Discovering Environmental History collections using the Archives Hub

This blog post forms part of History Day 2021, a day of online interactive events for students, researchers and history enthusiasts to explore library, museum, archive and history collections across the UK and beyond.

Use the Archives Hub, a free resource, to find unique sources for your research, both physical and digital. Search across descriptions of archives, held at over 370 institutions across the UK.

This year’s History Day is themed ‘environmental history‘, so we’re showcasing a range of archive collections relating to nature, landscape, climate change and more.

Nature

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Archive, 1933 onwards: The Trust was established in 1946 to receive the gift of two plots of land at Askham Bog, York. The land had been purchased in 1944 by prominent confectioners and keen naturalists Sir Francis Terry and Arnold Stephenson Rowntree, following the earlier unsuccessful attempt of the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust to acquire the site at auction. Today, the Trust is one of a national partnership of 47 Wildlife Trusts across the whole of the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney, and cares for over 100 nature reserves throughout Yorkshire. Held by the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York – see full collection description.

Ida Margaret Hayward Collection: Ida was born in 1872 to a family very much connected to the cloth industry. After her father died, she and her mother went to live near her mother’s family in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders where her uncles owned the woollen mills of Messrs. Sanderson. It was noticed by one of her uncles, William Sanderson, that many of the seeds brought in with the wool imported from Australia, New Zealand and South America survived the treatment process and went on to germinate on the banks of the Tweed. Encouraged by him, Hayward set about conducting a thorough study of this alien flora. She jointly published “The Adventive Flora of Tweedside” in 1919. Ida was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1910 and the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1913. Before her death in 1949, she donated her herbarium of adventive (alien) plants to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, along with her scrapbook and letters relating to the Flora. Held by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Archives – see full collection description.

Online Resource: Historical UK Tide Gauge Data (19th and 20th Century): this collection offers registered users the chance to search UK sea level records, including some of the UK’s earliest recorded sea level data from Sheerness – a port on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Records available include several large datasets of tide gauge charts and ledgers from around the UK. Resource is provided by the British Oceanographic Data Centre:
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gbah5-historicaluktidegaugedata.

Stopes (Marie) Papers: Marie Stopes was educated in Edinburgh and London. She obtained a first class honours degree and was a gold medallist at University College London. She studied for her Ph.D. in Munich. Marie was the first woman to be appointed to the science staff of the University of Manchester in 1904. She went to Japan on a Scientific Mission in 1907, spent a year and a half at the Imperial University, Tokyo, and explored the country for fossils. She specialised in coal mines and fossil plants. She founded, jointly with H. V. Roe, the Mothers’ Clinic for Constructive Birth-Control, 1921 (the first birth control clinic in the world). Marie was President of the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress. She was also Fellow and sometime Lecturer in Palaeobotany at University College London and Lecturer in Palaeobotany at the University of Manchester. She published many books, mainly concerning botany and birth control. Material held by University College London Archives – see full collection description.

Feature: Insects and Entomologists, enthusiasts and biologists, entomologists and zoologists: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/mar06.shtml.

Feature: Ornithology, scientists, enthusiasts, and illustrators: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/may03.shtml.

Landscape

Papers of Sir Robert Hunter, Solicitor and Co-founder of the National Trust: Robert Hunter was in South London in 1844. He took his degree at University College, London. In 1867 he was appointed solicitor for the Commons Preservation Society and was instrumental in the preservation of Wimbledon Commons and Epping Forest among other open spaces. In 1876 he wrote a competition essay for the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society on the means of preserving common lands for the enjoyment of the public. This was chosen as one of six to be published. In 1882 he became Chief Solicitor to the Post Office but continued to advise the Commons Preservation Society. In 1894 he was knighted for services to the open space movement. Coupled with the work of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley in the Lake District, Hunter’s influence led to the foundation of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. Material held by Surrey History Centre – see full collection description.

Papers of Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875): influential geologist, fellow of the Royal Society; these papers include notes on the New Zealand earthquake of 1856. Charles Lyell was born at Kinnordy, near Kirriemuir in Angus, in 1797. During his lifetime he wrote many geological papers, mainly published by the Geological Society of London, however his reputation rests almost entirely on his work Principles of Geology. In this work, Lyell propounded his theory of uniformitarianism, which holds that the Earth’s history is explained by gradual change over time, and that geological processes going on today (like erosion) have occurred in the past and have shaped the Earth’s surface, and this had a strong influence on Charles Darwin. In 1828 he explored the volcanic region of the Auvergne, then went to Mount Etna to gather supporting evidence for the theory of geology he would expound in his Principles of Geology. The collection is held by Edinburgh University Library Special Collections – see full collection description.

Cartouche from Moore’s Mapp of the Great Levell of the Fenns re-printed in 1706 [R59/31/40/13/1]. Image copyright: Cambridgeshire Archives.

Feature: Silt, sluices and smelt fishing – The Eau Brink Cut and the Bedford Level Corporation Archive (July 2018).

Climate change

G.S. Callendar Archive, 1930-2003: In the first half of the twentieth century, the carbon dioxide theory of climate change had fallen out of favour with climatologists. Beginning in 1938, Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964), a noted steam engineer and amateur meteorologist, revived this theory by arguing that rising global temperatures and increased coal burning were closely linked. Working from his home in West Sussex, England, Callendar collected weather data from frontier stations around the world, formulated a coherent theory of infrared absorption by trace gases, and demonstrated that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, like the temperature, was indeed rising. Although he was an amateur meteorologist, Callendar worked on a truly global scale, compiling a reliable world data set of surface temperatures from earliest times and insisting – long before it became fashionable to do so – that climatology must deal with physics and atmospheric dynamics. Just before the beginning of the International Geophysical Year in 1957, Hans Seuss and Roger Revelle referred to the ‘Callendar effect’ – defined as climatic change brought about by anthropogenic increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, primarily through the processes of combustion. Collection held by the University of East Anglia Archives – see full collection description.

Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964)
Photo courtesy of the G.S. Callendar Archive, University of East Anglia.

Feature: Seeing the light: G.S. Callendar and carbon dioxide theory of climate change (November 2007).

Records of the Geological Society of Glasgow, learned society (1858 onwards): The Geological Society of Glasgow was founded in 1858. The Society aims to gain an understanding of the study of the earth through excursions and lectures, and is still active to this day. The Society’s early contribution to geological research includes, fossils, an understanding of Scotland’s glacial history, geological time and the relationship between climate change and the Earth’s rotation. Famous 19th and early 20th Century Presidents include Lord Kelvin (for 21 years), Sir Archibald Geikie, Charles Lapworth, Ben Peach and Walter Gregory. Material is held by the University of Glasgow Archive Services – see full collection description.

Research Papers relating to the Global Environment Facility (1990-2002): The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an international financial instrument situated within the World Bank. Establishment of the GEF took place just prior to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit (also known as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development or UNCED) held 3-14 June 1992. It also resulted in three legally binding agreements known collectively as The Rio Convention: Convention on Biological Diversity; Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Compliance to agreements was ensured with the establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), the GEF was to be the financial mechanism for these conventions, and the work of the GEF was informed by the outcomes of the Rio Earth Summit. The GEF’s main areas of work focus on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals & waste, land degradation, international waters, sustainable management of forest and REDD+. The body’s work also cuts across food security, sustainable cities, commodities, public private partnerships, capacity development, the small grants programme, gender mainstreaming, small island developing states, and indigenous peoples. The collection is held by Hull University Archives, Hull History Centre – see full collection description.

