Brunel University London’s special collections

Archives Hub feature for February 2016

Photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Image from The Big Ship, Brunel’s Great Eastern – a pictorial history by Patrick Beaver

In the early 1980s two substantial bequests, the Clinker and Garnett collections, were left to Brunel University Library. Charles Clinker and David Garnett were two railway historians, and their collections went on to form the basis of what is now known collectively as the Transport History Collection. Over the years their bequests were joined by others, so the collection now includes books, railway maps, Bradshaw guides, timetables, journals and photographs. The maps include early Airey and Railway Clearing House maps, as well as Ordnance Survey maps and railway junction diagrams. Archival material includes Charles Clinker’s extensive notes and correspondence concerning his Register of closed stations and papers relating to his revision of MacDermot’s History of the Great Western Railway. We still collect relevant railway material, and the collection is particularly strong on the history of the Great Western Railway.

Photograph of chalk sample

Chalk, Channel Tunnel Archive

To complement the Transport History collection, the papers of the Channel Tunnel Company and the Channel Tunnel Association were acquired in 2003. These offer a fascinating insight into the history and politics of tunneling under the English Channel from the early nineteenth century to the opening of the Channel Tunnel as we know it today. This resource includes a mixture of archival and printed material, including letters, photographs, objects (including a lump of chalk!), books, reports, advertisements, maps, conference proceedings and tunnel and bridge proposals.

Also in the 1980s here at Brunel University, John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall were compiling their annotated bibliography, The autobiography of the working class (Harvest Press, 1984-1989). The bibliography includes descriptions and locations of unpublished manuscripts produced by working class people who lived in England, Scotland or Wales between 1790 and 1945. Many of these autobiographies are now kept in Special Collections and are an extremely popular resource, amongst History, English and Creative Writing students.

Photograph of a letter from the Blount archive

Letter, Blount archive

Many people are surprised to learn that we have very few collections relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself. Those we do have include a collection of photographs relating to the publication of The Big Ship: Brunel’s Great Eastern – a pictorial history by Patrick Beaver, and the small Gilbert Blount archive. Blount was an English Catholic architect born in 1819 who received his earliest training as a civil engineer under Isambard Kingdom Brunel, for whom he worked as a superintendent of the Thames Tunnel works. The collection here covers his early career, including correspondence with the Brunel family. It was given to the University Library by Michael May, Blount’s grandson, in 1976 and so is one of our earliest acquisitions.

Some of our other collections were later acquisitions, and we have been developing a theme around equality and advocacy issues. These collections include the Dennis Brutus Archive. Dennis Brutus was a South African poet and human rights activist who spearheaded a successful campaign to ban apartheid South Africa from international sport competitions, including the Olympic games. Related collections include Celia Brackenridge’s research archive. Celia is a recently retired Brunel academic who donated her collection to Special Collections in order to preserve original sources and information about the development of child abuse and child protection research, advocacy and policy in the UK and overseas from the 1980s to 2000s.

We also look after a couple of collections on behalf of external organisations. These are the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive, a wide-ranging group of small collections of South Asian literature, art, theatre, dance and music by British based artists and organisations. The archive covers five main areas: literature, visual arts, theatre, dance and music, dating between approximately 1947 and the present day. The Operational Research Society houses their library at Brunel. Operational Research looks at organisations’ operations and uses mathematical or computer models, or other analytical approaches, to find better ways of doing these operations. Their library includes over 1500 books on topics including operational research, statistics, management science, market research, logistics, industrial engineering and management accounting.

Photograph of the new reading room

New reading room

In 2015 Special Collections saw a big change as we moved into new reading room and storage facilities. This has improved access to our collections, as we now have a dedicated reading room space which can also be used for workshops by both internal and external groups, as well as improving and increasing the amount of storage we have.

You can find out more about our collections on our webpages, on our blog and Twitter feed (@BrunelSpecColl).

Katie Flanagan
Special Collections Librarian

Related:

Browse the collections of Brunel University London on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Brunel University London and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Archives, Logs and Google Analytics

It is vital to have a sense of the value of your service, and if you run a website, particularly a discovery website, you want to be sure that people are using it effectively. This is crucial for an online service like the Archives Hub, but it is important for all of us, as we invest time and effort in putting things online and we are aware of the potential the Web gives us for opening up our collections.

But measuring use of a website is no simple Picture of statistics chartthing. You may hear people blithely talking about the number of ‘hits’ their website gets, but what does this really mean?

I wanted to share a few things that we’ve been doing to try to make better sense of our stats, and to understand more about the pitfalls of website use figures. There is still plenty we can do, and more familiarity with the tools at our disposal may yield other options to help us, but we do now have a better understanding of the dangers of taking stats at face value.

