Early English Ballet and the Royal Academy of Dance

Archives Hub feature for August 2015

The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) was founded in 1920, a time when there was a heightened interest in the establishment of a British ballet tradition. As a result, the RAD’s archive collections contain a variety of materials that relate to this period. The following article draws on resources from several of the archives and special collections held in the RAD’s Philip Richardson Library, some of which are also described on the Archives Hub.

Photo of Phyllis Bedells c. 1911.

Phyllis Bedells c. 1911. Rotary Photographic Series.

At the turn of the twentieth century, ballet in Britain existed primarily in Music Halls. Danish-born Adeline Genée was the star of London’s Empire Theatre between 1897 and 1909 and it was here that Phyllis Bedells became the first British ballerina to hold the position of Première Danseuse in 1914. Bedells was also the first to resist the pressure upon English dancers to Russianise their names after the status of ballet began to change in 1911 with the appearance of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in London, and in 1912 the celebrated Russian dancer Anna Pavlova made London her home. Both Diaghilev and Pavlova employed English dancers disguised with Russian-sounding names such as Alicia Markova (Lillian Marks), Anton Dolin (Pat Kay) and Hilda Butsova (Hilda Boot).

Audiences began to appreciate the artistry of fine performers and the production of great nineteenth-century repertory works alongside new ground-breaking choreography, design and music. By the 1920s strong moves were afoot to establish a British ballet tradition, spearheaded by Philip Richardson – the editor of the Dancing Times magazine. Alongside Adeline Genée, Phyllis Bedells, Tamara Karsavina, Edouard Espinosa and Lucia Cormani, Richardson had co-founded the Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain (AOD) in 1920 (later to become the Royal Academy of Dancing – RAD). The AOD set the standard by which ballet should be taught and examined. The next step was to ensure that ballet could provide a viable vocation for dancers and associated artists in this country.

Image of programme for the Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain’s First Annual Matinée performance, 1923.

Programme for the Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain’s First Annual Matinée performance at the Gaiety Theatre, 8th November 1923.

In November 1923, The AOD presented its first ‘Annual Matinée’ at the Gaiety Theatre, the object of which was to draw attention to the technical capabilities of the Association’s members. The programme included a divertissement by Philip Richardson entitled No English Need Apply, which satirised the prejudice felt to exist against British dancers at the time and the assumed greater success of dancers from the continent.

Established artists such as Phyllis Bedells and Tamara Karsavina presented their own individual programmes of ballet during the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1926 that bookseller and publisher Cyril Beaumont attempted to establish one of the first British ballet companies. The Cremorne Company – (named after the famous pleasure gardens of the early nineteenth century) – debuted at the New Scala Theatre on March 11 of that year.

Image of Programme of A Grand Matinée devoted to Ballet, Divertissements & Song Scenas, 1926.

Programme of A Grand Matinée devoted to Ballet, Divertissements & Song Scenas, presented by the Cremorne Company on Thursday, March 11th, 1926, at the New Scala Theatre.

Beaumont enlisted the help of ballet teacher Flora Fairbairn and although their repertory was not particularly successful, the cast included Penelope Spencer, Stanley Judson and marked the stage debut of budding choreographer Frederick Ashton.

By this time, both Ninette de Valois and Marie Rambert had established studios in London. The Marie Rambert Dancers, including Frederick Ashton, appeared in a London Revue called Riverside Nights in June 1926 presenting Ashton’s first choreography – A Tragedy of Fashion; or, The Scarlet Scissors. Meanwhile, Ninette de Valois was pursuing her idea of establishing a repertory ballet company at Lilian Baylis’ Old Vic Theatre and was engaged as ballet mistress and choreographer at both the Festival Theatre in Cambridge and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

In July 1929 the AOD presented a ‘Special Matinée’ at the Gaiety Theatre which included an appearance and choreography by Ninette de Valois. Following the performance critic Arnold Haskell wrote to the Dancing Times to express his pleasure at “the dancing of the English girls who have been trained under the principles of the Association, which is rapidly taking the place of a State organisation.” *

Image of Programme for The Camargo Ballet Season at the Savoy Theatre in 1932. The performances were presented in conjunction with the Vic-Wells Ballet and The Ballet Club

Programme for The Camargo Ballet Season at the Savoy Theatre in 1932. The performances were presented in conjunction with the Vic-Wells Ballet and The Ballet Club.

Following the death of Serge Diaghilev in August 1929, the Ballets Russes company disbanded. Philip Richardson, through the Dancing Times, encouraged the founding of a society whose aim would be to produce regular programmes of ballet in London. The ‘Camargo Society’ was formed in January 1930 and the committee included Richardson, Arnold Haskell, Phyllis Bedells, Lydia Lopokova and Edwin Evans as chairman. The first performances were given in October of that year and included choreography by Frederick Ashton, Ninette de Valois and Penelope Spencer. In 1932 the Camargo Society presented a season of ballet at The Savoy Theatre in conjunction with the recently formed Ballet Club and Vic-Wells Ballet, set-up by Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois respectively. The three companies for a short time shared dancers, choreographers, composers and designers. In 1933, following two Gala performances at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the Camargo Society was closed and the remaining profits and repertory works were handed over to the Vic-Wells company, later to become the Royal Ballet.

In 1932, Adeline Genée arranged for an ‘English Ballet Company’ to travel to Denmark to appear at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. The company was made up of members of the AOD and Phyllis Bedells appeared alongside other famous British ballet names such as Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin and Ruth French. Ninette de Valois directed the performances and the programme included repertory from the Camargo Society and the recently formed Vic-Wells ballet company. Although it was not intended to be a permanent company, the ‘English Ballet Company’ was an important step for the promotion of British Ballet on an international level.

Photo of The English Ballet Company in Copenhagen, 1932.

The English Ballet Company in Copenhagen, September 1932. (Ninette de Valois is in centre front with Adeline Genée partially obscured behind her. Phyllis Bedells and Philip Richardson can be seen to the left of Genée).

* Quoted by ‘The Sitter-Out’ in the dancing Times, New Series no. 237, August 1929, p. 418

Eleanor Fitzpatrick
Assistant Library & Research Services Manager
Royal Academy of Dance


Browse the collections of the Royal Academy of Dance on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the Royal Academy of Dance, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Thomas Baron Pitfield (1903-1999): a visual autobiography

Archives Hub feature for July 2015

Monstrous Monster drawing, 1979

TP1.12 Pen-and-wash drawing of the Monstrous Monster, the Duophonia, and landscapes, 1979

This month’s archive one true love is the Thomas Baron Pitfield Collection at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Pitfield was, to name a handful of epithets, a composer, teacher, poet, artist, engineer, furniture maker, calligrapher and engraver.

He studied and later taught at the Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM). He is a well-loved composer. However, it is the rest of his creative life that I wish to draw attention to here in this feature. In particular, his sketchbooks.

A bit of context

Pitfield was born 5 April 1903 to a strict Church of England family in Bolton. His parents had him late in life and according to his memoirs he was an unwanted and unplanned for child.

