UCL Special Collections.

Dr Steph Carter, Associate Researcher, Newcastle University

References

Orbell, J. (2004) ‘Mocatta family (per.1671-1957), bullion dealers and brokers’, Dictionary of National Biography Online. Available at: oxforddnb.com [Accessed on 27 July 2021].
Cambers, A. Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580-1720 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 48-50.
Knight, L. and White, M. ‘The Bookscape’ in: Knight, L., White, M. and Sauer, E. (eds.) Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018, pp. 1-18.

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

Kurt M Jameson30 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.

Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize: Collecting with Intention

Sarah S Pipkin12 April 2021

The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize is an opportunity to celebrate student collectors and the diverse collections they build and nurture. Last year we wrote about how you can be a student book collector without even realising it. But what is the difference between a book collector and someone who just owns a lot of books? For us, and the judges on the Book Collecting Prize panel, the difference is collecting with intention.

What is Collecting with Intention?

Collecting anything is about building a collection of material around a common theme for a specific purpose. You could be collecting because you really love the subject, author or artist. Or it might be about raising awareness or preserving a history you believe is important. But it becomes a ‘collection’ when it forms a cohesive whole. Think of books or items that if you would give away as a unit rather than one item at a time.

The intention behind your collection can be academic or it can just be something that you are passionate about. Some of last year’s finalists collected in areas that overlapped with their studies, while the 2020 winner submitted a collection of books she had since her childhood. You can also submit material such as letters, postcards, and comic books.

It’s all well and good talking about this in the abstract, but what exactly does an intentional collection look like? Let’s look at some examples:

Vicky’s Collection of Music for the French Horn

Potential Collection Title: Milestones for a Music Student

Vicky, our Head of Outreach, has a collection of sheet music for the French horn. Her sheet music cover different milestones of a student’s journey to learning how to play the instrument. The music was primarily bought when she was learning the instrument herself as a child. None of the music in the collection are particularly rare, but some of them are now out of print.

Selected items from Vicky's music collection

Selection of sheet music from Vicky’s French Horn collection.

When Vicky started the collection, it was music that she needed to proceed to the next milestone of learning music. It wasn’t really a collection at the time – it was just the assigned sheet music for learning the French horn. However, over time she filled her books with annotations that documents her journey as a musician. This includes names of music teachers, recitals and more. They now serve as a history of her progress as a music student. Once she finished her studies, she kept the collection as a single unit. They have a certain amount of sentimental value – they represent the journey she took when learning the French Horn and remind her of the teachers and concerts that helped her along that journey. But it also represents what the musical journey of most French horn players – the music pieces that she has are very popular amongst people learning the French Horn and become more technically difficult over time. If she was to give the collection away, she’d give it to a music student at the beginning of their learning journey as, in theory, they then wouldn’t need to buy another piece of music until they finish their studies. But it’s also a collection that’s still in use. Vicky returns to old music to practice her skills and finds that the music she learned years ago is still challenging for different reasons. Why she isn’t actively adding to the collection, it serves as a physical representation of a learning journey.

Notations inside music book

Notations inside of one of Vicky’s music books.

What does this mean for you, a potential applicant to the Anthony Davis Book Prize? Books that you may have purchased over the course of learning something new, but then changed in significance to you overtime, may be a great thing to submit to the Book Prize. When looking at your collection, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does this collection represent to you?
  • What about it tells a story that I think is important?
  • What about my relationship to these items has changed that makes me think of them as a cohesive whole?

Sarah’s collection of modern science fiction and fantasy written by women

Potential Collection Title: Imagined Feminist Futures

I collect science fiction and fantasy novels written by women. These are primarily books published in the past five years, but I am also actively seeking earlier works. A few years ago I realised that despite the fact that I love the science fiction and fantasy genre, almost all of the authors I’ve read were men and the authors I had on my shelves were entirely men. So, I decided to change that by intentionally reading and buying science fiction and fantasy books authored by women. It started out as just a reading project – I read primarily library books or ebooks. But as I realised how many authors I had been ignoring, my purchasing patterns started changing as well. The moment I started seeing it as an intentional collection was when I bought a special edition of the collected Binti novellas – a series of novellas that had initially been published online but were re-issued in a physical format.

Selection of books from Sarah's collection

Selection of books from Sarah’s science fiction and fantasy collection.

As my collection has grown, it has become a reference library for suggesting authors to friends who are also looking at expanding the authors they read. It now serves as a reference library for myself and other people in my social circle. I also am more likely to buy a book by an author that I haven’t read if I believe it will fill a gap in my collection. While my collection is also dependant on the books I enjoy – part of it has been regifted to friends when I didn’t enjoy the story – there is a core set of books that I would be very reluctant to part with and serve as a representation of women’s contributions to the genre.