Logs

We are all likely to have usage logs of some kind if we have a website, even if it is just the basic apache web logs. These are part of what the apache web server offers. The format of these can be configured to suit, although I suspect many of us don’t look into this in too much detail. You may also have other logs – your system may generate these. Our current system provides a few different logs files, where we can find out a bit more about use.

Apache access logs typically contain: the IP address of the requesting machine, the date of the access, the http method (usually ‘get’ or ‘post’), the requested resource (the URL of the page, image, pdf etc.), the size of what is returned, the referring site, if available, and the user agent. The last of these will sometimes provide information on the browser used to make the request, although this will often not be the case.

Example apache access log entry:

54.72.xx.xx - - [14/Sep/2015:11:51:19 +0000] "GET /data/gb015-williamwagstaffe HTTP/1.1" 200 22244 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/27.0.1453.93 Safari/537.36"

So, with this you can find out some information about the source of the request from the IP addresses and what is being requested (URL of resource).

Other logs such as our current system’s search logs may provide further information, often including more about the nature of the query and maybe the number of hits and the response time.

Google Analytics

Increasingly, we are turning to Google Analytics (GA) as a convenient method of collecting stats, and providing nice charts to show use of the service. Google Analytics requires you to add some specific code to the pages that you want tracked. GA provides for lots of customisation, but out of the box it does a pretty good job of providing information on pages accessed, number of accesses, routes, bounce rate, user agents (browsers), and so on.

Processing your stats

If you do choose to use your own logs and process your stats, then you have some decisions to make about how you are going to do this. One of the first things that I learnt when doing this is that ‘hits’ is a very misleading term. If you hear someone promoting their site on the basis of the number of hits, then beware. Hits actually refers to the number of files downloaded on your site. One page may include several photos, buttons and other graphics, and these all count as hits. So one page accessed may represent many hits. Therefore hits is largely meaningless as a measure of use. Page views is a more helpful term, as it means one page accessed counts as ‘one’.

So, if you are going to count page views, do you then simply use the numbers the logs give you?

Robots

One of the most difficult problems with using logs is that they count bots and crawlers. These may access your site hundreds or thousands of times in a month. They are performing a useful role, crawling and gathering information that usually has a genuine use, but they inflate your page views, sometimes enormously. So, if someone tells you they have 10,000 page views a month, does this count all of the bots that access the pages? Should it? It may be that human use of the site is more like 2,000 page views per month.

Identifying and excluding robot accesses accurately and consistently throughout every reporting period is a frustrating and resource intensive task. Some of us may be lucky enough to have the expertise and resources to exclude robots as part of an automated process (more on that with GA), but for many of us, it is a process that requires regular review. If you see an IP address that has accessed thousands of pages, then you may be suspicious. Investigation may prove that it is a robot or crawler, or just that it is under suspicion. We recently investigated one particular IP address that gave high numbers of accesses. We used the ‘Honey Pot‘ service to check it out. The service reported:

“This IP address has been seen by at least one Honey Pot. However, none of its visits have resulted in any bad events yet. It’s possible that this IP is just a harmless web spider or Internet user.”

The language used here shows that even a major initiative to identify dodgy IP addresses can find it hard to assess each one as they come and go with alarming speed. This project asks for community feedback in order to continually update the knowledge base.

We also checked out another individual IP address that showed thousands of accesses:

“The Project Honey Pot system has detected behavior from the IP address consistent with that of a rule breaker. Below we’ve reported some other data associated with this IP. This interrelated data helps map spammers’ networks and aids in law enforcement efforts.”

We found that this IP address is associated with a crawler called ‘megaindex.com/crawler’. We could choose to exclude this crawler in future. The trouble is that this is one of many. Very many. If you get one IP address that shows a huge number of accesses, then you might think it’s a bot, and worth investigating. But we’ve found bots that access our site 20 or 30 times a month. How do you identify these?  The trouble is that bots change constantly with new ones appearing every day, and these may not be listed by services such as Honeypot. We had one example of a bot that accessed the Hub 49,459 times in one month, and zero times the next month.We looked at our stats for one month and found three bots that we had not yet identified – MegaIndex, XoviBot and DotBot. The figures for these bots added up to about 120,000 page views just for one month.

404: Page Not Found

The standard web server http response if a page does not exist is the infamous ‘404‘. Most websites will  typically generate a “404 Not Found” web page. Should these requests be taken out of your processed stats? It can be argued that these are genuine requests in terms of service use, as they do show activity and user intent, even if they do not result in a content page.

500: Server Error

The standard http response if there’s been a system problem of some kind is the ‘500’ Sever Error . As with the ‘404’ page, this may be genuine human activity, even if it does not lead to the user finding a content page. Should these requests be removed before you present your stats?

