X Close

UCL Special Collections

Home

Updates from one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK

Menu

Archive for the 'teaching' Category

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

AngelaWarren-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 FBiggs23 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 FBiggs14 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!

Gone but not forgotten: Fred Bearman, Preservation Librarian

GillFurlong27 January 2017

Fred Bearman obituary photo

The moving piece below was written jointly by Fred’s partner, Fred himself, and Tabitha Tuckett, and has been made available for us to share here, along with the image.

Fred Bearman (13 December 1949 – 11 December 2016)

Fred Bearman was a leading educator in rare books and archives who, in a remarkable career that spanned half a century, inspired generations of conservators, librarians, archivists, students and members of the public in the UK, across Europe, in the USA and beyond.

Born in 1949 in Essex, he began his career at the age of 16 as a trainee conservator at the Public Record Office in London (now The National Archives). Taking courses on day-release at Camberwell College Of Arts and the London College Of Printing, in addition to the in-house training programme, he soon became Senior Conservator. He was to work there for 26 years, for many of which he supervised the central London conservation studio, focusing on the conservation needs of The National Archives’ pre-1800 books.

Fred’s work involved some of the UK’s most iconic manuscripts: he was part of the team that rebound Captain Bligh’s log-book from HMS Bounty, not to mention the conservation of Magna Carta, and he was presented to HRH Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his work on the Domesday Book for its 900th anniversary. He also began, at The National Archives, to demonstrate the skills as a leader and communicator that were to distinguish his later career: he devised a new conservation-training programme, and set up a survey of historic book-bindings and book-structures, the result of which was the establishment of a handling and preservation policy for The National Archives.

From 1990 Fred acted as Preservation Advisor to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. There he conserved the Folger’s renowned collection of Shakespeare’s first folios (all 92 of them), and catalogued many of the library’s fine bindings, work that culminated in his co-curating a significant exhibition and co-authoring its catalogue.

In 1992 he moved to the USA full-time as Head of Conservation and Collections Care at Columbia University Libraries, New York, where he took responsibility for conservation across all twenty-nine of the University’s libraries, and was also involved in a major conservation project of early bibles and the historic Hussite Gradual Hussitussite graduat Chelsea Theological Seminary, NY, as well as acting as consultant for Christie’s and many other organisations.

Returning to the UK in 1997, Fred Bearman became Director Of Conservation at Camberwell College Of Arts. As Course Director for BA and MA courses, his authoritative but warm and encouraging teaching style inspired a new generation of book conservators in the UK, as it had earlier at The National Archives and in the USA. He was to maintain his links with fresh intakes of Camberwell conservation students for the rest of his career.

It was during this period that Fred established the preservation programme for the library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt, the world’s oldest continuously operating library, work that Nicholas Pickwoad subsequently took on. Fred was also engaged as a preservation adviser to several EU-funded projects, including at Mekerere University Library and Archive Collections in Kampala, Uganda. There, in addition to giving advice, he provided on-site training for staff. Back in the UK, Fred maintained a serious commitment to supporting training in the profession, and became Assessor for the Professional Accreditation for Conservator-Restorers (PACR) of Icon, the Institute of Conservation.

He also maintained his work at the bench. From 2004 until 2006, he worked as Rare-Book Conservator in the Book & Paper Conservation Studio, Dundee University Library, treating material of great international significance that came into the studio from libraries, archives and private collections across the UK. Fred also worked with book conservator Lizzy Neville at her Kentish Town studio, acted as consultant on the Iveagh Bequest at English Heritage’s Kenwood House in London and for the library of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and worked as Head Of Conservation at Shepherds in London, one of the oldest bookbinding companies in England.

