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.

“Wild Rose haups. Rosa Canina. Sidlaw Road, Strathmartine. September 1912”. Detail from Illustrations of Scottish Flora (1912-1913) by David R Robinson. From the Kinnear Collection, reference GB 0254 MS 103/3/5. Photograph copyright © University of Dundee Archive Services.

Feature: Botany – botany and botanists (March 2005).

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.

Image of butterflies: courtesy Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford.

Feature: Insects and Entomologists, enthusiasts and biologists, entomologists and zoologists (March 2006).

“Fringilla Carduelis. The Goldfinch”, from the Bird Book. Image courtesy of the University of Exeter Library Special Collections.

Feature: Ornithology, scientists, enthusiasts, and illustrators (May 2003).

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.

“Yellow water-lily. Pools in Camperdown Woods. Nuphar lutea (Nymphæaceaæ) July 19, 1913”. Detail from Illustrations of Scottish Flora (1912-1913) by David R Robinson. From the Kinnear Collection, reference GB 0254 MS 103/3/5. Photograph copyright © University of Dundee Archive Services.

Feature: Botany – botany and botanists (March 2005).

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.

Chameleon: photograph of vivarium in The Manchester Museum, copyright © The University of Manchester.

Feature: Charles Darwin and Evolution (February 2009).

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“Gather them in” – the musical treasures of W.T. Freemantle

Archives Hub feature for February 2019

A new exhibition at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds explores the story of a forgotten Yorkshireman whose achievements are now being reassessed.

Dr Bryan White, Senior Lecturer in the School of Music at the University of Leeds, has been researching the material collected by the Sheffield-based organist, antiquarian and collector William Thomas Freemantle (1849-1931). Dr White’s investigations have revealed a tenacious collector who would “endure martyrdom in Siberia” to acquire unique treasures for his library.

Photograph of W.T. Freemantle, 1912. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, MS 1700/6/7.
Photograph of W.T. Freemantle, 1912. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, MS 1700/6/7.

W.T. Freemantle’s musical interests extended widely and he gathered a valuable collection of manuscripts and prints. Much of this material has only recently been catalogued, and more still remains to be explored.

“W.T.” was born in Chichester and moved with his family to Sheffield in 1855. At the age of 16 he was apprenticed organist at Lincoln Cathedral and developed an interest in the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

Engraving of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy made by A.H. Payne and W.C. Wrankmore, after a portrait by Theodore Hildebrand (c.1835). Leeds University Library, Special Collections, Brotherton Collection, uncatalogued holdings.
Engraving of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy made by A.H. Payne and W.C. Wrankmore, after a portrait by Theodore Hildebrand (c.1835). Leeds University Library, Special Collections, Brotherton Collection, uncatalogued holdings.

Freemantle’s enthusiasm for Mendelssohn ran against the tide. At the mid-point of the nineteenth century the composer was a towering figure in the musical landscape, particularly in Britain. Mendelssohn’s reputation waned in subsequent decades, but Freemantle continued to value his music highly. Today Mendelssohn is again one of the most popular Romantic composers, and Freemantle’s collection has much to offer the researcher.

Freemantle described his metamorphosis into a collector in a lecture entitled “How I became an autograph collector and what I have got”. He tells of a visit to a Sheffield market where he stumbled upon a “rather soiled looking lot of manuscript music”. As he worked through the pile he found a Mendelssohn signature and felt “my blood had heated, my pulse had quickened” … “Oh! That bundle of music! I was now indeed an autograph collector.”

Autograph manuscript of Mendelssohn’s “Sonata” in B flat minor, 1823. This is the only source for this early sonata. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, BC MS Mendelssohn/Scores 1.
Autograph manuscript of Mendelssohn’s “Sonata” in B flat minor, 1823. This is the only source for this early sonata. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, BC MS Mendelssohn/Scores 1.

Several decades later his Mendelssohn collection encompassed 40 autograph manuscript scores, 300 letters, and hundreds of books, musical prints, concert programmes and other ephemera touching upon all aspects of the composer’s life and that of his family and colleagues. In the 1870s Freemantle began a biography of the composer, but eventually put the project aside when the extent of the surviving material overwhelmed him.

Engraving of Fanny Mendelssohn and her husband Wilhelm Hensel (August Weger and Johann-Paul Singer, 1846). Leeds University Library, Special Collections, Brotherton Collection, uncatalogued holdings.
Engraving of Fanny Mendelssohn and her husband Wilhelm Hensel (August Weger and Johann-Paul Singer, 1846). Leeds University Library, Special Collections, Brotherton Collection, uncatalogued holdings.