Other collections related to Environmental History

Environment Agency Collection, 1786-2010: The Environmental Agency is an executive Non-departmental Public Body responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a Welsh Government Sponsored Body responsible to the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development. The collection consists of reports, surveys, data records, maps, administrative records and other material relating to the work of the Environment Agency (and of its predecessor organisations the various River Boards, River Authorities, Water Authorities and the National Rivers Authority). While a few documents date back to the 19th century and earlier, the majority spans the 1930s to the 1990s. Material held by Freshwater Biological Association Archives – see full collection description.

Dee and Clwyd River Authority records (1653-1979) 1544 items. In 1965, the Dee and Clwyd River Authority was constituted, superseding the numerous earlier authorities concerned with the navigation of the Dee Estuary and the drainage of low-lying coastal and estuarial land. The construction of a navigable cut from Chester to Connah’s Quay had been empowered by an Act of 1732, to replace the old deep-water channel to the north of the estuary, and in 1740 the River Dee Company was created to maintain the navigation. The Dee Conservancy Act 1889 established the Dee Conservancy Board, taking over the Company’s functions. In 1938, the Conservancy Board officially came to an end. Material held by North East Wales Archives – Flintshire / Archifau Gogledd Ddwyrain Cymru – Sir y Fflint – see full collection description.

Online Resource: Freeze Frame. The collection will be of interest to anyone studying or teaching the arts as examples of landscape, portrait and historical photography. There are images related to the environment, wildlife and travel. Themes such as ‘History of Photography in the Polar Regions’, Changing Britain and the Heroic Age’ and ‘Surviving in Extreme Environments’ can all be explored within this collection. The resource includes 20,000 images, biographies, photographs, still images and text. Provided by Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge:
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gbah17-freezeframe.

Meteorological Office Archive (Mid-19th Century – 2010): as a result of the Brussels Conference of Maritime Nations in 1853 and following consultations by the Board of Trade with the Royal Society, a Meteorological Department was formed at the beginning of August 1854 for the collection and co-ordination of meteorological observations made at sea. The National Meteorological Archive is the official UK Place of Deposit for meteorological records. It is home to one of the most comprehensive collections on meteorology anywhere in the world and provides a major resource for scientific and historical research of international scope. Their aim is to support the Met Office and the wider scientific community by providing a targeted, proactive and flexible information service; their primary role is to preserve the public memory of the weather and to conserve the records in their care. The collection comprises around 500,000 meteorological records stored across four large, environmentally controlled strongrooms. See full collection description.

Online Resource: GB3D Type Fossils (Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic; Early Neolithic). This collection currently holds examples of macrofossil types found in the UK, and will develop in future to include examples from collections based around the world. The study of fossils provides insight into the Earth’s history, how creatures evolved, continents separated and environments changed across vast periods of time. Fossil types available to view in the database include ammonites, belemnites, fish, corals and trilobites. Institutions who have contributed to the database include the Sedgwick Museum, Oxford University, National Museum of Wales, Geological Curator’ Group and the collection’s publishers – British Geological Survey: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gbah2-h2-gb3dtypefossils.

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Introduction to the archive collections at the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Archives Hub feature for October 2021

The archive collections of the Royal College of Surgeons of England contain a rich breadth of material covering not just surgery but natural history, medical science, military medicine, medical illustration, hospitals, infectious diseases and social and cultural history. Coverage of the 19th and early 20th centuries is particularly strong, though we have a number of 15th to 17th century manuscripts and modern corporate records.

The collections include material relating to a range surgical specialities and key themes in the history and development of surgery, for example the professionalisation of surgery, the entry of women into the profession, and the influence of war on surgery.

In addition, the College is an international centre for the study of the life and work of John Hunter (1728-1793), holding comprehensive material representing his museum collections, research, correspondence, published works and family life.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, sketched by Lady Giorgiana Flower in 1870.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, sketched by Lady Giorgiana Flower in 1870. (MS0012/1)

College Archive

Since its incorporation in 1800 the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) has played a major role in the teaching and examination of surgeons. This role is comprehensively represented in our archive collections.

The corporate archive, dating from the founding of the Company of Surgeons in 1745 to the present day (mostly pre-1950), such as minutes of the Court of Examiners, illustrate the strategic direction taken by the College in relation to the education and training of surgeons. Sample examination papers, exam regulations and results books demonstrate the types of subjects studied and the rigorous levels of assessment undertaken by surgeons. We also hold an extensive set of 18th and 19th century lecture notes written by students attending the lectures of eminent surgeons and scientists. Their written notes were the chief method of recording surgical knowledge and were used throughout a surgeon’s career.

Our complete series of Council Minutes speak both to the College’s role in the governance of surgery and to the broader context of medical politics.

Fellows Papers Court of Examiners Book, 1813.
Fellows Papers Court of Examiners Book, 1813. Among the successful candidates is James Barry, who was later discovered to be a woman. Women were not officially admitted to College examinations until 1909.

Fellows Papers

In addition to its own records, the College has acquired collections of research notes, patient case files and personal papers of eminent British surgeons who were Fellows of the College. Highlights include Astley Paston Cooper (1768-1841), surgeon, professor of comparative anatomy and President of RCS; surgeon and pathologist James Paget (1814-1899); James Berry (1860-1946), who pioneered thyroid surgery in England; dental surgeon Eric William Fish (1894-1974); and Harold Gillies (1882-1960), who developed new procedures to reconstruct the faces of soldiers injured during the First World War.

Watercolour of Private Allister, who was a patient of Sir Harold Gillies.
Watercolour of Private Allister, who was a patient of Sir Harold Gillies. The artist was Daryl Lindsay, August 1918. (MS0513/2/2/03)

First World War surgery is well represented in our collections, other examples being John Dudley Buxton, dental surgeon William Warwick James and medical artist A. Kirkpatrick Maxwell.

Medical Science and Public Health

Our collections reflect major medical advances that revolutionised surgical practice in the 19th century. One of our most remarkable series is the ‘Lister Rolls’, a set of 6 large manuscript drawings on gigantic rolls, created by Joseph Lister and his assistants as visual aids in teaching microbiological concepts in medical school lecture theatres in the 1870s – the earliest period of the ‘germ theory’. We also hold some of Lister’s research papers and our Library holds the majority of his published works, some of which are annotated and given to the Library by Lister himself.

One of the shorter Lister rolls, measuring approximately 2.4 metres x 1 metre.
One of the shorter Lister rolls, measuring approximately 2.4 metres x 1 metre. (MS0021/4/1/17/1)

Edward Jenner was a pupil of Hunter, who encouraged him to test his theories using Hunter’s scientific experimental approach. We hold Hunter’s letters to Jenner, other Jenner correspondence and a manuscript draft of the original cowpox vaccination publication. Our collections also contain letters discussing smallpox vaccinations (1806-1807) and a small collection of anti-vaccination material.

Flyer published by the National Anti-Vaccination League, 1920s.
Flyer published by the National Anti-Vaccination League, 1920s. (MS049)

Hospital Records

As a Place of Deposit for Public Records, RCS Archives hold some significant collections of hospital records, notably the London Lock Hospital for venereal disease and its associated Rescue Home for ‘fallen women’ (1746-1948).