In 2007 Fred moved to University College London as Preservation Librarian across the University’s many libraries. These included one of the foremost university collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives in the south of England, and Fred spent the rest of his life researching, teaching and writing on these historic collections, while managing the Library Services’ preservation and conservation needs. The latter included the move of over 600,000 rare items into temporary storage at The National Archives to facilitate building plans. This project illustrated Fred’s prodigious gifts as a natural leader and communicator: only he could have persuaded over 100 volunteers that wrapping seemingly endless quantities of books in archival paper – a requirement of the move – was both important and a privilege. And he did so with such fascinating insights into the unique historical collections being wrapped, and took such an interest in everyone working on the project, that it inspired career decisions and a love of rare books in many of those volunteers. It was while at UCL, close to his 65th birthday, that he was diagnosed with the cancer from which he died in December 2016.

Fred Bearman was both a naturally gifted public speaker and a superb teacher, having the ability to turn any apparently stuffy or arcane field into an exciting and accessible subject, whether lecturing for the National Archives in Washington, USA and the Bibliographical Society of the UK, or teaching early-profession conservation students at West Dean College and guiding undergraduates at UCL in their first ever encounter with a medieval book. His own outstanding achievements, combined with his refusal to be restricted by his dyslexia and partial deafness, inspired confidence in students and colleagues dealing with their own adversities.

Sometimes Fred compared teaching to performing. Indeed, in his youth he showed a remarkable ability as a performer of early dance, ranging with ease from the medieval period to the eighteenth century. As a young man he worked as a dancer for Nonesuch Dance Group and the Renaissance Dance Company, both associated with the early-music revival of the 1970s, and helped run workshops in early dance for schoolchildren in some of the most challenging inner-city schools under the auspices of the former Inner London Education Authority.

His skill in linking the historical context in which books were made with a professional’s understanding of their physical construction, together with having the courage to ask deceptively simple but entirely new questions, led to ground-breaking publications such as those on girdle books and chemise bindings, and on laced overbands and stationery bindings. He had a keen sense of wit, but also a remarkably down-to-earth ability to hit the proverbial scholarly nail on the head.

Fred had a great love of Classical music, stretching from Bach to the Romantics and beyond, with a particular passion for Beethoven. He was a keen gastronome, an ardent museum-goer, and a staunch socialist and trade unionist. His warmth and generosity in encouraging those around him to fulfil their own talents, while reminding them to enjoy every minute of it, will be sorely missed. He is survived by his partner of four decades, the modern-art historian and preeminent scholar of Abstract Expressionism, Dr. David Anfam.

 

 

 

 

 

A typical school? Introducing undergraduates to the archive

Helen FBiggs26 January 2017

What was a typical school in 1914?

In a two-hour “Introduction to Archives” session earlier this term, first year students from the Education Studies BA at UCL Institute of Education studied a range of documents from the IOE Archives, to see what they could discover about schools in Britain before and after World War One.

Which archival materials best represent the education system during this time? Photographs from Regent’s Park Open Air School, showing students and teachers learning and teaching strictly outside the classroom? The Newcastle Upon Tyne Boys’ Industrial School dietary schedule, offering delectable meals like bread and dripping? Or a Girls Day School Trust admission register, carefully noting the occupations of pupils’ fathers – diplomats, doctors, and gentlemen?

These examples lead to just one inevitable deduction – that there was no such thing as a “typical” school – and that it’s very important to consult a range of archive resources before leaping to a conclusion!

The need for this “triangulation” of resources was again emphasised with in-depth look at the Baines Archive, which charts the work of George and Judith Baines at the very progressive Eynsham County Primary School from the 1960s to the 1980s. Students were asked not just to consider what is in the archive, but what isn’t there. Does the material that survives tell a particular story? Who decided that this was the story that should be told – and why?

The archivist-led “Introduction to Archives” tutorial runs annually as part of the Education Studies BA programme, and is integral to students learning how and why they should be using archival resources in their own work. Since the class’s inception in 2013, the number of IOE students using the IOE library’s archives and special collections has more than doubled, showing that these students do see real value in using original historical documents in their research and assignments.