Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Catalogues and curiosity

Paris quadrifolia. Illustration from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany

There are many ways to explore Archives. Sometimes you set out with a destination in mind and a carefully planned research route. Sometimes that works well and the desired information is found; sometimes you meet with difficulties – missing records, indecipherable scripts, records too fragile or damaged to consult – so the route and destination have to change.

Then there are the ‘lucky dip’ explorations where you’re not quite sure what to expect! Here follow a few examples –

Using the Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham online catalogue, I tried some random words in the search box, just to see what appeared. In alphabetical order:

Campanile: 1 reference, to a will of Anna Brown of Campanile Cottage, Canonbury Road, London, 1872. [MS 857/11]

Duckling: 2 references to ‘Ugly Duckling’ in the John English Archive, a playscript and a theatre programme, 1958 [MS 2790/1/17/1 and MS 2790/2/2/14/1]

1 reference to ‘Duckling brand bedding brochure, 1948’ in Hoskins and Sewell records. [MS 1088/4/4/2]

Emerald: 2 references, both to jewellery of Mary Anne Boulton (Matthew Robinson Boulton’s wife), 1819 and 1826. The 1826 one was to ‘a gold serpent ring with emerald eyes’ [MS 3782/15/25/56]

Parrot: all references but one were to this as a surname. The one as a pet, owned by Fred Jordan of Shropshire, was in the Charles Parker Archive. [MS 4000/5/3/5/5/11]

Shell: 46 references, from spectacle frames to shell boilers in Boulton & Watt, chocolate shell eggs to ammunition shells, tortoise- shell and pearl shell – for buttons, boxes etc., and an advert for Babcock Power Ltd., Shell boiler division.

Whisky: 11 references appeared – all from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]. Interesting to note the connection between whisky and folk song!

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The War Poetry Collection in the Library of Birmingham

Book Plate from the Catalogue of the War Poetry Collection. 1921. L52.31.

 

The War Poetry Collection was presented to the Birmingham Reference Library in 1921 by an anonymous donor, in memory of William John Billington, 2/24 London Regiment, (Queen’s Hussars), 60th Division, formerly 2/2 South Midlands Field Ambulance, who was killed in action at Abu Tellul Ridge in Palestine  on 9 March 1918.

 

 

The donor was William Cross of Rubery, who had assembled an unrivalled collection of 1,233 books and pamphlets of poetry relating to the First World War, written by both soldiers and civilians.

Included are poems in English, Breton, Czech, Danish, French, Gaelic, German (Swiss), Italian, and Latin, by members of the British and Allied Nations. There is poetry which was published in Britain, Canada, Australia, America and Barbados.

Many additions were made to the Collection by the Reference Library, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 volumes of newscuttings of poetry and verse from newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired, which represents many different social attitudes to war from the patriotic to the despairing.

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Happy Apple Day!

Pomme D’Api from Pomona Britannica. George Brookshaw. AF 096/1817.

 

 

It’s easy to celebrate Apple Day today (October 21st) by plucking a fruit from the James Watt and Family papers as both father and son of that name were serious fruit growers with extensive orchards.

 

 

 

In a letter by Watt, 30 November 1814, to James Davies in Kington, his solicitor for his Wyeside estates he writes:

“My son sending a waggon to Doldowlod, I have taken the liberty of sending you a few trees of good sorts from my nursery, which I am breaking up.
The trees are
2 Canada no. 2 Pomme de Neige
2 Canada no. 3 Bourasson
1 Ribstone
1 Egg Apple, good, great bearer, keeps
1 Eve Apple, baking, great bearer
1 Stoup Ledington, large, bears & keeps well
7 others, names unknown, my gardner having lost the labels, but are  very good sorts
2 pears, nameless

They are packed up in a mat addressed to you to be left at the Radnorshire Arms, Presteign.”

(MS 3219/4/248/49)

In a later letter, Watt mentions that the Canada trees were budded in Montreal. Other correspondence shows that they were shipped to him in 1809 by James Dunlop in Glasgow. Watt also received grafts of apple trees from Thomas Wilson in Cornwall and from relatives in Glasgow. He had an orchard at his house, Heathfield, in Handsworth, and Watt jr. has left notebooks with details of the fruit trees he planted at Aston Hall. They had both established orchards on their Wyeside estates.

