Connecting Stories, Our British Asian Heritage – Behind the scenes

Have you ever wondered why exhibition spaces are sometimes a little bit dark? Why objects are displayed in the way that they are? How an exhibition is even put together in the first place? Conservator Lucy Angus will explain the stages of preparing and installing our current exhibition ‘Connecting Stories.

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Six months ago I met the British Library Curator Penny Brook who had the difficult task of choosing over 100 objects from collections held at the British Library and Library of Birmingham which would help tell the story of our British Asian heritage. Once Penny had come up with her wish list of objects for inclusion for the exhibition, I was then presented with the objects which included a rare 19th century board game reflecting Britain’s trading interests in Asia, 1940s police reports on meetings of the Indian Workers Association and India League in Birmingham, photographs showing protests and counter-protests in 1960s and 1970s Britain amongst others.

Before and after conservation treatment
[MS 3147/5/ 616]

Upon looking at the objects I had to determine whether the objects were fit for display and what conditions would need to be in place to make sure that the objects were cared for and did not potentially suffer from being displayed. Some factors I considered were the condition of the objects, whether the objects were to be displayed in a case or framed and the potential exposure to light over the course of the exhibition.

Most objects I was shown were thankfully in a good condition and required no conservation treatment. Only a few objects required minor repair with a colour drawing of an Engine House for His Highness the Nabob Vizier of Oude (MS 3147/5/616) requiring the most conservation treatment which included surface cleaning, repair and filling in losses with a sympathetic paper to the original. Continue reading

The Drum

The Drum Archive in the stores at the Library of Birmingham

Hi! I’m Davinia. I’m studying for a PhD in Sociology at Warwick University. I recently joined the archives in the new, voluntary position of research associate, and I’m working with the newly formed archive from The Drum arts centre, which sadly closed just over a year ago, at the end of June 2016. My project’s working title is called Learning from The Drum: Toward a decolonization of the arts in the UK.

The Drum

For any who may not know, The Drum was originally conceived in a series of conversations in 1986, then existed in a number of iterations in The Cave and The Big Peg until it was established in its Newtown building in 1995. The building was originally endorsed by the City Council as part of a series of ventures, intended to achieve social and economic gains for that part of the city. It was also created to provide an inclusive creative space for the city’s African, Caribbean and South Asian populations. In 2015 it celebrated 20 years of service to its local community and to the arts of the UK. But in March 2016, six months into this PhD and, incidentally, half way through Arts Council England’s creative case for diversity, The Drum closed its doors, and the consequences of this are yet to be fully comprehended.

The Drum closing its doors

Why Am I in the archive?

My project, now half way through, has changed a lot since it was proposed in 2015. Originally, it was to focus on how The Drum was working as an arts centre. I was to collaborate with Drum staff in using the archive of ephemera within the building to create an online platform that would help to connect the local population with The Drum’s history. I would then conduct interviews and workshops with staff, artists and audiences to discover whether and how engagement with that history served to connect people in the city to the place in which they live. Given the changes that have occurred, my project now aims to preserve the history of the organisation. I also want to understand what happened at the Drum, including its closure and the broader implications of this for the arts of Birmingham and the wider UK. This is where the Archive comes in.

Collating & Housing an Archive

When the Drum was closing, the staff, including me, were in constant contact with Corinna Rayner, Manager of Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, and together we embarked on the project of boxing up and labelling the Drum’s ephemera for storage. It came to over 200 boxes! Archives & Collections thankfully agreed to house The Drum’s archive, and the boxes arrived into the loading bay; a time of incredible relief for me. The Drum’s loss would leave a huge gap for many people, myself included. Once the archive is catalogued and made public, hopefully there will be a way of remembering all of the great work that it created and showcased over the years.

Following storage of The Drum’s archival material, my project is now also concerned with how the collection could best be made accessible to the centre’s former local and national audiences, and with connecting the history of the organization to other local histories, as well as to wider national and international histories. Thinking through this process is part of my project’s analysis.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on what I find as I root through the archive!

Davinia.

In Concert

In Concert is the new blog from the Music Library at the Library of Birmingham. It allows you to get a flavour of the music collections here – quirky, practical, historical, and contemporary. Often, there is a local connection as well, beyond the fact that it is part of the collections here.

A recent post, Souvenirs? looks at two different scores (from Norway and Canada) and wonders how they came to be part of our collections. The one before, Songs from across the centuries 2 looks at how two individuals from Acocks Green published a song during WW1 to raise money for the war effort.