Book cover of Binit Collected Novellas

Binti: The Complete Trilogy. While tracking down this edition, I started to see my books as a collection.

If you, like me, started a collection to fill a knowledge gap or encourage better buying habits, these questions might help you think a bit more deeply about your own collection:

  • Why do you buy the books you buy (beyond them being required reading)?
  • Why do you buy particular editions?
  • What have you learned from building your collection?

Final Thoughts

Even though Vicky and I both collect printed material, your collection doesn’t have to be limited to printed books or sheet music. Instead, it can be a collection of letters or diaries, postcards or greeting cards. The items you collect do not have to be old or historically valuable – modern material is welcome. What we want to see in applications to the Anthony Davis Book Prize is intention and purpose. If you can tell us why these items serve as a cohesive whole and the story they tell, then you’ll be the ideal applicant to the Book Prize.

 

We are now accepting applications for the 2021 Anthony Davis Book Prize! The prize is open to all students at a London based university and applications close on 30 April 2021. For more information, visit our main page for the Anthony Davis Book Prize.

Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize: Books that built a zoo

Sarah S Pipkin16 March 2021

The 2020 winner of the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, Alexandra Plane, has written about her book collection: ‘Books that built a zoo.’

The collection which I entered for the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize brings together various editions of books by the naturalist Gerald Durrell, printed from the 1950s to the 2000s. Durrell was a pioneer of animal conservation who believed that zoos should prioritise conservation and education rather than entertainment and profits. He needed money to realise his vision, and he raised it by writing. His books proved enormously popular—particularly his humorous accounts of his childhood in Corfu, which you might have seen adapted for TV as The Durrells. However, he did not actually enjoy writing; it was a means to an end. That end was the foundation of Jersey Zoo in the Channel Islands, which continues to be a leading organisation in animal conservation today.

Image of books from the collection 'books that built a zoo'

Selection of books from Plane’s book collection.

You might be thinking that this is an odd choice for a book collection—why collect mass-market books which aren’t particularly old or rare? Why collect books by a reluctant, lowbrow author rather than his brother, the celebrated novelist Lawrence Durrell? In truth, these questions did not trouble me when I first started buying Durrell’s works. This started out as an accidental collection. By the time I discovered Durrell’s writing, many of his books had gone out of print. I began buying them simply because I wanted to read them, not out of any lofty ambitions to be a collector.

It was only later that I began to comprehend the significance and interest books have as physical objects. For example, at the back of my early mass-market paperbacks, Durrell had placed requests for donations from readers to support the work of Jersey Zoo. The evolution of these advertisements over the years reveals how vital the publication of the books was to the foundation and success of the zoo, the first of its kind in the world. In the pre-internet era, these seemingly unimportant paperbacks were able to physically convey Durrell’s appeals for aid into the hands of readers across the globe.

Applying for the prize gave me an opportunity to look anew at my bookshelf. Most of my Durrell books only cost a few pounds, but I realised that this does not mean that they are unworthy of being described as a ‘collection’. Presenting my books to the panel (made up of Anthony Davis himself as well as representatives of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, the Bibliographical Society, the Senate House Library, and UCL Special Collections) was a wonderful experience which enabled me to further expand my understanding of what it means to be a book collector.

I have since completed an MA dissertation on a nineteenth-century atlas collector, and I have just started a PhD on the library of King James VI and I. The reflective nature of the prize’s application process enabled me to tie together my own experiences of collecting with my academic work. Many of the questions I discussed with the interview panel continue to resonate in my research and book-buying, whether I’m rooting through an Oxfam bookshop or studying sixteenth-century royal libraries. If you are a student at a London university with a collection of books which you are passionate about, I would urge you to apply for this year’s prize. You might not identify with the label of ‘book collector’ now, but you may be surprised to discover that it does in fact apply to you, too!

Applications for the 2021 Anthony Davis Book Prize are open! The prize is open to all students at a London based university and applications close on 30 April 2021. For more information, visit our main page for the Anthony Davis Book Prize.

Conserving the UCL Islamic Treasures: Masnavi-I Akbar Sultan: MS Pers/1

Angela Warren-Thomas29 May 2020

UCL’s Special Collections contains UCL’s collection of historical, academic and culturally significant works.  It is one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. Included in its holdings is a collection of Islamıc manuscripts, Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan (“Romance of the Sultan Akbar”), (MS PERS/1), is one of the manuscripts in this collection.

The conservation of this manuscript was carried out by Fatma Aslanoglu, Project conservator 

Figure 1 UCL Special Collections The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan

The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan by Mír shams al-Dín Faqír Dihlavi originally written by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), is a copy of part of the Mesnevi poem collection.  Written in Persian using carbon ink and Ta’liq calligraphy, the manuscript contains a poem written for Sultan Akbar in 1749.  Bound in an Islamic style using the Lacquer technique, the book came to the conservation department because the binding was very tight, causing restricted opening and making access and handling for any purpose unsafe.