Freemantle collected music by other significant figures, and in particular committed himself to the music of Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), a prolific composer of theatre music and songs. Freemantle acquired a substantial set of Dibdin’s autograph manuscripts, working with great skill and dedication to organise and identify this very disordered material.

Charles Dibdin, autograph sketches of “Here’s all her gear” from his comic opera Rose and Colin, 1778. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, MS 1700/2/38.
Charles Dibdin, autograph sketches of “Here’s all her gear” from his comic opera Rose and Colin, 1778. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, MS 1700/2/38.

W.T. also took a strong interest in Sheffield history. He acquired books, pottery, painting, prints and tokens from the local area and wrote and lectured on local history. His collection of Rockingham pottery was eventually bought by the Sheffield Corporation and now resides at Weston Park Museum along with his collection of coins and seals.

Freemantle sold his Mendelssohn collection along with his entire library to Lord Brotherton of Wakefield sometime in 1927-28. The purchase was probably brokered by Brotherton’s personal librarian, J. Alexander Symington (1887-1961). Symington had oversight of the Freemantle Collection before it was formally accessioned by the University Library in Leeds, and he took the opportunity to sell significant parts of the Mendelssohn and Dibdin material to libraries and collectors in the United States. His actions played a significant role in suppressing the extent of Freemantle’s activities and his reputation as a collector.

Photograph of W.T. Freemantle and family at Barbot Hall, 1913. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, Brotherton Collection, uncatalogued holdings.
Photograph of W.T. Freemantle and family at Barbot Hall, 1913. Leeds University Library, Special Collections, Brotherton Collection, uncatalogued holdings.

Had Freemantle’s music collections remained intact he would be recognised as a pioneering figure in Mendelssohn studies, and more widely as a significant British collector of his era. Thankfully, the rest of Freemantle’s materials were left untouched and now form an important part of Special Collections at the University of Leeds. Now that Freemantle’s work is being reassessed, the real story of his achievements can begin to be told!

The exhibition runs from 1 March-31 July 2019 in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds.

On show for the first time to the general public are many of the Mendelssohn manuscript scores housed in Special Collections at Leeds University Library, alongside other items from Freemantle’s extensive music collections.

The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is free and open to all. For directions, opening times and our programme of related events see:

https://library.leeds.ac.uk/galleries

Get all the latest news and behind the scenes insights by following the Gallery on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – @LULGalleries

Special Collections at Leeds University Library is home to hundreds of thousands of rare books, manuscripts, archives and artworks. Our collections offer a rich resource for staff, students, and the wider research community. Start your search here:

https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections

Dr Bryan White
Senior Lecturer, School of Music, University of Leeds

Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis
Collections and Engagement Manager, Special Collections, University of Leeds

Related

Miscellaneous papers collected by W.T. Freemantle, ca.1775-ca.1925

Browse all University of Leeds Special Collections descriptions on the Archives Hub.

The Mendelssohn papers, mid-18th-19th century (held by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford)

Previous features on the University of Leeds Special Collections:

Sentimental Journey: a focus on travel in the archives

Recipes through the ages 

World War One

All images copyright University of Leeds Special Collections and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Uncovering censorship in the V and A Theatre and Performance Archives

Archives Hub feature for September 2018

On the 9th July 2018, the V&A Theatre and Performance Department opened a new display in our galleries titled Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50The display commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Theatres Act, which abolished state censorship of the British stage. As well as tracing the broader 300-year history of stage censorship, the display also looks at the censorship of music, film and print in the UK.

Uniquely for one of our displays, much of the material is taken from our collection of almost 500 named archives that form the V&A Theatre & Performance Archives. A significant portion of these are catalogued on the Archives Hub website, and all can be consulted by appointment in our Reading Room at Blythe House in London.

Poster for The Arts & Censorship gala at the Royal Festival Hall, 1968.
Poster for The Arts & Censorship gala at the Royal Festival Hall, 1968.                              Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Museum no. S.2054-1995].
Telling a story of censorship

Censorship is a story shaped by legal documents and correspondence. Its battles were often fought on paper and were won and lost through Parliamentary Acts.

Patent for Theatre Royal Drury Lane, issued by Charles II to Thomas Killigrew, 1662.
Patent for Theatre Royal Drury Lane, issued by Charles II to Thomas Killigrew, 1662. Credit: On loan from the Really Useful Theatres Group. Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, courtesy of Really Useful Theatres [Museum no. LOAN:USEFUL.1-2000].
This meant that the core of the display had to be taken from the rich resource of company, theatre and individual archives which are comprised of these letters, licenses and administrative records.

