Tag Archives: Special Collections

‘It was almost like time-travelling…’: Reflections on a week of work experience in Special Collections

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

I began my work experience week in Special Collections with a tour of the Old Library, which is in some ways quite maze-like, but I found that around every corner there was something interesting to look at or read. I was pleasantly surprised at how huge some of the strongrooms were and the sheer amount of literature that was in each one. I also met some members of the Special Collections team who were all very welcoming and kind. In the afternoon I helped to set up a literary visit for the Exeter U3A (University of the Third Age) and then supervised the event with one of the Archivists, my Supervisor, Annie and one of the Special Collections Team Leaders, Sarah-Jayne. At first I found the event quite daunting as I did not know much about the source material they were showcasing. However, it was inspiring, in a way, to see so many people so enthusiastic about South-West writers and I found it easier to talk with the visitors about some aspects of the literature on display. 

Theatre Royal (Exeter) playbills collection (EUL MS 202)

On Tuesday, my day began with a tour of the Digital Humanities Lab who work closely with Special Collections. I was able to choose a model to be 3D Printed and even helped take some high quality photos of old Exeter Theatre Royal Playbills. It was interesting seeing the digital side of archiving, which is becoming more extensive as time goes on. In the afternoon I began my cataloguing task (which was introduced to me during my tour of the Old Library on Monday) in which I was typing up the index of Rowland Glave-Saunders’ ‘Book of Reminiscences’. As I went through the index and read some of the sections of his book, I gained quite an understanding of the type of person he was and his views on some subjects. He wrote of Exeter’s experience of the Blitz, evacuees and much more, reading it was almost like time-travelling. I took a break from the cataloguing task to take a look around the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, which is in the same building as Special Collections. 

Books in the Syon Abbey Library

I was not able to go to work experience on Wednesday, but on Thursday, the day began with myself and Annie stocktaking in the strongroom. We were taking stock of the Syon Abbey Library, one of several collections on loan. This too was interesting as I noticed how the books changed overtime. In the afternoon I was given an introduction to managing the Reading Room and resumed my cataloguing task, which I was able to finish. I then talked with Annie (as I was able to with various members of the team throughout the entire week) about her role at Special Collections. 

On Friday morning, I talked to the other Special Collections Team Leader, Angela, about her role at Special Collections. She introduced me to box listing, which is a way that archivists break down what is in an archive they may receive. I was also able to look through various photos and letters connected to John Lloyd who was a Lecturer and Librarian at the University of Exeter and learnt about himself and some of his relatives through reading the university’s old registers. In the afternoon, I began a second cataloguing task involving letters by the writer Flora Thompson. There were nine letters and it was my task to type short descriptions of them as well as record their date. Even reading the short nine letters, I gained a small insight into the sort of person Flora Thompson was and some of the hardships she experienced. I took a break from this task to learn about the DAME project which stands for the Digital Archive of the Middle East. This involved digitising the Middle East archives held in Special Collections, which consist mostly of 20th Century works including diaries, letters and photos. It was interesting seeing a more modern side to the archives as oppose to the much older Syon Abbey library I had been stocktaking on Thursday. I ended the day by finishing cataloguing Flora Thompson’s letters. 

Collage of images from the University of Exeter Special Collections

This work experience has been extremely helpful and insightful. I was given tours and introductions to practically every side of Special Collections as well as the parts of the University that work with them. It has also been amazing knowing that the work I have been doing will actually be contributed towards various projects and archives. During the week, the Special Collections Team have also been extremely welcoming and ready to provide any help, either with the various tasks I have been doing or just finding my way around. The experience has definitely opened up a career which I previously knew very little about and made it one which I may want to pursue. 

Reflections on a week of work experience in Special Collections

We were delighted to be joined last week by Year 10 student Rosalia for a week of work experience in Special Collections. Below Rosalia shares some of her impressions and reflections on her experience. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Rosalia for her excellent work and wish her every success for the future.

Over this last week, I have been doing my work experience in Special Collections which I have found fascinating as it allowed me to learn more about rare books and manuscripts, as well as helping me broaden my experience and widen my knowledge of history, a subject I love.

Map of Devon from an atlas of the counties of England and Wales [Atlas of the counties of England and Wales]

On the first day, I arrived at 9:30 and was given a tour of Special Collections by Annie, where I saw the strong rooms and the office. Afterwards, I had the handling training, when I looked at several old books and manuscripts, including a a 1579 hand-painted Atlas of the counties of England and an medieval manuscript with beautiful illuminated letters and illustrations. Later the same day, I attended a presentation from the archivist for Middle Eastern studies, which was fascinating. Afterwards, I stayed in the reading room, where I learnt how the room operated and looked at an old manuscript from Syon Abbey, which detailed the history of the Abbey and the duties of the nuns. I had to transcribe the headings of the different sections in order to improve the cataloguing of the manuscript which was very enjoyable and the contents of the manuscript were a fascinating record of the abbey and the life of the nuns who lived there. I also had a talk with Caroline, the Head of Heritage Collections, about the role of Special Collections within the university and the wider community and the collections and archives held here.

