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‘Well really, have we come to that?’: Excerpts from UCL’s LGBT History

Sarah S Pipkin15 June 2021

Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about the internal documents that sheds light on the history of LGBTQI+ student life at UCL. 

 

In March 1972, Jamie Gardiner, a PhD student in the UCL Department of Mathematics, now a lawyer and human rights activist in Australia, founded the Homophile Society, or Gaysoc at UCL.  As far as we know, this was the first gaysoc to be founded in a UK university and affiliated to its student union.

This Thursday, 17 June, Dr Luciano Rila, who – appropriately – teaches in the Mathematics department, will give a talk on Zoom, ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ partly based on the registration file that is preserved in the College archive to help tell that story.

I don’t want to cover the same ground as Luciano, but thought it might still be interesting to share a few images from that file, and why we have these records (and why we don’t have others).

Regarded as an object, the file is as dull as every other UCL administrative file of its time.  It’s one of many others recording the registration of affiliated societies, the kinds of societies that students have always liked to form: political and social, serious and frivolous.  But this file is a bit different.  The title of this piece comes from a letter written by Dick Bishop, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to the College Secretary, Arthur Tattersall, demanding to know ‘Who decreed that it is in the general interest that the College should be identified with sexual predilections in this way?’

Internal letter about the approval of UCL's 'Gaysoc'

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 6

And J.T. Aitken, Professor of Anatomy, was ‘disturbed … I cannot understand why people should be allowed to make a parade of their aberration’.  Tattersall shared these concerns, and involved the Dean of Students, Professor Eric Brown, who wrote to the President of the Union, Pete Johns, about the ‘risk of offending individuals in the College’.  Fortunately, Johns declared his absolute opposition to suppressing Gaysoc, suggesting that the authorities should surely be more concerned about those societies that were based around socialism and anarchism, which are dedicated to ‘overturn[ing] the whole fabric of society itself’.

 

Discussion of the approval of UCL's Gaysoc

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 15

As I’ve said, we have records of a lot of these societies, because there happened to be an established process for authorising them, which meant the central bureaucracy kept files meticulously, with reference numbers, information about who has consulted them, everything properly attached, and every page numbered.  They are usually very slim files, containing only one or two pages, just recording the foundation, subscription, office-holders and so on.  The Gaysoc file, on the other hand, contains a whopping 22 pages, and it’s not hard to see why: nobody cared much about the Northerners’ Society or the Brewing Society, but some members of UCL were definitely alarmed by the ‘Homophile Society’.

In other words, it’s only where there’s been some kind of trouble that there’s a bit more information.  And this is how an institutional archive like the College archive tends to work.  We have a lot of registers, minutes of Council and other administrative bodies, staff and student personal files and so on, because that’s our main function.  But there are other aspects of life at UCL that, in the past, we were never required to preserve, the unofficial side that would tell us more about how life was actually lived.  The Gaysoc file happens to contain a Freshers’ Week programme for 1972, which I think is unique in this series of files:

Gaysoc Freshers Week Programme

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 7

It was originally preserved as evidence of ‘concern’ about ‘homosex’, but now it can tell other stories, about gay social life at this time, about links with the Gay Liberation Front and Campaign for Homosexual Equality.  We are lucky to have in the College archive other material that tells these unofficial stories of staff and student life at UCL: rag mags, periodicals, campaign literature, photographs.  But these have come to us in a really unsystematic way, sometimes without any context.  For example, we don’t know why we have a copy of this wonderful poster by Alan Wakeman, published by Gay Sweatshop:

Poster on 'What exactly is Heterosexuality'

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

or this terrifying account of gay-bashing, in a 1976 leaflet:

Description of students attacked at a Gaysoc event

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

We’ve recognised that this has implications about representation in the archive, that doing only ‘top-down’ collecting silences important voices and stories.  We have a rich collection in the College archive, but will certainly be doing more ‘ground-up’ collecting to ensure those voices can be preserved and heard for the future.

 

To learn more about UCL Records, check out their main pageTo book a ticket for ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ please visit their Eventbrite page

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.

 

Bridging the Digital Gap (Part II)

isabelle.reynolds-logue.1318 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.

This photograph looking towards Gordon Street (Gordon Square is signified by the trees in the background) features some graffiti from the mid-twentieth century: ‘Merry Xmas. Love peace anarchy.’

Technicians seen posing on the ruins of the Great Hall at UCL in the 1950s.

The issue desk at the Main Library post-1951.

Bomb damage to the Main Library after the Second World War.

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.

Cover of ‘Gargoyle’ Number Two, 1921.

A page from ‘The Owl: A Miscellany’ 1919.

Jewish Pamphlets

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.

The cover of one of the pamphlets.

Library Exhibition

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.

1935 Block Plan of University College London.

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 spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk

Bridging the Digital Gap (Part I)

isabelle.reynolds-logue.1316 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.

A digitised photograph of the Wilkins portico from the UCL College Collection c1900s.

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…

Paper Trails Conference Programme 4th July 2019

Nazlin Bhimani7 June 2019

We are delighted to announce the programme for this year’s Paper Trails conference which has been jointly organised with Dr Andrew W M Smith (University of Chichester). The conference focuses on the lives of our research material which often go unmarked, lost between the gaps in disciplinary boundaries and narrow definitions and the full programme is below. You can register for the conference here.

PROGRAMME

09:15-09:45 Registration

09:45-10:00 Welcome

10:00-11:30

PANEL 1. (Beyond) The Margins:

Cath Bannister (Sheffield): Annotating the Opies: Teachers’ Notes and Marginalia in Children’s Responses to Iona and Peter Opie’s Survey of Folklore of Schoolchildren.

Michael Durrant (Bangor): Lost, Found, and Lost Again: The Messy Histories of Bangor’s ‘Cranmer’ Bible (c.1540)

Chloe Ward (Sheffield) Counting cards — Exploring the Contexts of Historical Archaeological Archives

11:30-11:45 BREAK

11:45-13:15

PANEL 2. Lives Overleaf:

Elizabeth DeWolfe (New England): Agnes Parker, Miss Johnson, Jane Tucker, and Me: Archival Layering, Received Narratives, and the Spy Who Hid in Plain Sight

Katrina Goldstone (Independent): A Photograph. A Scrapbook. Three Large Cardboard Boxes: The Lost World of Irish Radical Writers in the Thirties

Hannah Parker (Sheffield): The Emotional Lives of Letters: Encountering Soviet Letter-Writing in the Archive

13:15-14:00 LUNCH

14:00-15:15

PANEL 3. Responding to the Archive:

Kim Martin (Guelph): Stories of Serendipity: Reflections on Studying the Research Habits of Historians

Sarah Grange (Brighton): Improvising with the Archives

15:15-15:30 BREAK

15:30-17:00

PANEL 4.Archival Sleuths:

Will Pooley (Bristol)

Quest for the Absent Narrator: A Criminal Paper Trail in Alsace, 1925

Alexandra Steinlight (IHR): From ‘Paper Monster’ to Relic: The Jewish Card File in Post-Holocaust France

Lotte Fikkers (Leiden) & David Mills (QMUL): The Archive in the Fish Cellar

17:00  Thanks and Close