Pitfield was not born into an environment of plentiful inspiration and artistic encouragement. His creative nature was exactly that: his nature. Nurture was not a feature. In his autobiographies he mentions that he was given no means to entertain himself as a child save for his own resourcefulness which he believed fostered innovation in his early years.

Painted minstrel, 1933

TP1.10 Painted minstrel, 1933

By age two he was notably good at drawing and in school his ability to learn music almost instantaneously by ear was remarked upon. Much, he assures us, to the unimpressed pillars of his parents who intended for him to be a joiner like his father. He strove on however, collecting scraps from his father’s workshop and working them into toys and other objects.

At age 14 he was pulled from school and enrolled in an apprenticeship in the millwrights’ department of a local engineering firm, which he despised. It took time away from his creative and musical endeavours which he sneakily developed when everyone else was asleep. He also abhorred the idea that the machines he was helping to maintain could one day severely harm or even kill someone, as the near misses he witnessed assured him could happen.

The artist

“The artist [it is said] should be able to find his inspiration in the objects and life about him. I could never wax poetic about the gasometers and industrial plant.” (Pitfield, A Song After Supper, 1990 p84). And so he haunted the Bolton moors at the weekends bringing sketchbooks with him. “The countryside is the backdrop of most of my creative thoughts.” (ibid 12)

Tree drawing, 1981

TP1.15 Pen-and-wash drawing of a contorted tree, Dunham Park, 1981

Here we witness the birth of his sketchbook obsession. By the end of his life he had filled over 6,000 pages of thoughts, ideas, paintings, music, teachings, prose, poetry and designs. The calls them “a visual autobiography… so that they have become an outline of my life’s activities.”(ibid, p95)

Calligraphy, 1960

TP1.16 Calligraphy swirls, 1960

In his books we see everything that influenced his life for over seven decades. From the many pen-and-wash sketches of churches, woodlands, creatures and characters, to the incredible astuteness of his calligraphy and furniture designs. This stream of creative consciousness follows him through his short time as a student at the RMCM after quitting engineering at 21; working as a teacher of woodwork for the unemployed from 23; his fruitful composition career; his fondly remembered time returning as a teacher to the RMCM and beyond.

Philosophy and themes

Pitfield was a complex mould breaker. He remarks that early on he “began to see that an almost rabid conformity in those about me was no assurance of their sanity.” (Pitfield, No Song, No Supper, 1986, p24) In his life, themes of self-efficiency and great personal motivation permeate, whether it be stepping away from the religious upbringing, becoming vegetarian at a young age, his pacifism or his love of John Ruskin and William Morris.

Dunbleton Church sketch, 1968

TP1.1 Dunbleton Church sketch with Aaron Copeland quote, 1968

Nevertheless Christian iconography is very apparent in his notebooks and sits alongside furniture designs and the wild nature scenes which uproot the carefully penned calligraphy and drafts for lino prints, prose and poetry. The finished artworks crop up elsewhere in the archive but it is in the sketchbooks, the first manifestation for many of his creative outputs, where we find an absolute wonderland of inspiration.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to know more about his wonderful creations then do get in touch: archives@rncm.ac.uk.

Heather Roberts
College Archivist
Royal Northern College of Music



The Thomas Pitfield collections on the Archives Hub: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1179-tp.

Browse the collections of the Royal Northern College of Music on the Archives Hub.

Artworks copyright: The Pitfield Trust.

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Connecting through defining people and relationships

If, as a researcher, you search for ‘Jane Drew’, the celebrated architect and town planner, on the Archives Hub, amongst other things, you might discover a single item, “Letter from Jane B Drew to John and Myfanwy Piper”, a letter in the “Papers of John and Myfanwy Piper”.

You can see that its a letter in a collection at the Tate Gallery Archive. The description of the collection is an example of a good quality traditional archival catalogue, giving a fairly detailed listing of the content this particular collection.  But as a researcher you are really just interested in just this one letter.  You may ask yourself a number of questions, possibly starting with (1) Is this the Jane Drew I’m interested in? and then (2) What is the relationship between Jane Drew and John and Myfanwy Piper? You may well be able to find answers by accessing the letter itself, but at this stage you may just want to place this connection in the broader context of Jane Drew’s life and work. As a researcher, understanding how these people are connected may shed light on your research interests.

In this blog I want to think about this question of relationships. The fact is that archivists rarely provide structured information about relationships; if there is information, it is usually in the biographical history, which might outline key events and people in someone’s life, referring to their parents, work colleagues, friends, etc. The nature of the relationship is sometimes explicitly given, but often it is not. Our standards don’t really say much about relationships between the entities (people, organisations, places, etc) that we describe in our catalogues.

Going back to the Papers of John and Myfanwy Piper as an example, the biographical history includes the following:

[John] Piper began writing reviews from the late 1920s making a name for himself as a critic writing for periodicals like ‘The Listener’ and the ‘Architectural Review’. From 1935-1937 he assisted Myfanwy Evans, with the production of a quarterly review of contemporary European abstract painting called ‘Axis’. In 1937 Piper was commissioned by his friend John Betjeman to write the ‘Shell Guide to Oxfordshire’. Piper went on to write and provide photographs for a number of the guides as well as edit the series. In the same year John Piper married the writer Myfanwy Evans.

This is a typical of a biographical history – useful historical information about the individual or organisation. Within this there is information we can potentially use to create explicit relationship information:

John Piper ‘worked with’ Myfanwy Evans
John Piper ‘was friends with’ John Betjeman
John Piper ‘worked for’ John Betjeman
John Piper ‘was married to’ Myfanwy Evans

There are a number of issues to consider here:

How can we unambiguously identify the people?
How do we choose the vocabulary we use to define the relationships?
Do we try to include dates?
Is it reasonable for us to interpret relationships as ‘friendships’ or ‘collaborations’ if this is not actually explicit?

We are looking at some of these issues through our AHRC project, Exploring British Design. They are all issues that archivists need to explore in a debate around relationship information, but the first issue to consider is simply whether we should be thinking more about including this kind of relationship information in our archival finding aids. Is it something that would be of real value to end users?  This issue is coming more to the fore as we start to think about implementing ISAAR (CPF) and working with EAC-CPF , and also as Linked Open Data gains traction.

In a (well worth reading) recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, on the potential impact of EAC-CPF, K.M Wisser reports the findings of a survey about relationship information. The survey received 208 responses from archivists/archives in the US. Wisser wrote “The survey results indicate that the archival community has only just begun to consider relationships in the context of archival description and the role that explicit description of those relationships may play.”

As one respondent wrote:

“relationships are among the most important facets in a collection and deserve a high priority in description. One cannot understand the historical value of an event, person, or organization without knowing [the] relationship among and between them.”

One thing that really strikes me in Wisser’s findings is that archivists see relationships that are documented outside of the collection as almost as significant as those that are documented within the collection. Going back to our original topic of Jane Drew: who else did Jane Drew work with? Should we provide that information to our users, whether or not it is documented within the collection? Is our role to give as full an account as we can of Drew’s life and career? Is it to limit ourselves to what is within the collection?

