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Love poems, strange tales, and microscopes: creative writing with First Story

Helen Biggs29 March 2017

One of the annual highlights of SCAR’s outreach work is our participation in First Story’s Creative Writing Day, which this year saw almost 100 pupils from six London schools descend upon UCL’s museums and library collections to attend workshops run by professional writers.

In late February, poet Miriam Nash ran a session for 17 students from St Mary’s and St John’s CE School, exploring how books interact with our five senses, and inspiring participants to create new pieces of writing based on their interactions with rare books and manuscripts from Special Collections.

While the books on offer included Hooke’s Micrographia and an emblem book formerly owned by Ben Jonson, it was the 1493 Liber chronicarum which really caught the visitors’ attention. Better known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, the encyclopaedia-like book mingles legend, religion and fact to present a historical narrative which is very different from any that we’re familiar with today. This led students to pose the philosophical question: was the writer of the Nuremberg Chronicle lying, if he really believed the myths he wrote about were true?

Learning about the strange creatures described in the Nuremberg Chronicles

Learning about the strange creatures described in the Nuremberg Chronicles

Attitudes on the day ranged from quietly interested to loudly enthused, with students enjoying both the chance to see these rare items up close and to write and share their own work. Or, as one attendee put it,

It was very entertaining and areas of my brain I never knew existed before were unlocked today! I loved it!”

It was easy to be impressed with what the pupils produced: stories about strange creatures with feet for heads, poetry offering soberingly mature love advice, and writing that went into microscopic details.  While the day may have aimed to motivate young people with objects they had never seen before, the talent and intelligence of these young authors was in itself inspiring to the library staff in attendance.

First Story works to nurture the creative writing skills of young people by linking schools in low-income areas with professional writers, to help pupils discover and foster their talents.

Rare editions of Dante from UCL Special Collections on display

Helen Biggs17 March 2017

Rare editions of Dante from UCL Special Collections

Monday 27 March 5.30pm

The Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, WC1H 0AB

Admission free.

There will be an opportunity to see some of UCL’s rare editions of Dante’s works, and hear the Rare-Books Librarian talk about the history of the poet’s work in print, on Monday 27 March, 5.30-6.30pm, in the Common Room of the Warburg Institute in Woburn Square (immediately south of Gordon Square). The event will continue 6.30-7.45pm in the Institute’s Lecture Room with readings from the text and discussions from UCL’s Professor John Took and the Warburg’s Dr. Alessandro Scafi.

Want to know more about who Dante was and why his writings are important for us today? Try the weekly Dante readings on Monday evenings at the Warburg Institute or fortnightly talks on Tuesday evenings at the Italian Cultural Institute. The readings on Monday 27th will feature the moving passage in which Dante and Virgil emerge from the abyss of Hell on the shore of Mount Purgatory, leaving you, we hope, in an improved mood for the holidays, albeit on a cliff-hanger until readings recommence next term. The Tuesday talk on the 28th will be on the relation between Dante, Classical mythology and Islam.

Best wishes from the UCL Special Collections Team, UCL Italian and The Warburg Institute.

Text courtesy Tabitha Tuckett.

Weekly Dante readings begin today – Mondays 6pm

Tabitha Tuckett30 January 2017

Readings from Dante’s Divine Comedy in English and Italian

Mondays 6-7.30pm, The Warburg Institute, Woburn Square

(Admission free)

Is a passage from Dante’s Inferno just what you feel like after a day’s work on a Monday? Or have you always wanted to know what all the fuss was about? Today you can find out, for free, at 6pm at the Warburg Institute off Gordon Square/Woburn Square with an introduction to Dante’s life and works, followed by readings on subsequent Mondays.

The annual collaboration between UCL Special Collections, the UCL Italian Department, the Warburg Institute and the Italian Cultural Institute has proved popular enough to resume this year, with a slightly different selection of passages and the chance, later in the term, to view some of the treasures from UCL Special Collections’ outstanding early and rare editions of Dante.

If Mondays aren’t a good time for you, try the themed Dante sessions on alternate Tuesdays at the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgravia. The next is tomorrow, 7-8.30pm.

Passages will be read in both English and Italian and illustrated, together with talks from UCL’s Dante Professor, John Took, on what to look out for in the excerpts. You never know: you could feel inspired, as this former member of the audience was, to cook the entire poem in biscuit form:

Dante & Virgil with sins

Dante’s Divine Comedy in edible form, created by audience member Leon Conrad.

Photo copyright David Ward.

Graduate Open Day

Helen Biggs12 December 2016

With the brand new South Junction Reading Room just opened, a team from Special Collections, Archives and Records were able to put on a display of captivating rare and unique items for UCL’s Graduate Open Day on November 23rd.

Current and future students – as well as interested staff – heard our librarians and archivists talk about a diverse range of materials from our collections, across many fields of study:

  • Records staff shocked visitors with “Counsel’s advice to UCL in the matter of the Brown Dog”, part of the story of a clash between animal rights activists and vivisectionists at the turn of the 20th Century
  • Geologists and geographers alike were entranced by the superb illustrations of Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei, showing Vesuvius erupting. This book is also featured in our own publication, Treasures from UCL; more illustrations from the Campi Phlegraei can be found in Digital Collections.
  • Proving that libraries are about more than just words on paper was Thomas A. Clark’s poem, A small subtraction from the River Add, which, as the title suggests, is a tiny bottle of water.
  • Not above aiming to impress, our archivists showed off a folio from the manuscript draft of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

Nazlin Bhimani, Research Support and Special Collections Librarian for UCL Institute of Education, writes about the two tiny books she chose to display:

“The Baines Collection consists of 200 books dating from the 1700s to 1920. This is a collection of children’s books that originally belonged to the Baines Family (many of them have inscriptions providing names of family members to whom the books belonged) and were given in 1955 to the Ministry of Education. The collection was eventually donated to the IOE in 1992.

These two tiny books (volumes 4 and 5) I chose (Baines 104) were both published around the 1780s and belong to a series of work published in ten volumes entitled The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum. The success of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels early in the century led to publishers to draw on this popularity by associating subsequent children’s publications on Gulliver and Lilliput. The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum is an example of one such publication that uses this marketing ploy.

The frontispiece confirms that when first published the complete series cost five British shillings and each volume six pence for the following reason:

“…[it is ]but for the convenience of those little Masters and Misses, whole finances may not admit of expending to capital a sum at once, they may be supplied with one or more volumes, weekly or monthly, till the whole work is completed, at Six-pence each.”

The small size (the books fit in the palm of my hand!) appealed to children who could more easily hold the books in their hands. We often think of miniaturisation as something that is a modern concept with computer devices getting smaller and smaller but in the 18th century, this was a growing phenomenon most evidenced in the trend towards designing dolls houses with smaller and smaller and more intricately designed furniture including book shelves and tiny books that sat on the shelves.”

For more about these miniature marvels, check out Nazlin’s original post at Newsam News.