Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Wednesday wonders - BFI Southbank

I have always loved visiting the Southbank when I was visiting London and that hasn't changed any since I moved here.  I remember the first time I got the bus back over Waterloo Bridge at night time after work, I saw all the lights along the river and got such a thrill, and I still feel that, sometimes I still have to pinch myself that I'm living in London!  So I thought as my Wednesday wonder this week I would pay tribute to one of my favourite places on the Southbank, the British Film Institute! Now technically of course one of my favourites parts of the BFI, the Library and Archive, isn't on Southbank at all but on Stephen Street.  However the last time I went down to the Southbank there was a great display on the upstairs corridor of 'Recent acquisitions at the BFI National Archive'

The exhibition showed archive material (they call it Special Collections to differentiate it from the Film Archive) from a number of people including Karel Reisz (film director) and Ralph Cooper (a publicist).
The first photo includes a scrapbook on Merle Oberon compiled by Deborah Kerr and telegrams from Sophia Loren!  In the second photo are letters from Rachel Roberts and an annotated script for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.  I was very excited by the Karel Reisz material as I'd heard they got his archive whilst I was working in the Lindsay Anderson Archive.  Anderson and Reisz were friends and were both part of the Free Cinema movement so there was a good deal of material by and about Reisz and I always find it exciting to see material from other archives about individuals or organisations I've worked on!

Both the bars in the BFI are great, though I have noticed the Benugo Bar staff can be pretty rude - this is balanced out though by the friendly waiting staff, the good drinks and bar snacks, and the lovely surroundings!

And then, there's the exhibition room.. I've been to so many great exhibitions in the exhibition room - most memorable perhaps was the Jane and Louise Wilson 'Unfolding the Aryan Papers' which I blogged about here. There's been rumours that this is where the Library and Archive will be moving too but I really hope that's not true, for a number of reasons.  Firstly it's great having an exhibition space at the Southbank site and I'd miss it if it went but FAR more importantly, it's a tiny site compared to the current library which would mean staffing cuts (though from the sounds of it these are unfortunately inevitable) and I just can't imagine there's enough space there for all the wonderful resources in Stephen Street.

The BFI Southbank is also home to the fabulous Mediatheque - where you can go to watch a huge selection of films and television shows, for free! I still have to go in to watch Blue Black Permanent - Margaret Tait's only feature film, hmm maybe something to do this weekend if the rain keeps up!

So if anyone is in London this weekend and wondering what to do? You couldn't go wrong with a visit to the BFI.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wednesday Wonders - Together in Electric Dreams - Emancipation from Drudgery'

"As long ago as November, 1924, a small group of clear-sighted women foresaw rapid development of the use of electricity in domestic spheres, and from their belief that it was destined to become the most valuable factor in modern home life, developed the Electrical Association for Women". 

Image from EAW pamphlet, NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/55/17 © Institute of Education

I don't quite know why but when I first read this on the cover of one of their pamphlets I read it as if I was reading the Star Wars credits and imagined the words rolling down the screen - a long, long time ago, etc.  It's not quite that dramatic but it was still very striking to me that something which we now take so much for granted was then such a novelty.  I have to confess to having little, i.e. no, idea how electricity works, I just accept that I walk into a room and turn the light on, that my washing machine works, that I can plug in a hoover and clean our tiny flat in under 10 minutes etc.  In 1924 though, electricity in the home was only beginning.  The aim of the EAW was 'to eliminate from housekeeping the drudgery which the dirt and grime of mechanical process has brought into it' - sounds good eh?! Their slogan was 'Emancipation from Drudgery' and their purpose was twofold - 1. ensure that all women knew about electricity, how they could get it , and how best to make use of it 2. to put forward women's views on electrical matters. 

Now I am not getting all rose-tinted glasses sentimental about the past here - the more equal sharing of household work now - cleaning and cooking - is something which I am all for of course! What this file of correspondence and pamphlets made me remember was how much harder it must have been before electricity.  It also reminded me that the assumption of these kinds of comforts is of course sadly still limited and in no way equal throughout the world. 

Something else which comes up a lot in the correspondence is the use of questionnaires and experiments with women to test the safety and ease of use of electrical appliances.  Then, and probably still now given the ratio of men to women engineers, electrical appliances for the home would be designed by men, but in the 1920s at least, used almost exclusively by women.  The tests they would carry out would measure things like what height of oven is the most convenient to use, how to make electric hobs safer around children, right through to how to change a fuse and how to wire a plug.

I've included a few more images from one of the EAW publications - the Electrical Housecraft School is where a lot of the testing and training was carried out.  The bottom illustrations I just included because the pamphlet was full of them and I thought they were lovely!
Image from EAW pamphlet, NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/55/17 © Institute of Education

Image from EAW pamphlet, NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/55/17 © Institute of Education

Image from EAW pamphlet, NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/55/17 © Institute of Education

N.B. The Institute of Engineering and Technology holds extensive archives on the EAW -

EAW logo, from NUWT Collection, ref no UWT/D/55/17 © Institute of Education

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

New archive blog discovery

I recently discovered a new blog, well new to me that is, the blog has been going since May 2010.  I've been enjoying having a sift through their old posts and would thoroughly recommend it as a 'follow'! It's called Reclamation and Representation - the boundaries of the literary archiveMuch like this blog was started as part of a project Reclamation and Representation was started to continue discussion and links that were part of the conference of the same name at the University of Exeter.