Wisser’s survey asked respondents about the importance of relationship types. It is curious to me that archivists rated ‘collaborated with’ as a more important relationship than ‘studied with’; they rated a friendship as far more important when it was documented in the collection; and they rated ‘influenced by’ as generally not so important. I’m surprised that the respondents had such definite ideas about the relative importance of different types of relationships, especially when the majority appeared to agree with the importance of ‘objective cataloguing’.

In our Exploring British Design project, the work we did with researchers definitely confirmed to me the fairly self-evident observation that any relationship can be of major significance in research, even if it appears of minor significance within the archive, or indeed, within the literature in general. A brief collaboration may have been a crucial influence, a short friendship may have had hitherto unrealised impact, and anyway, the importance of the relationship depends upon the research you are doing. Researchers are not really aware of how challenging it is for us as information professionals to establish these kinds of relationships in ways that they can then access. But it is clear that this is the sort of connectivity they are after.

One of the challenges with documenting relationship types is that they can be hard to define. As Wisser notes:

“The concept of influence, however, proved the most problematic. Comments such as ‘influence is a squishy sort of relationship’ and ‘I think it would often be very difficult to prove that Entity A was influenced by Entity B’ indicate a notion of intangibility.”

The conclusion could be that we should leave well alone relationships that are hard to define. On the other hand, if we are in a position, as we research a collection, to highlight potential connections, that action could be of major value to a researcher, who may otherwise never know about a link that ends up being crucial to their particular research. The relationships that are easy to define are likely to have been defined already.

One thing that strikes me about the whole notion of introducing interpretation and opinion into cataloguing (a possible argument against defining relationships) is that the horse has pretty much bolted. I’ve looked at enough ‘objective’ descriptions to be aware that the names archivists choose to add as index terms are a choice; they inevitably have to be an opinion about the names significant enough to add as index terms. And subjects are a similar case – some collections are indexed thoroughly, some not at all.

Aside from indexing, each person would create a different scope and content entry, including and excluding different information, and whether you call that subjective or not, it is certainly always selective. You could also argue that the level of detailed hierarchical cataloguing, might indicate the relative importance of the collection. On the Archives Hub there are some collections catalogued in huge detail, and it is inevitable that researchers will assume these collections are particularly important.

All of these choices have implications for discoverability.

In Wisser’s survey, a significant proportion of respondents felt that the importance of a relationship should be based upon the use of the collection.  But this, again, raises the question: When thinking about relationships, is the cataloguer reflecting the scope of the collection, or are they trying to give as full a picture as they can of the person or organisation? Are we within the world of the collection; or is the collection within the world?

The reason that I believe that we should think beyond the bounds of the collection content is that I think it promises much richer rewards for our users and encourages archives to be a major player within a broader landscape of information resources. I base my thinking on the premise that the researcher is primarily interested in their research topic, which is not likely to be an archive collection per se, but rather an event, a person, an organisation, a subject, and the way things are connected. I think archivists are still tending to think in terms of a document that describes a collection, rather than how to link the collection into the cultural heritage landscape, and even more broadly beyond that. I wonder if archivists don’t always think beyond the catalogues they currently create because the researchers they have contact with (who visit the archive) are already fairly confident they want to use that repository, or a particular archive within that repository. In other words, the researcher is already in their space. When I worked in a specialist archive, I thought about researchers discovering our archive as a whole (having an online presence) and then I thought about them using our collections (individual collections each with their own description); I didn’t think about how our collections could be seen as part of a whole information landscape.

The loudest – and most convincing – argument I hear against this kind of approach is that it takes time, and archivists are short on time. But I wonder if that means we have to think fundamentally differently. Going back to Jane Drew, and think about the value of relationships for research into her life and work…

If one archive collection description highlights just a few relationships, this could take us a long way (although relationship types are a whole different thing…). If the individuals and organisations are unambiguously identified, this can help with the process of creating links out to other data sources, so that information can be linked together; then we have the chance to benefit from finding out about relationships that have been defined elsewhere. In other words, the connections one person has throughout their life can only be fully realised through the pooling of information resources, very much a joint effort. If the data is structured it can potentially be brought together.

Traditional archival cataloguing focuses on the collection, and what is documented within the collection. It tends to think in terms of a self-contained document. Pursuing relationships breaks the bounds of any one information source. That seems like a good thing, but it raises questions around approaches to cataloguing. One obvious way to tackle this is to start to think more about archival authority records. These should enable us to move beyond a collection-centric description of the collection and towards a more entity based approach, because you describe an agent (entity) independently of any one archival collection. Another option is to think in a Linked Data way, where you are concentrating on entities and relationships.

There are so many questions raised by the whole area of entities and relationships. A few of my current conclusions are:

We should primarily be led by what benefits research. Researchers are far less likely to think in terms of individual archive collections, and far more likely to think in terms of research areas (topics). The Web gives us the opportunity to think in a broader context.

Maybe it is worth considering taking some of the time used to provide a really detailed biographical history as an unstructured narrative, or the time to provide a really detailed multi-level description, and taking more time to provide (or provide the potential for) connections between our descriptions and the larger information environment. This could allow researchers to bring together much more comprehensive information, even if what we provide about individual collections is less detailed. Just adding something like a VIAF identifier to a name would be a great big leap forwards (http://viaf.org/viaf/51792789).

There is great value in being a small fish in a big pond, because most researchers are fishing for data in the big pond. As Wisser’s article says, “relationships are…seen to free collections from the isolation of individual repositories.” If we aim to be part of the big pond, we can continue to tend our smaller ponds as well!

To go back to the Piper Collection and Jane Drew….I used this as a random example, thinking of a researcher interested in one particular designer. But of course, the Tate Gallery Archive can’t be expected to define all the relationships within the description. It’s great that they have provided enough detail to find this one individual item – without that, we would not know about the connection with Jane Drew. I’m arguing for unambiguously identifying entities (people, organisations) because if we can potentially link this instance of ‘Jane Drew’ to other instances in other information sources, then it is very possible that we can find out more about this relationship; And if the relationship can’t be established through other sources, then maybe this archive provides unique evidence of a connection that could significantly benefit research.

Posted in cataloguing, descriptive data, eac-cpf, exploring british design, indexing, linked data, name authorities, researchers, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Researching 150 years of Salvation Army history

Archives Hub feature for June 2015

As an international Christian Church and charity active in 126 countries, The Salvation Army is a well-known public presence. This year is its 150th anniversary and the occasion will be marked in the first week of July with the Boundless International Congress in London.

In its 150-year history, The Salvation Army has worked in many surprising ways and places. Since hiring its first professional archivist in 2007, The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre has steadily been opening up the organisation’s rich documentary heritage. Its recently catalogued archives provide a window into The Salvation Army’s diverse activities and the ways these have affected lives and shaped histories.

Image of First report of the East London Christian Mission, 1867

First report of the East London Christian Mission, 1867

A series of tent meetings held in East London in August 1865 led to the development of the East London Christian Mission, which became known as The Salvation Army in 1878. The Mission spread quickly outwards from London throughout the UK, and within two years of becoming The Salvation Army it had begun expanding overseas. The organisation had always aimed to bring the gospel to the poor and vulnerable but in the mid-1880s, it started developing new ways of helping struggling and marginalised people materially as well as spiritually through social work.