We can highly recommend it! https://lobmusiclibrary.wordpress.com/ 

Francis William Aston

Francis William Aston
Born 1st September 1877 in Harborne, Birmingham,
Died 20th November 1945 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

 

During its long history Birmingham has played host to many famous scientists such as Matthew Boulton and James Watt (Steam engines) and John Roebuck (Lead chamber process for making sulphuric acid) among others, but Francis William Aston is one of the lesser known members of the scientific community in Birmingham.

Mason College, later University of Birmingham
[WK/B11/103]

Although Francis William Aston is best known for his work in the area of Physics, he initially began his university career studying Chemistry and Physics at Birmingham University where he studied the optical properties of organic acids; he wrote a paper on this subject which was published in 1901.

After a short break from the academic world during which he worked as a chemist for a brewer, he returned to academia, being awarded a scholarship to study at Birmingham University where he began building vacuum pumps to investigate the properties of gases in evacuated tubes.

In 1908 he moved to Cambridge under the tutelage of J.J Thompson at the Cavendish Laboratory.

Whilst he was working at the Cavendish Laboratory he obtained definite evidence of the existence of two Isotopes(1) of the noble(2) gas Neon.

(1) The six noble gases are found in group 18 of the periodic table. These elements were considered to be inert gases until the 1960s when it was found that Xenon formed a Fluoride; since then chemical compounds have been formed with most of the noble gases with the possible exception of Helium.

(2) An Isotope is any of two or more forms of a chemical element, having the same number of protons in the nucleus, or the same atomic number, but having different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus or different atomic weights. There are 275 isotopes of the 81 stable elements in addition to over 800 radioactive isotopes and every element has known isotopic forms. Isotopes of a single element possess almost identical properties.

Continue reading

Holdings: Words of the Archive

Definition of ‘record’ from 1696.
[A094/1696/21]

Words, words, words. Archives are packed with them – in record books, in documents, in deeds, in letters, in catalogues, on box labels, on captions, and plenty of other places. But what words do archivists themselves use to talk about what they do? As a lexicographer, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the words associated with archives and archival practice. Like every other field of activity, archiving has its own specialist vocabulary. Sometimes a particular term will be completely unfamiliar to the lay person, though often, as we can see below, a familiar word is simply repurposed in a specific, extended sense.

The word archive itself dates from the mid seventeenth century, ultimately deriving from the Greek word arkheia meaning ‘public records’. Archivist is a slightly later word, coming into English in the eighteenth century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the word is this, from 1753: ‘Under the emperors the Archivist was an officer of great dignity.’ Happily, in my experience this continues to be the case.

An English Dictionary from 1696.
[A094/1696/21]

My understanding is that most archives, such as those held in the Library of Birmingham, are structured roughly on the following lines. A collection is a whole body of material (letters, documents, photographs, and so forth) held by an institution. The more technical term fonds (borrowed from French) is sometimes used by archivists to describe an entire collection originating from a single source. An accession is one of the individual bodies of material that form part of the collection and that arrived at a particular time, for example as a gift or purchase. A file is a group of documents that are related in some way. And an item is an individual document or other object held in a file.

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The Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’

Sometimes when cataloguing an archive collection you come across an item which has no obvious link to the other papers it is with and clues to help you identify the links are few and far between. Such was the case with a small pamphlet with the title ‘Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’ training and education for refugee boys’ which caught my attention in the records of Bull Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As this week is Refugee Week, when the contributions of refugees to the UK are celebrated and greater understanding about why refugees seek sanctuary is promoted, it seemed fitting that the story of Westholme should be retold.

The Ockenden Venture was established in 1951 by three school teachers in Woking, Surrey. They were concerned about the conditions in which displaced East European teenagers were living and recognised that the educational provision in the camps was insufficient after a group came on holiday from a displaced persons camp in Germany at Ockenden House where Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) ran a sixth form. Pearce, together with Ruth Hicks (1900 – 1986) and Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) housed small numbers of East European teenagers from the camps at Ockenden House and later in houses at Haslemere, Surrey and Donington Hall near Derby and provided for them so that they could complete their secondary education.

Continue reading

Heritage Research Area Familiarisation Session

Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

Meet experienced staff at this free event which will act as a general beginners’ guide to resources such as maps, electoral and parish registers as well as digital resources on Ancestry Institution and software for reading local newspapers.

Spaces are limited to 12 people per session. Please email archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk or speak with a representative of staff on level 4 to place a reservation.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

11 am – 1 pm

Please note this session is not aimed at answering specific genealogical enquiries.

Our Heritage Research Familiarisation Session is now fully booked. If you haven’t managed to book on the session this time, we are planning to offer another one on a Saturday in September, date yet to be confirmed. Please check out the blog, the Lob website and twitter as well as posters located in the library nearer the time for confirmation of the date.