By Nazlin Bhimani, on 23 August 2019
Often there is more than research inside the books we read. Bookmarks, train tickets, receipts, and menus tucked into pages offer clues about the life of the book itself.
Yet the lives of our research material often go unmarked, lost between the gaps in disciplinary boundaries and narrow definitions. The biographies of books and documents can illuminate their contexts, as printed matter that is sold, passed down or abandoned. What happens when we consider the three moments of production, transmission, and reception together with our own research stories? Documents, like people, have births, lives, and even deaths, so what does it mean to investigate the biographies of texts, objects, and archival records? Beyond the formal roles of cataloguing and archiving, what part do researchers play in shaping the emergent archive?
This is not strictly an intellectual history, nor even a material book history, but something more like a social history of ideas, inspired by work such as Antoinette Burton’s discussions of Archive Stories (Duke University Press, 2005), Arlette Farge’s reflection on the Allure of the Archives (Yale University Press, 2013), Lisa Jardine’s discussion of Temptation in the Archives (UCL Press, 2015), and Ann Laura Stoler’s call to read Along the Archival Grain (Princeton University Press, 2009). Indeed, the stories of our research material evolve significantly over their life cycles, as Arjun Appadurai outlined in The Social Life of Things (Cambridge University Press, 1986). Beyond commodities and value, however, this new publication seeks to consider our affective relationship with research material, juxtaposing critical histories with reflections on practice.
The editorial board invite contributors to submit papers to be published in a BOOC (Book as Open Online Content), a fully open access platform with UCL Press described as “a living book”. We are interested in a broad geographical and chronological scope and actively welcome a diverse range of topics and authors.
We will look to publish material in four streams, which will allow us to set fully REF compliant academic work alongside work produced by practitioners for their professional development:
- Research Stories (8-10,000 words): We are encouraging a focus on research stories to invite a more reflective methodology, offering a more inclusive and engaged commentary on the work involved in researching, ordering, and preserving the past. This section will consist of double-blind peer-reviewed academic articles.
- Co-Production (flexible word count): Outputs from projects in which non-academic, undergraduate and taught postgraduate audiences collaborate with others (collection professions, academics, members of the public etc) to create new work that is based on research collections.
- Collection Profiles (500 words): This stream consists of shorter, descriptive or even narrative pieces, that highlights items or collections of interest. This may be a prelude to a piece of in-depth research, but it does not necessarily need to be.
- Engagement (2,000 words): Reflective pieces that focus on a broad range of engagement activities, from the professional’s perspective. These can be case studies, or ‘think pieces’ on particular skills or techniques. They should inform professional practice.
Please send in proposals for publications in these streams, along with a brief biographical presentation.
Deadline for submissions is 31st January 2020. For further information, please contact the lead editor, Dr Andrew WM Smith (University of Chichester) – firstname.lastname@example.org
By Helen F Biggs, on 13 August 2019
While many of our colleagues have been enjoying (much deserved!) holidays over the past few months, it has been business as usual for UCL Special Collections’ outreach team. We have been lucky this year to be able to offer not one, but two summer schools for secondary school students, both taking their inspiration from our amazing Small Press Collection.
Protest in Print: Year 12 Non-residential Summer School (funded by Widening Participation)
This week-long summer school was co-led by artist David Blackmore, 2018-19 Honorary Research Associate at the Slade. The project aimed to give participants an opportunity to explore the ways in which artists, activists and writers have used and continue to use print to communicate a message of protest or political activism. David was already familiar with much of the protest material in our Little Magazines collection, having taken part in the 2019 Small Press Project, Visions of Protest. With his encouragement, our students were quick to outline the many issues that they believe are worth drawing more attention to (including mental health, Islamophobia, the Extradition Bill in Hong Kong, and data protection) and staged their own demonstration on UCL’s Portico steps.
Our students then spent some time immersing themselves in archival and print collections, exploring ways in which some marginalised voices have found platforms in small press and self-published works. As well as viewing some of the wide range of titles held in Little Magazines, curated for them by Liz Lawes, they visited the May Day Rooms on Fleet Street, and had a tour of the Bishopsgate Institute Archives.
Putting their newfound knowledge into action, each of our students then created a work of art, using collage that incorporated copies of items they’d seen, and screen printing taught and facilitated by the Slade’s Lesley Sharpe.