Other formats

You may also have text pages (.txt), XML pages (.xml) and PDFs (.pdf). Should these be included or not? If they show high use, is that a sign of robots? It may be that people genuinely want to access them.

Google Analytics and Bots

As far as we can tell, GA appears to do a good job of not including bots by default, presumably because many bots do not run the GA tracking code that creates the GA page request log. We haven’t proved this, but our investigations do seem to bear this out.  Therefore, you are likely to find that your logs show higher page accesses than your GA stats. And as a bot can really pummel your site, the differences can be huge. Interestingly, GA also now provides the option to enable bot filtering, but we haven’t found much evidence of GA logging our bot accesses.

But can GA be relied upon?  We had a look in detail at some of the logs accesses and compared them with GA. We found one IP address that showed high use but appeared to be genuine, and the user agents looked like they represented real human use. The pattern of searching and pages accessed also looked convincing. From this IP address we found one example of an Archives Hub description page with two accesses in the log: gb015-williamwagstaffe. The accesses appeared to come from standard browsers (the Chrome browser). We looked at several other pages accessed from this IP address. There was no evidence to suggest these accesses are bots or not genuine, but they are not in the GA accesses.

Why might GA exclude some accesses? There could be several reasons:

  • GA uses javascript tracking code, and it may not know about the activity because the javascript doesn’t run when the page is requested even though it appears to be a legitimate browser according to the user agent log
  • The requester may be using ad-blocking, which can also block calls to GA
  • It may be a tracking call back failure to GA due to network issues
  • It may be that GA purposely excludes an IP address because it is believed to be a bot
  • It may not be a genuine browser, i.e. a bot, script or some other requesting agent that doesn’t run the GA tracking code

Dynamic single page applications

Modern systems increasingly use html5 and Ajax to load content dynamically. Whereas traditional systems load the analytics tracker on each page load, these ‘single page applications require a different approach in order to track activity.  This requires using the new ‘Google Universal Analytics’ and doing a bit of technical work. It is not necessarily something we all have the resource and expertise to do. But it may mean that your page views appear to go down.

Conclusions

Web statistics are not straightforward. Google Analytics may be extremely useful, and is likely to be reasonably accurate, but it is worth understanding the pitfalls of relying on it completely. Our GA stats fell off a rather steep cliff a few years ago, and eventually we realised that the .xml and .txt pages had started being excluded. This was not something we had control over, and that is one of the downsides of using third party software – you don’t know exactly how they do what they do and you don’t have complete control.

A recent study of How Many Users Block Google Analytics by Jason Packer of Quantable suggests that GA may often be blocked at the same time as ads, using the one of the increasing number of ad blocking tools, and the effect could be significant. He ran a fairly small survey of about 2,400 users of a fairly niche site, but found that 8.4% blocked GA, which is a substantial percentage.

Remember that statistics for ‘hits’ or ‘page views’ don’t mean so much by themselves – you need to understand exactly what is being measured. Are bots included? Are 404s included?

Stats are increasingly being used to show value, but we do this at our peril. Whilst they are important, they are open to interpretation and there are many variables that mean comparing different sites through their access stats is going to be problematic.

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Themed Collections: widening the scope of the Hub

Image of National Association for spinsters' pensions London rally from the papers of Florence White, part of History to Herstory. Image ref 78D86/4/3, courtesy of WYAS Bradford

Image of National Association for spinsters’ pensions London rally from the papers of Florence White, part of History to Herstory. Image ref 78D86/4/3, courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford

A project we’ve been working quietly on over the past few months is adding Themed Collections to the Archives Hub. Themed Collections are collections of digital or digitised archive material that don’t fit the model of a traditional archive collection, but which we think would be of use and interest to researchers. Some of the Themed Collections we’ve added so far include History to Herstory, Observing the 1980sMy Leicestershire Digital Archive, and the Digital Dance Archives. You can browse the full list of Themed Collections.

This has taken a bit more work than we originally anticipated, as we’ve been stretching EAD and the current Hub structure to allow for descriptions of collections that don’t fit with what’s expected of a ‘normal’ archival description. For instance, we require descriptions on the Hub to have (at least one) named originator, but this doesn’t apply to Themed Collections, where the material might have hundreds of different originators, or none at all – finding originators for fossils would be a very interesting challenge! This means that we’ve had to make changes to how we validate the Hub’s EAD requirements, as well as how these descriptions display on the Hub.

This work started out in partnership with Jisc Content, so the Themed Collections currently on the Hub are taken from the descriptions of Jisc Content collections. But we don’t want to stop there, and are inviting submissions of Themed Collections. Adding your collections to the Archives Hub gives you exposure to a worldwide audience of thousands of searchers every month.  If you have a project or collection that you think would make a good Themed Collection, please complete the form to submit it to the Hub, or contact us.