Our collection from St George’s Hospital Medical School reflects the role St George’s played in training doctors and surgeons between the years 1762-1933. Most of the collection is within the 19th century with Sir Benjamin Brodie’s medical case notes and experiments, John and William Hunter lecture series and lectures from other notable surgeons including Sir Everard Home and Percivall Pott.

Museum Collection

John Hunter’s vast collection of human and comparative anatomy and pathology specimens was transferred to the College in 1799. This collection forms the core of the College’s Hunterian Museum (reopening early 2023).

Photograph from a museum letter book circa 1879. An anatomist wrote to offer information about the skeleton of a two-legged cat that was held in the museum. He claimed to have evidence that the cat lived a full life and gave birth to at least one litter of “fully formed” kittens.
Photograph from a museum letter book circa 1879. An anatomist wrote to offer information about the skeleton of a two-legged cat that was held in the museum. He claimed to have evidence that the cat lived a full life and gave birth to at least one litter of “fully formed” kittens. (RCS-MUS/5)

The museum archive (1800-present), which includes specimen catalogues, donations registers and curators’ reports, complements and contextualises the Hunterian Museum collection. In 1941 the College suffered extensive bomb damage, resulting in the loss of approximately two thirds of the museum collections, so in many cases the archival records relating to specimens are the only remaining record of them.

We also hold the papers of many of the Museum’s curators, including William Clift (1775–1849), who was John Hunter’s assistant and the first conservator of the Hunterian Museum; the palaeontologist Richard Owen (1804-1892); microscopist John Thomas Quekett (1815-1861); zoologist William Henry Flower (1831-1899); and anatomists Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955) and Frederick Wood Jones (1879-1954). These help to tell the story of the development of the Museum and reflect the curators’ personal research interests.

Natural History

The College has added depth and breadth to its natural history collections by acquisitions, for example the papers of zoologists George Busk (1807-1886) and William Charles Osman Hill (1901-1975). Our natural history collections contain fine examples of anatomical and zoological illustrations, including the first proofs of the engravings for the first edition of Gray’s Anatomy.

The museum correspondence series give a fascinating snapshot of 19th to early 20th century views on anatomy and zoology. Letters were a forum for debate and knowledge sharing between museum curators and scholars from all over the world, so they are a treasure trove of interesting stories, for example, “an enormous lizard-like animal” that was spotted in Tonga in 1834, and a platypus that was sent as a gift by the Australian government to Sir Winston Churchill in 1943.

Manuscripts

RCS Archives holds some exceptional manuscripts, for example a medicinal recipe book by the 17th century diarist Elizabeth Isham; the medical log of Christopher Bowes, a ship’s surgeon on the slave ship Lord Stanley in 1792 sailing between Africa and the West Indies; and the ‘Diary of a Resurrectionist’, a manuscript by a grave robber active in the London region in 1811-12 which details the practice of body-snatching.

While the collections concentrate mainly on surgical subjects, there is also important material that provides insight in unexpected subject areas.

Social History

The London Lock collection contains a volume of biographical histories of female patients in its Asylum, many of whom were prostitutes, dating from 1787-1808. This is a unique source of evidence on a group of women whose lives would have been hidden at the time.

Before the Anatomy Act there was a shortage of cadavers for anatomical research and surgical training, so the bodies of executed criminals were given to the College for dissection. William Clift sketched their heads and recorded notes about their crimes.

William Clift’s sketch of David Evans, who was hung for the murder of his wife in 1818.
William Clift’s sketch of David Evans, who was hung for the murder of his wife in 1818. (MS0007/1/6/1/3)

The Arts

Members of the Hunter family were artists in their own right, and the family were friends with many artists and musicians. As a result our collections contain poetry and a libretto for Hayden’s Creation, by Anne Home Hunter; papers and correspondence of the poet and dramatist Joanna Baillie, including letters exchanged with literary acquaintances such as Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, and Maria Edgeworth; a manuscript fragment of Mozart’s Rondo in A Major; unpublished text by Rudyard Kipling and correspondence with Sir John and Lady Edith Bland-Sutton and his uncle Edward Burne-Jones with accompanying illustrations.

Further details of all our archive collections can be found on our online catalogue. The major themes in the archives are complemented by our Library’s collection of more than 30,000 tracts and pamphlets which have been digitised and are available to view online.

Following the closure of the College building for redevelopment, RCS Archives is due to reopen in our new Research Room at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in December 2021. 

Victoria Rea
Archives Manager
Royal College of Surgeons

Related

Browse all Royal College of Surgeons of England Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Royal College of Surgeons of England . Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Launch of Towards a National Collection discovery projects

£14.5m awarded to transform online exploration of UK’s culture and heritage collections through harnessing innovative AI

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded £14.5m to the research and development of emerging technologies, including machine learning and citizen-led archiving, in order to connect the UK’s cultural artefacts and historical archives in new and transformative ways.

Image by Colin McDowall, courtesy of Towards a National Collection. (Young woman winding bobbins on wheel in the loom shop, 1898 Blanket factory, Witney, Oxfordshire © Historic England Archive CC73_00946 | Indian laundry couple with the man ironing clothes. Attributed to a painter from Tanjore (Thanjavur), ca. 1840. Gouache drawing. 32247i © Wellcome Collection | Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) Stephen Slaughter (1697–1765) (attributed to) © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London | A starboard bow view of the three-masted barque Glenbervie (1866) with crowds of people, on the rocks at Lowland Point. G14146. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Gibson’s of Scilly Shipwreck Collection | Artwork by Peter Morphew illustrating the repositories of the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections.)

The Archives Hub is pleased to announce that we will be a project partner in one of five major projects being launched today. The projects form the largest investment of Towards a National Collection, a five-year research programme. Today’s launch reveals the first insights into how thousands of disparate collections could be explored by public audiences and academic researchers in the future.

The five ‘Discovery Projects’ will harness the potential of new technology to dissolve barriers between collections – opening up public access and facilitating research across a range of sources and stories held in different physical locations. One of the central aims is to empower and diversify audiences by involving them in the research and creating new ways for them to access and interact with collections. In addition to innovative online access, the projects will generate artist commissions, community fellowships, computer simulations, and travelling exhibitions. The projects are:

● The Congruence Engine: Digital Tools for New Collections-Based Industrial Histories

● Our Heritage, Our Stories: Linking and searching community-generated digital content to develop the people’s national collection

● Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage

● The Sloane Lab: Looking back to build future shared collections

● Unpath’d Waters: Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK

The investigation is the largest of its kind to be undertaken to date, anywhere in the world. It extends across the UK, involving 15 universities and 63 heritage collections and institutions of different scales, with over 120 individual researchers and collaborators.

Together, the Discovery Projects represent a vital step in the UK’s ambition to maintain leadership in cross-disciplinary research, both between different humanities disciplines and between the humanities and other fields. Towards a National Collection will set a global standard for other countries building their own collections, enhancing collaboration between the UK’s renowned heritage and national collections worldwide.

Archives Hub and the Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage project

Donald Locke 1972-4, Trophies of Empire © Estate of Donald Locke Courtesy of Tate | Claudette Johnson, Figure in Blue, 2018. © Claudette Johnson. Image Credit: Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre | Iniva_Rivington Place: Photograph by Carlos Jimenez, 2018 | Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist.
Donald Locke 1972-4, Trophies of Empire © Estate of Donald Locke Courtesy of Tate | Claudette Johnson, Figure in Blue, 2018. © Claudette Johnson. Image Credit: Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre | Iniva_Rivington Place: Photograph by Carlos Jimenez, 2018 | Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac, London.

