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Social Media Rants from the Past

ErikaDelbecque5 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.

Improving access to our Latin American archives

Rebecca JWebster20 August 2018

Posted on behalf of Adersh Gill – a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections

Volunteering with UCL Archives over the last year has been really enjoyable. I was given the opportunity to improve the archive catalogue on the Santa Rosa Milling Company, a British owned milling company that operated in South American in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. The goal of the project was to make it easier for researchers, whose likely focus is on the economic history and development of South America, to gauge whether learning about the Santa Rosa Company’s history would be useful for their work.

The Santa Rosa Milling Company kept extensive documentation and I was asked to improve the archive description for the company’s minute books. The minute books recorded the monthly meetings of the company’s directors. This particular project required someone to be able to summarise the minute books with enough detail to be useful to researchers but not too much that it would take too long to read. Perhaps the main challenge was being able to decipher the hand-writing of the various secretaries recording the meetings, fortunately the archives team were always happy and willing to help whenever I ran into trouble.

The project offered a rare way for a student to learn about the history of South America particularly Chile, using the Santa Rosa Company’s history to gain an insight into the development of the regions. The Santa Rosa Milling Company also offers a case study about an early form of globalization, the company was headquartered in London whilst the majority of company activity occurred in South America; in addition one can learn about the less obvious impacts and ripple effects from the defining historical events of the period through the company’s response to them. The processing of reading through the minute books was in itself a learning experience for me. In particular the company’s post WWII history provides a valuable example of how global companies operated under the Bretton Woods era, when capital flows and currency exchanges were much more tightly regulated. Going through the minute book and seeing how a company on a day-to-day basis had to interact with various regulatory agencies provided a deeper level of understanding for a financial regulatory system which can seem quite abstract when described in a textbook.

Overall the project far exceeded my expectations both in what I expected to learn from it and how enjoyable I found the cataloguing, not to mention how welcoming and nice it was to work with the archives team. This is definitely an activity I would recommend to curious students.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for SANTA ROSA. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.

The Flaxman Manuscripts – a volunteer’s experience

Rebecca JWebster20 July 2018

Posted on behalf of Euan Guckian, a UCL student volunteer with Special Collections.

During the final term of this year I have had the opportunity to work with a couple of John Flaxman’s journals and notebooks for the UCL Special Collections team. Flaxman (who most reading this will recognise from his works in UCL’s main library) was a famous sculptor, and leading figure of the neoclassical movement, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The collection was split into two books. The first comprised Flaxman’s journal from his time spent in Naples in 1788 and was filled with sketches and watercolours, as well as brief descriptions, of the various sculptures he saw and ruins he explored while there. The second contained notes on lectures he gave on the role, features, principles and history of sculpture, and was also interspersed with quick yet still interesting pencil sketches. My main role centred on summarising each page so that a visitor to the collection could quickly find whatever topic most interested them, either paraphrasing Flaxman’s notes or lifting them straight from the page.

Never having studied sculpture, or even art more generally, it was fascinating to see the thoughts and considerations of a master of the craft. Of particular interest to me were his lecture notes on how art underpinned the entire “circle of Human Knowledge” which to Flaxman included everything from astronomy to philosophy and religion. Beyond this there is loads that would be appeal to those with an interest in art both classical and neoclassical, but also in the life and thought of an artist so central to UCL’s identity and history.

You can find out more about the collection on our online catalogue – search for MS FLAXMAN. For more information about using our collections, please see our webpages.

 

The Norris Photography Project

Rebecca JWebster9 April 2018

This is a guest post by Euan Guckian, UCL Special Collections volunteer.

Over terms one and two this year I have had the opportunity to sort and catalogue the photograph collection of Arthur Norris for the Special Collections team. Norris was a railway engineer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, spent several years (roughly 1909-1916) working in Latin America. He captured scenes from across the continent, annotating some of them for his mother back home in Britain.

Already gathered into region specific files, alongside a separate one for a soccer game played at one of the highest points in the Andes, my first responsibility was to sort them into a more coherent order. I was at first helped by the extensive notes provided by Norris on the back on the photos, but as the years went on I was fortunate to have a date and location. A sense of lethargy that anyone who has committed to keeping at diary will be familiar with. Having sorted each file, my next job was to list them digitally, this comprised either paraphrasing Norris’ notes or, in their absence, describing concisely what would be considered each one’s important features.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/9

Having previously studied the modernisation of Latin America during this period, it was interesting to see the region enter the 20th century from such a visual perspective. This was most obviously represented by the numerous photographs of the laying of tracks, carving of tunnels, building of railway bridges, and constructing of train stations taken by Norris from Buenos Aires to Lima. Amongst my favourite photographs, was a shot taken from 13,000ft above sea level of an Argentine mountain range. It came with instructions from Norris to place it next to another to create a carefully framed panorama. Unfortunately, after weeks of searching I never found it. There is plenty however, that would be appeal to those with an interest in Latin America. These include, depictions of rural village life, as well as that of the region’s capitals, all alongside photographs of ceremonies both native to South America, and those, such as bullfights, brought over from Spain.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/1

You can see the full catalogue for the Norris photographic archive here. To arrange a visit to consult the collection please email us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk

 

The Tiny Furniture Project

KathrynHannan3 January 2018

This is a guest blog post by one of our archive volunteers, Sara Abou El Ella, who was working in the IOE UCL Archive department with items from the collection of David and Mary Medd.

 

The Tiny Furniture Project

blog post by Sara Abou El Ella.

For a few weeks now, I have been busy cataloguing and sorting scale models of school furniture used by David and Mary Medd in 1976. They were at the forefront of public architecture and design and created an inextricable bond between architecture and social progress.

This archive project required particular attention and care since many of the furniture pieces were detaching from their main bodies. Despite this, I enjoyed unpacking all the objects and grouping them together, since many of them were spread in different boxes and they had never all been itemised. I would say that a particular challenge involving this project was comparing all objects to the furniture handbook. Some of them presented very similar characteristics and appearance making them hard to locate in the handbook and some of the objects were not listed therefore I had to catalogue them separately.

After this very rough introduction, I would like to give the readers a taste of a typical day volunteering at the UCL Archives. I arrive around 1.30pm and stay until 3.30pm or 4pm. This project required more attention and time to be dedicated to it. The first task is to gather the special conservation paper sheets to protect the objects. On my first day, I read a book written by Catherine Burke to become more acquainted with the project and with the architects. Secondly, I carefully read the index and catalogue in the handbook to compare the numbers, characteristics and type of every object which should be contained in the collection. The third task, the most crucial and important of the project, is to open all paper wrappings in the different boxes, group together all items of the same nature and write their number, short description and wrap them all individually for better conservation purposes. One of my favourite objects was the reproduction of a small piano and wardrobes which had little hangers attached to them. For this blog I tried to recreate a small classroom and include some of the most iconic pieces of furniture present in the collection.

Model school furniture

Because of the small damage and the rust which accumulated on the objects I hope to volunteer with the UCL Special Collections Senior Conservator to clean and conserve this collection. This is a very exciting opportunity to improve the access to this archival material and be able to present it to different researchers and for object handling sessions in schools.