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Black Georgians: Phillis Wheatley

Archives Hub feature for January 2016

Founded in 1981, Black Cultural Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the heritage and history of Black people in Britain. 

Photograph and Printed Document, originally purported to be of Francis Barber.

PHOTOS/27 Photograph and Printed Document, originally purported to be of Francis Barber.
Photographic reproduction of artwork, originally purported to be a portrait of Francis Barber, companion to Dr Samuel Johnson, in the manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The original is held in the Tate gallery and a copy is displayed at Dr Johnson House. Original date unknown.

Black Cultural Archives have opened the UK’s first dedicated Black heritage centre in Brixton, London, in July 2014. Our unparalleled and growing archive collection offers insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. The bulk of the collection is drawn from the twentieth century to the present day, while some materials date as far back as the second century. The collection includes personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs, and a small object collection.

Our work at Black Cultural Archives recognises the importance of untold stories and providing a platform to encourage enquiry and dialogue. We place people and their historical accounts at the heart of everything we do.

The current exhibition at Black Cultural Archives is Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar. Imagining the Georgian period awakens images from Jane Austen’s parlour to Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Black Cultural Archives’ new exhibition takes you on a journey a long way from these quintessential English images. This new exhibition interrogates the seams between the all-too-often prettified costume period dramas and the very different existence of hardship, grime, disease, and violence that was the reality for many.

Photograph of a portrait of Olaudah Equiano.

PHOTOS/73 Photograph of a portrait of Olaudah Equiano. Black and white photographic copy of portraits (from unknown book source) of Olaudah Equiano (Nigerian, born c.1745, Britain’s first Black political leader).

This exhibition will reveal the everyday lives of Black people during the Georgian period (1714-1830). It will offer a rich array of historical evidence and archival materials that present a surprising, sometimes shocking, and inspiring picture of Georgian Britain.

The Black Georgian narrative not only challenges preconceptions of the Black presence in Britain being restricted to post World War II, but it speaks to us of a growing population that forged a new identity with creativity, adaptability, and remarkable fortitude. It is a complex picture: while there was much oppression and restriction, there was also a degree of social mobility and integration.

Key individuals form the backbone to the exhibition, including Phillis Wheatley, the subject of this article in particular. Aged only seven, Wheatley was brought to Boston, United States, and sold as a child servant to the all-white Wheatley family in 1761. At the time, Boston was home to only 15,000 people, 800 of whom were of African descent; only 20 of these 800 were “free” individuals and not enslaved.[1] From the start, it was clear to the Wheatley family that Phillis was an extraordinary child, referred to by critics today as a ‘child prodigy’,[2] who ‘gave indications of uncommon intelligence’.[3] Susanna Wheatley, the mistress of the Wheatley family, recognised this extraordinary flair of intuitive intelligence, fostering the intellectual development of Phillis by allowing her to learn to read and write, learn Latin and to read the Bible. One may ask, why was Phillis saved from the usual domestic chores which was expected of the other servants? Vincent Carretta argues that Susanna’s attention may have been ‘a kind of social experiment to discover what effect education might have on an African’ or, perhaps, that Phillis reminded Susanna of the daughter she had lost years earlier.[4] Though we can never be certain as to why Susanna felt compelled to provide for Phillis in the manner that she did, we can see how it undoubtedly shaped the young child, with Wheatley later becoming the first African-American woman to publish poetry.

Wheatley’s first volume of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was first published in England in 1773, the same year that she visited London. Wheatley was viewed by many during her trip to London as a “celebrity” of the day, though she was of course not without her critics; Wheatley had to prove the authenticity of her authorship, for many doubted that a women, more especially a former enslaved individual, could be capable of producing the poetry that she published.

Unfortunately, Wheatley’s life was short, dying at the young age of 31. She had married another free Black man, John Peters, in 1778, but despite the promising turn of events in her earlier life, including literary fame as the first female African-American poet, Wheatley died in poverty in 1784, having struggled to publish any further poetry.

Photocopy of a Phillis Wheatley Portrait

PHOTOS/25 Photocopy of a Phillis Wheatley Portrait. Colour photocopy (undated) of artwork by Scipio Moorhead portraying Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) for her book ‘Poems on Various Subjects’ (unknown source).

Though short, Wheatley’s life was certainly remarkable, although there is still relatively little known about her beyond the basic facts, and less still known about her former years before being brought to Boston. Black Cultural Archives has previously recognised the remarkable life of Wheatley, highlighting her in a previous newsletter from 1992 as a ‘personality of the month’; this newsletter is part of our archival collection today, and can be found under the reference BCA/6/4/7.

