On 27 November, members of the Library Services’ Archives and Special Collections group attended the University of London History Day 2018 at Senate House. This annual one-day event provides an opportunity for information professionals from libraries, archives and research organisations from around the country to meet, discuss their work, and promote their collections to researchers. The day includes a Fair, and a programme of talks from leading industry professionals.
More than 60 institutions attended this year’s fair, from a wide range of disciplines. The overall theme this year was Women in History, and City’s stall included reproductions of relevant items from our institutional archive. We had a section on notable women in STEM who have studied at City, including Marjorie Bell, who was the first female student on the Northampton Institute’s Electronic Engineering course, and Shirley Wallis, the first woman to earn a Diploma in Technology. We also featured several articles from the Athenaeum, including a piece by Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (a leading suffragist), and a contemporary review of some of the Brontës’ work.
Material from our Special Collections included a 1943 book of anatomical transparencies from the Walter Fincham optics collection, and a reproduction of a 15th century manuscript written by Johannes de Sacrobosco. We also had postcards available to help promote our collections, including illustrations from a 17th century text on the microscope, and a 19th century illustration of College Building by the architect, William Mountford.
The event was well attended by both information professionals and researchers; we met several staff and students from City there too. Researchers enquired about a wide range of topics, including several questions about the Athenaeum, some about the history of City, and even one about the 19th century fur trade. We also had opportunities to meet colleagues from around the UK, and share ideas for future events.
We attended several of the talks that ran throughout the day. ‘Archiving Institutions’ included an interesting discussion on the various aspects and uses of business and other institutional archives in historical research, delivered by two corporate archivists and a researcher using institutional records for her PhD on the role of the University of London in supporting overseas universities in the mid 20th century. ‘Digital Tools and Methods’ introduced two fascinating online projects: Layers of London is an interactive map that lets users explore the intersection of historical maps of London dating back to 1520; and Transkribus, an open-source machine learning program designed to solve the challenge of automatic handwriting recognition. A researcher also presented his work on forensic research using web archives.
Another presentation was about an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between the British Library and Queen Mary University of London, which gave an insight into the practicalities of PhD students and libraries working together. A student spoke about her own research exploring Russian women’s journalism during the 1917 revolutions and civil war and discussed how the collaboration also gave her the opportunity to assist on the curation of the exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, which opened in April 2017 and in cataloguing the library’s H. W. Williams Papers, a large collection of letters and documents relating to the Russian Civil Wars. It was particularly inspiring to hear how libraries such as the British Library are proactively using their collections to stimulate and engage with researchers – something which could be replicated (albeit on a somewhat smaller scale) with our own Archives and Special Collections.
Andrew Medder, Alex Asman, Stephen Penton