The Archives Hub at Jisc will be working with fellow project partners:

susan pui san lok, 2021
susan pui san lok, 2021: Courtesy the artist
  • Tate
  • Arts Council Collection
  • Art Fund
  • Art UK
  • Birmingham Museums Trust
  • British Council Collection
  • Contemporary Art Society
  • Glasgow Museums
  • Iniva (Institute of International Visual Art)
  • Manchester Art Gallery
  • Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
  • National Museums Liverpool
  • Van Abbemuseum (NL)
  • Wellcome Collection

The Principal investigator for Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage project is Professor susan pui san lok, University of the Arts London.

More than twenty years after Stuart Hall posed the question, ‘Whose heritage?’, Hall’s call for the critical transformation and reimagining of heritage and nation remains as urgent as ever. This project is driven by the provocation that a national collection cannot be imagined without addressing structural inequalities in the arts, engaging debates around contested heritage, and revealing contentious histories imbued in objects.

An arrangement of different castes including snake charmer, brick-layer, basket-maker, potter and wives. Gouache drawing. 28438i © Wellcome Collection.

Transforming Collections aims to enable cross-search of collections, surface patterns of bias, uncover hidden connections, and open up new interpretative frames and ‘potential histories’ (Azoulay, 2019) of art, nation and heritage. It will combine critical art historical and museological research with participatory machine learning design, and embed creative activations of interactive machine learning in the form of artist commissions.

Untitled 1986 1987.21, Manchester Art Gallery © Keith Piper.

Among the aims of this project are to surface suppressed histories, amplify marginalized voices, and re-evaluate artists and artworks ignored or side-lined by dominant narratives; and to begin to imagine a distributed yet connected evolving ‘national collection’ that builds on and enriches existing knowledge, with multiple and multivocal narratives.

The role of the Archives Hub will centre around:

  • Disseminating project aims, developments and outcomes to our contributors, through our communication channels and our cataloguing workshops, to encourage a wide range of archives to engage with these issues.
Glasgow Women’s Library, Museum of the Year finalist, 2018. Art Map 2019. © Marc Atkins / Art Fund 2018
  • Working with the Creative Computing Institute, at the University of the Arts London, to integrate the Machine Learning (ML) processing into the Archives Hub data processing workflows, so that it can benefit for over 350 institutions, including public art institutions.
Mick Grierson, Exploring the Daphne Oram Collection using 3D visualisation and machine learning (screenshot). 2012. Mick Grierson, Parag MitalLondon © the artist.
  • Providing expertise from over 20 years of running an archival aggregator and working with a whole range of UK archive repositories, particularly around sustainability and the challenges of working with archival metadata.

Celebrating 20 years of Archives Hub Features

Back in September 2001 we ran our first feature (we can scarcely believe it’s been that long ourselves!), all about the papers of Manchester-born, Oscar-winning actor Robert Donat (1905-1958) and an exhibition at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.

Postcards of Robert Donat held by The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter.

Since then, we’ve published a new feature every month to promote our contributors‘ collections, initially via our web pages*, and now on our blog. For several years, these were nearly always produced by members of the team but now the features are mainly written by our contributors themselves. We’re really pleased at this shift: who better to tell the stories behind the collections than the archivists caring for them? The features are also an opportunity for archives to publicise their anniversaries, exhibitions and other events.

Over the past 20 years we’ve featured collections from the wide, and growing, range of UK archives represented on the Archives Hub: Universities, Royal Colleges, museums, galleries, businesses, charities, local authorities and specialist archives – including theatre, dance, design, industry and medicine. We’ve picked out some highlights…

Barclaycard: 50 years of plastic money – the story from the Archives

Photo of early advertising at a garage
Early advertising at a garage.

June 2016 saw the 50th anniversary of the official launch of Barclaycard, the first all-purpose credit card in Europe. The idea of Barclaycard is credited to general manager Derek Wilde, later a vice-chairman of Barclays, and James Dale, who became Barclaycard’s first departmental manager. Their idea was backed by Barclays’ chairman John Thomson, who recognised the need to ‘beat the others to it’. The immediate inspiration came from a visit to the United States in 1965 by Wilde, Dale and computer expert Alan Duncan, specifically to look at Bank of America’s BankAmericard. Provided by Barclays Group Archives: https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2016/05/31/barclaycard-50-years-of-plastic-money-the-story-from-the-archives/.

The London to Istanbul European Highway

Drawing: Istanbul arrival.
Sixteen days after setting off, they reached Istanbul. By Margaret Bradley.

The National Motor Museum Motoring Archives contain approximately 300 collections, which relate to numerous aspects of motoring history, including speed records, motor sport, businesses and famous personalities. Material is held in support of the National Motor Museum’s wider Collections, and is well used as part of the Research Service. The Bradley Collection contains material relating to a survey of a transnational road from London to Istanbul. The collection includes a promotional booklet published by the Automobile Association (AA), and all of the original artwork produced by Margaret Bradley during the trip: https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2015/12/01/the-london-to-istanbul-european-highway/.

Coughs and Sneezes: Influenza epidemics and public health

This photograph shows an embroidered handkerchief, First World War, from the Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library. “1918. Souvenir de France”. The war in Europe ended on the Western Front on November 11th, 1918. Photo courtesy Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library.

Outbreaks of flu often develop into serious epidemics. Three times in the twentieth century this became pandemic, or worldwide. The most serious epidemic in history was the influenza pandemic at the end of the First World War. Robert Brown of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College, London writes about how the wealth of archival material in the Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library Special Collections, can help our understanding of the Spanish Flu: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/jan06.shtml

World War One
World War One (1914-1918) was a war like no other before it and was itself hugely influenced by the political and social changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. This feature explores many aspects of the war, including the roles of women, medicine and warfare, propaganda, correspondence and diaries: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/worldwarone/index.html.

Continuity of Care – The Royal Scottish National Hospital

Image: Picnic in the grounds, c1937
Picnic in the grounds, c1937

The Wellcome Trust funded a project at the University of Stirling Archives and Special Collections to catalogue and conserve the records of the Royal Scottish National Hospital (RSNH), Larbert. The historical importance of the collection was recognized by its inclusion in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in 2013:
https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2015/03/02/continuity-of-care-the-royal-scottish-national-hospital/

The Nobel Prizes
The Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) invented dynamite in 1866. Nobel bequeathed his estate to establish an award for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The Archives Hub includes descriptions for the papers of many Nobel laureates: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/dec04.shtml

Black History Month: Theatre, culture and the Beatles

Image of 'O Babylon', Riverside, February 1988, Talawa Theatre Company.
THM/374/1/195/3 Image of ‘O Babylon’, Riverside, February 1988, Talawa Theatre Company.

Showcasing black theatre and culture to celebrate ‘Black History Month’ (2010) in the UK, with collections held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance, Black Cultural Archives Collections and the National Fairground Archive: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/blackhistorymontharts/.

A Spring in Your Step

Photograph of ballet dancer, Anthony Crickmay Dance Photographs, © V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.
Anthony Crickmay Dance Photographs (THM/20), © V&A Department of Theatre and Performance, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Archives Hub contains a range of material linked with dance – dancers, choreographers and teachers, schools and companies, ballet, contemporary and other styles of dance. Collections highlighted include those held by Royal Academy of Dance, Royal Ballet School Special Collections, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Rambert Dance Company, Laban Collection, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance:
https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2014/05/30/a-spring-in-your-step/.