Phillis Wheatley was the focus of the free Treasures in the Archive lunchtime talk on the 17th December, delivered by the Assistant Archivist, Emma Harrison; Wheatley and other prominent figures from the Georgian period can be explored further in the Black Georgians exhibition at Black Cultural Archives, which runs from the 9th October 2015 – 9th April 2016. For those who wish to interrogate and explore archival material relating to the Black Georgians exhibition, you are able to search our online catalogue (http://www.calmview.eu/BCA/CalmView/advanced.aspx?src=DServe.Catalog ). Archival material can be viewed by emailing archives@bcaheritage.org.uk to book an appointment in the reading room, which is open for archive appointments Wednesday-Friday 10am-4pm, and every second Thursday.

Emma Harrison
Assistant Archivist
Black Cultural Archives

[1] Vincent Carretta, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage (London: The University of Georgia Press, 2011), p. 1.

[2] Peter Fryer, Staying Power (New York: Pluto Press, 2010), p. 91.

[3] William H. Robinson, Phillis Wheatley in the Black American Beginnings (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1975).

[4] Carretta, Phillis Wheatley, p. 37.

Related:

Browse the collections of the Black Cultural Archives on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the Black Cultural Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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The London to Istanbul European Highway

Archives Hub feature for December 2015

Drawing: The handsome blue car, by Margaret Bradley.

The handsome blue car, by Margaret Bradley. ‘With apologies…this being a rough sketch…made somewhere in the middle of no mild channel’

The National Motor Museum Trust Motoring Archives

The National Motor Museum Trust Motoring Archives contain approximately 300 collections, which relate to numerous aspects of motoring history, including speed records, motor sport, businesses and famous personalities. Material is held in support of the National Motor Museum’s wider Collections, and is well used as part of the Research Service.

The archival collections are varied; subjects range from motoring personalities, motor sport, and companies, to road safety, alternative fuels, and vehicle design. Some highlights include:

  • Bluebird Collection – records relating to the various Blue Bird cars with which Malcolm Campbell took on the World Land Speed Record; and also the Bluebird cars and boats with which Donald Campbell took on the World Land and Water Speed Records;
  • Carless, Capel and Leonard Collection – clippings, account books, company records and advertisements for the distilling and oil refining business, dating from 1875-1950s;
  • The personal papers of motoring personalities such as Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Peter Collins, Henry Segrave and Morna Lloyd Vaughan.

The Bradley Collection

There may be airways and railways and steamers, but only a car will take you bag and baggage from the very heart of London to that core of oriental splendour, Istanbul, whilst you sit in the same seat. I nearly said magic rug and recalled the famous bewitched travel, for there is modern magic in that long highway which runs through nine different countries, demands that you should speak, or – what is more important – make yourself understood in nine consecutive languages, and pass airily through eight frontier stations. But in exchange for this is adventure, interest, pleasure and excitement that only motoring will give.

Margaret Bradley, 1933

The Bradley Collection contains material relating to a survey of a transnational road from London to Istanbul. The collection includes a promotional booklet published by the Automobile Association (AA), and all of the original artwork produced by Margaret Bradley during the trip.

The London to Istanbul Highway

Drawing: Figure drawing by Margaret Bradley whilst in Bulgaria.

Figure drawing by Margaret Bradley whilst in Bulgaria.

In the early 1930s, the AA commissioned a survey for a Transcontinental Highway, an initiative that was proposed by the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT). This was to be a road allowing motorists to travel quickly and easily across Europe with ‘no more complications than booking a seat at the theatre.’ It would cross France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, what was Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey. The road, extending for almost 2000 miles, was intended to continue onwards east to India and south to Cape Town.

Drawing: ‘Picking a way through a flock of geese’. By Margaret Bradley.

‘Picking a way through a flock of geese’. By Margaret Bradley.

In 1933, the renowned correspondent William Fletcher Bradley did the driving for the epic trip, with his daughter Margaret as the ‘official artist and navigator.’ The journey was made in a ‘handsome blue’ Siddeley Special open tourer with Vanden Plas (England) Ltd coachwork. This was at a time when, as Margaret Bradley said in 1985, roads ‘were more often than not just fields!’. Her father wrote in 1933: ‘not that the road is bad anywhere, but much of it is suggestive of the leisurely traffic of fifty years ago.’

The resulting booklet published by the AA and all of the original illustrations from the booklet are held within the Motoring Archives, having been donated by Margaret Bradley in the mid-1980s. Bradley also drew numerous sketches of their adventures and the characters that she and her father met en route.

Drawing: Hounds.

‘Some rather fierce hounds mistook us for a mechanical hare… & enjoyed themselves!’ By Margaret Bradley.

Our wheels strike a modern highway where normal speed can at last be resumed. We are approaching the end of our long journey. Suddenly we pass from the darkness into the light and overflowing life of a great city. Domes and minarets, electric signs and primitive shops, tramways and pack mules, a seething crowd…We have reached the Golden Horn. We have traversed the great International Highway. 

