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‘Very coarse articles’ – celebrating UCL’s institutional archive

Colin Penman8 February 2022

February 11 is generally accepted as UCL’s ‘birthday’, the date in 1826 of our founding instrument, the Deed of Settlement. This document establishes a society, called ‘The Proprietors of the University of London’, to set up an Institution with the object of ‘affording to young Men … adequate opportunities for obtaining Literary and Scientific Education at a moderate expence’. That’s exactly what our founders did, disregarding a very snooty letter to The Times on 2 November 1825, which suggested ‘There should be something of a prohibitive duty in the way of expense, to prevent the admission of very coarse articles’.

UCLCA/1, Deed of Settlement

This is an image of the first page of the Deed of Settlement, held in the UCL institutional archive, which I manage. This archive is of course just one part of Special Collections, but I want to use this anniversary to bang our drum or blow our trumpet (or both).

When those who know us think of our Special Collections, they may not think first of the archives of UCL itself: after all, we have other, flagship collections which rightly claim a lot of scholarly and popular attention. But I’d argue that our own archive is not only worthy of some of that attention, it’s vital to UCL’s understanding of itself, and the way we present ourselves to the world.

For a start, it can be a useful corrective to the stories we tell about UCL. For example, for a long time you could read on our website and social media that UCL was ‘the first university in England to admit women on equal terms with men’. You rarely see that claim now, because it simply isn’t true. It’s a lot more interesting than that, and you can trace the complex truth in the College archive through items like the College Calendars, which tell us:

College Collection A 3.2, p. 2

That is, if you were a prospective student in the second half of the 19th century and happened to be a woman (and not connected to a man at the top of the institution), you needed the approval of the Lady Superintendent of Women Students. Similarly, a look at plans of the Wilkins building from this time shows separate spaces for women, with the Union Society (men only) on the left, and women’s space on the right, in the South Wing:

College Collection A 3.2

and the archives of the Women’s Union Society (WUS) attest to a separation of male and female students that lasted right up to 1946.

The archive is also increasingly used as a resource in UCL’s teaching. This term we are taking part in the Institute of Education’s Worlds of UCL module, which uses the history of UCL and the Institute to explore topics in the history of education. Last week, students were using items from the archive – specifically a blazer, medals and magazines – to think about student culture and identity, and how these have evolved over time.

Last term, we contributed to the Bartlett School’s Architecture & Historic Urban Environments MA module on Surveying and Recording of Cities, using our building plans, like this, one of Thomas Hayter Lewis’s plans for the South Wing of the Wilkins Building,

UCLCA PLANS D5

as well as a remarkable document with the prosaic title of ‘Analysis of Plans’. It was the Bartlett’s Dr Amy Spencer, who has just completed her PhD on UCL’s architectural history, who pointed out the significance of this item, slightly unnoticed in our vast collection of College Correspondence. It is in fact a comparison of the bids received (around the time of the Deed of Settlement, in early 1826) for the building for the new university. Due to its significance, and to make it safer to handle and display, we decided to ask our wonderful conservators to stabilise it for the future. Now it has a new enclosure of its own, and will be stored flat, instead of being folded four times:

UCLCA/CORR/1167/15

These are just a few examples of how we’re getting the archive out there, and developing it for the future. Much more cataloguing is needed, and we’re working on that, but we also have a wealth of digitised material which is so vital in research and teaching support, particularly throughout Covid lockdowns, when nobody could access the collections physically. For this, we have to thank our Special Collections digital curation colleagues, and UCL Educational Media Services.

Meanwhile, the archive is being developed in innovative ways. Although we occasionally accept donations from people formerly connected with UCL, the vast majority of the archive consists of the administrative records that you would expect to find in any large educational establishment – minutes, correspondence, registers and so on. These are vital to our understanding of the story of UCL. But with the records of individuals, we can include voices that are missing from that story. If you were a student or staff member at the Slade School, for example, there’s still time to send something to Slade 150: Letters to the Archive. And the Generation UCL project will make a more wide-ranging contribution as a record of recent student life in London.

After all, our 200th birthday is only four years away!

To learn more about UCL Records, check out our main page.