The international and social dimensions of The Salvation Army’s work are particular strengths of the Heritage Centre’s collections and expertise. This feature highlights just two among many aspects of this work that can be researched in depth using the archives at the Heritage Centre. ‘Criminal Tribe’ settlements in India and early women’s rescue work are now easily accessible subjects thanks to catalogues and other finding aids that have been produced as a priority because of increasing interest from and collaborations with the research community.

India: Denotified Tribes

Image of Criminocurology or The Indian Crim, and what to do with him, Frederick Booth-Tucker, 1911

Criminocurology or The Indian Crim, and what to do with him, Frederick Booth-Tucker, 1911

The Salvation Army describes India as its oldest mission field. Evangelical and social work started in Mumbai in 1882.

An important aspect of The Salvation Army’s work in India in the early to mid-twentieth century was its work with so-called ‘Criminal Tribes’. In 1871 the British Raj enacted the Criminal Tribes Act, which proposed that certain adivasi or ethnic, tribal communities in the Indian sub-continent were ‘habitually criminal’. As a consequence of the Act, Criminal Tribe settlements were established with the intention of altering the behaviour of these communities.

Anglo-Indian Salvation Army officer Frederick Booth-Tucker was a key exponent of developing agricultural and industrial settlements for Criminal Tribes. At first the British Raj did not agree to The Salvation Army’s attempts at rehabilitating Criminal Tribes but by 1908, after years of difficulties in managing settlements, it was willing to utilise missionaries. Within three years The Salvation Army was receiving government subsidies to run 22 settlements with approximately 10,000 residents and further settlements opened later.

Image of ‘Criminal’ tribeswomen attend a Salvation Army Home League meeting at Sahibganj settlement, Uttar Pradesh, c1940s

‘Criminal’ tribeswomen attend a Salvation Army Home League meeting at Sahibganj settlement, Uttar Pradesh, c1940s

The Salvation Army was still running five settlements when the Criminal Tribes Act was repealed by the newly independent Indian government in 1949. In 1952 Criminal Tribes were officially ‘de-notified’, but the impact of the former law is still being felt by communities today.

There has lately been considerable interest in the treatment of Criminal Tribes from a variety of researchers, including the production team of the documentary film Birth 1871: History, the State and the Arts of Denotified Tribes of India, so the Heritage Centre has prepared a guide to relevant records in its collections, now available on the Heritage Centre website. You can also read more about Salvation Army work in India and elsewhere on our blog.

Women’s Rescue Work

Image of cover of The Deliverer

The Deliverer and Record of Salvation Army Rescue Work, January 1891, published monthly 1889-1923 and 1928-1993

A number of highly successful student placements hosted by the Heritage Centre have led to an improved knowledge of The Salvation Army’s early rescue work with ‘fallen’ women, and better access to the relevant records. Each year, the Heritage Centre welcomes a student from UCL’s MA in Archives and Records Management and another from Birkbeck’s MA in Victorian Studies. In recent years, these students have focussed on the records of The Salvation Army’s Women’s Social Services resulting in a full catalogue of the collection and original research using the records.

The research of this year’s Victorian Studies student, Cathy David, has given new insight into the day-to-day running of The Salvation Army’s first rescue home for women, Hanbury Street Refuge, and the teething problems encountered in its earliest days. Cathy has also shown how different sets of our records can be read productively together to expose biases and subtext. Last year, Kate Taylor shed light on the extent to which the experiences of girls taken in by Hanbury Street Refuge influenced WT Stead’s journalistic exposé The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, which led to the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act and the raising of the age of consent from 13 to 16 years of age. Their research was greatly aided by the catalogue produced by UCL student Arlinda Azaredo, which we hope to add to our existing descriptions on Archives Hub later in the year. It is already available on our online catalogue.

This year

Exhibition poster: 150 Years of The Salvation Army in Tower Hamlets, June-July 2015

150 Years of The Salvation Army in Tower Hamlets, June-July 2015

The 150th anniversary has afforded a wealth of further opportunities for the Heritage Centre to engage with communities, researchers and the media, improve its range of descriptive resources, and for staff to develop their expertise in a variety of ways. The Heritage Centre’s collections are expected to feature in a number of family history magazines in the coming months, and a two-week exhibition and programme of associated events in Tower Hamlets in early July is the outcome of a collaboration between the Heritage Centre, Stepney Salvation Army Corps and Tower Hamlets Council. The Heritage Centre also supplied images and loaned documents to the Geffrye Museum for the Homes of the Homeless exhibition, on now until 12 July. Subject guides and a blog have been added to our website, and more will appear throughout the year.

The Heritage Centre will be open longer during the Boundless Congress (29 June-6 July), and we look forward to welcoming many new visitors to our museum and archive reading room then. Full details of our extended opening hours are available on our website.

Ruth Macdonald
Archive Assistant, Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

All images copyright the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Archives of Nostell Priory and the Winn Family

Archives Hub feature for May 2015

Image of Winn Arms, Rowland Winn 1st Baron, 1885

Winn Arms, Rowland Winn 1st Baron, 1885

The collection and cataloguing project

In 2011 the West Yorkshire Archive Service [WYAS] held a public vote in each of its five districts to find out which collection was considered to be the ‘Treasure of the Archives’. The Nostell Priory (Winn Family) collection (finding number WYW1352) easily won this title in the Wakefield district with a massive 40.73% of the votes.

Leading on from this, in 2013, WYAS secured funding for a year cataloguing project from the National Archives Cataloguing Grants Programme to fully catalogue and make accessible the archives of Nostell Priory and the Winn family spanning 800 years of history. The project enabled the original catalogue for the collection to be enhanced and brought up to current archival standards, as well as making available previously unlisted and unknown records of the Winn family.

Additional information has been added for some 6000 entries including Civil War tracts from the 17th century and eye-witness accounts and letters relating to the doomed invasion of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.

Records held in the collection include family papers [13th century-1999] and estate papers [1215-1987]. The collection consists of over 544 boxes worth of material. Whether you are looking for your ancestors who worked there, researching the influential Winn family, the estate, the Priory, coalmining or any aspect of local history, there is something for everyone in this wonderful collection!

A brief history of the house and the Winn Family

The Priory of St Oswald at Nostell was founded in the early 12th century out of a pre-existing hermitage that was devoted to St James.

In 1540 the Priory was closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the buildings and land were granted to Dr Thomas Leigh. The estate passed through a number of owners and was then purchased by Rowland Winn, a London Alderman, in 1654. The Winns were originally from Gwydir in North Wales but had since become textile merchants in London, George Wynne of Gwydir was appointed draper to Elizabeth I. As the family increased its wealth they began acquiring land, which included the estate and manor of Thornton Curtis, Lincolnshire, and the manor of Appleby, Lincolnshire, before the purchase of Nostell in 1654.

By this time sections of the old Priory buildings had been converted into a manor house known as Nostell Hall, and the next three generations of the Winn family would use this house as their principal residence. The house that exists today is a result of the work commissioned by the 4th and 5th Baronets, both called Sir Rowland Winn. Work began in 1729 with Colonel James Moyser, James Paine and then Robert Adam all working on the house. Adam’s work on the interior and exterior of the house continued until 1785, when the 5th Baronet was suddenly killed in a carriage accident and money problems stopped all further work.