William Fletcher Bradley

Drawing: Istanbul arrival.

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

A final word from Margaret Bradley:

‘The world is indeed a great place when you’re a motorist!’

Access

The Bradley Collection is available to view on Archives Hub. More information about the Motoring Archives can be found on our Archives Hub contributor’s page, or on our website.

Helen Sumping
Archivist
National Motor Museum Trust, Beaulieu

Related:

Browse the collections of the National Motor Museum on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the National Motor Museum Trust and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Exploring British Design at the Europeana AGM 2015

I’m just back from another enjoyable and useful Europeana Network Association event where I gave a four minute ‘Ignite Talk’ on our recently completed ‘Exploring British Design’ project that Pete and Jane worked on. As it was such a short talk, I wanted make sure I got the timing right, so actually wrote the talk out. I think it gives quite a good summary of the project, as well as mentioning our connection with Europeana, so I thought it would be worth posting it here along with a link to the slides:

“Hello, my name is Adrian Stevenson and I’m a Senior Technical Coordinator working for Jisc in the UK.

[Introduction slide]

Today I want to briefly outline a one year project we’ve recently completed called ‘Exploring British Design’ which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The technical work and front-end interface for Exploring British Design was developed by the Archives Hub based in the UK. The Hub aggregates archival descriptions from about 280 institutions in the UK, from the very large such as the British Library to the very small such as the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, making these archives available to be searched through our website, APIs and findable on Google. For some institutions, the Archives Hub provides their only web presence, so it’s an important service for the archives sector in the UK.

For ‘Exploring British Design’ we collaborated with one of our enthusiastic contributors, the Brighton Design Archive, based at the University of Brighton. We used the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition from 1946 as a focal point because the Archive has rich collections relating to this exhibition.

So what’s the connection with Europeana? The Archives Hub is in the process of contributing data to the Archives Portal Europe. The plan is that the portal data will be available through Europeana at some point in the future.

[Home page slide]

So lets have a look. This is the home page of the website. You can see that we take people, i.e. the designers and architects, their organisations, and the events they were involved with, such as the exhibition as the starting points, i.e. not the archive records as such.

What’s unique about this project is that we’re going beyond the record as being about about one person, one organisation and having one focus. The reality is that archives are about the connections between all sorts of people, places, and events, such as exhibitions, and much of this information is effectively ‘locked in’ the archival records. This is what we’re trying to draw out.

The idea is that anything can be a primary focus:  people, organisations, places, events or archive collections. Some of you may recognise this as an idea relating to linked data, and indeed this is loosely the approach we took for the under the hood implementation. We also looked at an archival name authority standard called EAC-CPF to help with this.

[Designer slide]

You see here how we’ve tried to emphasise the relationship types, such as ‘friend of’, ‘collaborates with, ‘colleague of’ and so on. Researchers are most interested in people, events, etc. not in archives per se.

[Exhibition slide]

This is a view of the exhibition page, focussing in on it as an event in its own right with a location, related people, etc. This sort of information hasn’t historically been captured all that usefully in archival descriptions.

[Visualisation slide]

We included visualisations, but these actually fall far short of the complexity of the relationships. It’s quite hard to get these to work effectively, but they give a sense of the relationships between architect Jane Drew and Le Corbusier, or even Croydon High School for Girls.

So hopefully you can get a sense of how we’ve tried to present researchers with more flexible routes through the connections we created, helping to surface relationships between people, organisations and events that were effectively hidden in the more traditional document-based way of presenting information.”

There was an excellent reception in the evening at the Rijksmuseum where we were lucky enough to get a private view of the ‘Gallery of Honour’. It was a great opportunity to get a picture by Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ so we made the most. Thanks again to Europeana!

In front of the 'Night Watch

Adrian Stevenson and others in front of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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The Anna Eliza Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office

Archives Hub feature for November 2015

The papers of 19th Century author Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) have recently been catalogued at West Sussex Record Office and are now available for researchers to access.  The catalogue can be viewed via our Search Online facility at http://www.westsussexpast.org.uk/searchonline/.

Frontispiece of Anna Eliza Bray’s book The White Hoods

Frontispiece of Anna Eliza Bray’s book The White Hoods (WSRO Bray 3/2)

Anna Eliza Bray (formerly Stothard, neé Kempe) was born on 25th December 1790 in Newington, Surrey, the daughter of Alfred Kempe and Ann Arrow, and sister of the antiquary Alfred John Kempe.  She was originally destined for a career in the theatre but this endeavour was cut short as she fell ill days before her first performance at Bath’s Theatre Royal in May 1815, and she subsequently lost the opportunity to appear on the stage again.