Results announced for Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize 2020

Tabitha Tuckett9 July 2020

Books on shelves

The winner – Alexandra Plane – and six other finalists have been announced for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, which aims to encourage students at an early stage of collecting physical books, manuscripts and printed material.

The competition is open to any student studying for a degree at a London-based university, and this year received a record-breaking 64 applications – the largest number in the prize’s history. Universities represented included Birkbeck, Queen Mary University of London, Goldsmiths, SOAS, King’s College London, and UCL which hosted the prize for the first time this year.

Collectors under lockdown

Despite the pandemic, students applied from wherever they found themselves during lockdown, from Norway to Texas, Bulgaria to China, Vienna to North Wales, with many applicants unexpectedly reunited with, or separated from, their collections.

The range of collection themes was similarly wide, from Singaporean debut poets to Slovakian Beat poetry, Norfolk history to a 20th-century novelist who used eight different pseudonyms, photobooks and queer manga to bilingual parallel texts and women’s genealogical health.

Finding the collectors of the future

The guidelines of the competition specify that ‘the intention is to encourage collecting and we expect that applicants’ collections will be embryonic, so their size, age and value are irrelevant. What is much more important is the enthusiasm and commitment of the collector, the interest of the theme and the vision of how the collection will be developed’. But selecting a winner from so many applicants was a challenge.

After a process of longlisting, shortlisting and interviews, the judges have chosen Alexandra Plane for ‘Books that built a zoo’: her collection of works by Gerald Durrell. Alexandra is studying for an MA in Library And Information Studies at UCL.

The other finalists were:

  • Imogen Grubin for her collection of early 20th-century editions of Victorian literature
  • Blake Harrison who collects material on James Joyce’s Ulysses
  • Jiayue Liu for a collection of early 20th-century English Private Press editions
  • Naomi Oppenheim who collects editions produced by Black British publishers in the mid 20th century
  • Bori Papp for her collection of Hungarian translations of English literature illustrated by the artist Piroska Szántó
  • Kit Rooney for a collection of hand-written inscriptions in books.

See the finalists present their collections online

Join us for this summer’s UCL Rare-Books Club Online, every Tuesday lunchtime, to hear the winner and finalists discuss their collections and present some of their books, starting on 14 July with Alexandra Plane, introduced by Anthony Davis.

Judges

The judges included representatives of the UK’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, the UK’s Bibliographical Society, and Senate House Library who hosted the prize last year, as well as UCL Special Collections.

For the Special Collections team, it was also a great pleasure to collaborate this year with the founder of the prize, Anthony Davis, and to share his inspiring enthusiasm for books and collecting with the students. We hope many of them will continue to develop and cherish their collections long into the future.

 

 

Transparency can be tricky. Conserving UCL’s iconic buildings plans and drawings.

Angela Warren-Thomas29 June 2018

Written by Laurent Cruveillier on June 29, 2018

The College Plans, belonging to the Records Office Collections within UCL Special Collections, Archives and Records Department, are housed in part at the National Archives and in part at UCL. They are architectural plans and drawings of several landmarks of the UCL campus, such as the Cruciform, the Rockefeller Building of the “New” Chemistry building.

If most of these plans and drawings, dating from the end of the 19th and early 20th century are in stable condition, some show conservation pathologies that prevent their usage by students, scholars or the public, or would impede their handling for digitization and cataloguing purposes.

They present naturally occurring conditions in working documents, such as pin holes, folds, dirt and smudges, creases… but these objects are also often torn, cockled, warped, and bear historic repairs, many of which are made with pressure-sensitive adhesive tape that needs to be removed. Those conditions are worsened by the fact that most paper substrates are brittle, particularly the different kinds of tracing paper.

A conservation campaign was then launched to stabilize as many records as possible. The work started with surveying 485 items of the collection, and identifying the unstable ones.