Engraving of Nostell Priory

Engraving of Nostell Priory

During his time at Nostell, Adam had brought in the painter Antonio Zucchi, the plasterer Joseph Rose, and the cabinet maker and furniture designer Thomas Chippendale to complete the interiors of the house, and these contributions are widely celebrated today.

After Sir Rowland Winn, 6th Baronet, died unmarried in 1805 the estate passed to his 11 year old nephew John Williamson, who was the son of Sir Rowland’s sister, Esther Winn, and John Williamson, a Manchester Baker. Upon inheriting the estate, John Williamson (junior) and his siblings, changed their names to Winn and we have the grant conferring John Williamson of Nostell Priory with the surname of Winn and coat of arms [see image above]. However the Williamson children did not inherit the Baronetcy, which could only be inherited through the male line in the family, and so it instead passed to Edmund Mark Winn, 7th Baronet, a first cousin. During much of the 6th Baronet’s ownership and the minority of John Winn, the daily management of the estate was left to Shepley Watson, a local solicitor.

After John Winn died in Rome in 1817, his brother Charles Winn inherited the estate. Charles commissioned further work on the furnishing and interiors at Nostell and, as a result of his keen antiquarian and scholarly interests, significantly added to the art, furniture and library collections at the house.

After Charles’ death in 1874, his son Rowland inherited the estate and embarked on further building and refurbishment work at Nostell. Rowland Winn was keenly interested in politics as was his son, Rowland [2nd Lord St Oswald]. The 2nd Lord St Oswald divided his time between Nostell and London and also travelled extensively overseas.

Following his father’s death in 1919, Rowland George Winn, 3rd Lord St Oswald, succeeded to the peerage but did not live at Nostell. During the 1920s and 1930s the house was occupied by other members of the Winn family. The Royal Artillery occupied the house during the Second World War, but the 4th Baron, Rowland Denys Guy Winn, returned to the family home following a distinguished service record in the Second World War and in Korea.

Upon his return he embarked on a political career and then succeeded to the title on his father’s death. He was an active member of the House of Lords throughout the rest of his life.

During the early 1950s the house was opened to the public as a heritage site, and in 1984 Nostell Priory was conveyed to the National Trust in lieu of inheritance tax, largely down to the work of the 4th Baron. Upon his death in 1984, he was succeeded by his younger brother Derek Edmund Anthony Winn, 5th Lord St Oswald, the father of the present Lord St Oswald, Charles Rowland Andrew Winn, 6th Baron Saint Oswald, who in turn took the title on the death of his father in 1999.

How to view the collection

Photo showing Nostell correspondence

Nostell correspondence

The collection is fully listed and information about the records can be found on the WYAS online catalogue at http://catalogue.wyjs.org.uk/Record.aspx?id=LC03029

This information is also due to be available to view on the Hub in the next fews months. Original records can be viewed at the Wakefield office of WYAS wakefield@wyjs.org.uk , telephone 01924 305980 [appointments are recommended as the material is not held on site]. Opening times and details of where the Wakefield office is located can be found at http://www.wyjs.org.uk/archives-wakefield.asp

Related information on the Archives Hub

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield: browse Wakefield collections

West Yorkshire Archive Service, all districts – Hub contributor information

Jennifer Brierley
ICT and Collections Archivist
West Yorkshire Archive Service

All images copyright the West Yorkshire Archive Service, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Exploring British Design: Interface Design Principles

Britain Can Make It exhibition poster

Britain Can Make It, exhibition poster

For our AHRC project, ‘Exploring British Design‘ one of the questions we asked is:

How might a website co-designed by researchers, rather than a top-down collection-defined approach to archive content, enhance engagement with and understanding of British design?

The workshops that we have run were one of the key ways that we hoped to understand more about how postgraduates and others research their topics, what they liked and didn’t like about websites, and in a general sense how they think and understand resources, and how we can tune into that thinking.



In the blogs posts that we have created so far, we set out one of our central ideas:

Providing different routes into archives, showing different contexts, and enabling researchers to create their own narratives, can potentially be achieved through a focus on the ‘real things’ within an archive description; the people, organisations and places, and also the events surrounding them.

The feedback from the workshops gave us plenty to work with, and here I wanted to draw out some of the key messages that we are using to help us design an interface.

Researchers often think visually

Several of the participants in our workshops were visual thinkers. Maybe we had a slightly biased group, in that they work within or study design, but it seems reasonable to conclude that a visual approach can be attractive and engaging. We want to find a way to represent information more visually, whilst providing a rich and detailed resource. Our belief is that the visual should not dominate or hide the textual, as does often happen with cultural heritage resources, but that they should work better together.

Researchers often think in terms of creating a story or narrative

When we asked our participants to focus on an individual object, several of them thought in terms of its ‘story’. It seemed to me that most of the discussions that we had assumed a narrative type approach. It is hardy surprising, as when we talk about people, places and events we connect them together. It is a natural thing to do.

Different types of contexts provide value

When we asked workshop participants to think about how they would go about researching the object they were given, they tended to think of ways to contextualise it. They were interested in where it came from, in its physicality and its story. For example, we gave out photographs of an exhibition and they wanted to know where the photographs were taken, more about the exhibition and the designers involved in it, what else was going on at that time?   Our idea with Exploring British Design is that we can create records that allow these kinds of contexts to flourish. The participants did not concentrate on traditional archival context, as they did not tend to recognise this in the same way as archivists – it is one perspective amongst many.

We cannot provide a substitute for the value of handling the original object, and it was clear that researchers found this to be immensely valuable, but we can help to provide context that helps to scope reality.

Uncovering the obscure is a good thing

Not surprisingly, our workshop participants were keen that their research efforts should result in finding little-known information that they could utilise. They talked about the excitement of uncovering information and the benefits for their work.

Habits are part of the approach to research

The balance between being innovative and anchoring an interface in what people are familiar with seems to be important.

Trust is very important

The importance of trust was stressed at all of our workshops, and the need to know the context of information. We need to build something that researchers believe is a quality resource, with information they can rely on.

Serendipity is good…although it can lead you astray

It was clear that our participants wanted to explore, and liked the idea of coming across the unexpected. Several of them felt that the library bookshelves provide a good opportunity to browse and discover new sources (they talked about this more than the serendipity of the web). But there was also a note of caution about time wasted pursuing different avenues of information. It seems good to build in serendipity, whilst providing an interface that gives clear landmarks and signposts.

Search and Relevance

Our workshop participants were clear that choice of search terms has a big influence on what you find, and this can be a disadvantage. You may be presented with a search box, and you don’t really know what to search for to get what you want, especially if you don’t know what you want! Also, the relevance ranking can be a puzzle. Library databases often seem to give results that don’t make that much sense.

One thing that stood out to me was the willingness to use Google, which is a simple search box, with no indication of how to search, that brings back huge amounts of results; but the criticisms of library databases, where choice of search term is crucial and where ‘too many results’ are seen as a problem. It seemed that the key here was effective relevance ranking, but our workshop participants did agree that relevance ranking can deceive: the first page of results may look good, but you don’t really know what you are missing. Google is good at providing a first page of useful looking results….and maybe that’s enough to stop most people wondering about what they might be missing!