Forensics: A partial print of the history of forensic science
Forensic science is the application of scientific techniques to the evidence in a criminal investigation. No two people have fingerprints that are exactly alike. In the late 19th century, techniques for fingerprint identification and classification were developed, and fingerprint evidence was first accepted in British courts in 1901. Collections from Glasgow University Archive Services, Edinburgh University Library Special Collections, University of Dundee Archive Services, Imperial College London, Archives and Corporate Records Unit and others: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/forensics.shtml

The Devonshire Family Collections

Photograph of the 6th Duke dating from c.1852.
Photograph of the 6th Duke dating from c.1852.

The Devonshire Collection Archives, Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, span over 450 years and date back to the time of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (c.1527-1708, better known as Bess of Hardwick), with elements of the archive dating from even earlier. They also include the papers of Bess of Hardwick, the 8th Duke/Marquess of Hartington and Duchess Georgiana: https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2019/03/04/the-devonshire-family-collections-at-chatsworth/.

Researching LGBTQ+ History at North East Wales Archives
NEWA shine the spotlight on some of the initiatives which are helping Wales to uncover the LGBTQ+ heritage held within their archives. It can be quite a challenge to find records of this type of history since, because of its historically subversive nature, it was often hidden, destroyed or even put into code to avoid discovery. With collections held by Archifau Sir Ddinbych / Denbighshire Archives and North East Wales Archives – Flintshire / Archifau Gogledd Ddwyrain Cymru – Sir y Fflint: https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2021/02/01/researching-lgbtq-history-at-north-east-wales-archives/.

Fish are jumpin’ in the Archives

Women Fish Sellers – from Hamilton, Robert (1866) British Fishes, Part II, Naturalist’s Library, vol. 37, London: Chatto and Windus. Image in the public domain (photograph from the Freshwater and Marine Image Bank at the University of Washington).

A selection of the wonderful, and sometimes surprising, collections relating to fish, ranging across research, expeditions, fisheries, the fishing industry and river authorities – not forgetting a fish and chip shop, a theatre and several appropriately named individuals: https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2020/07/31/fish-are-jumpin-in-the-archives/.

X: General elections
Since 1945, the library of the London School of Economics has collected campaign material, such as leaflets and posters, produced by political parties and individual candidates: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/may05.shtml

The Wallace Collection Archives

Image of The Swing, 1767.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, © The Wallace Collection

In 1897 Lady Wallace died and bequeathed the contents of the ground and first floor of Hertford House, her art-filled London residence, to the nation. This included paintings by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Canaletto, the finest collection of Sèvres porcelain in the world and nearly 2,500 pieces of arms and armour. These items were collected by the first 4 Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess. The Wallace Collection Library and Archives reflect the collections and history of the Museum and its founders.
https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2015/09/01/the-wallace-collection-archives/.

Heavenly Harmony: Music in the Collections of Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library

The entry in this missal for the festival of All Saints to whom the church at Woodchurch is dedicated is elaborately illuminated (CCA-U88/B/6/1, folio 52)
The entry in this missal for the festival of All Saints to whom the church at Woodchurch is dedicated is elaborately illuminated (CCA-U88/B/6/1, folio 52)

The first organ was installed at Canterbury in the 12th century although it is believed that unlike its modern counter part, it was not viewed as a musical instrument, rather “a producer of cheerful though fairly random noise.” The current organ was built in 1888 and underwent a number of renovations in the twentieth century. This feature provides an enticing overture of musical collections held by Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library: https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2018/02/01/heavenly-harmony-music-in-the-collections-of-canterbury-cathedral-archives-and-library/.

D H Lawrence Collection
The D H Lawrence Collection at the University of Nottingham’s Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections began in the 1950s prompted by an increasing academic interest in Lawrence’s life and works. Since then, the Collection has grown and now forms one of the major international research resources for the study of D H Lawrence: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/lawrence.shtml.

Raymond Williams papers at the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

Photograph of student group in the reading room.
Photograph of student group in the reading room.

Raymond Williams (1921-1988) is probably best known for his notion that culture is ordinary. Through published works such as ‘Culture and Society’ (1958), he was one of the leading academic figures undertaking research and publishing works that explored and redefined ‘culture’. Other seminal works written by Raymond Williams included ‘The Long Revolution’ (1961), ‘The Country and the City’, ‘Keywords’ (1976), ‘Towards 2000’ (1983). As a major intellectual figure of the twentieth-century, Williams is recognized worldwide as one of the founding figures of Cultural Studies. Swansea University‘s collection has been the catalyst for fascinating conversations in the Reading Room about Raymond Williams as a writer, researcher, teacher, as well as discussions about some of the questions posed by the archive: challenging handwriting, apparently random notes and half-finished texts, who wrote what – was it Raymond or was it his wife, Joy?
https://blog.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/2017/10/02/raymond-williams-papers-at-the-richard-burton-archives-swansea-university/

That’s just scratching the surface though! You can explore many of our Features through our gallery:

Image gallery: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/features/gallery/

Chronological list, 2001 to date: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/featureslist/

And look out for our #20YearsOfFeatures Twitter campaign throughout September, showcasing more Features.

*** We are grateful to all who have shared their collections, events and anniversaries over the years – may there be many more to come! ***

*Please note: our older features were produced as static pages, so please be aware that some external websites may no longer be active.

Cataloguing the Oriental Translation Fund Archive

Archives Hub feature for September 2021

Since its creation in 1823, the Royal Asiatic Society has run an active publications programme with the aim of realizing the mission expressed in the Society’s charter: ‘the investigation of subjects connected with, and for the encouragement of Science, Literature and the Arts in relation to Asia’. Publications have been supported by different funds and committees, but the oldest and perhaps most significant is the Oriental Translation Fund.

The fund was established in 1828 through a committee that was theoretically independent of the Society with its purpose to translate and publish ‘interesting and valuable works on Eastern History, Science, and Belles-Lettres’ and to make them accessible to wider audiences. The fund operated with great inclusiveness for the period, with a range of Asian languages accepted and translators of different nationalities welcomed. The list of early subscribers was impressive: King George IV was Patron, and other influential figures included: Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the former Prime Minister (the Duke of Wellington), the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the founder of the RAS, Henry Thomas Colebrooke.

Bust of Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765-1837) who was the founder of the Royal Asiatic Society. This image can be viewed on the Society’s Digital Library .

The Oriental Translation Fund Archive covers the period 1836-2010, and consists of minute books, correspondence, publication lists, purchases and stock books. The material provides an insight into the general operations of the fund and the figures that contributed towards its longevity. Publications from the fund have been divided into two series with publication lists highlighting that 71 translations were published in the first series. This included the first OTF translation of a Sanskrit text, Kālidāsa’s ‘Raghuvaṃśa’ into Latin by Adolf Stenzle and a translation of the Persian manuscript ‘Customs and Manners of the Women of Persia’ by James Atkinson.

One of the early publication lists from the fund printed in 1844 (OTF/3/1/7).

However, initial enthusiasm for the fund began to decline and operations were suspended in 1860 due to a shortage of funds. This is covered in the final minute book of the collection from November 1865 where it is written that ‘no more subscriptions should be called in’ and that the Wesleyan Missionary Society were to ‘enter also upon negotiations for the purchase of the stock and copyright of the O.T Society’s publications’.