The plans and drawings were prioritized according to their state and their relevance for the curators of the collection, and were treated according to a protocol aiming at stabilizing them with minimal intervention:

  • Setting of tears using wheat starch paste
  • Repairs and consolidation of regular paper objects using different thicknesses of remoistenable repair tissue prepared with wheat starch paste and methylcellulose.
    Some of the tissue was toned with black acrylic paint for the repairs over black media on the recto of objects.
  • Repair and consolidation of tracing paper using remoistenable tissue prepared with Isinglass: a fine protein adhesive prepared using swim bladders of sturgeon fishes.
  • Adhesive removal using poultices prepared with methylcellulose and ethanol, or heated spatulas and other solvents.
  • Structural infills
  • Photographic and written documentation:
    Condition and treatment records
  • Housing in polyester pockets.

These interventions were carried out by paper conservators at UCL Special Collections Conservation Department, and also involved the participation of UAL – Camberwell College MA Conservation intern students, who were given the opportunity to add working collection objects treatments to their portfolios while learning and practicing different techniques, such as preparing Isinglass, removing adhesives or repairing tracing paper.

Priority was given to stability for handli

ng purposes, also respecting the nature of each substrate. For instance, repairs on tracing paper were done with extremely thin tissues to avoid being visible by transparency. Due to their aesthetical value, some objects were nevertheless given extra care, with the usage of toned tissues for repairs and infills. One plan with a large lacuna even received an infill digitally produced to minimize the visual impact of interrupted lines.

In the images, one can see the detail of record Ref. Nº ROC 86, a drawing for a decorative swag of the Board Room in the Rockefeller building before and after conservation. It was extremely rewarding for the conservators to discover that the ornament was still in place. As recommended in writing on the May 1907 document, the sculptor hadn’t “adhered” exactly to the drawing, but his execution of the motif still allowed super-imposing the final result with architect J. Carmichael’s vision.

‘The Lover’s Confession’: students research Confessio Amantis fragment

Helen Biggs23 April 2018

This post contributed by Calum Cockburn and Lauren Rozenberg.

On the 8th and 9th December 2017, UCL Special Collections hosted the third workshop in the Digital Editing and the Medieval Manuscript Fragment series (DEMMF), organised and taught jointly by UCL and Yale postgraduates students to twelve graduate students (the majority of whom are UCL-based).

The workshop began with a lecture on UCL’s manuscript fragment collection and a handling session held at the Institute of Education library led by Katy Makin (UCL Library Services). A huge variety of materials was on on display, including a leaf from a music manuscript, once thought to have been used as a binding for an Early Modern book; a thirteenth-century breviary with a charming inhabited initial; a Hebrew papyrus from the Book of Genesis; and a tiny piece of parchment with lines from Euripides’ Medea. Examining these materials, the participants were introduced to the unique and complex challenges literary scholars and digital editors face in creating literary editions from medieval manuscript fragments, fragments that often vary considerably in size and shape, in the legibility of their scripts and hands, in the nature of their decoration and layout, and the amount of damage they have sustained during their different lifetimes.

The students examining the the Confessio Amantis fragment.

The ultimate aim of this workshop was the collaborative transcription, encoding and publishing of a digital edition of a four-leaf fragment of the Confessio Amantis ‘the Lover’s Confession’ (MS FRAG / ANGL / 1), dated from the fifteenth-century and now housed in UCL Special Collections. This poem is a 33,000-line Middle English work by John Gower (d. 1408), a contemporary of Chaucer (d. 1400), whose compositions were particularly popular during the late medieval period. This text alone survives in 59 copies, one of the most copied manuscripts that survives to us, alongside the Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman, written by William Langland (d. 1386). The Confessio uses the confession by an ageing love to the chaplain of Venus as the framework for a long series of shorter narrative poems, linked thematically by each of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. UCL’s fragment is unique in the collection in that its four leaves were given their own brand new binding at the turn of the twentieth century. It originates from Book V of the poem, concerning Avarice.

 

Two details from MS FRAG / ANGL / 1

To aid them in the creation of their edition of this text, the graduate students took part in a series of discussions and exercises concerning the palaeography and codicology of fragments, digital editing and TEI markup, the use of XML editing tools, most notably oXygen software, and project-based collaboration in the digital arena. Subsequent sessions across the two-day event focused on the teaching of common markup languages and the Text Encoding Initiative.
Subsequently, this expertise was used to mark-up and encode UCL Special Collections’ Confessio Amantis. The fragment itself reflects issues frequently encountered by digital editors of manuscripts and fragments. Most significantly, the fragment’s leaves are actually bound in the wrong order, an observation unrecorded in the manuscript catalogue itself.