Curatorially, we considered the challenges of presenting archives carefully:

  • We wished to avoid overwhelming the visitor with paperwork;
  • To select key documents which could communicate both a specific example and the overarching narrative of censorship;
  • Balance a paper-driven aesthetic with colour and innovative exhibition design

We carried out rigorous research, and found fantastic theatre designs, posters and photographs which equally contributed to the narrative of the display. We were also lucky to work with political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who created a special commission for the display, as well as leading graphic designers Barnbrook who conceived the display design concept.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 display, Theatre and Performance Galleries, Copyright V&A Images.
Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 display, Theatre and Performance Galleries, Copyright V&A Images.

There were obvious important examples of censorship that we wanted to include, such as the play Saved by Edward Bond. This was performed as a private ‘club performance’ at the Royal Court Theatre after it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain for its violence and profanity.

In the English Stage Company / Royal Court Archive, it was fantastic to find correspondence from Edward Bond to the Lord Chamberlain refusing to make alterations, as well as a handwritten note written by a theatre staff member recording a conversation with a police officer who came to investigate the illicit performances.

Lord Chamberlain’s alterations to Saved by Edward Bond, 1965.
Lord Chamberlain’s alterations to Saved by Edward Bond, 1965.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/273].
There were also surprising discoveries within named archives. Joan Littlewood of Theatre Workshop had directed a semi-improvised play You Won’t Always Be On Top in 1958. She was prosecuted for producing a show which did not have a script for inspection by the Lord Chamberlain.

We discovered a letter in the Vivien Leigh Archive which Littlewood had written to the actress to ask for her public support. Leigh and husband Laurence Olivier were vocal supporters of the removal of censorship, and Littlewood was successfully defended in court. As well as this letter, we were also generously allowed to display photographs of the production from the Theatre Royal Stratford East Archive.

Letter from Joan Littlewood to Vivien Leigh, 1958.
Letter from Joan Littlewood to Vivien Leigh, 1958.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/433].
The display also features a section on OZ magazine, which was the subject of a notorious obscenity trial in 1971 for the publication of its Schoolkids Issue. This was edited by children and featured a depiction of Rupert the Bear in a sexually explicit scenario. The successful defence of the magazine’s editors was a ground-breaking testament of an increasingly liberalised culture.

The acquisition of the Felix Dennis / OZ magazine archive in 2017, with the assistance of the Art Fund, provided with us with fascinating material for display. Not only tracing the creative process, including paste-up boards by Martin Sharp, the archive also contains a wealth of material relating to the trial and the magazine editors’ supporters, including flyers for benefit concerts, badges and a fundraising record by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

‘God Save Oz’ charity record by Apple Records, 1971.
‘God Save Oz’ charity record by Apple Records, 1971.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/497].
As well as these examples, we also drew material from our core collection of Production Files, and images from our extensive photographic collections, including the Douglas Jeffery Archive. The Arts Council of Great Britain Archive also provided valuable documents relating to recent productions that had been the target of protest or loss of funding.

Production photograph of The Romans in Britain, National Theatre, 1980.
Production photograph of The Romans in Britain, National Theatre, 1980.            Credit: Douglas Jeffery. Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum [Archive ref: THM/374/1/2283/5].
This a small selection of the fascinating stories uncovered in the archives and now on display. Visit in person to listen to a playlist of banned songs, hear interviews from leading practitioners and cultural critics, and contribute towards the debate ‘what is censorship?’.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 is open until 27th January 2019.

Harriet Reed, Assistant Curator
V&A Theatre and Performance Department
Victoria & Albert Museum

Browse all V&A Theatre and Performance Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous features by V&A Theatre and Performance Archives:

The D’Oyly Carte Archive, October 2016

Curtain up! The Theatre and Performance Collections at the V&A, 2011

All images copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Making your digital collections easier to discover – Jisc workshops in November

Jisc is offering two one-day workshops to help you increase the reach of your digital collections, optimise them for discovery and evaluate their impact.

‘Exploiting digital collections in learning, teaching and research’ will be held on Tuesday 15 November.

‘Making google work for your digital collections’ will be held on Tuesday 22 November.

If your organisation has digital collections, or plans to develop them, our workshops will help you maximize the reach of those collections online, demonstrate the impact of their usage, and help you build for future sustainability. They will equip you with the knowledge and skills to:

• Increase the visibility of your digital collections for use in learning, teaching and research
• Encourage collaboration between curators and users of digital collections
• Strategically promote your digital collections in appropriate contexts, for a range of audiences
• Optimise your collection for discovery via Google and other search tools
• Use web analytics to track and monitor access and usage of your digital collections
• Evaluate impact and realise the benefits of investment in your digital collection

Who should attend?

