A new exhibition: Poirot in the Archive 

Agatha Christie exhibition in the Old Library

To mark Agatha Christie’s 132nd birthday, we are pleased to announce a new exhibition in the Old Library! The exhibition is open to everyone and can be viewed by entering the Old Library on Streatham Campus via the main entrance and walking straight ahead through the barriers. The display cases will be situated to your left. 

In this exhibition we delve into the archives to explore a range of responses to the character Poirot from individuals including Agatha Christie, Edmund Cork and Harold Ober (literary agents at Hughes Massie and Co. Ltd), publishers, film producers, and actors. 

This exhibition features items from the University of Exeter Heritage Collections. On display are letters and documents from the business papers of Agatha Christie’s literary agents; books from our Special Collections; and items from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collections. 

Agatha Mary Clarissa Mallowan (née Miller), the novelist known as Agatha Christie, was born in Torquay, Devon, on 15 September 1890. She became, and remains, the best-selling novelist of all time. She died on 12 January 1976 at her home in Winterbrook, Oxfordshire. 

Hercule Poirot, the famous fictional Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head, made his debut in Agatha Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. In total, he appeared in 33 novels, two plays, and more than 50 short stories. He made his final appearance in the novel Curtain, written in the early 1940s but not released until 1975, the last novel published by Agatha Christie before her death.

The exhibition is expected to remain on display until January 2023.

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Library Champion Project Demystifying Archives and Manuscripts: A Journey Through the Special Collections

Written by Chloe Cicely Chandler (MA English Literature)

 

In March of 2019 I somehow found myself within the British Library’s Manuscripts Reading Room with my eyes delighting over the sprawling handwriting within Coleridge’s notebooks. Ever an inspirer of wonder in me, it was magical to see his mind come alive; the thoughts seeming to burst onto the page with frantic imagination. I was especially fixated by Coleridge’s sketches of the Lake District that recorded the walks he had adventured on with his fellow Romantic visionaries: William and Dorothy Wordsworth. I often reflect on the fact that I touched the paper upon which Coleridge had scribed over 200 years ago. Now, it seems as if it were a distant, hazy dream. This was the first ever encounter I had with physical archival research, and one I would never forget. The research was undertaken during my English undergraduate degree for my third-year dissertation on altered states of consciousness in Romantic literature. In addition to Coleridge, I also focused on the writings of Sir Humphry Davy and Thomas De Quincey. This led me to take a separate journey where I also travelled to the Morrab Library in Penzance to learn more about Davy’s poetical and chemical experimentations from the archives in his Cornish hometown.

Both of these experiences were incredibly rewarding and put into perspective what I most enjoyed about studying English literature: that ability to peer into history through the words that individuals have left behind; as if the gap in time between the past and the present has been momentarily suspended. Such opportunities for research were the highlight of my entire degree – they made me feel more connected to the research I was conducting, and encouraged me throughout the difficult process of writing and editing my dissertation – providing my work with a greater sense of purpose.

Out of these explorations, I became very interested in the ways in which I could make the most of being an English MA student at a research-focused university and partake in opportunities to delve into the archives. This academic year, I joined as one of the Library Champions for English. As part of this role, I act as a liaison between library staff and students, passing along feedback, suggestions, and making book requests on behalf of students within my subject area. I had the opportunity to develop a project of my choosing relating to library services. Consequently, I decided it would be valuable to concentrate my project on the Special Collections based at the University of Exeter. Specifically, I wanted to consider the ways in which students could be made more aware of the unique primary resources available to them in order to increase their engagement with the archives during their degree.

 

Surveying Student Feedback

It was important for me to first gather insight from my fellow peers, so I put together a survey that was open to students from across the disciplines. This survey aimed to get a sense of general student knowledge of the archival services that the university offers, whilst also offering a space to make suggestions for how the Special Collections could be more integrated into the student experience. Although the responses ended up being mainly from Humanities students – with a majority from English undergraduates – their experiential highlights and suggestions were immensely helpful in terms of evaluating the current dialogue between students and the Special Collections.

Of those who had used the archives, their memories were very positive. One student relayed their enthusiasm as such: “I have only accessed the archives as part of a workshop on accessing them and it was really interesting! [The] Staff [were] great and very informative, I will definitely be in touch if there is something I need to access.” Speaking of the online catalogue, a student mentioned how valuable it was for their research: “I loved it, I accessed it almost daily to complete my assignments.” Others recall their use of the archives as: “[an] Intriguing and … exciting experience”; additionally: “I found the archivist very helpful and friendly and enjoyed the experience.”

The main areas that could improve student engagement with the Special Collections, as suggested by those surveyed, related to the following:

– Accessibility: student responses highlighted how the process can appear daunting, whilst other students were less aware of where to begin researching.

– Visibility: students highlighted a need to increase overall awareness of the collections through visual displays and marketing throughout the university. As a fellow student expressed: “I’d love for more people to handle and see these manuscripts.”

Following this initial feedback collection from my student cohort, I wanted to get a more informed perspective of the process behind performing archival research: this required me to find archival works of interest from the catalogue and then arrange a viewing of them.

 

The Process

As a starting place, the Collection Highlights page is especially helpful as it presents intriguing items within the university’s collection which you can then search for on the Archives catalogue, or use as a springboard for other research ideas. My personal interests for my MA dissertation relate to Romantic and Gothic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I am also interested in kindred areas such as the supernatural and folkloric. From our discussions, the Special Collections team gave me some fantastic suggestions to consider based on these research topics.

Of particular interest to me was the Theo Brown Collection that comes with its own helpful collection guide. Brown was a renowned folklore researcher and Research Fellow within the Philosophy and History Departments at the University of Exeter. Her immense research collection has been in the university’s archive since her death in 1993. Brown had a particular focus on folklore rooted in the South West of England, and, as an individual born and raised here, this sparked my interest. From within the vast collection, I needed to specify particular items, each of which is given a name relating to the overarching topics they contain. I finally decided upon the boxes that covered ‘Fringe Lore and UFOs’, ‘Guising and Hobby Horse’, and ‘Devon and West Country witches and witchcraft’. In addition, there was a fascinating object under the Rare books and maps section that I felt compelled to see as a Gothic researcher: a 1st issue, 1st edition of Bram Stoker’s legendary Gothic novel Dracula from 1897 housed within the Lloyd Collection. This edition is renowned for its strikingly coloured cover. As one of my favourite literary works, I was delighted to hear that the university had such an item available for viewing.

When I went about making my request via the Visiting Heritage Collections webpage, I first had to find the necessary codes for the Collections, which you can search for on the archive database: archival works have a title and MS number; books have a title and call number; journals have a title and volume/issue number. After making my request, I received an email promptly confirming my reading room booking. Before attending my booking, I read up on the handling procedures laid out in the Special Collections handling guide which provided some really useful information about how different types of materials are to be treated. This was practically helpful when I was searching through Brown’s archive as it included an array of different materials, including many pictures, for which I needed gloves. One interesting piece of information which often surprises people is that, in most cases, when handling rare books, it is preferable for you to not wear gloves as this decreases your physical sensitivity to the material itself, making it more likely that you might damage it.

When I arrived at the Old Library on the day, I went over to the Special Collections desk to inform of my arrival. My selected items had already been prepared behind the desk for viewing and were promptly brought out. The items displayed within the Ronald Duncan Reading Room itself were instantly engaging. To one side was a writing desk that had belonged to the much-beloved author Daphne Du Maurier, which came as a wonderful surprise as I was able to sit near it whilst I researched. I had seen one of her writing desks only once before at the Jamaica Inn’s Smugglers Museum on Bodmin Moor. I was also particularly fond of the artworks on the back wall by the artist Leonard Baskin which depicted various birds, including a variety of crows – a favourite Gothic symbol of mine!