The week ended with a ‘soft crit’ of their work, and a well-attended public exhibition. While many of our students had arrived anxious that they weren’t ‘art students’, they all showed a remarkable amount of skill and creativity, and a real passion to explain what was important to them through the medium of print.
Paper, Press, Print: East Education Summer School
With barely a pause to breathe, we launched straight into our second summer school, a free three-day course based at UCL Here East, as part of the Olympic Park’s education programme for local 13-to-16 year olds. It was wonderful to be able to host our project at UCL’s own campus at Here East, where our colleagues made both us and our students feel welcome.
We were once again looking at protest in print, but with a different twist: this time, we focused on the ‘grassroots’ nature of many of the magazines in our Small Press collection, and invited Lu Williams of Grrrl Zine Fair to run a zine-making workshop. While our students differed in ages and abilities, they were all able to use photography, collage, block printing and a photocopier to create their own zines, allowing them to disseminate their ideas almost instantly.
And if that wasn’t enough…
…we’ve had plenty of other workshops to keep us busy! This year Sarah Hutton of UCL Culture invited us to take part in her Year 8 and Year 12 summer schools, both of which saw us discussing morality through 19th Century scientific archives and 16th Century religious texts, and July’s Paper Trails Conference was followed by a two-day workshop for Year 12s from Newham Collegiate Sixth Form College, led by Andrew Smith, on how to use primary sources in history research.
We will shortly be looking ahead to the new school and academic year – but first, we’ll finally be taking a well-earned summer holiday of our own!
By Isabelle Reynolds-Logue, on 18 July 2019
In my last post I explained what I have been up to for the last 9 months as the Bridging the Digital Gap trainee at UCL. Now, I will show you some of my favourite digitisation projects so far…
The UCL College Collection
The UCL College Collection contains, among other things, photographs of the exterior and interior of UCL buildings.
The Little Magazines Collection
The Little Magazines Collection was set up in 1964 to gather together little magazines from the UK, North America, Commonwealth and Europe. We have defined Little Magazines as “those which publish creative, often innovative work, with little or no regard for commercial gain.” You can learn more about the collection here.
I worked on a joint project with Dr. Maria Kiladi to digitise the Jewish Pamphlets Collection.
One challenge with these was that some pamphlets were read from right to left, when in Hebrew, as opposed to ones written in English. Another challenge was that I am unable to read Hebrew, so with pages entirely in Hebrew it was not easy to know which way round they were supposed to be. Additionally, the pages containing Hebrew characters were automatically rotated by the OCR software when generating PDFs, so I had to manually go through these and change them individually.
The entire collection can be found in our digital collections repository.
Again working alongside Maria, we digitised material that was going to be on display for the exhibition, ‘From Small Library Beginnings: a brief history of UCL Library Services.’ The photographs are online but were also printed in the exhibition catalogue. You can see more items from the exhibition online.
Dante’s Divine Comedy
This copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy features illustrations that go across a double page spread. This is not straightforward to capture with one camera pointing down towards the item, as the print is not flat, and cannot be made flat. There was also a problem of shadow appearing in the centre along the gutter. In order to capture the print as best I could, I ended up taking two separate images, on of each side of the book so that there is even illumination, and merging them in Photoshop.
You can read more about this item here.
Slade Archive Reader
Finally, the Slade Archive Reader is now available as four fully digitised, searchable PDFs, which you can view here.
My first thought was, why, if this is a printed, word processed document, do we not have a digital copy already? Unfortunately this is often the case with older word processed material. So, we have the task of re-digitising something that was already digital! Once we began looking at the volumes, it was clear that digitising the Slade Archive Reader would not be without its fair share of challenges. Primarily, the four volumes are bound quite tightly, which made it hard for me to keep the pages flat when photographing them. This curvature of the pages leads to a distortion of the text, which in turn makes it difficult for the OCR software to pick up.
You can browse all of our digital collections online here.
UCL Special Collections is committed to making digitised content available online. Although every effort has been made to identify and contact rights holders, we recognise that sometimes material published online may be in breach of copyright laws, contain sensitive personal data, or include content that may be regarded as obscene or defamatory.