 Exploring British Design

As our project has progressed, I think it is fair to say that we have benefitted hugely from the input of the students and academics that we have talked to, not only for this project but also more generally. But it was not possible for us to manage to implement a directly co-designed website. The logistics of the project didn’t allow for this, as we wanted to gather input to inform the project, and then we had the complications of pulling together the data, designing the back end and the API. We would probably have needed at least another 6 months on the project to go back to the workshop participants and ask them about the website design as we went along.

But I think we have achieved a good deal in terms of engagement. Our Exploring British Design project has been about other ways through content, moving away from a search box and a list of search results, and thinking about immersing researchers in a ‘landscape’, where they can orientate themselves but also explore freely. So, we are thinking about engagement in terms of a more visually attractive and immersive experience, giving researchers the opportunity to follow connections in a way that gives them a sense of movement through the design landscape, hints at the unknown, and shows the relevancy of the entities that are featured in the website.  We hope to show how this can potentially expand understanding because it allow for a wider context and more varied narratives.

In the next project post we hope to present our interface for this pilot project!


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Capturing the Energy – Oil and Gas Archive at Aberdeen University

Archives Hub feature for April 2015

The University of Aberdeen’s Special Collections Centre has a growing collection of archives relating to the UK offshore oil and gas industry, which has been centred in Aberdeen since the 1960s. The Capturing the Energy project, based at the University, is working with companies and organisations across the industry to ensure that historical records find their way to the archive to preserve a record of one of modern Britain’s most significant industries.


One of the Oil & Gas Archive’s key collections is the Frigg UK archive, which was deposited by the operating company Total as part of a documentation project between 2006 and 2008.

The Frigg field was the world’s largest and deepest offshore gas field when it was discovered in 1971, straddling the international boundary between the Norwegian and British sectors of the North Sea. British and Norwegian companies involved agreed to develop and manage the field as a single entity operated by Total E&P Norge in Stavanger, Norway.

Drawing of the MCP-01 platform

A general arrangement drawing of the MCP-01 platform, early 1980s.

At its peak, 1800 men were working on the construction of five installations in the Frigg Field. There were two drilling and treatment platforms on the Norwegian side and three on the British side of the border: an accommodation platform for 120 people, plus additional treatment and drilling platforms. Bridges connected three of the platforms, crossing over the international boundary line.

An additional platform in the UK sector, MCP-01, formed part of the Frigg Transportation System (FTS) which transported gas from the field to the St Fergus terminal in Scotland. The FTS is formed of two 230 mile long pipelines, laid between 1974 and 1977, and MCP-01 switched gas between the two pipelines, compressed the gas entering the pipelines and was also used for the inspection and maintenance of the pipelines.


Aerial photograph of platforms

Aerial photograph of platforms in the Frigg Field, circa late 1970s.

The documentation project was run by the Norwegian Petroleum Museum in Stavanger, in partnership with the Stavanger Regional Archives and the University of Aberdeen who both took in archive material relating to Frigg. The University collected material relating to MCP-01, the Frigg Transportation System and the St Fergus terminal.

The Frigg UK collection contains over 1,500 individual items, including engineering drawings, technical manuals, operational records, staff magazines, photographs, and film and video footage. Oral history recordings provide a uniquely personal view of how the arrival of North Sea gas shaped people’s lives. There are runs of engineering, administrative and publicity records, showing the development of technology and changes in corporate policy.

Significance of Frigg

 Map showing MCP-01

Location map showing MCP-01 and the Frigg Field.

At its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Frigg supplied Britain with a third of its gas requirements, contributing to Britain being self-sufficient in energy for a time. More widely, the industry as a whole generated many jobs across the UK and in Aberdeen City and Shire in particular: in 2012 the offshore oil and gas industry was estimated to provide employment for 440,000 people across the whole country. The construction, development and operation of the Frigg platforms, FTS and St Fergus provided employment for many people locally in Aberdeenshire and across the UK and Norway. In the early 1980s MCP-01 also housed the first women to work on a British installation in the North Sea.

Radio tower

MCP-01’s radio tower at sunset, 1986.

Frigg’s position in the northern North Sea between the Norwegian and British sectors, and the depth of the field meant that many technological innovations and a landmark international agreement, the 1976 Frigg Treaty, were needed to develop the field. World records for speed and depth were set with the construction and installation of the FTS pipelines. As the first international field to be exploited in Europe, Frigg became the model on which later collaborative agreements and operations were based.
Although the platforms on the Frigg field have now been decommissioned and removed, the Frigg pipelines continue to be used to transport gas from other fields to St Fergus, which continues to supply around 20% of the UK’s energy requirements.

The field is also the first example of a documentation project for the UK sector of the North Sea, and Capturing the Energy hope to employ a similar methodology to capture important records about other significant fields in the industry’s history.

Frigg on the Archives Hub

The collection description is available on the Archives Hub and is also available on the University of Aberdeen’s own catalogue.

More information about the Frigg project and Capturing the Energy are available on the respective project websites: http://www.capturing-the-energy.org.uk/ and http://www.abdn.ac.uk/historic/energyarchive/, and you can get further details about the University of Aberdeen’s oil and gas collections in this factsheet: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/library/documents/guides/hcol/qghcol011.pdf

Katy Johnson
Project Development Officer, Capturing the Energy

All images copyright the University of Aberdeen, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Continuity of Care – The Royal Scottish National Hospital

Archives Hub feature for March 2015

The Wellcome Trust is currently funding a project 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.

The foundation of the Institution

Photo of the the Scottish National Institution c1910

The Scottish National Institution c1910

The background to the Institution’s revolutionary approach lies in its reaction to the prevailing social attitudes of the time. Prior to the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, there was no distinction made between mental illness and mental impairment. If children with learning disabilities could not be looked after by their families the alternatives were the poorhouse or an adult lunatic asylum.

The concern generated by this situation resulted in the foundation of the Society for the Education of Imbecile Youth in Scotland in 1859. The Society supported a small school in Edinburgh but it became clear that in order fully to realise their vision, they needed their own premises. In Edinburgh, according to the first annual report, any negotiations with landlords ended as soon as the purpose of the proposed Institution was known. They had to look outside the city and land in Larbert, with its excellent rail links, was chosen.

Initially the children were admitted on a fee-paying basis. For those whose families could not afford the fee the Institution paid, following the election of suitable applicants by donors to the Society.

Applications for admission

Image of Application for admission, 1865

Application for admission, 1865

This election process created one of the most important parts of the collection: the applications. Around 3000 of these have survived dating from 1865 to the 1940s. Most early applications include a form titled ‘Queries to be answered by Parent or other near Relative personally acquainted with Case, applying for admission’. This form asks for information on the family’s circumstances as well as the child’s health, behaviour and educational abilities.

Usually accompanying the form is a medical certificate signed by a local doctor which classifies the child’s abilities as Class 1 – very hopeful; Class 2 – hopeful; Class 3 – less so; and Class 4 – subject to severe and frequent fits. To ensure the success of its chosen applicants, the Institution makes it clear on this second form that ‘cases of insanity, of confirmed epilepsy, of the deaf and dumb, and of the blind are ineligible for admission except upon payment’.