I first went about exploring Brown’s items: from memory, a news story she had collected that was immensely intriguing was about a so-called ‘witch bottle’ that had been discovered in a basement. The bottle, under examination, turned out to be filled with a concoction of items that suggested its use in a baneful, magical working, containing nails, human urine, and thorns, amongst other items. Although I had only engaged with a small part of the entire Theo Brown collection, I was amazed by how much was contained within each box and managed to spend the entire afternoon slot searching through an amalgam of pictures, newspaper clippings, and letters – how the time flew by! In light of this, I would suggest to potential Special Collection users to allow themselves ample time to view resources and not try to cram too much into one visit. Rather, take the time to enjoy researching and making notes. And, if needed, return for another visit.

Following this, I handled the 1st edition of Dracula, for which I was given a book snake weight and cushion to use, so that the spine and fragile pages would be supported. I was instantly amazed by the vivid yellow cover that adorned the book. The cover was made even more pronounced by the red lettering that spelt out the book’s title, as if written in blood; very befitting given the contents. There was something strangely modern about the book’s palette of colours that made it feel out of place for the time period in which it was written. The aesthetic choices made about the design seemed to highlight the very alluring nature of the work, presenting the book itself as a kind of fantastical object. I feel incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to handle these items from the Special Collection and shall remember the experience fondly.

 

Call For Archival Research

In recent years, I have found that research of both primary and secondary sources for assignments tends to be confined to online databases. And, although this is undeniably helpful in terms of providing greater access to works from other institutions and aiding in the search for specific terms, I find there is something inherently missing from this experience of research. When you are there in person, there is a certain magic and fascination that can be kindled, which is more difficult to attain through a digitised source. It puts you back in touch with the physical history of these sources – the feel and sensation of them – such things are often lost when searching purely within digitised collections. Whilst at university, we have the unique chance to use these resources which might otherwise be unavailable or more difficult to access were we not students.

I highly recommend my fellow students give the archives a go! You may not have a particular text or subject in mind for your research, which is completely fine; using the archives is actually a fantastic way to discover an area you might be interested in. It also incentivises you to produce more distinctly original research to present to your subject area. The archivists, with their expertise in the collection items, are also on hand to provide helpful suggestions, as they did in my case.

 

Future Prospects

In response to student feedback, the Special Collections team have been putting these suggestions into practice, such as, updating the website pages to make them more accessible and user-friendly. We are also planning some further collaborative projects to improve accessibility and visibility over the next academic year – so make sure to watch this space!

I would be delighted to hear from my peers: if you have any feedback or suggestions you would like to make with regards to the library services, including the Special Collections or book requests for English, please feel free to contact me at cc725@exeter.ac.uk. For more Library Champion information visit: Find your Library Champion – Library Champions – LibGuides at University of Exeter

 

Helpful Special Collection links

Main website: Special Collections | Special Collections | University of Exeter

Special Collection Highlights: Highlights | Special Collections | University of Exeter

LibGuides: Home – Archives and Special Collections – LibGuides at University of Exeter

Special Collections catalogue: Home Page (ex.ac.uk)

Handling Guide: Handling Materials – Archives and Special Collections – LibGuides at University of Exeter

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum: http://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/

Digital Collections: http://specialcollectionsarchive.exeter.ac.uk/collections/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UoEHeritageColl

 

Climate and Weather in the Middle East

The extremely high temperatures recorded in Britain at the start of this week have pushed the reality of climate change to the forefront of public debate, with many people making comparisons UK weather patterns and those in hotter regions such as the Mediterranean and the Middle East. People living in Britain have long been accustomed to a moderate climate, and therefore infrastructures and working conditions that are not designed for extremes of either hot or cold.

Photograph of man standing in desert surrounded by sand dune

A photograph taken in the Algerian desert by explorer and geographer W.J. Harding King. He undertook scientific experiments into the movement and formation of sand dunes, but his books ‘In Search of the Masked Tawareks’ (London: Smith, Elder, 1903) and ‘Mysteries of the Libyan Desert: a record of three years of exploration in the heart of that vast and waterless region’ (London: Seeley, Service, 1925) contain some intriguing descriptions of rainfall, water supply and unusual weather patterns in North Africa. (EUL MS 11/19)

For many of those living in the SWANA region – South West Asia and North Africa, or what has commonly been termed ‘The Middle East’ – temperatures of over 40°C, dry arid conditions and low rainfall have long been familiar.  Architectural styles – such as thick stone white-painted walls, covered courtyards and wind towers (used since at least 1300BC to provide a form of air conditioning) – are designed to keep the heat out of buildings, and working hours often incorporate time for a قَيْلُولَة (Qayloulah), or ‘siesta’, during the hottest hours in the middle of the day.  However, the region is looking extremely vulnerable to threats from climate change, with supplies of fresh water, agriculture and food production, all being affected, not to mention the growing frequency of extreme weather conditions – Iraq has been battered by a series of massive dust storms this year, large tracts of previously usable land are undergoing desertification, Oman was hit last year by the first tropical cyclones to be recorded in the Gulf, and – if current models are to believed – many of the cities in the UAE could become uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century due to increases in temperature and humidity.

While scientists continue to analyse these patterns, and politicians and public health officials continue to debate policy changes to mitigate the impact of global warming, they are able to draw on the latest meteorological data and other metrics compiled using cutting-edge technology such as isotope analysis, satellite imagery, salinity levels and microscopic study of minute changes in zooxanthellae algae living on coral reefs.

Colour photograph of camels and herdsmen walking in scrubland, while tall buildings and a burning oil well are visible in the distance

What does the future of fossil fuels mean for the landscape, environment and climate of the Gulf? Photograph of Kuwait in the early 1970s. John Wilton archive, EUL MS 264

What about the past, however? Although we may think of interest in this data as being a relatively recent development, our historic collections in both the archives and the Arab World Documentation Unit (AWDU) contain a considerable amount of information on weather patterns, rainfall and climate in the SWANA region. For merchants and travellers planning long journeys, a knowledge of water resources was literally a matter of life or death, and devising methods of storing and distributing large quantities of water became increasingly important during the decades of rapid urban growth during the 20th century. The falaj system of irrigation used in Oman was the subject of years of study by John Craven Wilkinson, whose archive (EUL MS 119) contains many papers on not only the falaj tradition, but also on climate and meteorology.

Handwritten weather notes

Handwritten notes on meteorological data from the archive of John Wilkinson (EUL MS 119/3/10)

Typed records of temperature changes in Oman. EUL MS 119/3/10

Going even further back in time, we have a book  in Special Collections (Reserve Collection 916.12 LYO/X) by Captain George Francis Lyon, A narrative of travels in northern Africa in the years 1818, 19, and 20 : accompanied by geographical notices of Soudan and of the course of the Niger (1821), which includes a few pages with daily climate data for 1819 – temperature, humidity and wind direction.

Printed page of meteorological data from a book printed in 1821

Meteorological statistics for Libya in 1819, from Captain George Francis Lyon, ‘A narrative of travels in northern Africa in the years 1818, 19, and 20’ (1821)

More recently, we have a three-volume work in AWDU on Meteorological data from the ‘Report on the Water Resources of the Trucial States (1969), compiled by the engineering firm of Sir William Halcrow. It includes a wealth of data on rainfall, climate, irrigation systems – including Omani aflaj – as well as maps and statistical tables on what was shortly after renamed the United Arab Emirates.

Rainfall table

Meteorological data from the ‘Report on the Water Resources of the Trucial States’ (1969)

Meteorological data from the ‘Report on the Water Resources of the Trucial States’ (1969)

The discovery of oil in the Gulf transformed the economy of the region and brought in massive amounts of foreign investments into geological exploration, drilling and infrastructure. Business on such a scale requires to monitor everything that might affect its activities, and in 1953 the Oil Companies Weather Coordination Scheme (OCWCS) was established as a network to share weather data being gathered by different oil companies working around the Gulf.  We have a small collection of OCWCS publications in AWDU that contain data and guidelines about weather conditions.