Anyone working in education and research, who manages, supports and/or promotes digital collections for teaching, learning and research. Those working in similar roles in libraries, archives and museums would also benefit.

Both workshops will be held at Jisc office, Brettenham House, London and will offer a mix of discussion, practical activities and post-workshop resources to support online resource discovery activities.

For more information and to book your place please visit http://www.jisc.ac.uk/advice/training/making-your-digital-collections-easier-to-discover.

UKAD Forum

The National Archives
The National Archives (used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/that_james/2693236972/)

Weds 2nd March was the inaugural event of the UK Archives Discovery Network – better known as UKAD.  Held at the National Archives, the UKAD Forum was a chance for archive practitioners to get together, share ideas, and hear about interesting new projects.

The day was organised into 3 tracks: A key themes for information discovery; B standards and crowdsourcing; and C demonstrating sites and systems.  Plenary sessions came from John Sheridan of TNA, Richard Wallis of Talis, David Flanders of Jisc, and Teresa Doherty of the Women’s Library.

I would normally have been tweeting away, but unfortunately although I could connect to the wifi, I couldn’t get any further!  So here are my edited highlights of the day (also known as ‘tweets I wish I could have sent’).

Richard Sheridan kicked off the proceedings by talking about open data.  The government’s Coalition Agreement contains a commitment to open data, which obviously affects The National Archives, as repository for government data.  They are using light-weight existing Linked Data vocabularies, and then specialising them for their needs. I was particularly interested to hear about the particular challenges posed by legislation.gov.uk, explained by John as ‘A changes B when C says so’: new legislation may alter existing legislation, and these changes might come into force at a time specified by a third piece of legislation…

Richard Wallis carried on the open data theme, by talking about Linked Data and Linked Open Data. His big prediction? That the impact of Linked Data will be greater than the impact of the World Wide Web it builds on. A potentially controversial statement, delivered with a very nice slide deck.

Off to the tracks, and I headed for track B to hear Victoria Peters from Strathclyde talk about ICA-AtoM.  This is open source, web based archival  description software, aimed at archivists and institutions with limited financial and technical resources.  It looks rather nifty, and supports EAD and EAC import and export, as well as digital objects.  If you want to try it out, you can download a demo from the ICA-AtoM website, or have a look at Strathclyde’s installation.

Bill Stockting from the BL gave us an update on EAD and EAC-CPF.  I’m just starting to learn about EAC-CPF, so it was interesting to hear the plans for it.  One of Bill’s main points was that they’re trying to move beyond purely archival concerns, and are hoping that EAC-CPF can be used in other domains, such as MARC.  This is an interesting development, and I hope to hear more about it in the future!  Bill also mentioned SNAC, the Social Networks and Archival Context project, which is looking at using EAC-CPF with a number of tools (including VIAF) to ‘to “unlock” descriptions of people from finding aids and link them together in exciting new ways’.

David Flanders’ post-lunch plenary provided absolutely my favourite moment of the day: David said ‘Technology will fail if not supported by the users’… and then, with perfect timing, the projector turned off.  One of David’s key points was that ‘you are not your users’.  You can’t be both expert and user, and you will never know exactly how what users want from your systems, and how they will use them unless you actually ask them! Get users involved in your projects and bids, and you’re likely to be much more successful.

Alexandra Eveleigh spoke in track B about ‘crowds and communities: user participation in the archives’.  I especially liked her distinction between ‘crowds’ and ‘communities’ – crowds are likely to be larger, and quickly dip in and out, while communities are likely to be smaller overall, but dedicate more time and effort.  She also pointed out that getting users involved isn’t a new thing – there’s always been a place in archives for those pursuing ‘serious leisure’, and bringing their own specialist knowledge and experience.  A point Alexandra made that I found particularly interesting was that of being fair to your users – don’t ask them to participate and help you, if you’re not going to listen to their opinions!

I have to admit that I’d never really heard of Historypin before I saw them on the conference programme.  Don’t click on that link if you have anything you need to get done today!  Historypin takes old photographs, and ‘pins’ them to their exact geographic location using Google maps.  You can see them in streetview, overlaid on the modern background, and it is absolutely fascinating.  Photos can be contributed by anyone, and anyone can add stories or more information to photos on the site.  One of the developments on the way is the ability to ‘pin’ video and audio clips in the same way.