On the second day, I was given the task of searching through the library catalogue to find books relevant to Crediton, as some of the Special Collections team are going to Crediton Local History Day to do a presentation. Within the collections is the Crediton Parish Library, which contains many old books and a wide range of 17th century pamphlets. When I had found all the books and pamphlets I was interested in on the catalogue, I filled out request slips for each of them (59 in total) and then the next day Annie and I retrieved them from the strongroom.

Crediton Parish Library

On the third day, I looked through the pamphlets and books and photographed any that would be relevant or interesting for Crediton Local History day. This took most of the day, although I also spent about an hour watching a display being put up in the Forum Library.

On the fourth day, I spent the morning in Digital Humanities with Hollie and Lisa from Special Collections, where we had a tour of the labs and a talk about what Digital Humanities do. We also had the chance to 3D print a Lewis chess piece each, which was very exciting and interesting. In the afternoon, I finished cataloguing the Syon Abbey manuscript and got some more of the books and pamphlets from the strong rooms. At the end of the afternoon, I had a talk with Jamie, the Middle East archivist, about his role in digitising and preserving manuscripts and books and also with Jon, the Digitisation Assistant, about how digitising the images and documents for the DAME project works.

On the final day, I photographed the remaining few pamphlets and books and had a look round the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for about forty minutes, which is a fascinating insight into the history of cinema and film.

Overall, the week was very enjoyable and fascinating, and I learnt a lot about rare books and manuscripts and the general running of the Special Collections department.

Collage of images from the University of Exeter Special Collections

‘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

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, 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

 

Arrival of the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection

We are delighted to have recently welcomed the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection into our Special Collections at the University of Exeter.

The heart of the collection is the personal research library of Professor Marsha Fowler. In 1977, Professor Fowler began collecting books to support her research into the development of nursing ethics and the American Nurses Association code of Ethics for Nurses. Many of these key texts were not available to consult in academic libraries. Professor Fowler later gifted the collection to the International Care Ethics (ICE) Observatory at the University of Surrey and, in 2016, the collection was accepted by the University of Surrey for inclusion within its Archives and Special Collections. The Archives and Special Collections team collaborated with Professor Fowler and Professor Ann Gallagher to develop the collection by acquiring further publications and materials concerning nursing, the history of nursing, bioethics, women, religion and health, with titles leading up to the present day. You can find out more about the collection and its development in this blog post by the University of Surrey’s Archives and Special Collections.

Books in the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection

The decision was made to transfer the collection from the University of Surrey to the University of Exeter due to Exeter’s more wide-ranging courses and specialist research interests in relation to nursing and ethics. In Exeter, the collection will also enhance educational provision and research opportunities in the Academy of Nursing under the leadership of Professor Ann Gallagher (Head of Nursing and Editor-in-Chief Nursing Ethics). In addition, it will complement existing books on nursing and the history of nursing in the Hypatia Collection. You can find out more about the transfer of the collection in this blog post by the University of Surrey’s Archives and Special Collections. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Archives and Special Collections team at the University of Surrey for their care and development of the collection, and for the safe transfer of the collection to its new home.

A full catalogue of the collection had already been compiled by the Archivist at the University of Surrey. With both organisations using the same cataloguing software (CALM) it has proven to be a fairly simple process to transfer over the existing records into Exeter’s online catalogue. This was a great time saver, meaning that the collection was searchable online just a day or two after its transfer and minimising the time that it was inaccessible to researchers. The online catalogue for the collection can be found here under collection reference EUL MS 472/NEHC. The six main sections of the collection comprise:

EUL MS 472/NEHC/1 – Texts from the nursing ethics heritage period, 1860s-1965

EUL MS 472/NEHC/2 – Texts relating to Bioethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/3 – Texts and audio visual material relating to nursing bioethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/4 – Biographical records relating to nurse ethicists

EUL MS 472/NEHC/5 – Histories of nursing ethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/6 – Contextual publications for medical practice, nursing and ethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/7 – Codes of ethics for nurses

The collection comprises almost 500 books, periodicals and articles, including works dating from 1888 to editions of ‘Nursing Ethics: An International Journal for Health Care Professionals’ published as recently as 2017. Many of the books contain the names of former owners inscribed within, as well as annotations and underlined words in the text, highlighting their importance in shaping the study and work of nurses. Though predominantly consisting of English-language works, it is wonderful to also find texts in Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, Russian and Japanese within the collection. Some images of items in the collection can be viewed on the slideshow below.

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Items from the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection are now available to consult in our reading room by advance appointment. We hope this wonderfully rich collection will support and inspire research into the study of nursing ethics, both here at the University of Exeter and by visiting researchers.

Enquiries about this collection can be made by email to: libspc@exeter.ac.uk.