While meteorologists working for the OCWCS or other scientific bodies are studying the natural world around them, the contributions of human actions should also be taken into account. Much of the water shortages in Iraq have been caused by the construction in Turkey of dams on the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, which have greatly diminished the waterflow downstream in Syria and Iraq. Severe and widespread structural damage to water supplies caused by coalition forces during the Gulf Wars and then subsequently by ISIS forces, have only compounded the problem. Deforestation is another issue: Iraq was once famed for its 30 million date palms, which produced hundreds of varieties of the fruit and was a source of pride, particularly in southern Iraq around Basra and the banks of the Shatt al-Arab. The vast majority of these were cut down in the 1980s and 1990s, which – coupled with the reduction of freshwater flowing from the north, and the resultant encroachment of salt water coming upstream from the Gulf – has had a devastating effect on the environment. The lack of trees is a major factor in the dust storms, as the soil dries up and has no roots in its upper layers to hold it together.

Postcard showing thick plantations of date palms by the river in Basra

Dense plantations of date palms along the rivers of southern Iraq – sadly, only a fraction of these remain

(It is slightly beyond the scope of this post, but we have a huge amount of material on the history and development of Iraq’s irrigation network and dam-building projects both in AWDU and in the archives, especially in the Jonathan Crusoe archive, as well as publications by the Kurdish Human Rights Project on the Ilisu Dam Campaign and the effects this dam bin Turkey has had on the water supply in Iraq.)

Another example of environmental damage undertaken by the Ba’athist regime is the draining of Iraq’s southern marshes, which was mostly done for political reasons. Saddam Hussein believed the Maʻdān, or Marsh Arabs, had been disloyal during the war with Iran (1980-88), and began a campaign against them (there are some papers on this in the Crusoe archive.) After the failed uprising in 1991 in which the Maʻdān,  Shi’ites, Kurds and others had taken part, many of these groups joined military deserters in taking refuge in the marshes to escape the reprisals that followed. To punish the Maʻdān, render the marshes uninhabitable and deny a hiding place for the refugees, Saddam’s forces constructed embankments to divert the flow from the Tigris and Euphrates away from the marshes, while drainage channels – with ‘patriotic’ names such as the Mother of Battles Canal and the Loyalty to the Leader Channel, were opened up to drain water away to the south. This was not just a form of genocide, but also an ecological disaster on a massive scale, an ‘ecocide’, or destruction of an entire ecosystem. While there was a clear political motive for these actions, it was in fact building on suggestions made by British irrigation engineer Frank Haigh in 1949, reflecting previous attitudes towards marshlands that saw them as inconvenient, inaccessible and unproductive areas of water-logged land. Contemporary concern over the loss of the marshes of southern Iraq reveal how these attitudes have changed, now that so much more is known about the fragility of ecosystems, the delicate balance of biodiversity in these rare habitats, and the close relationship between vegetation, land use and climate. In addition to the environmental damage, changes in climate and weather patterns place heritage sites at risk due to the increased likelihood of natural disasters such as flooding and wildfires.

On the topic of the marshes, AWDU holds various publications, such as maps, environmental reports by AMAR (‘Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees’), humanitarian studies, material in the Gulf Information Project documenting the impact of the 1990-91 Gulf War on Iraq’s land and people, books on the Marsh Arabs, modern Iraqi history and pamphlets from the Ministry for Irrigation, as well as a number of documents in the Crusoe archive.

Two maps comparing water levels in the marshes of southern Iraq, showing the changes between 1972 and 1993

Two comparative maps of the marshes, showing the dramatic changes between 1972 and 1993. Gulf Information Project, Box 19

More generally, we have documents and reports published by organisations such as the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zone and Dry Lands (ASCAD), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). There are also various books in both Special Collections and AWDU that provide histories of specific regions or countries, and which often include descriptions of weather, climate at various times of year, and sometimes even meteorological data – such as the rainfall records for the years 1885-1920 found in the Naval Intelligence Handbook on Tunisia (1945) – as well as specific compilations of climactic data from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait from the 1970s and 80s.

AWDU also contains a large amount of material on water resources in Yemen, donated by Christopher Ward, author of The Water Crisis in Yemen: Managing Extreme Water Scarcity in the Middle East (2014), and including detailed reports and rare documentation on water resources. There is also some North African material relating to Tunisia and irrigation schemes at Sidi Bouzid and elsewhere. Many of these contain statistical data on precipitation, annual rainfall data and other relevant information.

Exeter University is at the forefront of climate change research, with over 250 researchers working across a range of disciplines.  It’s an exciting, dynamic and ever-evolving area of research, and one for which support might readily be found for new project exploring the historical geography of the Middle East, perhaps looking at changes in attitudes towards seasonal fluctuations, or the awareness of travellers about the importance of ecosystems and the connection between environment and weather.

‘This direct contact with history was unlike anything I had ever experienced before…’: Reflections on work experience in Special Collections by Alice Dunn

We were delighted to be joined last week by Year 12 student Alice Dunn for a week of work experience in Special Collections. Below Alice shares some of her impressions and reflections on her experience. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Alice for her excellent work and wish her every success for the future.

My name is Alice Dunn, and I have spent a week in a work experience placement with the special collections and archives department of the University of Exeter. I am a year 12 student at King Edward VI Community College in Totnes, and very luckily for me the special collections team have been kind enough to facilitate my fascination with literature and history, and by extension with the vast collections kept here! 

Map of Devon from an atlas of the counties of England and Wales [Rare books B 1590/SAX/XX]

My placement began on Monday with an introduction to the collections and the work done regarding them, including their preservation and conservation. I measured the temperature and humidity in each of the rooms archives were stored in, and recorded these daily observations to ensure these conditions were optimum; extremes of either temperature or humidity can damage the items. What was particularly exciting was learning to handle the materials – there were a number of different items with which I was able to practice, including a 1579 hand-coloured Atlas of the counties of England, produced by Christopher Saxton! I learned that the best way to handle these materials is not, in fact, with gloves (with the exception of photographs), as their role in reducing dexterity increases the risk of tearing pages, but instead with clean hands. This direct contact with history was unlike anything I had ever experienced before; while I have learned about these time periods in history, or read new editions of texts, to handle materials which are hundreds of years old brings a sense of connection with the past that I do not think I could have otherwise felt. Down to the very knowledge that the ink on that page was handwritten by someone who experienced the things I have learned about from books, or to read the annotation of readers, like me, who annotated books they read, but in the 16th century (not like me!), my experience with archival materials has allowed a cohesion of my knowledge, ensuring enrichment in my future learning. While looking around the collections, I was also fortunate enough to be shown materials such as a sheet from a 1478 Caxton print of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, and Golding’s handwritten manuscript of the first draft of The Lord of the Flies, (though, due to its fragility, handling is avoided), both of which resulted in vast amounts of excitement on my part!  

Bills relating to elections in Devon, 1835, and to a concert in Exeter, 1858 [EUL MS 269]

Over the next few days, I was given a few projects to work on. On Tuesday, I sorted through letters to, from, and regarding, Agatha Christie, (some of which were handwritten by Christie herself!), selecting those that were relating to Poirot for an exhibition to go alongside a talk on him. After this experience I feel I am justified in stopping anyone from criticising my handwriting again, or else admitting that Christie, despite her literary genius, may not have been popular among teachers or A-Level examiners! I also looked at a collection of political bills from 1835 and researched the context behind these to aid the writing of a social media post about them, and the information I learned from this seems since to appear in my day-to-day life with astonishing frequency (namely in Middlemarch, which is active in its discussion of 19th century politics!). Throughout the week, I also accompanied team members in receiving and unpacking new materials that had arrived in the post, learning about the process of ‘accession’ before cataloging, and how to write titles and descriptions for these so that they can be best found by researchers. As part of this, I studied a recently received item which has not yet been cataloged, creating resources like a map on which all the places mentioned are flagged, as well as using university records to find out more about the individuals mentioned. This will ensure the item is better understood, so that when it comes to cataloging it can be organised in the collection more easily, and so that its description will be as accurate as possible, making it more accessible to researchers.  