In February 1818, she married Charles Alfred Stothard, an antiquarian draughtsman whom she had met a number of years before through his father, the Royal Academy artist Thomas Stothard.  She travelled to France with her husband in 1820 for his work, and afterwards published her first book ‘Letters written during a tour of Normandy’.  This established her as a writer and enabled her to progress into the literary circles of her day, which included notable figures such as Sir Walter Scott, John Murray, Amelia Opie, Letitia Elizabeth Landon and (the most influential character in her career) Robert Southey, who was Poet Laureate from 1813-1843.  However, her husband died shortly afterwards in a tragic accident on 28th May 1821, when he fell from a ladder in Bere Ferrers Church in Devon while drawing the stained glass window.

In late 1822, she married Reverend Edward Atkyns Bray and moved to Tavistock in Devon.  The West Country was a significant influence on her writing and it was during this period that most of her literary output was produced, including her best-known work ‘A Description of the part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy’, published by John Murray in 1836.  Other works included a 10-volume set of historical novels, another travel book entitled ‘Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland’ and a children’s book entitled ‘A Peep at the Pixies’.

Anna Eliza Bray’s travel journals of Cornwall and North Devon

Anna Eliza Bray’s travel journals of Cornwall and North Devon (WSRO Bray 2/3 and WSRO Bray 2/11)

After her husband’s death in 1857, Mrs Bray moved back to London and continued to write well into the 1870s, editing and publishing her late husband’s sermons and writing further books on French history and Devon folklore.  In the last few years of her life, she was briefly back in the public eye again, after being accused of stealing a small part of the Bayeux Tapestry on her trip to France almost 60 years before.  Fortunately, the publication of an article in the Times written by her nephew subsequently cleared her name.  She died on 21st January 1883 at the age of 92.

The archive was presented to West Sussex Record Office in November 2000 by a member of the Kempe family, the present day descendants of Anna Eliza Bray.  Later members of the Kempe family also have their archives housed at the Record Office, including Mrs Bray’s great nephew, the mathematician Sir Alfred Bray Kempe.

In terms of size, the archive is a very small one but the saying ‘quality over quantity’ certainly applies here, as it spans nearly 70 years of the late Regency and Victorian period.  It has been catalogued into four series: correspondence, manuscripts, printed books and miscellaneous.

The correspondence has been sub-divided into the main families represented in the collection: Landon, Southey, Warter and Kempe as well as an additional section for miscellaneous letters.

The manuscripts are handwritten journals and drafts; most of the works are by Mrs Bray, but also include drafts of works she has copied from books of other authors such as Amelia Opie and a handwritten poetry book dating from the early 1820s belonging to Mary Maria Colling, an amateur poet from Tavistock.  Mrs Bray, with assistance from Robert Southey, published a selection of Colling’s poetry on her behalf in 1831 entitled ‘Fables and Other Pieces in Verse’.  Mrs Bray’s autobiography, published posthumously in 1884, forms a significant part of the draft papers.  The archive includes a printed copy and a 3-volume draft manuscript of the autobiography which have been immensely helpful in revealing a great deal more about her life; parts of it have also been used to make sense of other documents in the archive.

Printed books are her publications; although not all are included in the archive, there is a good selection of her work represented, such as her biography of the artist Thomas Stothard.

Miscellaneous items include a scrapbook of watercolours, locks of hair belonging to Robert and Caroline Southey and a piece of mourning stationary signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the latter part of the 19th Century.

The archive also contains over 100 letters from Caroline Southey, the second wife of Robert Southey, with whom Mrs Bray was first acquainted in 1840.  Regular correspondence continued until Mrs Southey’s death in 1854, and letters in the archive mention notable figures including William Wordsworth and members of the Coleridge family.  There is also ‘Mrs Southey’s Narrative’, a biographical piece written by Caroline Southey in 1840 regarding her courtship and marriage to Robert Southey, copied by Mrs Bray’s niece from the original manuscript.

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Caroline Southey written after Robert Southey’s death

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Caroline Southey written after Robert Southey’s death (WSRO Bray 1/3/26)

I will be presenting a talk on the Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester entitled ‘A Peep at the Pixies’: exploring the life and literary archive of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) on Tuesday 24th November 2015 at 7pm.  Tickets cost £7.50 including refreshments, and a selection of documents from the archive will be out on display.  Places must be booked in advance by contacting our reception on 01243 753602.

For any enquiries regarding the collection, catalogue or the November talk please contact West Sussex Record Office by emailing records.office@westsussex.gov.uk.

Holly Wright
Searchroom Assistant, West Sussex Record Office

Related

Papers of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) on the Archives Hub:
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb812-bray

Browse other collections of West Sussex Record Office on the Archives Hub.