 

Figure 2 Opening limit due to tight binding

A preliminary examination of the manuscript determined that it had undergone previous repairs, the binding was now too tight compressing the textblock preventing free opening, causing distress and damage. It was decided to rebind the manuscript thus alleviating these problems, and ensure safe access to this important collection item. It appeared that during previous repairs, the original covers were reused but the leather on the spine had been replaced. Figure 2 shows the extent to which the manuscript opened without undue force.  In addition to the problems created by the spine repair, superficial dust, separation of the text block and cover, tears, and stains were noted, along with fragility of the end leaves due to the acidity present in their paper, these conditions contributed to different but significant deteriorations in the manuscript.

The first step was removing the cover from the text block.  The leather covering of the spine consisted of two pieces of leather, one attached to the left board and one attached to the right board. This is a typical characteristic of Islamic bindings and made it easier to separate the covers from the text block.  The spine leather removal was carried out using Methylcellulose to hydrate the adhesive, allowing easy mechanical removal.

Figure 3 Removing the cover and spine from the textblock

It became obvious as the removal of the binding progressed that the manuscript had not been fully disbound during the old repair. The original leather spine covering was still present under the new leather added during the repair. The sewing appeared untouched but the original primary endband sewing and endbands had been renewed.

Figure 4 Original spine residue (left) old repair primary endband thread (right)

The original leather and adhesive – probably ciris, a traditional paste made with the root of a yellow asphodel -were still preventing the manuscript from opening fully.  Using Methylcellulose, the spine was hydrated, and the residue removed.  The original spine lining, a typical characteristic of Islamic bindings, and adhesive was then removed from the text block.  After removing all the original leather adhesives and lining from the spine, the text block started to open fully.  This allowed the original sewing of the text block to be preserved.

Figure 5 Spine leather residue (left) textile lining (mid-left) residue cleaning process (mid-right) spine diagram (right)

Figure 6 Spine after residue clean

With spine cleaning complete, the tie-down sewing and endbands added during the repair were removed.  The text block had three sewing stations, in some of the gatherings; some threads were detached or broken.  New thread was attached to the existing thread and the sewing repaired using the original sewing holes.

Figure 7 textblock sewing consolidation

During the old repairs, new end papers were attached; the paper used for these is now known to be highly acidic therefore, a decision was taken to remove them from the textblock.  Fabriano paper was used to create new end leaf papers.

The original textile spine lining was not strong or wide enough to hold the text block because its width had been trimmed during the old repair.  A new textile lining was adhered to the text block with excess left along the front and back joints, for later reattachment of the boards.

Following the repair and stabilisation of the textblock spine, it was now possible to proceed with the dry cleaning of the textblock using a soft hake brush.

Paper repairs were carried out using re-moistenable Japanese tissue paper (Japico 0.02/3.8g – Using 4% (w,v) Methylcellulose).  These two processes were completed after the spine-lining repair because the spine and sewing were so sensitive to opening and closing.

Another form of paper repair undertaken was the removal of paper layers adhered to the folios from the adjacent pages.  The delaminated pieces were removed mechanically with local humidification and a spatula.  They were then reattached to their original places using 4% Methylcellulose.

Figure 8 Paper repair

The new spine lining was trimmed at the head and tail of the textblock.  An additional traditional leather core was added to the head and tail of the spine to further stabilise the structure.  The primary endbands were sewn through the spine lining.  It was decided to not re-use the endband created during the old repair.  An endband with a chevron pattern was added.

Figure 9 Primary endband (left) chevron patterned endband (right)

A barrier between the spine and the text block, using the hollow back method, was created using Japanese tissue and pasted with wheat starch paste (1:6).  This technique ensured that the manuscript would be able to open comfortably and therefore prevent any further damage to the gilded decorations present on all the pages.

 

After the textblock treatments, the boards were reattached to the text block.  The spine lining extensions were positioned within the original board layers using wheat starch paste.

Figure 11 Reattaching covers to the textblock

The spine leather was then pasted onto the hollow back present on the spine with wheat starch paste. Japanese tissue appropriately toned using Schmincke acrylics was added to the inner joint, the final process carried out to complete the conservation.

Figure 12 Attaching leather to spine (left) adding inner join with coloured Japanese tissue (right)

Working on The Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan manuscripts was a rare occasion to work on non-Western binding structures and a first-hand learning experience under the expert guidance of Fatma, for the conservators at the Conservation Department.

For more information about this manuscript please visit the UCL Special Collections page.  (https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/Book/Article/2/9/48/)

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are unfortunately unable to provide an image of the final state of conservation.  We will update this article with a photograph as soon as possible.