Archives in the strongroom

In aiding retrievals to accommodate researchers’ requests, and reshelving after the resources have been used, I also came to learn about the organisation of the archives themselves. The breadth of the collections means the system in place is integral to ensuring they can be fully utilised by others, and thus learning about the system of cataloging here, and the differing one in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum where I was fortunate enough to be able to get a tour and speak to staff, has given me a much deeper understanding of the day-to-day process of keeping archives.

On Thursday, the staff at special collections had arranged for me to visit the closely interlinked Digital Humanities Lab at the University. I was given a tour of the building, and was fascinated to learn the role technology can have in the study of humanities, both in relation to archival materials and not. Due to the fragility of many of the items, including wax figurines and skulls, many objects will have 3D printed copies made to enable hands-on interaction. The intersection between archives and photography was something I had never thought about, but constitutes much of the work done by the Digital Humanities Lab – they have two purpose-built photographic studios, enabling photos to be taken in such high-quality, flakes of paint can be seen on the surfaces of pages. The Exeter Book (a book of Old English riddles from the 10th century, some of the oldest surviving pieces of English literature today) is owned by Exeter Cathedral, and while it is not linked to the university nor their collections, it was recently photographed and digitised by staff at the Digital Humanities Lab using their specialist photographic equipment. Having attended seminars and lectures with universities on the poems and riddles in this book, the accessibility created by technology is of importance to me, and thus it was fascinating to discover the work that is done to aid this.  

While I was initially most attracted to this work experience placement from more of a researcher perspective – I’m always fascinated by materials which can tell me more about my areas of interest – it has resulted in a better understanding of what it means to be an archivist, and, as a consequence, an interest in the role for its own sake; whether or not the collections I have looked at in my placement have been relevant to what I want to study in the future, they are intriguing in themselves, and not because they relate to what I already have knowledge of. I have had the most enjoyable week learning new skills and information – I don’t think I could’ve found another placement that so well supported my interests, while expanding my knowledge of everything! A big thank you to the Special Collections and Archives team for being so accommodating! 

Collage of images from the University of Exeter Special Collections

New Resource: A transcript of the letters of John Jarmain (1942-1943)

EUL MS 413/1/147 – Aerogram dated 09 October 1943

The University of Exeter Special Collections is pleased to announce that a full transcript of the wartime letters of John Jarmain (EUL MS 413) to his wife, Beryl Jarmain, is now available to browse on our online Digital Collections platform. This transcript will enable enhanced access, including full-text search, to this collection of unique and deeply personal letters.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to our student interns, Ruby and Beth, who transcribed the letters; and to Janet Coward, the daughter of John Jarmain, for kindly granting permission for the transcriptions. We are committed to providing access to our collections in many different ways, and hope this new resource will faciliate discovery, use and enjoyment of this archival collection.

The transcript is free to access by everyone here on our Digital Collections platform.

Find out more about students interns Beth and Ruby’s experiences of transcribing the letters of John Jarmain in the blog post: Transcribing the Letters of John Jarmain: reflections on a remote internship project

 

Behind the Scenes at Special Collections: A Week of Work Experience

The new display outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room

We were delighted to recently welcome Rosie and Scarlett, two Year 12 students from Colyton Grammar School, for a week of work experience at Special Collections. Their task for the week was to create a new display focusing on the Syon Abbey Collection, which involved handling, researching, digitising and curating a selection of rare books and archival items.

The new display is open to everyone and can be found by entering the Old Library on Streatham Campus via the main entrance, turning right at the barriers and walking down the corridor towards Seminar Room A/B. The display is located on the right outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room.

Scarlett and Rosie have kindly sent us their thoughts and impressions of their week of work experience in Special Collections, which you can read below. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Rosie and Scarlett for their excellent work and wish them every success for the future.

Scarlett’s impressions:

Rosie and Scarlett handling books from the Syon Abbey Library

When I first started work experience at Special Collections, the only time I had seen books older than two hundred years was behind a glass case but by the end of my time I had handled plenty of rare, old books safely.

During my time there I had the opportunity to research extensively and explore their Syon Abbey collection and helped develop a display on it with the other work experience member.

To start with, we began to research Syon Abbey and looked into the vast history of the abbey, its community and the nuns there. As one of the oldest English Catholic communities to continue meeting throughout the Reformation there was much to cover and explore and our research was well aided by the vast collection of such treasured books that brought to life the history of Syon Abbey in our hands.

We also learned how to handle old and delicate books and spent time making sure we would treat them correctly whilst researching. Well accompanied by our book snakes and cushions – tools that help support particularly old books – we began our research.

Installing the new display

To find a starting point, we searched for inscriptions made by the nuns in their books and made note of them. At times handwriting was indecipherable but that difficulty was rewarded with the satisfaction of seeing one nun’s distinctive handwriting or name in multiple books. Their inscriptions ranged from jokes regarding piety, descriptions of nieces getting married or just their own names.

Next, we decided on four nuns to focus on, each of us researching two in great detail for the display. This gave us a wide scope of the abbey as the nuns were from different times and fulfilled different roles for their community. We both created biographies for our nuns which gave a broad overview of what their day to day life would have been like and what they did in the abbey.

Finally, we began putting the last touches together for the display which entailed photographing documents, mounting them on boards and arranging our text and images to create an engaging display.

Rosie’s impressions:

Reshelving books!

I spent the last week with the Department of Special Collections at Exeter University for my Year Twelve work experience, and it was amazing. I was a bit nervous when on the first day, and took a lot of comfort in the fact that one of my friends from school, Scarlett, had the same work experience, but I really shouldn’t have worried. My supervisor for the week was Annie Price, who was absolutely lovely and so helpful, and while I didn’t speak to the other members of the department as much as they were working on their own projects, I still felt so much like part of the team.

Special Collections works with significant historical documents and manuscripts, especially from people who were connected to the South West. For example, there is an extensive William Golding archive – author of Lord of the Flies – , which contains artefacts such as correspondences between Golding and publishers and his friends, as well as the original manuscripts of some of his works, like the Lord of the Flies manuscript.

Scarlett and I, however, were working on the Syon Abbey collection, which involves a great majority of the extensive library of the nuns of Syon Abbey. They had a fascinating history originating in England, traveling around Europe due to external pressures, significantly to Lisbon, and finally returning to England, mainly based in Chudleigh and South Brent, which is where the link to Devon comes in. During our stay, we got to look at and handle books from as far back as the seventeenth century, which was an amazing opportunity. I almost couldn’t believe it! Before we were allowed to handle these precious artefacts, we were trained in the correct way to take the books out of shelves and read them without damaging the spines or the pages. There were a load of things that I had never considered, like what we called book snakes, which are soft weights to hold the pages flat while you read, while not putting oils into the pages like holding it with your fingers would.

Planning the new display

Our task for the week was to create a display about Syon Abbey, so we took quite a few old books and manuscripts out of the library to help us. We went through each book to see which nun had owned each book, and if they had written anything particularly interesting. The majority of them only had a name at the most, but the few that had more were intriguing and occasionally hilarious. My personal favourites of each were, respectively, an account of Napoleon invading Portugal and the subsequent consequences, and one joke about not being able to trick God, but by keeping a religious book she could trick her peers. We narrowed down our options of nuns to research, and chose two nuns each to focus on for the display. I chose Sister Constancia Sorrell – who recorded Napoleon invading – and Lay Sister Mary Gomes – who joked about not being able to trick God.  I think that one of the best parts of the week was constructing the actual display, and seeing the outcome of all our hard work, which I, at least, am very proud of. It felt a bit like being an interior designer, as we wanted the display to be eye-catching and visually appealing while still conveying the interesting things that we learnt in the week, and hopefully getting other people interested in the subject and the monastery. We had to establish a title for the display, and while I’m disappointed that my various nun puns were vetoed, – I was particularly fond of “Nun so Faithful”- I thought that “Her Book” was equally effective, with the reference to how they wrote their names in their books, for example, “Mary Gomes her Book” and also with the extra reference to the “Book” as the Bible.

