New exhibition: Binned, banned, bombed: selection and survival in Special Collections & Archives

Have you ever wondered why there is what there is in Special Collections & Archives?

Our collections are a fascinating mixture of what survives physical degradation, individual actions, historical events and official censure. But just because something has survived for a long time doesn’t automatically mean it has a place in Special Collections & Archives.

The survival of printed books and archival collections usually contains an element of serendipity; a modicum of good fortune which means they have been able to transcend neglect, wilful destruction, environmental dangers and the censure of authority. But there is also the hand of the librarian and archivist in evidence, selecting and preserving through careful management to ensure the items are kept secure and made available for years to come in a way that is appropriate to both the resources available and the intellectual content of the broader collections.

Our new exhibition displays a range of items from the collections to provide an insight into some of the issues we deal with whilst working to ensure our collections are cared for and made available to facilitate your research and requests. 

For more information on the exhibition, please see our website here.

Visit us anytime between 9:30am-4:45pm Monday – Friday at the Ground Floor Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library to view the display, no appointment is needed. Also, keep an eye on our twitter for information on special events focused around the material used in the exhibition.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November: Guy Fawkes and gunpowder in the collections, from 1679 to 1990

This weekend sees the British tradition of Bonfire Night (or, Guy Fawkes Night) taking place across the country, marking 407 years since the plot to destroy Parliament and assassinate James I was foiled. Although the plot was concocted by 13 members, the name synonymous with the event is Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes); most likely as he was the individual discovered by authorities guarding the gunpowder. The event holds much traditional cultural interest to this day – for instance, The Houses of Parliament are still ceremoniously searched by the Yeomen of the Guard for before the State Opening. To celebrate, we have selected some of the best BANGing works from the collections here at Liverpool University relating to Fawkes and Fireworks.

The Gunpowder-treason … its discovery; and … the proceedings against those horrid conspirators… (1679)

Parliament declared the 5th of November as a day of commemoration and thanksgiving (this was enforced until 1859). For many years to come pamphlets were published on the anniversary date of the event, to remind readers of the consequences of disloyalty to the king and parliament. This pamphlet (SPEC Knowsley 118), published in 1679, printed the confessions of the conspirators and the speech of James I.

The art of making fireworks… (c. 1810)

Although bonfires were a common sight, fireworks were not a popular mode of celebration on the 5th of November until the 1650s onward. This locally printed pamphlet (SPEC G35.14(3)) from the early nineteenth century demonstrated how to make fireworks using gun powder and various other household objects with detailed instructions and colour diagrams (a health and safety nightmare by modern standards).

Guy Fawkes; or, The fifth of November (c. 1840)

This small Protestant chapbook (SPEC Oldham 157(17)) produced in the mid nineteenth century was aimed at retelling the story of Guy Fawkes for children. Chapbooks became a popular method to disseminate tales with a moral meaning to children. The main characters in this particular publication build a guy for a bonfire, and the narrator uses the opportunity to provide a religiously-driven message – the conspirators of 5th of November are presented as Catholic sinners, who acted against the authority of the King.

V for Vendetta (1990)

Skipping forward around 150 years: although still synonymous with celebration, fireworks displays, and bonfires, the anti-establishment sentiments of the 5th of November hold much cultural weight in modern literature and media. V for Vendetta is a DC Comics series by Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd (also developed into a 2006 movie). The series follows V, an Guy Fawkes mask wearing anarchist, who rebels against the dystopian United Kingdom setting of the fascist dictatorship Norsefire. In the Science Fiction Foundation Collections held here, we have a 1990 copy, the first edition printed in the U.K. (PN6737.M66.V46 1990).

As usual, the items featured in this post are available to consult in the reading room here at Special Collections and Archives. Please email for more information. However, our reading room is silent study; please leave all fireworks at home.

Using Primary Sources: new open access e-textbook launched

Special Collections & Archives has been a key contributor in “Using Primary Sources”, a newly launched Open Access teaching and study resource that combines archival and early printed source materials with high quality peer-reviewed chapters by leading academics.

Edited by Dr Jonathan Hogg, Senior Lecturer in Twentieth Century History at the University of Liverpool, with over 30 academics contributing, this project is a collaboration between Liverpool University Press, the University of Liverpool Library and JISC, and is available for free on the BiblioBoard platform.

Special Collections & Archives has provided images for several chapters across the Medieval, Early Modern and Modern anthologies. Dr Martin Heale’s chapter on Popular Religion features high resolution images from some of SC&A’s illuminated medieval manuscript treasures, including the Dance of Death scene in MS.F.2.14, a French Book of Hours from the late 15th century.  Death is represented as a rotting corpse, followed by a procession of a pope, an emperor and a cardinal. The depiction is intended to have a moral message: a reminder the end is the same for all, regardless of their wealth or status. The accompanying chapter provides the context for the interpretation of such primary sources, so as to better understand attitudes to popular religion during this period.

Dance of Death, Book of Hours (Use of Chalons), LUL MS F.2.14 f82r

Both the Cunard archive and the Rathbone papers feature in Dr Graeme Milne’s chapter on Business History, whilst items from our children’s literature collections have been selected for Dr Chris Pearson’s chapter on the Environment. Some of these items are also used in teaching classes, where students have the opportunity to see and interpret the volumes for themselves.