Students and instructors examining the Confessio Amantis fragment and discussing its features.

The first folio ranges from lines 775 to 966 of Bk. V while the second one jumps to line 1735 continuing to 1926, before returning to lines 1159 to 1541 over the last two folios. Additionally, the fragment includes numerous small illuminated initials and marginal Latin glosses, separate from the main body of the text, and this raised questions across the weekend as to what the workshop participants should mark up and thus include in their edition itself. Such issues prompted the students to think about the nature of the text and the materiality of medieval manuscripts, and to consider fragments as objects rather than simply illustrated books.

Special Collections provided invaluable high definition images of the fragments. This helped students to prepare their own transcriptions of each manuscript page, and in addition better grasp the necessity for scholars of medieval manuscripts in the digital age. Digital reproductions can indeed alter our experience of the text in different and unforeseen ways. The finished digital edition of our own fragment will be published online at the end of this year, accompanying an edition of another item in Special Collections, a medical manuscript (MS / Lat / 7), transcribed and encoded during a similar workshop that took place during the summer.

The December workshop was made possible thanks to the support of UCL Doctoral School, the Octagon Small Grant Fund, the UCL English Department and Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Music Library. We’re especially grateful to Katy Makin (UCL Special Collections Archivist), for allowing us access to the fragment collection and assembling these materials on the day, and to Dr. Alex Lee (UCL SELCS), for all her palaeographic expertise and help in the transcription of the document itself.

The DEMMF workshop was coordinated by Dana Kovarik (UCL PGR English). The team of instructors included Ph.D. students from a number of different departments and institutions. From UCL’s Arts & Humanities and Social & Historical Sciences faculties: Calum Cockburn (UCL PGR English), Lauren Rozenberg (UCL PGR History of Art), Agata Zielinska (UCL PGR History). From Yale University: Gina Marie Hurley (Yale PGR Medieval Studies) and Mireille Pardon (Yale PGR) as well as Stephanie Azzarello from Cambridge University (Pembroke College, History of Art).

Advent Definitions: Archives, age, and the school nativity play

Helen Biggs14 December 2017

“Nativity”, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES DYC 1748: Dyche, A new general English dictionary (London, 1748)

A substantial amount of Special Collections’ work is in teaching and teaching support across a broad range of subjects: classics, law, library studies, architecture, history, maths – the list goes on. Sometimes this is a single class on using historical and primary materials, but this may also be a series of sessions, as with the Archival Research and Oral History in Education (AROHE) module, taught at UCL Institute of Education.

This year AROHE students have explored the topics of international education, special educational needs, progressive education and multi-racial education, using items from Newsam Archives, to focus on areas like visual sources, curriculum, biography and learners’ voices.

One of the visual sources picked out by students was this photo from the Amelia Fysh collection:

©UCL Institute of Education Archives [AF/1/3/A/25]

Although they weren’t given any contextual or identifying information about the photography, it was immediately recognised as a school nativity play. Mary, Joseph and chorus of angels were all correctly identified, and after some discussion, so were the Three Wise Men and the shepherds. (The shepherds are very well dressed; fortuitously, the Three Wise Men can be distinguished by their crowns.)

However, when it came to dating the photograph, the students came somewhat unstuck. The wearing of costumes make it impossible to use fashion to estimate when the photograph was taken, and likewise most of the children’s heads are covered, so nor can their hair styles be used as a guide. In the end, it was suggested that the photo was probably “old”, because it was black and white.

This gave me something of a shock. Not the assertion itself; it may have been a little misguided (black and white film is still in use today, not to mention the black and white or sepia filters of digital photography!) but learning how to draw on others’ research, context clues and our own personal knowledge to understand objects is at the very heart of using archive materials. No – what stunned me was the realisation that many of today’s students are too young to recognise the product of a 1990’s style black-and-white photocopier…

In case you’re wondering – the image is from a booklet from Beech Green Nursery School, featuring photos from 1956-1973 (the booklet itself was created in 2002). Whether you think this can be considered “old” or not is up to you – although colour photography was definitely around by the 1950’s!