In the end, the week was so fun and interesting, while also feeling productive and like we achieved something, and I have definitely gained a new respect both for the nuns of Syon Abbey, and for the archivists at Special Collections who work with so many precious artefacts and make them accessible to people like you and me.

I would like to thank everyone who works at Special Collections for being so helpful and welcoming, and especially Annie who made our week there so memorable.

I hope that this has encouraged anyone reading this to think about visiting or researching either Special Collections or the amazing history of the nuns of Syon Abbey.

You can find out more about the Syon Abbey Collection in our blog posts and online guide

 

‘My growing acceptance of myself as a gay man was freeing me as a writer’: A new display about the writer, David Rees

Display of items from the David Rees Collection outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room

To celebrate LGBT+ History Month in 2022, a new display featuring items from the University of Exeter’s Special Collections has been installed in the Old Library. The display explores themes around sexuality in the David Rees literary papers and book collection, including items such as book covers, manuscript and typescript drafts, and newspaper articles. The display is open to everyone and can be found by entering the Old Library on Streatham Campus via the main entrance, turning right at the barriers and walking down the corridor towards Seminar Room A/B. The display is located on the right outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room.

David Rees (1936-1993)  

David Rees was an author, lecturer and reviewer, born in Surbiton. Previously married with two children, he came out as a gay man in 1974. In 1968, he moved to Exeter to take up the position of lecturer in Education at St Luke’s College, which merged with the University of Exeter in 1978. He remained at the University until 1984, when he retired early to write full-time. 

Rees was a prolific writer, producing more than thirty works between 1975 and 1993. He also regularly wrote literary reviews and articles for magazines and newspapers, including Gay News and Gay Times. He is best known as a writer of novels for children and young adults.

A common theme in David Rees’ fiction is sexuality, and many of his novels are about the experiences of gay teenage boys discovering and embracing their sexual identity. These novels were noteworthy amongst other young adult books of the 1970s and 1980s in their positive portrayal of gay sex, relationships and love. The novels Quintin’s Man (1976) and In the Tent (1979) were the first books for young adults in the UK to have central gay characters.

‘The Milkman’s On His Way’ by David Rees

In 1987, The Milkman’s On His Way (1982) sparked a nationwide debate on access to gay fiction for young people, after a student complained that the book wasn’t available in their school library. The book was subsequently banned from many school and public libraries in the UK. Due to its positive and detailed descriptions of gay sex, the book was also cited in Parliament during the Section 28 debates in 1988 (Section 28 of the Local Government Act was brought in to ‘prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities’). However, the archive shows that many other people – including librarians, teachers and young people – also spoke out in support of the book.

Sexuality remained an important theme in David Rees’ later works, many of which were written for an adult audience, including Watershed (1986) and Twos and Threes (1987). In 1985, David Rees was diagnosed as HIV positive. This influenced him to write the novel, The Wrong Apple (1987), a story about a young man who discovers he has AIDS and finds love and support from a new friend. In his autobiography Not For Your Hands (1992), Rees reflected on his experience of coming out in 1974, and the positive impact this had on his personal life and writing career, stating: ‘my growing acceptance of myself as a gay man was freeing me as a writer’.

David Rees lived and worked in Exeter for most of his life, and time and again the city and its history inspired his stories. In 1978, David Rees was awarded the Carnegie Medal for The Exeter Blitz. In his acceptance speech, Rees spoke of the importance of Exeter to his writing, stating: ‘I’m drawn to it, again and again, as to a magnet…I’m glad it’s The Exeter Blitz that has won the Carnegie; it’s a tribute to that other major influence on me, the place where I live and work’. At least six of David Rees’ stories were set in Exeter, including Quintin’s Man (1976), The Ferryman (1977), Risks (1977), The Exeter Blitz (1978), The House that Moved (1978) and In the Tent (1979). 

From 1985, David Rees lived with HIV and AIDS. He continued writing and publishing until 1992. He died in 1993. 

David Rees Collection

Books by David Rees in the Reserve Collection

The University of Exeter Special Collections holds the David Rees Collection, which
includes literary papers as well as Rees’ own copies of his published works. The collection was donated by the Rees Family to St Luke’s Library in 1993. The literary papers include original manuscript and typescript drafts of his novels, short stories, poems, reviews, articles, speeches and interviews; and correspondence, reviews and clippings relating to his works.

The literary papers of David Rees have been catalogued under the reference number EUL MS 271 and can be browsed on the online archives catalogue. 

Books by David Rees are held within our Reserve Collection and are catalogued under the classmark Reserve 828.9/REE-9. You can browse the titles in the library catalogue. 

Items from the David Rees Collection are available for everyone to access, research and enjoy in our reading room.

Further resources 

You can find out more about more the David Rees Collection and other research resources relating to LGBTQ+ history held at the University of Exeter Special Collections in our online guide at: https://libguides.exeter.ac.uk/archives/lgbtq-research-resources 

Papers of Sir Norman Lockyer – Now Available Online

University of Exeter Special Collections are pleased to announce that the papers of Astronomer, Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer are now available to consult online as part of Wiley Digital Archive’s British Association for the Advancement of Science Database (Collections on the History of Science: 1830-1970). Students at University of Exeter (and other institutions with the relevant subscription) can access the digitised material through their institutional login. A free trial subscription is also available at https://www.wileydigitalarchives.com/british-association-for-the-advancement-of-science/

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), astronomer, was one of the pioneers of astronomical spectroscopy and became one of the most influential astronomers of his time. His main interest was sun spectroscopy, which led him to discover helium independently of Pierre Janssen, a scientist who posited its existence in the same year. He was born in Rugby in 1836, the only son of a surgeon-apothecary, Joseph Hooley Lockyer and was educated privately in England and he also studied languages on the Continent. At the age of twenty-one became a clerk in the War Office, and married Winifred James in the following year. He developed interests in astronomy and journalism, and in 1863 began to give scientific papers to the Royal Astronomical Society. He proceeded to push back the frontiers of spectroscopy and science, discovering the theoretical existence of helium (a chemical not then known on Earth), and was awarded a medal by the French Academy of Sciences in the same year for developing a new technique to observe solar prominences at times other than eclipses.

Sir Norman Lockyer as Science Editor of The Reader

In 1869 Lockyer founded the journal ‘Nature’, which he edited until a few months before his death, and which remains to this day a major resource for international scientific knowledge. In 1870 he was appointed secretary to the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction, which over the next five years reported on scientific education and resulted in the government setting up a laboratory of solar physics at South Kensington. To further this work, Lockyer was transferred from the War Office to the Science and Art Department at South Kensington in 1875. Here he organised an international exhibition of scientific apparatus, as well as establishing the loan collection which eventually formed the nucleus of the collections of the Science Museum.

Throughout this period, Lockyer continued to be active in astronomical observations and in spectroscopic studies in the laboratory of the College of Chemistry; he also wrote several books on astronomy and spectral analysis. Lockyer also studied the correlations between solar activity and weather, and developed interests in meteorology. In 1878 he was given charge of the solar-physics work then being carried out at South Kensington, being made Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory. Lockyer also became a lecturer in the Normal School Science in 1881, and became the first professor of astronomical physics in 1887, a post which he held until 1901. (In 1890 the School was renamed the Royal College of Science, which later became part of the Imperial College of Science and Technology). Lockyer continued his work as Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory until the laboratory moved to Cambridge, with the original laboratory site being used in part in the building of the Science Museum.

Kensington Telescope at Hill Observatory

After retiring to Devon with his wife, Lockyer established a solar observatory at Sidmouth on the suggestion of Francis McLean, the son of the astronomer and philanthropist Frank McLean. This observatory, begun in 1912, was set up for astrophysical observations, and was originally called the Hill Observatory. Following the completion of building work at the site at Salcombe Regis, near Sidmouth, Devon, solar work commenced in 1913 using the Kensington telescope which had been brought from the observatory in South Kensington, London. The Observatory was officially established as a charitable trust in 1916, and was renamed in Lockyer’s honour by his family after he died in Salcombe Regis, Devon, in August 1920. The Lockyer family continued to play an important role in the running of the observatory. Following a generous endowment from Robert Mond, the Observatory was established as a centre of astronomical excellence, and later became The Norman Lockyer Observatory Corporation of the University of Exeter (University College of the South West of England until 1955). The principal telescopes were donated by Lockyer and by Francis McLean, who had originally suggested the building of the observatory. A further telescope was donated by Robert Mond in 1932. The observatory is still running today. 