CEO Nick Stanhope was keen to point out that Historypin is a not-for-profit – they’re in partnership with Google, but not owned by them, and they don’t ask for any rights to any of the material posted on Historypin.  They’re keen to work with archives to add their photographic collections, and have a couple of things they hope to soon be able to offer archives in return (as well as increased exposure!):  they’ll be allowing any archive to have an instance of Historypin embedded on the archive’s site for free.  They’re also developing a smartphone app, and will be offering any archive their own branded version of the app – for free!  These developments sound really exciting, and I hope we hear more from them soon.

Teresa Doherty’s closing plenary was on the re-launch of the Genesis project.  As Teresa said ‘many of you will be sitting there thinking ‘this isn’t plenary material! what’s going on?”, but Teresa definitely made it a plenary worth attending.  Genesis is a project which allows users to cross-search women’s studies resources from museums, libraries and archives in the UK, and Teresa made the persuasive point that while the project itself might not be revolutionary, how they’ve done it is.  Genesis has had no funding since 200 – everything they’ve done since then, including the relaunch, has been done with only the in-house resources they have available.  They’ve used SRU to search the Archives Hub, and managed to put together a valuable service with minimal resources.

As a librarian and a new professional, I found Teresa’s insights into the history of archival cataloguing particularly fascinating.  I knew that ISAD(G) was released in 1996, but I hadn’t had any real understanding of what that meant: that before 1996, there were no standards or guidelines for archival cataloguing. Each institution would catalogue in entirely their way – a revelation to me, and completely alien to my entirely standards-based professional background!  And I now have a new mantra, learned from one of Teresa’s old managers back in the early 90s:

‘We may not have a database now, but if we have structured data then one day we will have a database to put it in!’

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better definition of the interoperability mindset.

After the day officially ended, it was off the the pub for a swift pint and wind-down. An excellent, instructive, and fun day.

Slides from the day are available on SlideShare – tag ukad.

On Holiday in the Archives

Pierrot troupe, 'Shorefield Gardens Westcliff 1916'
Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies (LUCAS) organised an event on Saturday, with Sefton MBC, at Southport Arts Centre. This was an afternoon of talks and films about what archives can show us about holidays and seaside resorts.

There were four films from the North West Film Archive, made by railway companies to encourage visitors to travel to northern resorts, and films showing local people made by cinema owners to encourage visitors to their cinemas.

Then Dr Chris Lewis of Victoria County History told us about his investigation into the names of private houses in the seaside town of Goring in West Sussex – an ingenious way to shine light on social history.

Allan Brodie of English Heritage showed us some of the evidence he had uncovered that Liverpool (rather than Margate) can make a claim to be the first seaside resort, in the early 18th century.

Professor John Walton of Leeds Metropolitan University described some of the lateral thiking and detective work required to track down sparse or scattered records of resort life in Britain (and Spain) in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Documented history concerned with these aspects of ordinary lives tends to be thin on the ground, as the whole subject was generally seen as ‘trivial’. But there’s so much more to history than the ‘great and the good’. These archivists and historians were at the seaside, but they were working on illuminating our history…

Above: Photo from the collection Papers relating to English concert parties and pierrot shows, held at the University of Exeter. Image courtesy of University of Exeter Library (Special Collections).

Neuer Post

Umspannwerk Ost restaurantBlogger knows I’m in Germany – the interface is all in German. Neat. And just a teeny bit creepy.

I’m here with Jane at the International Standards for Digital Archives conference. Lots of presentations about EAD, EAC, METS and related standards. I was talking about the Spokes software yesterday (the EAD day). The picture shows the inside of the Umspannwerk Ost restaurant where we had dinner last night. It used to be an electrical substation. The conference venue (the Umweltforum) used to be a church. They’re good at recycling here.

Daniel PittiToday was all about EAC and METS – Daniel Pitti was one of the speakers giving the background to EAC in the morning. Apparently there have been complaints about the complexity of the standard, so Daniel was asking for more details on this problem, as work is about to start on rebuilding it ‘from the ground up’. I enjoyed his closing comment which was along the lines of “it doesn’t matter what you do in the privacy of your own repository, but if you’re going outside, please dress up in a standard” (or a nice hat, of course).

BBC 2.0

BBC2's opening night logoThe Archives Hub’s funding body, JISC, held a one-day conference on Tuesday in Birmingham. One of the keynotes was by Tom Loosemore, of the BBC’s Future Media and Technology section. The slides and notes of Tom’s talk on the fifteen Web Principles of BBC 2.0 are worth a look.

The image of BBC2 on its opening night has been taken from The Ident Zone. The logos from the BBC’s own site can’t be shared on the web (cf. Principle #13).