They help a really interesting sounding day at the University Archive yesterday 'In the Archive with Daphne Du Maurier' - an opportunity to see manuscripts of her most famous works including Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, led by Acting Head of Special Collections and Reclamation panelist Christine Faunch.

They've just posted a nice summary of some of the questions asked on #AskArchivists day.  I wish I could have taken part but we were moving office that day so I didn't think I could really give it the time it deserved.  I've really enjoyed catching up on the questions asked though.  One that is mentioned in Reclamation and Representation's summary is below:

Q: Is there a book or blog to explain how to use archives? E.g. when I don't know what box to order bec. I only know the topic.
A: Best way: look @ catalogue if available or email for advice - see our Special Collections catalogues & Special Collections 'Planning a Visit' for more info (Answer from the Bodlein)

It reminded me of problems I've had as a user of catalogues, only a few years ago it took me ages to work out the right reference numbers for items I wanted to reserve at the National Library of Scotland.  Now I'm sure a large part of my problem was purely impatience, yes, even me an archivist used to using archive catalogues, still expects everything set out for me, google style.  So in turn this reminded me now that we have to do everything we can to make our catalogues as easy to use as possible as - worst case scenario - people will just stop using if they can't find what they're looking for.  Although I think what a lot of people do, and what I did when faced with the same problems, was e-mail the archivist or special collections librarian and ask their help.  I think that #AskArchivists day is a fantastic way of showing that we're not intimidating, that we're 'here to help'!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Wednesday wonders - the mysteries of the lonesome letter

I can't quite believe my last post was a week ago - the time has just flown past! We're moving office this week, to a larger archive office with more room for us and more room for researchers (yay!), so it's been a busy time at work. This week's wonder is a letter from a very thin folder called 'Women's International News'.  This folder did indeed contain correspondence about said paper but in addition to this is one letter, and a response, from the 'Womans Newspaper' to the Secretary of the NUWT.  The letter content is pretty basic, just informing the NUWT of the aims and objectives of the newspaper and asking for news for the NUWT for content for the paper.  The reply is even more brief, thanking them for the information and asking if they have a printed circular with information o 'Womans Newspaper' which could be distributed to the NUWT Council. 

So I'm sure you can guess what attracted me to this letter - yes, t'was the lovely design at the top of the letter-headed notepaper.  I absolutely love line drawings and graphic design and spent ages pouring over the Aubrey Beardsley drawing at the Cult of Beauty exhibition recently so the design on this letter just really appealed to me.  I have tried google for information on the publication (yes, lazy I know but surely in reality this is everyone's first port of call?!).  When that brought up no results I tried searching feminist library catalogues and various London archive and library catalogues but so far the search has brought up nothing.  So, if anyone knows anything about this publication I'd love to know!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wednesday Wonders

I thought that, in conjunction with my, still relatively, new job cataloguing the records of the National Union of Women Teachers I would start my first 'series' on this blog.  So, 'Wednesday Wonders' it is!  I still get so excited by some of the things I come across when cataloguing - in fact, all archivists I know do - it's one of the major perks of the job.  The best thing for me now is that I'm sharing an office so not only can I share my finds in blog land I can also share them instantly with real live people!  That's not to belittle sharing things in blogland, far from it, I love reading about the archive work going on in Archives in far off lands and I hope that archivists elsewhere get as much pleasure from reading my blog, and of course, that non-archivists enjoy it too!

This week's Wednesday Wonder was one of those moments when you really do just go 'hey you'll never guess what I've just found' and hope your colleagues share your enthusiasm.  It was the lovely colours of the headed notepaper that first caught my attention.  The green and purple is lovely, and I thought, hmmn, this looks slightly familiar.  Then I looked closer, it was letter headed notepaper from the Women's Social and Political Union!

Letter from Rose Lamartine Yates, ref UWT/D/47/1, © Institute of Education
The WSPU was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters Emmeline, Adela and Christabel Pankhurst.  It was founded in 1903, one year before the NUWT, and they were founded out of frustration with what they saw as a lack of action in terms of obtaining the vote for women.  Their motto 'Deeds, not Words' reflects their stance.  The Women's Library website has a great summary of the WSPU so I won't repeat it all here.

As you can see this letter is a bit later, from 1933.  Rose Lamartine Yates (1875 - 1954) was born in Brixton to French parents.  She studied in the UK and in France.  In 1909 she joined the Wimbledon branch of the WSPU and by 1910 she was the Treasurer and Organising Secretary of the Branch.  In the letter she thanks Ethel Froud (the General Secretary of the NUWT at that time) for inviting her to attend NUWT conference but explains that she was too busy [she was] 'needed here', and was also ill, so she could not make it.  It's really interesting that this letter is dated 1933 as the WSPU ceased to exist in 1919 - maybe Rose Lamartine Yates just had an excess of headed notepaper!  The WSPU were very much about publicising the cause wherever possible and the collection of WSPU items at the Museum of London illustrates this - they have WSPU green and purple tea pots, badges, sashes, and WSPU stockings! 

So thank you for reading, it's been nice to share! Any archivists out there have any favourite finds from their cataloguing work?  What about in other professions? Any unusual finds? 

N.B. For more information on the content of the NUWT Archive you can search the catalogue here.  I also post about the NUWT project on the Institute of Education Library and Archive blog, Newsam News.