The collection that has been digitised includes the personal correspondence and some of the research papers of Sir Norman Lockyer. The ‘Marconi telegram’ is also included, notifying Sir Norman Lockyer of the first Atlantic transmission using Ether waves, sent from Marconi at Mullion, Cornwall, to Sir Norman Lockyer of the Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington, London, 12 January 1903, with copy telegram on reverse to Marconi from Norman Lockyer confirming receipt. Amongst the research papers are two boxes of eclipse notebooks 1870-1911, lecture notes 1870-1898, notes about articles, papers relating to the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction 1871-1877, papers relating to the transfer of the Solar Physics Laboratory to Cambridge 1911-1912, and other papers relating to education, lectures and addresses. Other personal papers include those arising from his being awarded honorary degrees and his attendance at public functions.

Correspondence between Ethel Mannin and Christopher Walker (EUL MS 452)

Ethel Edith Mannin (1900-84) was a prolific writer of novels and travel memoirs (many of which we have in our Hypatia collection), as well as a committed Socialist and political activist. She became interested in Palestine during period of the British Mandate, and was a staunch opponent of the Israeli occupation after 1948. Christopher Walker (1942-2017) was working in Sotheby’s department of historical and literary manuscripts when he came into contact with Mannin in the late 1960s through their shared interest in the Palestinian cause. They developed a strong friendship and corresponded regularly for several years, with their letters focussing primarily on Palestinian issues and the politics of the Middle East, Mannin sharing with the young historian her knowledge of people and places built up over decades of travel and political activism. We recently acquired a box of these letters, which have now been catalogued and make for fascinating reading, both for the insights into Mannin’s personality and relationship with Walker, and for what they reveal about Palestinian networks of resistance and communication during this period.

Portrait of Ethel Mannin

Mannin was born in Clapham in 1900, the eldest of three children of Robert Mannin, a postal worker, and a farmer’s daughter named Edith Gray. She began writing stories as a young girl, and was first published in The Lady’s Companion at the age of ten. When she left school she began working as a typist for Charles Higham’s advertising agency, and was soon promoted to copywriter and editor, as well as producing a monthly magazine called The Pelican in which she published her own articles and stories. In 1919 she married John Porteous, a manager at Higham’s thirty years her senior, and her only child Jean was born shortly after. They separated ten years later by which time Mannin had developed a deep interest in child care and education, especially in the progressive theories of A.S. Neill. She wrote several books on the topic, both novels and non-fiction. Indeed, this was the formula for her prolific output – to travel somewhere or research a subject, and then use the material as the basis for at least two books, one a non-fiction study and the other a novel.

Some of Ethel Mannin’s novels in our Hypatia collection

By the time her marriage broke up she had published seven novels or anthologies, as well as numerous short stories, and was able to buy a house for herself and Jean: Oak Cottage, on Burghley Road in Wimbledon. Inside the ‘cottage’ was painted in riotous colours with a zig-zag patterned gramophone, reflecting Mannin’s modern personality and the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age. Her frank opinions on sexual education and women’s rights, as well as her affairs with celebrities such as W.B. Yeats and Bertrand Russell, earned her something of a reputation – and when she published the first of several volumes of autobiographical memoirs, Confessions and Impressions, in 1930, it proved a best-seller: it was reprinted fifty times over the next six years, and then republished in paperback by Penguin in 1937.

Ethel Mannin’s memoirs and travel writings in our Hypatia collection

If images of the Twenties suggest something of the frivolous ‘flapper’, it should be noted that Mannin was intensely interested in the political developments of the time and her writings took an increasingly strong left-wing bent by the early 1930s.  Although initially a supporter of the Labour party, she became disenchanted with the failure of Ramsay Macdonald’s government to help the unemployed, and in 1933 she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1933, becoming a frequent contributor to their newspaper, the New Leader. During the Spanish Civil War she was a committed supporter of the POUM (in Spanish, ‘Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista’, or ‘Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification’), with which George Orwell fought in Catalonia. Upon his return, Orwell became a good friend of Mannin’s, as well as her second husband, the Quaker pacifist Reginald Reynolds (1905-58), whom she married in 1938.  She dedicated Women and the Revolution (1938) to her friend Emma Goldman, a Russian-born anarchist who was deeply involved in the struggle against Fascism in Spain, and who provided the inspiration for Mannin’s novel Red Rose (1941).

Mannin’s engagement with Palestine also began in the 1930s, when Reynolds worked with Dr Izzat Tannous at the Arab Information Office in London. (Reynolds wrote about how he got involved in Palestine in his memoir My Life and Crimes, published in 1956.) Tannous, a Palestinian Christian who had qualified as a doctor in Lebanon, had been involved in the Arab nationalist movement during the Mandate period and would later be a founding member of the PLO in 1964. During the 1940s he had worked hard on negotiations with the British government to prevent the partition of Palestine. At first this was only part of her wider campaigning against imperialism, which included her collaborations with black activists such as C.L.R James and George Padmore during the 1930s, and her postwar protests against the British government’s oppression of Kenyan nationalists. However, her support for the Palestinian cause became a personal one following her visits to the Middle East in the early 1960s.

During her travels through Iraq and Kuwait, she met General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had led the 1958 coup that ended the monarchy in Iraq.  She formed a favourable impression of the General, who would be executed during the 1963 Ba’athist Coup, and made him a key character in her novel The Midnight Street (1969). There are photos of Mannin and Qasim together in her travelogue A Lance for the Arabs: A Middle East Journey (1963), which also recounts her sympathetic friendships with a number of Iraqi liberals such as student leader Khalid Ahmed Zaki. The novel that emerged from this visit, The Road to Beersheba (1963), she envisaged as a pro-Palestinian counterpoint to the international bestseller Exodus (1958), written by Leon Uris and presenting a heroic version of the founding of the state of Israel. In The Lovely Land (1965) and the chapter ‘Making a film with the Arabs’ in Stories from my Life (1973) she tells of the King of Jordan’s efforts to have the book adapted into a film. Although this plan eventually fell through, it was translated into Arabic, serialised on ‘Voice of the Arabs’ radio station and published in a Jordanian newspaper.

Excerpt of a letter from Ethel Mannin

The Road to Beersheba tells the story of the Mansour family, who are violently evicted from their home in Lydda by Haganah militia in 1948 and forced into exile in Jordan. The young son Anton eventually comes to England where he meets other family members and Palestinian exiles. Some of their interactions – such as the scene where Anton’s mother tries to explain to a shopkeeper that her flowers ‘from Israel’ are actually from occupied Palestine – reflect arguments that were being made around the same time by Christopher Walker’s relative Lady Diana Richmond, an early member of CAABU and active campaigner for the Palestinian cause. Mannin’s letters contain numerous references to the Richmonds, as well as Michael Adams and other CAABU members, although she was critical of the organisation for its moderate stance regarding the State of Israel. (Mannin’s own views provide some intriguing insights into the tensions between left-wing politics, pacifism, pragmatic diplomacy and support for various revolutionary movements.) Other novels that focussed on the Palestine were The Night and its Homing (1966) – a sequel to The Road to Beersheba – and Bitter Babylon (1968).