All images are reproduced with the permission of West Sussex Record Office

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From Ivory Tower to People Power

Here is a presentation I gave at ELAG 2015 to introduce our innovation project, Exploring British Design. The presentation is entitled ‘From Ivory Tower to People Power‘ (You Tube link) and emphasises the collaborative nature of the project and the focus on people as a topic, rather than on archival description, which is not always the best starting place for researchers. The presentation covers:

  • Aims of the project
  • Workshops with postgraduate students about how they research and analysis of their research paths
  • Workshops with postgraduates about websites: what students do and don’t like in terms of discovery
  • Traditional archival cataloguing ‘lock in’ of entities such as people, places and events.
  • Connectivity beyond single A to B connections; ‘anything can be a focus’ and can link to a myriad of other things
  • Use of EAC-CPF (XML standard for archival authority files)
  • Creating the data, handcrafting data, limitations of our approach, too many ideas not enough time!
  • Demonstration of the Website

 

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Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition Centenary

Archives Hub feature for October 2015

Photo of Sir Ernest Shackleton by James Frances (Frank) Hurley (SPRI ref: P66_19_001A)

Photo of Sir Ernest Shackleton by James Frances (Frank) Hurley (SPRI ref: P66_19_001A)

On the 27th October 1915 Antarctic expedition ship Endurance was abandoned on the orders of Sir Ernest Shackleton. The ship had been stuck in the ice since 18th January at the mercy of the currents of the Weddell Sea. The ship sank on 21 November leaving the men thousands of miles from home and Shackleton’s dream of being the first to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole in tatters.

The Endurance had sailed from England just as war was declared in August 1914, Shackleton had offered the ship and her crew to to the Admiralty but the response was that the expedition should proceed as planned. Sailing via Madeira and Buenos Aires the Endurance made her final port of call at the whaling stations of South Georgia.

Sir Ernest Shackleton, the expedition leader was no stranger to the Antarctic; he had been a member of Captain Scott’s first expedition in 1901-04 before leading his own expedition in 1907-09. That second expedition had seen him come to within 100 miles of the South Pole before making the difficult decision to turn back rather than risk the lives of his men further. In the intervening years the Norwegian Roald Amundsen had led the first team to reach the pole in 1911 and Captain Scott and his companions had perished on their own return journey in 1912.

Shackleton’s diary entry for the abandonment of Endurance in October 1915. SPRI MS 1537/3/8.

Shackleton’s diary entry for the abandonment of Endurance in October 1915. SPRI MS 1537/3/8.

Shackleton’s plan was to land a party of men, dogs and supplies on the Weddell Sea side of the continent and travel across uncharted territory to the South Pole. Here he would then follow Captain Scott’s journey before picking up the route he had taken back in 1908 to reach the Ross Sea. While he was making his attempt from a second party would lay depots of food and fuel across the Ross Ice Shelf towards the pole along that route for his crossing party to pick up.

Photo of Endurance in ice by James Frances (Frank) Hurley (SPRI ref: P66_19_057)

Photo of Endurance in ice by James Frances (Frank) Hurley (SPRI ref: P66_19_057)

When the Endurance was crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea the expedition changed from one of exploration to one of survival. The men camped on the sea ice, from October 1915 through to April 1916. When the ice broke up around them they took to the three small lifeboats and spent a week at sea before reaching Elephant Island, their first dry land since leaving South Georgia. This uninhabited island was only a temporary salvation. With no means of contacting the outside world the expedition had to save themselves.

Shackleton’s lifeboat crew list. SPRI MS 1537/3/8.


Shackleton’s lifeboat crew list. SPRI MS 1537/3/8.

Sheltering under the upturned hulls of two of the boats the majority of the crew lived on the Island for five months. Meanwhile Shackleton and a five man crew sailed across the southern ocean in the third boat – the James Caird – to South Georgia. Shackleton, Worsley and Crean were then forced to undertake a 36 hour walk across the uncharted island to raise the alarm. The three walked into the Stromness whaling station on the 20th May 1916. It took four attempts to rescue the men left behind on Elephant Island, all of whom were successfully rescued in August 1916.

Evacuation instructions for Ocean Camp 1915. SPRI Archive MS 1537/2/33/4/3.

Evacuation instructions for Ocean Camp 1915. SPRI Archive MS 1537/2/33/4/3.

Throughout the expedition Shackleton and his men kept up their diaries. These precious volumes were preserved when so much was abandoned with the ship. Writing in pencil, sometimes on scraps of paper sewn together, the diaries provide the personal account of what the men went through.

Miss Naomi Boneham
Archives
The Thomas H Manning Polar Archives
Scott Polar Research Institute
University of Cambridge

Related

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton collection on the Archives Hub:
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb15-sirernesthenryshackleton

Browse other collections of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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