Pippins from Pomona Britannica. George Brookshaw. Volume II. AF 096_1817

Fiona Tait

 

 

Beyond the Battlefields: Käthe Buchler’s Photographs of Germany in the Great War

Käthe Buchler, self-portrait, c. 1905

Beyond the Battlefields: Käthe Buchler’s Photographs of Germany in the Great War

20 October 2017 – 14 January 2018

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

University of Birmingham

 

The Voices of War & Peace WW1 Engagement Centre is currently organising an exhibition of photographs by German amateur photographer Käthe Buchler (1876-1930), whose work forms one of the featured collections of the Museum of Photography in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony. This is the first time that her work has been displayed outside Germany.

Käthe Buchler, ‘Nurse with patient and Christmas tree in the military hospital’, 1914-1918

Buchler photographed the German home front during the First World War. Her black & white images depict her family and community, children contributing to the war effort, women working in traditionally male roles, wounded soldiers returning from the frontline and the nursing staff who treated them. There will be two exhibitions in Birmingham, at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, focusing on Buchler’s images of women and children, and at the University of Birmingham, where her photographs of injured soldiers will be displayed alongside material relating to the University’s role as a hospital during the War. Both exhibitions draw extensively on the collections of the Library of Birmingham.

Käthe Buchler, Children from the A.V.G. (waste recycling company) with Pickelhaube (spiked helmet) in front of a puppet theatre on Hindenburg’s birthday, c. 1915

Käthe Buchler

Käthe Buchler was born in Braunschweig, Germany, in 1876. At age 19 she married Walther Buchler and by 1901 the couple had moved to an affluent area of the town. In 1905 they set up a foundation which awarded local grants in arts and culture. As well as supporting the arts, Käthe also belonged to many women’s organisations and to the Red Cross. In 1901 she had turned her attention to photography and Walther gave Käthe her first camera, a binocular Voigtländer. While she successfully taught herself to use the camera, she also sought advice from local professionals and attended courses in Berlin that were open to female students. She later developed and produced her own prints in the attic of the Buchler home.

Käthe Buchler died in 1930, aged 54. In 2003 the Buchler family donated their collection of over 1,000 black and white prints and 175 colour autochrome plates to the Museum of Photography in Braunschweig. Continue reading

Canada

MS 3219/4/277

On 1 July 2017 Canada celebrated the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, when Canada became a self- governing dominion within the British Empire.    

Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, holds records relating to Canada which are much older, to be found, perhaps surprisingly, in the papers of James Watt and Family (MS 3219).

Aside from the fact that Boulton & Watt provided steam engines for boats of the Hudson Bay Company, there are records more personal to Watt, those of his brother-in-law by marriage, Captain John Marr, military surveyor (d. 1787). He had married Agnes (Nancy)  Millar, sister of his first wife Margaret (Peggy).  Marr was also the son of Watt’s mathematics teacher in Greenock and accompanied Watt to London in 1769, as he was going to train as a naval instructor when Watt was seeking training in mathematical instrument making.

John Marr had served in Canada from 1761. A memorial (petition)to the principal officers of His Majesty’s Ordnance requesting an increased allowance, 20 April 1768, gives details of Marr’s career in Canada to that date [MS 3219/4/275/2]. Marr obviously returned to Scotland some time after that and married. He and Nancy sailed to New York in 1774. A letter from John and Nancy to Betty Millar, another sister, (Glasgow) dated 15 November 1774 informs her that they arrived on 21 October. Nancy had apparently suffered a miscarriage in September, but had recovered. They were laying in stores of vegetables and stocking up for the winter. Nancy wrote that there was only salt fish and rum to be had there. They would not be able to receive mail until they reached Canada. Marr had sent fish to James Watt in Glasgow and he would get caulkers [spikes] for Nancy’s feet to stop her falling on the ice.

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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.

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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