Front cover of Ethel Mannin's novel The Road to Beersheba

 

The letters to Walker begin in January 1968, with Mannin contacting him in response to a letter regarding Palestine he had written in The Times. She discussed her novels with him, often sending him copies of her own books and recommending the writings of some of her Palestinian friends. The letters contain many references to – and critical comments about – what was being published on Palestine, both in terms of articles and letters in the press, as well as books. She also comments on the quality of speakers at CAABU meetings, goings on at the Jordanian Embassy (to which she was occasionally invited for receptions) as well as the activities of various friends from Jordan and Palestine who came to her house for dinner. They are peppered with lively comments about people she had met in Palestine, Beirut, Iraq, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, many of whom had become close friends and long-term correspondents. These references could be gossipy, affectionate, full of respect or savagely critical, but she provided Walker with personal introductions to many of her contacts in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, which would prove invaluable when the young historian travelled there in the summer of 1969. She also drew vivid pen portraits of many of those in the UK who were involved in media or academic work relating to Palestine, some of whom she met at Committee meetings or public lectures. Names mentioned in her letters include her longstanding friend Rev. Eric Bishop (1891-1980), an ‘old Palestinian hand’ and member of the Church Missionary Society who held Arabic services in London, Musa Alami, Basil Aql, Moshe Menuhin, Musa Mazzawi, Rouhi Khatib – former Mayor of Jerusalem – Suleiman Mousa, Desmond Stewart, Anthony Nutting, Christopher Mayhew, Manuela Sykes, Elizabeth Collard, John Reddaway, Peter Mansfield, John Richmond and Michael Adams, Faris Glubb and his father John Bagot Glubb, Ismael Shammout, Izzat Tannous, Basil Ennab,  Jordanian Ambassador Anwar Bey Nuseibeh, Adel Jarrah (Charge d’Affaires at the Kuwait Embassy), Dr. Anis Sayegh and Fayez Sayegh, Egyptian artist Youssef Francis, Fareed Jafri, and Soraya ‘Tutu’ Antonius, with whom she danced ‘the twist’ in Beirut in 1962. (Soraya was the daughter of Lebanese intellectual and Arab nationalist George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening (1938). There are letters from both Soraya [‘Thurayya’, hence ‘Tutu’] and her mother Katy Antonius in the Richmond archive, EUL MS 115.)

A sample excerpt from one of Mannin’s typed letters, often annotated with additional lines typed around the edges

By this time she was of course almost seventy years old, and admitted frankly to Walker that she found social activities a tiresome chore and really wanted peace to work on her writing, for which she relied in order to make a living. In a letter of 19 September 1970 she told Walker that by the time of her 70th birthday she hoped ‘to bring her annual income up to that of a dustman.’

Over the next few years she managed to finish off various autobiographical writings, some of them charting her travels around England, including England at Large (1970),   Free Pass to Nowhere (1970), My Cat Sammy (1971), England My Adventure (1972) and Stories from My Life (1973), as well as what would be her final novel with a Middle East setting – Mission to Beirut (1973), about the murder of a diplomat. She revealed in a letter of 27 January 1972 that the plot was inspired by the ‘inside story’ of the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tal a few weeks earlier. As she had not visited Beirut since 1962 she asked Walker to fill her in on some of the recent changes to the city, so that she could ensure the details were all authentic.

In September 1974 she sold Oak Cottage and moved to Overhill, a house in Brook Lane, Shaldon, near Teignmouth in Devon, to be with her daughter. (Jean had married Leslie Faulks, who developed cancer around 1970; they had a daughter named Catherine.) Mannin had a sister in Exeter but they seem to have had little contact. Around this time she and Walker appear to have lost touch, with their letters ceasing in 1976.  In their 1972 correspondence they discussed the work he was beginning on writing a book about Armenia, a task that would take him the next eight years. Armenia: survival of a nation was finally published by Croom Helm in 1980. In the meantime, Mannin had finished her final book, an autobiographical memoir entitled Sunset over Dartmoor (1977) which contains two chapters about the Middle East: Chapter 13 ‘Some reflections on Palestine’ and Chapter 14 ‘The Time of My Life’, which recounts highlights and thoughts about her travels to Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Syria between 1962 and 1966. Her letters to Walker have a similar valedictory feel at this time, as she reflects upon her retirement, how she was no longer in touch with any of her Middle East contacts, and her feelings about her fifty years of involvement in the Palestinian struggle. ‘Being now 80,’ she wrote, ‘I will hardly live to see Palestine liberated – but YOU may, and probably will. Drink a toast to me then, and to all the old campaigners…’

Mannin died four years after her last letter to Walker, who continued to study and lecture on the subject of Armenia. His research on the role of religion in the Ottoman Empire developed into a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between Islam and the West, which provided the focus for various talks and publications in the 2000s.  His Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilizations (Stroud: Sutton, 2005) refuted the ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative that had grown popular around this time, arguing instead that much of the current tension was a result of the west having forgotten its long history of interaction with the Islamic east, the richness of their intellectual and commercial exchanges over many centuries, and the mutual respect and tolerance that had characterised these relationships. He died in 2017, without having seen the liberation of Palestine.

This collection of correspondence supplements other letters from Mannin that we hold in our collections, including those among the papers of Henry Williamson (EUL MS 43) and Malcolm Elwin (EUL MS 423). It also complements other Middle East archives – Christopher Walker’s uncle was Sir John Richmond, and there are numerous references to CAABU and mutual acquaintances in both the Richmond archive (EUL MS 115) and the papers of Michael Adams (EUL MS 241). We have over thirty of Mannin’s novels in the Hypatia Collection too, and the letters between her and Walker could make for a fascinating research project for anyone seeking to explore Mannin’s views and activities supporting Palestinian resistance, the relationship between her literary work and political engagement, British networks of pro- and anti-Zionist advocacy, the interaction between British leftwing politics and support for Palestine (a topic that continues to provoke contentious discussion within the Labour Party) or simply to gain a greater knowledge of the literary and academic circles of the period. Catalogue entries for the correspondence can be found here.

Further Reading

By Ethel Mannin –

Middle East novels:

The Road to Beersheba (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Bitter Babylon (London: Hutchinson, 1968)

The Midnight Street (London: Hutchinson, 1969)

Mission to Beirut (London: Hutchinson, 1973)

Travel writing:

Moroccan Mosaic (London: Jarrolds, 1953)

A Lance for the Arabs: A Middle East Journey (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Aspects of Egypt (London: Hutchinson, 1964)

The Lovely Land. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (London: Hutchinson, 1965)

 

By Christopher Walker –

The Armenians (Minority Rights Group Report No.32, 1975), co-authored with Professor David Marshall Lang

Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (Croom Helm, 1980)

Armenia and Karabagh: the struggle for unity (Minority Rights Group, 1991) – editor

Oliver Baldwin: A Life of Dissent (London: Arcadia, 2003)

Visions of Ararat: writings on Armenia (Continuum, 2005)

Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilizations (Stroud: Sutton, 2005)

‘Friends or Foes? The Islamic East and the West’, History Today Volume: 57:3 (Mar 2007) pp.50-7

Other

Sarah Graham Brown, ‘A Lance for the Arabs: Ethel Mannin’, The Middle East No.125 (March 1985) p.62.

Ahmed Al Rawi, ‘The post-colonial novels of Desmond Stewart and Ethel Mannin’, Contemporary Arab Affairs Vol.9:4 (2016) pp.552-64.

Caroline Rooney, ‘The First nakba Novel? on Standing with Palestine,’
Interventions. International Journey of Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 20:1 (2018) pp.80-99.

Christopher J. Walker, Armenia: the survival of a nation (London: Croom Helm, 1980)

Rebecca Jinks, The Uncompromising Facts Of History: Christopher J. Walker’s Writings On Armenia (2021)

Philipp Winkler, ‘Che Guevara of the Middle East’: Remembering Khalid Ahmad Zaki’s Revolutionary Struggle in Iraq’s Southern Marshes’, in The Arab Lefts: Histories and Legacies, 1950s–1970s (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) pp.207-221. [Article on Mannin’s friend, whose death is referred to several times in her letters to Walker.]

 

Rya T’eze and the Kurds in Armenia

As much of the Kurdish material we hold in the library and archives relates to Kurdistan – the area that covers territories within Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), Syria (Western Kurdistan) and Turkey (Northern Kurdistan) – it is sometimes forgotten that there is a large Kurdish diaspora that lives outwith this region, with historically established communities. In this blogpost I am going to look at the newspaper Rya T’eze, which was the first Kurdish newspaper to be published in Latin script.