Electioneering was expected and applicants were often direct in their approach. One letter asks for a list of subscribers so they could be asked for their votes. Another indicates how large a donation could be expected from the locality on the election of the desired candidate. Lobbying on behalf of applicants became such as nuisance that as early as 1864 the Directors voted to ban the use of cards in canvassing as ‘expensive to the parents and an annoyance to the subscribers’.

Many of the applications include correspondence. One early application was for a boy from Saltcoats called Charles McLarty. According to his form he was admitted in 1881 at the age of 15. But the application includes four letters written between 1927 and 1933 presumably from a relative, asking about his health and sending him sweets. At the age of 67 Charlie was still at the Institution.

This issue of adults in what was ostensibly a children’s Institution exercised the Commissioners in Lunacy during their twice-yearly inspections. One wrote in 1876 ‘[it] is no longer as to the detention of one or two exceptional cases, but it applies to a third or more of the inmates’. They requested that the situation be regularised with orders of the sheriff and a paid licence. But given the lack of any suitable Institution to discharge them to, many were kept on as servants in the Institution or were simply paid boarders. It was only with the opening of the Industrial Colony for Adults in 1935 that the Larbert Institution could officially be said to provide all-life care.

Photo of the new Industrial Colony, 1935

The new Industrial Colony, 1935

Life in the Institution

There is ample evidence that the children were treated with kindness. Even in a source as potentially dry as the cash book there are entries devoted to payments for travelling musicians, toys for children and bonnets for boys.

Image: In the schoolroom, c1915

In the schoolroom, c1915

Three and a half hours of schooling were given each day in the early years of the Institution but even training was seen as pleasurable: ‘kindly instructors and happy children’ as one inspector described the workshops in 1927. And there were plenty of leisure activities provided. Picnics were popular as were the introduction of ‘talkies’ in 1936. These were described in the minutes: ‘no innovation has given greater pleasure than this either in anticipation, realisation or retrospect’.

It is easier to understand the medical superintendent’s bewilderment in 1920 when faced with three runaways from the Institution in the one month. One boy had only been in the Institution a week ‘and was home-sick for a garret in a horrible slum in Glasgow…[with] no furniture’.

Image: Picnic in the grounds, c1937

Picnic in the grounds, c1937

The RSNH on the Archives Hub

The collection description is already available on the Archives Hub. The rest of the collection will be added when the project ends in July this year. It will also be available on the University of Stirling’s own catalogue: http://www.calmview.eu/stirling/CalmView/Default.aspx.

Other highlights of the collection include admissions registers (1863-19880, minute books (1863-1969), annual reports (1862-1948) and correspondence (1881-1965).

University of Stirling collections on the Archives Hub

The university’s collections are as diverse as would be expected but are particularly strong in the areas of film-making, politics, literature and sport. Highlights of the collections on the Archives Hub include Lindsay Anderson (1923-1994) film director; James Hogg (1770-1835) poet and novelist; and the extensive collection of political papers, pamphlets and newspapers of William Tait (1889-1941) socialist labour politician.

Alison Scott, Project Archivist
University of Stirling

All images copyright the University of Stirling, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Europeana Tech 2015: focus on the journey

Last week I attended a very full and lively Europeana Tech conference. Here are some of the main initiatives and ideas I have taken away with me:

Think in terms of improvement, not perfection

Do the best you can with what you have; incorrect data may not be as bad as we think and maybe users expectations are changing, and they are increasingly willing to work with incomplete or imperfect data. Some of the speakers talked about successful crowd-sourcing – people are often happy to correct your metadata for you and a well thought-out crowd-sourcing project can give great results.

BL Georeferencer, showing an old map overlaying part of Manchester: http://www.bl.uk/maps/georeferencingmap.html

BL Georeferencer, showing an old map overlaying part of Manchester: http://www.bl.uk/maps/georeferencingmap.html

The British Library currently have an initiative to encourage tagging of their images on Flickr Commons and they also have a crowd-sourcing geo-referencer project.

The Cooper Hewitt Museum site takes a different and more informal approach to what we might usually expect from a cultural heritage site. The homepage goes for an honest approach:

“This is a kind of living document, meaning that development is ongoing — object research is being added, bugs are being fixed, and erroneous terms are being revised. In spite of the eccentricities of raw data, you can begin exploring the collection and discovering unexpected connections among objects and designers.”

The ‘here is some stuff’ and ‘show me more stuff’ type of approach was noticeable throughout the conference, with different speakers talking about their own websites. Seb Chan from the Cooper Hewitt Museum talked about the importance of putting information out there, even if you have very little, it is better than nothing (e.g. https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18446665).

The speaker from Google, Chris Welty, is best known for his work on ontologies in the Semantic Web and IBM’s Watson. He spoke about cognitive computing, and his message was ‘maybe it’s OK to be wrong’. Something may well still useful, even if it is not perfectly precise. We are increasingly understanding that the Web is in a state of continuous improvement, and so we should focus on improvement, not perfection. What we want is for mistakes to decrease, and for new functionality not to break old functionality.  Chris talked about the importance of having a metric – something that is believable – that you can use to measure improvement. He also spoke about what is ‘true’ and the need for a ‘ground truth’ in an environment where problems often don’t have a right or wrong answer. What is the truth about an image? If you show an image to a human and ask them to talk about it they could talk for a long time. What are the right things to say about it? What should a machine see? To know this, or to know it better, Chris said, Google needs data – more and more and more data. He made it clear that the data is key and it will help us on the road to continuous improvement. He used the example of searching for pictures of flowers using Google to find ‘paintings with flowers’. If you did this search 5 years ago you probably wouldn’t get just paintings with flowers. The  search has improved, and it will continue to improve.  A search for ‘paintings with tulips’ now is likely to show you just tulips. However, he gave the example of  ‘paintings with flowers by french artists’ –  a search where you start to see errors as the results are not all by french artists. A current problem Google are dealing with is mixed language queries, such as  ‘paintings des fleurs’, which opens a whole can of worms. But Chris’ message was that metadata matters: it is the metadata that makes this kind of searching possible.

The Success of Failure

Related to the point about improvement, the message is that being ‘wrong’ or ‘failing’ should be seen in a much more positive light. Chris Welty told us that two thirds of his work doesn’t make it into a live environment, and he has no problem with that. Of course, it’s hard not to think that Google can afford to fail rather more than many of us! But I did have an interesting conversation with colleagues, via Twitter, around the importance of senior management and funders understanding that we can learn a great deal from what is perceived as failure, and we shouldn’t feel compelled to hide it away.