A. Johnston, Animals of the Countryside, 1941. Oldham 485

Title page of A. White, The instructive picture book, 1866 JUV.550.2

From the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ephemera collected by Science Fiction author John Brunner to a 14th century English Book of Hours, “Using Primary Sources” is both a valuable showcase for SC&A’s collections, and an important open access resource for students.

The textbook can be accessed via the Library catalogue, or directly from:

You can read more about the project on the Liverpool University Press website, as well as an interview with editor Dr Jon Hogg.

Follow “Using Primary Sources” on Twitter @LivUniSources to find out when new themes are added to the e-textbook. Forthcoming chapters for launch in 2017 include Science & Medicine, Gender and Political Culture.

Neil Gaiman Visit


Neil Gaiman explores the SF collection

On Thursday 5th March, the Department of English’s new Centre for New and International Writing was officially launched by acclaimed writer (and Honorary Visiting Professor) Neil Gaiman before an audience of over 1000 at the Guild Building (Mountford Hall). Neil read stories from his new collection Trigger Warning and answered questions from the audience.The next morning Neil gave a masterclass for creative writing students in the Sydney Jones Library, preceded by a tour of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection in Special Collections & Archives.

Images: (below left) Discussing the typescript of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. (below right) The display in SCA included a copy of Neil Gaiman’s first professionally published short story.


Neil Gaiman and Andy Sawyer discussing the typescript of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids







Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Collections Librarian

Advent and After: 17. an sf sleigh-ride

Galaxy December 1954

Galaxy December 1954

“A miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer “

But in space-suits?

This Galaxy cover, from December 1954, is yet another seasonal illustration by Ed Emshwhiller featuring his four-armed Santa.

It’s good to know that, in the future, Santa will still be delivering gifts throughout the solar system. These moon-colonists are obviously looking forward to his visit, putting up a Christmas tree and handing a wreath outside.  What’s puzzling about this  space-age Santa, though, is why he needs the traditional eight reindeer, carefully protected against the hazards of space, to pull a rocket-propelled sleigh!

Advent and After: 7.“Oh Christmas Tree . . . “

Galaxy magazine was founded in 1951 by H. L. Gold, who was its editor until 1961. For a number of years, Gold celebrated the Christmas season by commissioning covers from Galaxy’s regular artist Ed Emshwhiller.  This cover, from December 1960, shows a most unusual Santa (count the arms!) upstaged by a robot assistant decorating a Christmas “tree”.

Cover of Galaxy December 1960

Cover of Galaxy December 1960

In this imagined future, trees are obviously artificial, decorated with nuts and bolts and valves. Some people think that science fiction is about predicting the future: if so how would they explain the box of reel-to-reel tape underneath the tree? Perhaps it’s a present for someone who is fascinated by relics of that long-ago age, the twentieth century?

Happy Birthday to H. G. Wells.

September 21st 2013 marks the 147th anniversary of H. G. Wells’ birth. Often referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction”, his most notable science fiction works include The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau.


Wells’ first non-fiction bestseller was Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought (1901) (PR5774.A57 1999)and is considered his most explicitly futuristic work. Anticipating what the world would be like in the year 2000, the book is interesting both for its hits (trains and cars resulting in the dispersion of population from cities to suburbs; moral restrictions declining as men and women seek greater sexual freedom; the defeat of German militarism, and the existence of a European Union) and its misses (he did not expect successful aircraft before 1950, and averred that “my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocate its crew and founder at sea”).

Time machine

The War of the Worlds, perhaps his most famous novel, before becoming a Hollywood blockbuster in 2005 was initially adapted for radio. On Halloween night of 1938, Orson Welles went on the air with his version of The War of the Worlds, claiming that aliens had landed in New Jersey. It caused mass panic as listeners believed the world was actually being taken over by aliens!

The University of Liverpool Special Collections houses the largest European collection of Science Fiction materials, holding 35,000 books. H. G. Wells is well-featured among other Sci-Fi greats such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne, to name just a few!

*References: The Invisible Man (PR5774.I64 1959), War of the Worlds (PR5774.W253 1983), The Time Machine (PR5774.T58 1925), First Men in the Moon (PR5774.F52 1960).

A Midwich Day Out

Andy Sawyer of Special Collections and Archives gave a talk on John Wyndham and his unfinished sequel to The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) at the “Midwich Day Out” on Sunday May 19, held in Letchmore Heath, the village where many of the exterior shots for the 1960 film Village of the Damned, based on Wyndham’s novel, were filmed. Special guests at the event were Barbara Shelley, who played Anthea Zellaby in the film, and Martin Stephens, Teri Scoble, Lesley Scoble, and Peter Preidel, who were among the blond, staring-eyed “cuckoo” children.

Journalist Darrel Buxton (far left) interviewing (l-r) Lesley Scoble, Barbara Shelley, and Peter Preidel

Four of the Midwich "Cuckoos": l-r Martin Stephens, Teri Scoble, Lesley Scoble, Peter Preidel

A highlight of the day was a guided tour around Letchmore Heath, seeing buildings and locations which featured in the film.

Star Maker Discussed on BBC Radio 4

Moshsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, chose Wirral-born Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker to talk about on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row on Wednesday 24th April as part of its “Cultural Exchange series” . Front Row‘s website illustrates the discussion with a photograph of Stapledon and this image of Stapledon’s “Timeline” showing the billions of  years covered by the book. Images were supplied by Special Collections and Archives from the Olaf Stapledon Archive.

Images for Mohsin Hamid's Cultural Exchange