The Kurds in Armenia

Most of the Kurds in Armenia originally came from Turkey, beginning to settle in numbers around 1828 to escape from fighting during the Russo-Turkish wars, with migration increasing during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of them belonged to the Yezidi community, who follow a religion that fuses elements from Islam and the ancient Persian faith of Zoroastrianism.

Over half of the Kurds in Armenia live in the capital city, Erivan, previously known as Yerevan, or ‘Rewan’ in Kurdish. This city, as will be discussed below, has played a significant role in the development of Kurdish culture.

In 1921 Kurds here began to use a Kurdish alphabet that was derived from Armenian characters; this lasted for about eight years before it was replaced by a Latin alphabet, which was created by a Yezidi Kurd named Arab Shamilov (in Kurdish, Erebê Şemo/Ә’рәб Шамилов or Ereb Shemo), working closely with an Assrian named Isaac Marogulov. Born in 1897 in Kars in eastern Anatolia (NE Turkey), Shemo had fled to Armenia with his family after the First World War. His book Xwe bi Xwe Hînbûna Kurmancî [Teach Yourself Kurmanji], was published in 1928 and was the first Kurdish book to be printed using the new Latin alphabet.

Between 1930 and 1937 there was a flowering of Kurdish education and culture in Armenia, with almost thirty Kurdish schools established, children taught to read and write in Kurdish, and a regular stream of Kurdish-language books published each year. Shemo’s novel Sivane Kurd [The Kurdish Shepherd] came out in 1935, followed by his anthology Folklora Kurmanca. It was against this background that Rya T’eze appeared.

Rya T’eze 1930-1937

Image of the front cover of the first issue

The first issue of Rya T’eze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Рйа  Т’әзә or Rya T’eze (sometimes spelled Riya Teze) means ‘New Path’, and the first issue was published on 25 March 1930, printed in Kurmanji Kurdish but using the Latinised alphabet of Shemo-Marogulov. It had four pages and came out twice a week, with a circulation of some 600 copies. Celadet Alî Bedirxan’s magazine Hawar [The Cry] – which began publication in 1932 – acknowledged the importance of Rya T’eze in an article (No.8, 1932), written by Herekol Azizan:

Produced under the auspices of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia, the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers of the Armenian SSR, Rya T’eze was bound to reflect Soviet ideology, and even though it was written in Kurdish, there is perhaps a disappointingly sparse amount of material on Kurdish culture. At first the newspaper was run by three exiled Armenians who knew Kurdish – Kevork Paris, Hraçya Koçar and literary critic Harûtyûn Mkirtçyan – before Kurdish linguist and author Cerdoy Gênco took over as editor in 1934. That was also the year that the first ever pan-Soviet Congress of Kurdology was held – in Yerevan, naturally – which called for the creation of a Kurdish dictionary and historical grammar. An education academy had already opened in Yerevan with the aim of training Kurdish language teachers. 

However, under Stalin’s increasingly tight grip on the Soviet Union there was little place for dissent or devolution, and the resources and freedom open to Kurds in Armenia began to decline. Kurdish-language teaching and publishing were discouraged, and the Cyrillic alphabet was imposed on Kurds to encourage them to learn Russian, Armenian or Georgian (and therefore abandon their own language.) Between 1937 and 1944, Caucasian Kurds were deported to settlements within places such as Uzbekhistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia, where they faced severe restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. Ereb Shemo was himself among these, and he would not return until 1956. Publication of Rya T’eze was shut down in 1937, and would not resume for almost twenty years.

Rya T’eze 1955-2003

Image of front page of newspaper in Cyrillic, dated 1 February 1955

Front page of the revived Rya T’eze, 1 February 1955 – the first issue in our holdings.

Following Stalin’s death in 1953 and the more moderate governance introduced by his successor, Nikita Khruschev, publication of Rya T’eze recommenced in 1955, still in Kurdish but this time printed in a Cyrillic alphabet that had been devised by Heciyê Cindî, another Yezidi Kurd who had worked on Radio Yerevan, and also spent time in exile during the 1940s. Nonetheless, Cindî had managed to complete a doctorate in Kurdish folklore while in exile, and was also the author of a Kurmanji reader and other Kurdish books. The new editor was Mîroyê Esed (1919-2008), who would continue to run the paper until 1989.

 

This again was another period in which Kurdish culture was able to flourish in Armenia, and the local radio station also began broadcasting in Kurdish in January 1955. Gayané Ghazaryan has written a fascinating blogpost about Kurds in Armenia and the work of Casimê Celîl (who wrote Kurdish poetry for Rya T’eze) and his family for Radio Yerevan that can be read here.

Other Kurdish authors who contributed to Rya T’eze after its relaunch in 1955 included Qaçaxê Mirad, Şekroyê Xudo, Xelîlê Çaçan, Babayê Keleş, Têmûrê Xelîl, Tîtal Mûradov, Egîtê Xudo, Eliyê Ebdilrehman, Hesenê Qeşeng, Pirîskê Mihoyî, Rizganê Cango, Porsora Sebrî, Tîtalê Efo, Karlênê Çaçanî, Şerefê Eşir, Egîtê Abasî, Paşayê Erfût, Letîfê Emer and Gayanê Hovhannîsyan. As before, much of the paper’s content reflected the dominant focus of the Armenian SSR on Soviet politics and history, agricultural and factory production, and so on, but there continued to be articles, poems and other material of Kurdish interest, such as this article from 9 October 1955 p.1 on the Armenian poet Хачатур Абовйан (Khachatur Abovyan, 1809-48), who was a pioneer in the study of Kurdish language and folklore, writing extensively about the Kurds and recording many of their local legends and folk tales. Abovyan laid the foundations for the development of Kurdish studies in Russia. 

The article reproduces the famous painting of ‘Abovian Among the Kurds’ by Mkrtich Sedrakyan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the 1970s, circulation figures rose from around 2,800 to 5,000 copies, although by the mid-1980s this had dropped back to about 4,000, with occasional changes in the frequency of publication. The death of Erebê Şemo in May 1978 was not overlooked, with a substantial article published on 5 June:

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 placed serious financial pressures on the newspaper, which had been funded by the Armenian SSR and relied heavily on the support of the state. Tîtalê Efo took over as editor from Esed that year, only to be succeeded in 1991 by Emerîkê Serdar, who ran the paper until he was forced to resign due to illness. During this time, the alphabet reverted to Latin in 2001, and the newspaper became a monthly publication with a print run of 500 copies in an effort to reduce production costs.

One positive outcome from the collapse of the Soviet Union was that Rya T’eze began to focus more on matters of general Kurdish interest, rather than adhering closely to the programme of the Armenian SSR. This was probably due in part to the growing reliance of the newspaper on the wider Kurdish diaspora for financial support, but these years saw regular coverage of events in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

An article on Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani from 2001, showing the newspaper’s return to Latin characters and improved coverage on matters of Kurdish interest outside Armenia

However, despite the efforts of the editor and Kurdish donors to keep the newspaper afloat – including an injection of money, the assistance of Kurdish volunteers and support from organisations such as the Lalish Foundation – it was clear that production was no longer financially viable. Publication wound down at the end of 2003, and after a few sporadic issues over the next two years, the press finally closed with No. 4818 in October 2006, which included a review of Dr. Khanna Omarkhali’s book on the Yezidis, Йезидизм (2005) and a tribute to Kurdish writer Emînê Evdal (1906-64), another Yezidi contributor to Rya T’eze during the 1930s and a pioneer in Kurdish language instruction.

Rya T’eze remains a remarkable record of the Kurdish community in Armenia, and is also of particular interest to scholars researching the history of the Yezidis and their culture. Our holdings of the newspaper are probably the most extensive outside the former Soviet Union, and this is a fantastic resource for postgraduate study, either from our own Centre for Kurdish Studies or further afield. Enquiries about access to the newspaper should be directed to Special Collections.