If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material on our Digital Collections repository for which you have not given permission, or that is not covered by a limitation or exception in national law, please contact us at email@example.com
By Isabelle Reynolds-Logue, on 16 July 2019
I joined UCL in October 2018 as the Bridging the Digital Gap trainee from The National Archives. I have been learning about all things digital in relation to archives, working with UCL’s Special Collections and the Institute of Education archives. In order for me to produce meaningful work with the material, I first needed to understand a bit more about archive repositories and what they contain. As part of my training, The National Archives runs a Moodle course where I have learned about archives, records and repositories, as well as about a key problem facing holders of archives today: digital preservation.
My work so far has ranged from cataloguing to digitising material. A key part of my work at UCL has been digitisation. I photograph or scan original items so that they can be put online and be made more accessible to a wider audience. In addition to accessibility, digitisation aids in preservation. The copies of the original items generated through digitisation are archived so that we have a digital version in case anything happens to the original, or if, for example, it becomes too fragile for readers to view in person.
Most of the time I use a Canon EOS5D camera alongside a Kaiser RS1 copy stand and lights for digitisation. For some material I use an Epson12000XL flatbed scanner. Some items cannot be completely flattened for scanning, for example rare books, as this would cause severe damage to the item. In these cases, I will always use the camera and copy stand. In digitisation, we aim to get the most true to life image of the item whilst handling and moving the item as little as possible, in order to cause the least damage or deterioration to it. As digitisation requires handling and placing items in particular ways, we must liaise with the conservation team prior to digitisation, to make sure the item is in a suitable condition to be used. If an item is badly torn, falling apart, or very dirty, for example, it would have to be conserved before digitisation.
Once all of this is sorted out, I capture the photographs in RAW before editing them in Adobe Photoshop and saving them as high quality TIFF files for archiving, and JP2 files for use online. For some items with text, it is possible to use OCR software such as Nuance to generate searchable PDFs. However, some text proves too tricky for the software to pick up, for example unusual fonts or handwriting, so we don’t use it every time. However, we have begun to work with the OCR for handwriting software, Transkribus, so watch this space!
Now that you have an overview of what I have been up to, stay tuned for the next post where I will show you some of my favourite projects so far…
By Erika Delbecque, on 5 July 2019
This blog post was written by Patricia Jager, an MA student at the Institute of Archaeology who is currently volunteering with UCL Special Collections. She is compiling a list of our 1914-18 collection, with the aim of making this uncatalogued material available for teaching, events and research.
Today we have become used to annoyed social media posts popping up on our feeds from friends, family and random people we once met on holiday. They cover a wide range of political issues and pet peeves that can be funny, inspiring or infuriating depending on which side of the issue you are on. From the perspective of future archaeologists and cultural heritage managers, the internet offers an unprecedented window into current issues on a global level.
However, venting one’s frustration on media platforms does not seem to be an entirely contemporary concept. While listing ‘The British campaign in France and Flanders 1914’ by Arthur Conan Doyle from the 1914-18 collection at UCL Special Collections, I stumbled across a newspaper cut-out from January 5th, 1931 that one of the previous owners must have left behind. While this excerpt was doubtlessly chosen for the main article, it accidentally helped some letters to the editor survive.
They caught my eye because one of them regarded Central London traffic, which apparently was already horrible more than 80 years ago. When comparing the original letter to most of the digital commentary I encounter on social media every day, I was struck by its polite tone that is definitely a thing of the past. If one would use such a comparison to infer the difference between past and current populations, one would believe that our manners had progressively deteriorated over time.
The actual difference between past and modern, however, might be the result of biases. The internet allows us all to act simultaneously as authors and publishers of our written work. Letters to the editor, on the other hand, are selected by the newspaper agency and must abide by certain standards. Anyone, no matter their background, social status or level of education can leave commentary on social media platforms meaning a true variety of opinions are represented and available to future historians. However, how all this data could be archived, catalogued and studied is a question that cannot yet be fully answered, and I doubt that most of us consider what researchers might think about the opinions we share online in a hundred years’ time.
Probably, Charles J. Adams, the author of the letter I found by sheer accident would never have imagined his work published in a completely new medium nearly a hundred years later, especially because it seems like no politician ever read or implemented his sensible proposal. Consequently, letters to the editor and social media rants have at least one thing in common: they are being perpetually ignored by those in charge.