Photo from Europeana Tech

Europeana Tech panel session, with four continents represented

Think in terms of Entities

We had a small group conversation where this came up, and a colleague said to me ‘but surely that’s obvious’. But as archivists we have always been very centered on documents rather than things – on the archive collection, and the archive collection description. The  trend that I was seeing reflected at Europeana Tech continued to be towards connections, narratives, pathways, utilising new tools for working with data, for improving data quality and linking data, for adding geo-coordinates and describing new entities, for making images more interoperable and contextualising information. The principle underlying this was that we should start from the real world – the real world entities – and go from there. Various data models were explored, such as the Europeana Data Model and CIDOC CRM, and speakers explained how entities can connect, and enable a richer landscape. Data models are a tricky one because they can help to focus on key entities and relationships, but they can be very complex and rather off-putting. The EDM seems to split the crowd somewhat, and there was some criticism that it is not event-based like CIDOC CRM, but the CRM is often criticised for being very complex and difficult to understand. Anyway, setting that aside, the overall the message was that relationships are key, however we decide to model them.

Cataloguing will never capture everyone’s research interests

An obvious point, but I thought it was quite well conveyed in the conference. Do we catalogue with the assumption that people know what they need? What about researchers interested in how ‘sad’ is expressed throughout history, or fashions for facial hair, or a million other topics that simply don’t fit in with the sorts of keywords and subject terms we normally use. We’ll never be able to meet these needs, but putting out as much data as we can, and making it open, allows others to explore, tag and annotate and create infinite groups of resources. It can be amazing and moving, what people create: Every3Minutes.

There’s so much out there to explore….

There are so many great looking tools and initiatives worth looking at, so many places to go and experiment with open data, so many APIs enabling so much potential. I ended up with a very long list of interesting looking sites to check out. But I couldn’t help feeling that so few of us have the time or resource to actually take advantage of this busy world of technology. We heard about Europeana Labs, which has around 100 ‘hardcore’ users and 2,200 registered keys (required for API use). It is described as “a playground for remixing and using your cultural and scientific heritage. A place for inspiration, innovation and sharing.” I wondered if we would ever have the time to go and have a play. But then maybe we should shift focus away from not being able to do these things ourselves, and simply allow others to use the data, and to adopt the tools and techniques that are available – people can create all sorts of things. One example amongst many we heard about at the conference is a cultural collage: zenlan.com/collage. It comes back to what is now quite an old adage, ‘the best innovation may not be done by you’. APIs enable others to innovate, and what interests people can be a real surprise. Bill Thompson from the BBC referred to a huge interest in old listings from Radio Times, which are now available online.

The International Image Interoperability Framework

I list the IIIF this because it jumped out at me as a framework that seems to be very popular – several speakers referred to it, and it very positive terms. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it seemed to be seen as a practical means to ensure that images are interoperable, and can be moved around different systems.

Think Little

One of my favourite thoughts from the conference, from the ever-inspirational Tim Sherratt, was that big ideas should enable little ideas. The little ideas are often what really makes the world go round. You don’t have to always think big. In fact, many sites have suffered from the tendency to try to do everything. Just because you can add tons of features to your applications, it doesn’t mean you should

The Importance of Orientation

How would you present your collections if you didn’t have a search box? This is the question I asked myself after listening to George Oates, from Good Form and Spectacle. She is a User Interface expert, and has worked on Flickr and for the Internet Archive amongst other things. I thought her argument about the need to help orientate users was interesting, as so often we are told that the ‘Google search box’ is the key thing, and what users expect. She talked about some of her experiments with front end interfaces that allow users to look at things differently, such as the V&A Spelunker. She spoke in terms of landmarks and paths that users could follow. I wonder if this is easier said than done with archives without over-curating what you have or excluding material that is less well catalogued, or does not have a nice image to work with. But I certainly think it is an idea worth exploring.

View of V&A Speleunker

“The V&A Spelunker is a rough thing built by Good, Form & Spectacle to give a different view into the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum”

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Exhibitions at the Shakespeare Institute: seeing beyond the book shelves

Archives Hub feature for February 2015

Image of poster for 2014 exhibition: Birth in Shakespeare's time

Poster for 2014 exhibition: Birth in Shakespeare’s time (to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth)

The Shakespeare Institute Library holds monthly exhibitions which bring out lesser known aspects of our collections and especially our archive holdings.

Image of poster for 2014 exhibition: Where are we now?

Poster for 2014 exhibition: Where are we now? (Showcasing alumni careers)

These exhibitions were designed as a way to inform our users, predominantly our student body, of the breadth and depth of our holdings. As they have developed they have also enabled us to connect with the students and our local community in other ways: highlighting the careers and output of alumni of the Institute, promoting other collections in the local area, tying in with events and conferences, etc.

All library staff get involved in the researching, formatting, publicising and mounting of exhibitions so, as well as informing our users our staff get an excellent chance for learning more about the contents of the library and to work on areas of professional development – which, of course, can only benefit out users. The enthusiasm of the staff for the exhibitions has helped developed an exciting programme themes which we programme for the year. Work on these is scheduled so that there is a clear picture of when other collections need to be approached. As one is launched the work on the next begins.

Photo of exhibition on Henry V

Exhibition on Henry V (1913) commemorating the boys of King Edward VI School killed in WW1

These exhibitions have also given us the opportunity to collaborate with neighbouring collections. In November 2014 we held an exhibition on the boys of a King Edward VI School (Stratford-upon-Avon) who died in the First World War and performed in a production of Henry V in 1913, directed by Frank Benson.

Image of poster for 2014 exhibition: Shakespeare's Composers

Poster for 2014 exhibition: Shakespeare’s Composers

We’ve also worked extensively with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Library of Birmingham, most recently on an exhibition on Shakespeare’s Composers for which we displayed a manuscript of Vaughan Williams incidental music to the afore mentioned Henry V (1913) and a manuscript of Granville Bantock’s music for a production of Macbeth performed at the Prince’s Theatre, London, 1926.

We also utilise the knowledge of our academic staff in order to develop exhibition ideas, themes and to check over content. When tied in to our curriculum, conference and symposia themes the exhibitions have also proved an ideal way of encouraging students to look beyond the reading list. By highlighting areas of direct relevance they also encourage visiting academics and students into the Library when they are attending events at the Institute. Our library users have really appreciated the opportunity to see beyond the book shelves.

Blogging about the exhibitions has also helped to market our library beyond the University.

Image of poster for 2014 exhibition: Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 (Old Vic, 1945)

Poster for 2014 exhibition: Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 (Old Vic, 1945)

In January 2015 as student came from America to consult the collections at the Shakespeare Institute, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and King Edward’s School after reading about the KES Henry V exhibition online. Now he has had access to the archives for this production he’s started writing a play as well as his MA dissertation. SIL blog address: http://silibrary1.wordpress.com/

Our programme of exhibitions is going from strength-to-strength and their success has been acknowledged by our department in Library Services with the funding of high quality display boards and a glass cabinet in order to facilitate more ambitious projects. This year we look forward to showing off our resources on some fascinating themes, including: Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare, Elizabethan Printing, Comic Book Shakespeare and Shakespeare and the Actor. We hope that they’ll continue to be informative and inspiring to our users!

Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian

Shakespeare Institute Library: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/edacs/departments/shakespeare/research/shakespeare-institute-library.aspx

Shakespeare Institute: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/edacs/departments/shakespeare/index.aspx


Browse the collections of The Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham) on the Archives Hub:

Image of poster for 2014 exhibition: Foakes and Hawkes

Poster for 2014 exhibition: Foakes and Hawkes

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