Extract from the final minute book in November 1865 which highlights that the committee is entering negotiations with the Wesleyan Missionary Society for the purchase of stock (OTF/1/4).

Nevertheless, correspondence within the collection reveals that there were continuous talks to revive the fund in the 1880s with most of these efforts led by the British Orientalist and translator, Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot. Arbuthnot took control of the management of the fund and donated large amounts of his own money to allow the fund to continue. A leaflet within the collection showcases the confirmed revival of the fund, following a meeting at the Society in 1889. This included an establishment of a new committee and the creation of a reserve fund of £5,000 to fund new publications.

Leaflet highlighting the establishment of the new Oriental Translation Fund Committee in February 1890 (OTF/2/3).
Image of publications from Series 2 of the fund.

Due to the efforts of Arbuthnot and others, the fund is still in existence today whilst many other subscription presses within the Victorian period have ceased. The most recent OTF publication, Aap Beeti by Tript Kaur, has been translated into English from Punjabi. This can be viewed on the Society’s website.

Event poster from the Society’s virtual book launch of Aap Beeti from October 2020.

The catalogue for the Oriental Translation Fund can be viewed on the Society’s Archives Hub page which lists all of our catalogued archives. The Royal Asiatic Society’s collections were created with the founding of the Society in 1823 and include: printed material, manuscripts, paintings, drawings, photographs, maps and archives. These provide an important resource for anyone wishing to study and gain further understanding of Asian cultures and history.

For further information please visit the Society’s website. The Reading Room is currently open to researchers with pre-booked appointments on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Twitter: @RAS_Soc
Facebook: @RoyalAsiaticSoc
Instagram: royalasiaticsociety

Emma Jones (ej@royalasiaticsociety.org)
Archivist
Royal Asiatic Society

Related

Oriental Translation Fund, 1836-2010

Browse all Royal Asiatic Society collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Royal Asiatic Society. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Cataloguing the Papers of Sir Norman Chester relating to Football at De Montfort University Special Collections

Archives Hub feature for August 2021

In 2018 De Montfort University (DMU) Special Collections received a grant from the Wellcome Trust to undertake a cataloguing project involving four of our sports history collections: the papers of England Boxing, the Ski Club of Great Britain, Sir Norman Chester and the Special Olympics Leicester. In this feature project cataloguer Louise Bruton focuses on the particular challenges of cataloguing one of those collections: the papers of Sir Norman Chester, an academic and specialist in public administration by profession as well as a lifelong football supporter.

Chester presenting a Football Trust cheque to the Scottish Football Association. Photograph shows Chester, Ernie Walker (Secretary of the Scottish Football Association).
Chester presenting a Football Trust cheque to the Scottish Football Association. Photograph shows Chester, Ernie Walker (Secretary of the Scottish Football Association).

Cataloguing personal papers as opposed to those of an organisation can be challenging. Whereas the documents of an organisation often retain the traces of the creating administration, divided into departments and divisions with defined responsibilities, personal papers can be more amorphous. The challenge presented by the Chester files was that they all consisted of papers relating to football improvement works and the content of each file appeared at first glance to be very similar. With over 300 files to sort through, I needed a way to uncover each file’s history and make sure that I retained its association to other files documenting the same piece of work.

'Soccer - The Fight for Survival'
‘Soccer – The Fight for Survival’.

I discovered that the best way to distinguish between files was to establish what Chester’s role was in that particular file – was he Chairman, Deputy Chairman, advisor, individual football fan? The way he signed off his letters was a clue, as was the headed paper. Chester’s papers were split and given to different institutions, so this section of his papers is entirely concerned with his work on football administration and I therefore decided that the best way to structure the catalogue was by Chester’s role.

Chester led two inquiries into the organisation, finance and management of association football in 1966 – 1968 and 1982 – 1983, the former only a few years after the end of the retain and transfer system and maximum wage rule which determined players’ ability to transfer between clubs, and the latter only ten years before the creation of the Premier League. The Chester Papers collection includes files of correspondence and notes Chester compiled as he worked on these inquiries, along with copies of the final reports (see series S/005/01 and S/005/02).

Archive folders before and after repackaging.

Chester was working during a difficult time for football in which declining attendance figures, crowd behaviour, financial struggles and stadium safety were key concerns. The bulk of the collection we hold consists of files relating to Chester’s work for two Trusts which sought to improve facilities at football grounds across Britain.

Appointed for his unique combination of public administration expertise and personal passion for the game, Chester served as Chairman of The Football Grounds Improvement Trust from 1975 – 1979 and as Deputy Chairman of The Football Trust from 1979 – 1986. Following the Ibrox Stadium Disaster in 1971, a report into safety at sports grounds found that existing standards were inadequate. The Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 required sports stadia with capacities of over 10,000 to carry out improvements to meet new safety criteria. Many Football League club grounds were large enough to fall under the legislation, but found it difficult to finance the necessary alterations.

Littlewoods Pools poster from the Chester papers. The pools funded improvement work at stadia.

The Football Grounds Improvement Trust (FGIT) was set up to give grants to football clubs to carry out safety improvement works. Funded by money from the football pools, FGIT considered applications from clubs on an individual basis, using a firm of surveyors to examine the technical details of proposed structural work. As Chairman, Chester reviewed all of these applications and kept copies, along with correspondence, in a series of alphabetised files. These are now catalogued as the series S/005/03/04. Many of the applications include plans and provide a snapshot each club’s facilities and future plans at that moment in time. Sadly, in spite of the grants allocated and the improvements made, disasters such as the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 showed that many football grounds still required significant redevelopment.

Drawing of Weston Super Mare Football Club new ground
Drawing of Weston Super Mare Football Club new ground.

Grant applications can also be found in Chester’s files relating to his work as Deputy Chairman of The Football Trust. As a sister organisation to FGIT, the Football Trust had a wider remit, extending grants to non-League football clubs and supporting research into football’s place in society. The grant files series (S/005/04/05) is a great place to search for local clubs as well as local-authority run grass-roots football grounds.

Chester’s files show that work to improve the safety of football stadia was linked to a desire to improve the environment for spectators and to contribute to a reduction in hooliganism. The ‘Anti-Hooliganism Measures’ series (S/005/04/05/009) documents efforts to understand and tackle problematic crowd behaviour. This work was ongoing at the time of Chester’s death in 1986.

Chester’s collection of Oxford United matchday programmes.

The most personal items are his collection of Oxford United football programmes. Many are annotated with the final score, showing that Chester attended almost all of his local team’s home games over a twenty-year period until the month before he died, remaining a football fan first and a football administrator second.

Louise Bruton, Project Archivist
and Katharine Short, Special Collections Manager
‘Unboxing the Boxer’ Wellcome Trust funded cataloguing project
De Montfort University Archives and Special Collections

Related

The rest of Chester’s papers are held by Nuffield College Archives, University of Oxford where Chester worked for most of his life: Papers of Sir Norman Chester, 1907–1986.

Papers of England Boxing (formerly Amateur Boxing Association of England), 1880-2016

Special Olympics Leicester, 2009

Browse all De Montfort University Archives and Special Collections on the Archives Hub.

Browse more Football collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright De Montfort University Archives and Special Collections. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Archives Hub Training

Over the first half of this year we ran a series of training sessions remotely. We agreed on a set of sessions of 1.5 hours duration, reflecting the feedback we have had from our contributors and potential contributors about what they would like.

The sessions we organised were EAD Editor sessions – basic and ‘refresher’, exporting from Calm, exporting from AdLib, providing content using spreadsheets (Excel), using the CIIM, and a session on structure and names in archive descriptions. We also ran a session on user experience and behaviour, which was the first time we have organised a session not specifically about the Archives Hub, discoverability and data.

We have received feedback from 32 attendees. 100% of attendees agreed or strongly agreed that the sessions were worthwhile. 72% agreed that the content was excellent, 28% that it was very good or good. We had similar ratings for clarity, pace and organisation. So, overall, we are happy that the training provided met people’s needs and the sessions ‘hit the spot’.

Comments (paraphrased) included: it was easy to ask questions, focused and clear, it boosted my confidence, I am clear where I can go for help if needed, good to see export in action, presented in a relaxed manner and not too long, worked well to see the Editor on screen share, the speaker held my attention for the full 90 minutes. The session on user behaviour was well received, with comments on interesting speakers, good experience of their subject, a variety of perspectives. There is a short blog post on that session, with a link to the Zoom recording.

We asked if people would like to see us cover other topics in the future. There were a variety of suggestions, all of which we will consider. One suggestion was for a session on basic structuring and approaches to cataloguing, and this has been asked for a few times, so we will aim to run a session around this in the second half of the year. We were also asked for something on the benefits of being on the Archives Hub. We did used to incorporate this into our longer EAD Editor sessions, and it is worth thinking about making sure we do convey the benefits of increased discoverability and being part of the Hub community.

If there are areas that you would like us to cover, please do get in touch. We aim to provide training that meets the needs of the community – so we need your input!

We are also looking at running more sessions that bring together speakers from our community, such as the session on user experience and behaviour. We are planning a session on ‘machine learning’ in the not too distant future.

All sessions for contributors and potential contributors will be advertised through our contributors’ list, so do make sure you are on the list in order to find out about upcoming events. Email us at contributors.hub@jisc.ac.uk.

Remember that we also have YouTube videos for practical training on using the Editor and the CIIM and on exporting.

Content of the workshop

clarity of the workshop responsesClarity of the workshop

content of the workshop responsesUseful & worthwhile

Employing Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Cultural Institutions

As mentioned in my last post, we’re looking at the possibilities Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can offer the Archives Hub and the archives community in general. I also now have a wider role in Jisc as a ‘Technical Innovations Manager’, so my brief is to consider the wider technical and strategic possibilities of AI/ML for the Digital Resources directorate and Jisc as a whole. We continue to work behind the scenes, but we also keep a watch on cultural heritage and wider sector activities. As part of this I participated in the Aeolian Project’s ‘Online Workshop 1: Employing Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Cultural Institutions’ yesterday.

‘Visual AI and Printed Chapbook Illustrations at the National Library of Scotland’ – Dr Giles Bergel (University of Oxford / National Library of Scotland)

Giles’ team have been using machine learning (ML) on data from data.nls.uk. He outlined their three part approach. First they find illustrations in manuscripts using Google’s EfficientDet object detection convolutional neural network seeded by manually pre-annotated images. They found the object detector worked extremely well after relatively few learning passes. There were a few false positives such as image ink showing through, marginalia and dog ears that would confuse the model.

Image showing false postive ml recognition
False positive ML recognition – ink showthrough

Next they matched and grouped the illustrations using their “state of art” image search engine. Giles believes this shows that AI simplifies the task of finding things that are related in images. The final step was to apply classification alogorithms with the VGG Image Classification Engine which uses Google as a source of labelled images. The lessons learned were:

  • AI requires well-curated data
  • Tools for annotating data are no less important than classifiers
  • Generic image models generalize well to printed books
  • ‘Classical’ computer vision still works
  • AI software development benefits from end-to-end use-cases including data preparation, refinement, consulting with domain experts, public engagement etc.

Machine Learning and Cultural Heritage: What Is It Good Enough For?’ – John Stack (UK Science Museum)

John described how AI is being used as part of the Science Museum’s linked data work to collect data into a central knowledge graph. He noted that the Science Museum are doing a great deal of digitisation but currently they only have what John describes as ‘thin’ object data.

They are looking at using AI for name disambiguation as a first step before adding links to wikidata and using entity recognition to enhance their own catalogue. It stuck me that they, and we at the Hub, have been ‘doing AI’ for a while now with such technologies as entity recognition and OCR before the term AI was used. They are aiming to link through to wikidata such that they can pull in the data and add it to their knowledge graph. This allows them to enhance their local data and apply ML to perform such things as clustering to draw out new insights.

John identified the main benefits of ML currently as suggesting possibilities and identifying trends and gaps. It’s also useful for visualisation and identifying related content as well as enhancing catalogues with new terminology. However there were ‘but’s. ML content needs framing and context. He noted that false positives are not always apparent and usually require specialist knowledge. It’s important to approach things critically and understand what can’t be done. John mentioned that they don’t have any ML driven features in production as yet.

Diagram showing the components of the Heritage Connector software

This was followed by a Q&A where several issues came up. We need to consider how AI may drive new ways/modalities of browsing that we haven’t imagined yet. A major issue is the work needed to feed AI enhancements into user interfaces. Most work so far has been on backend data. AI tools need to integrate into day-to-day workflows for their benefits to be realised. More sector specific case-studies, training materials, tools and models are needed that are appropriate to cultural heritage. See the Heritage Connector blog for more information.

AI and the Photoarchive‘ – John McQuaid (Frick Collection), Dr Vardan Papyan (University of Toronto), and X.Y. Han (Cornell University)

The Frick Collection have been using the PyTorch deep neural network to identify labels for their photo archive collection. They then compared the ML results as a validation exercise with internally crowdsourced data from their staff and curators captured by the Zooinverse software for the same photos.

Frick Collection workflow
Frick Collection ML workflow

They found that 67% of the ML labels matched with the crowdsource validations which they considered a good result. They concluded that at present ML is most useful for ‘curatorial amplification’, but much human effort is still needed. This auto-generation of metadata was their main use case so far.

Keep True: Three Strategies to Guide AI Engagement‘ – Thomas Padilla (Center for Research Libraries)

Thomas believes GLAMs have an opportunity to distinguish themselves in the AI space. He covered a number of themes, the first being the ’Non-scalability imperative’. Scale is everywhere with AI.  There’s a great deal of marketing language about scale, but we need to look at all the non-scalable processes that scale depends on. There’s a problematic dependency where scalability is made possible by non-scalable processes, resources and people. Heterogeneity and diversity can become a problem to be solved by ML. There’s little consideration that AI should be just and fair. 

The second theme was ‘Neoliberal traps’ in AI. Who says ethical AI is ethical AI? GLAMs are trying to do the right thing with AI, but this is in the context of neoliberal moral regulation which is unfair and ineffective. He mentioned some of the good examples from the sector including from CILIP, Museums AI Network and his own ‘Responsible Operations‘ paper.

He credited Melissa Terras for asking the question “How are you going to advocate for this with legislation?”. The US doesn’t have any regulations at the moment to get the private sector to get better. I mentioned the UK AI Council who are looking at this in the UK context, and the recent CogX event where the need for AI regulation was discussed in many of the sessions.

The final theme was ‘Maintenance as Innovation’. Information maintenance is a Practice of Care. There is an asserted dichotomy between maintenance and innovation that’s false. Maintenance is sustained innovation and we must value the importance of maintenance to innovation. He appealed to the origin of the word ‘innovation’ which derives from the latin ‘innovare’ which means “to alter, renew, restore, return to a thing, introduce changes in the way something is done or made”. It’s not about creating from new. At the Hub we wholeheartedly endorse this view. We feel there’s far too much focus on the latest technology meme and we’ve had tensions within our own organisation along these lines. There may appear to be some irony here given the topic of this post, but we have been doing AI for a while as noted above. He referred us to https://themaintainers.org/ for more on this.

Roundtable discussion with the AEOLIAN Project Team

Dr Lise Jaillant, Dr Annalina Caputo, Glen Worthey (University of Illinois), Prof. Claire Warwick (Durham University), Prof. J. Stephen Downie (University of Illinois), Dr Paul Gooding (Glasgow University), and Ryan Dubnicek (University of Illinois).

Stephen Downie talked about the need for standardisation of ML extracted features so we can re-use these across GLAMs in a consistent way. The ‘Datasheets for Datasets’ paper was mentioned that proposes “a short document to accompany public datasets, commercial APIs, and pretrained models”. This reminded me of Yves Bernaert’s talk about the related need for standardisation of carbon consumption measures. Both are critical issues and possible areas for Jisc to be involved in providing leadership. Another point that Stephen made is that researchers are finding they can’t afford the bill for ML processing. Finding hardware and resources is a big problem. As noted by ML guru Andrew Ng, we have a considerable data issue with AI and ML work . It may be that we need to work more on the data rather than wasting time, electricity and money re-creating expensive ML models. A related piece of work, ‘Lessons from Archives‘ was also mentioned in this regard. There is a case for sharing model developments across the sector for efficiency and sustainability here.

Five Hundred Years of the WS Society Archive, Edinburgh

Archives Hub feature for July 2021

WS Society deed box.
WS Society deed box.

The creation of the WS Society’s archive catalogue on the Archives Hub  during the first period of national lockdown was the completion of stage two of a long-term project to remap and rehouse the records of Scotland’s oldest and largest body of solicitors. The Society of Writers to HM Signet, to give it its full name, has its origins in a fraternity of legal clerks working for the king’s secretary in medieval Scotland, and it was incorporated into the College of Justice by James V in 1532. The Society underwent reforms in 1594 and the minute book that was opened in that year is the oldest single item in the archive. Over the centuries, the Society’s lawyers have played a key role in the history of Scotland, but they were also central to the country’s intellectual and cultural development. Our archive is a map of the Society’s history – the lives and careers of generations of Scottish professionals – but it is also a map of its greatest cultural creation, the Society’s home and headquarters, the Signet Library in Edinburgh.

The archive now has its own specially adapted space within the Library, and all bound records are now recorded in the catalogue. The archive’s five centuries of unbound records have been surveyed and the task of adding them to the catalogue will be the third and final stage of the project. The Victorian deed boxes that once housed these records may be obsolete but they are also beautiful, and some are now on display in public parts of the building.

The WS Society’s archive is open to academics and post-graduate students, and to bone fide independent researchers at the discretion of the WS Society’s officers. For more details, please contact the Research Principal James Hamilton on library@wssociety.co.uk.

The Signet Library in 1867 - glass slide - George Washingon Wilson.
The Signet Library in 1867 – glass slide – George Washingon Wilson.

The Signet Library is both a building and a collection. It is one of the largest private libraries in the United Kingdom and the books, art, furniture, artifacts and ephemera that it contains are a direct and important product of and survivor of the Scottish Enlightenment. Its scholar-librarians, who include the antiquarian David Laing and the church historian Thomas Graves Law, played vital roles in the development of Scottish historiography. The Library has its own record series within the archive, mapping the growth of a major Scottish intellectual institution from the first book purchases in 1722, through the golden age of the Scottish Enlightenment to the present day.

John Watson's institution entry form for Euphemia Bridie 1837.
John Watson’s institution entry form for Euphemia Bridie 1837.

The WS Society is a registered charity and the solicitors who are the Society’s members have always played a key role in the Scottish charitable world. In the archive are records of people who have otherwise entirely vanished from the historical record, preserved in the treasurer’s records of charitable giving. The Society ran a school for orphans in Edinburgh for 200 years – John Watson’s Institution – and early records of those entering the school are here, with evidence of family and support networks and with the (often tragic) stories that led them to the Institution’s door. A host of charities providing hospitals, homes, food and education to the less fortunate were administered by WS Society lawyers and the archive contains extensive records of these involvements.

Letters of Madeleine Smith, accused of the Sandyford murder in Glasgow, from the Working Library of William Roughead WS letters.
Letters of Madeleine Smith, accused of the Sandyford murder in Glasgow, from the working library of William Roughead WS.

In a building that contains both library and archive there will be materials that could be defined as belonging to either or both. One instance of this is found in the working library of the author William Roughead, Writer to the Signet and Scotland’s famous historian of true crime, which was deposited with us in 1952 along with a host of correspondence and papers. This collection is now the most heavily used part of the library and archive, and is in constant demand from journalists, television producers and academics.

Session Papers, including the trial of Deacon Brodie 1788 and the Joseph Knight slavery trial 1772
Session Papers, including the trial of Deacon Brodie 1788 and the Joseph Knight slavery trial 1772.

Another jewel in our crown is our collection of Scottish Session Papers, printed materials used in civil court cases from 1711 onwards. All Scottish life is here – from arguments over the contents of window boxes to the records of the cases that finally ended slavery north of the Tweed – and amongst the bald legal texts can be found fascinating annotations by the lawyers themselves, beautiful hand-drawn maps, letters, and, later, photographs. These papers are the greatest untapped historical resource in Scotland and a collaborative effort to digitise the various collections of Session Papers is ongoing. Our collection was indexed during the Great War and the index has been placed online.

Bar bill from a WS Society dinner in Ediburgh, 1722.
Bar bill from a WS Society dinner in Ediburgh, 1722.

The WS Society has always had within it a strong social and artistic life, and the archive reflects this with records of the Society’s rifle club and militia at the one extreme (created in response to a French invasion threat in the 1850s) to records of dining societies, sporting and golf clubs (Scotland’s greatest all-round sportsman, Leslie-Balfour Melville, was a Writer to the Signet), and more recently records pertaining to the Edinburgh Festivals where the Society has provided both administrative support and a venue.

John Jardine’s list of the women of Edinburgh 1746.

Not all of the records that the Society possesses are currently held at the Signet Library. The great collection of papers about the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion built up by the Reverend John Jardine (1716-1766) are now mostly on deposit at the National Records of Scotland, although we still hold Jardine’s astonishingly indiscreet lists of the women in Edinburgh during the ’45 and these have just been edited and published by the Scottish Record Society.  Recent years have seen a long overdue recognition of the importance of business records and of the records of legal firms. In Scotland, a single law firm might serve a community for generations, and its records if properly preserved offer a unique and important window on the lives of everyone within it. But a new wave of mergers and takeovers of legal firms, along with the demise of some ancient firms with the death or retirement of the final remaining partners, has put these vital records under threat. The WS Society and Signet Library stand ready to provide advice on the preservation of such records, connections with bodies with specific expertise in the managing of such archives, and, if necessary, will provide law firm records with a permanent home.

James Hamilton
Research Principal
Society of Writers to HM Signet, Edinburgh

Related

Archive of the Society of Writers to HM Signet, Edinburgh (1594 – ongoing)

All images copyright the Society of Writers to HM Signet, Edinburgh. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.