2015 in retrospect

Burns Night is a suitably celebratory prompt to look back on the Auld Lang Syne of 2015 in Special Collections & Archives and remember some of its highlights – the enthusiasm of students, staff, and visitors; new accessions and new discoveries in the collections; and collaborations with colleagues around the University, throughout Liverpool and further afield.

  • January – our first external visitors were the North West branch of CILIP, visiting the Science Fiction collections.
  • February – SC&A hosted a visit for volunteers from the National Trust’s Jacobean Speke Hall.
  • March – the grandaughters of Basque nationalist Manuel Irujo de Ollo visited the Irujo collections after attending a seminar in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. The great-nephew of Irujo’s contemporary, Professor of Spanish Edgar Allison Peers, visited with a current Liverpool Spanish student who worked at his publishing company on her year abroad.

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Other visitors in March included authors Neil Gaiman and Cheryl Morgan, who explored the worlds of fantasy and comics with Science Fiction Librarian Andy Sawyer, and volunteers at the George Garrett archive.

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IMG_0917At the University’s School of the Arts, Jenny Higham, SC&A Manager, introduced SC&A’s Renaissance resources at the Department of English seminar ‘Making Knowledge in the Renaissance.’

Inc. Ryl. 63.OS Claudius Ptolemaeus Cosmographia

  • April – Preparations for 2015’s Cunard 175 celebrations got underway in April with the BBC Inside Out team filming material from the official Cunard Archive; SC&A’s new exhibition cases were installed and our copy of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia was measured up for exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum, to celebrate its 350th birthday.

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  • May – Liverpool’s annual Light Night on 15 May launched the LOOK/15 International Photography festival including Gypsy portraits from the Fred Shaw photograph collection. Cunard 175 culminated in the Three Queens choreographed sailing on the Mersey over the Bank Holiday weekend, with news items and interviews with Jenny Higham on the BBC North West Tonight and Granada News.

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  • June – the Cunard theme continued with a creative writing workshop inspired by the Cunard Archive, and both the Fairbridge Archive and the Science Fiction collection hosted external visitors.
  • July – LIHG, CILIP’s specialist Library history group took advantage of the CILIP conference at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall to include a visit to SC&A, visiting the Cunard exhibition and seeing highlights from the early printed book collection chosen for their provenance history.
  • August – the family of Sir Harold Cohen, eponymous founder of the Harold Cohen Library saw his Library, his archive, and the pen that made it all possible.

Phil Sykes with Mrs Penny Gluckstein and Amanda Graves in the Library Special Collections and Archives

  • September – the ships have sailed, but the posters on display in the Victoria Gallery & Museum keep the Cunard glamour alive.

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  • October – more well-travelled visitors included Stanisław Krawczyk from the University of Warsaw, to give a talk on fantastic fiction in Poland, and Eric Flounders, Cunard’s former Public Relations Manager, spoke to a packed Leggate theatre audience on his 27 years of experience of Cunard.
  • November – as part of Being Human 2015, Will Slocombe (English Department) and Andy Sawyer presented Being Posthuman at FACT, and the Knowledge is Power exhibition opened at the VGM.

Knowledge is Power

  • December – SC&A hosted a thank you visit for the Friends of the University, who generously funded a programme to clean and box the incunable collection

Sydney Jones incunables 1

New accessions and newly catalogued collections, now available for research and teaching use, include: University Archive EXT – 70 years of papers from the Extension Studies Dept. 1935-2005 and D1042 (1968-2013) papers of the Academic Institution Management Service; CNDA – Cunard memorabilia from the Cunard Associated Deposits; D709/6 – new additions to the David Owen Archive; LUL MSS and LUL Albums – listings of scrapbooks, commonplace books and other individual volumes previously donated to the University Library; foreign language science fiction; 17th-century pamphlets from Knowsley Hall and 19th-century pharmacological books. Find all these and more by searching the Archive and Library catalogues on the SCA website

 

Hereditary, like a wooden leg

The annual Appleby Horse Fair, in Cumbria, which takes place in June, provides a rare occasion when images of Romany Gypsies are prominent in the national press.

The Victoria Gallery & Museum’s current exhibition from the Gypsy Lore Society Archive – Fred Shaw (1867-1950): Gypsy Portraits – continues until Saturday 26 September, showcasing the work of this skilled amateur photographer. The exhibition’s curator, Moira Lindsay, has selected her favourite photo from the display, of Charlotte Cooper:

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Photograph of Charlotte Cooper, wife of Jack, with infant, by Fred Shaw. Taken on Bookham Common, Surrey, 22 April 1923. GLS Archive SMGC 1/2 Shaw P193

Moira explains her choice:

I think the way Shaw has captured her expression combined with the composition is superb. I also noticed the other day – while looking for something else as you do – that Charlotte and the child are also in P.192, which is such a different photo, and P.192 is the print that Shaw had inscribed on the back ‘showing the type which the general public call Gypsies’.

I think looking at P.192 in relation to P.193 reinforces his skills in capturing that moment in time in P.193 when clearly there are a lot of other things happening around them yet Charlotte is sitting calmly gazing off: Shaw has made a moment in time monumental.

The best way I can put it, is that sometimes an image makes you catch your breath, and this one does that for me.

Frederick James Shaw’s fascination with gypsy life and culture began as a small child when he accompanied his nursemaid on visits.  In his childhood he learnt much of their language and quickly became fluent in several Romani dialects.

Shaw worked as a printer, but his spare time was taken up with photography. Some of his photographs were reproduced in the journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, of which he was a member. He clearly had a fascination and respect for the people he met. His photographs show a real trust and connection between Shaw and his subjects which combined with his skill is what makes them so captivating.

His photographs do not romanticise their life, nor does Shaw approach them as an ethnographer, but as a portraitist. He said that ‘the best and truest Romano Rai is the man who likes to be with Gypsies for their own sake and is not everlastingly questioning them about their ancestry and their customs’. His friend and obituarist, Andrew Macfarlane, recalled that he was scathing about writers who claimed ‘some remote Gypsy ancestor as responsible for their interest, and by inference, subtle insight into Gypsy life: “hereditary, like a wooden leg”.’

SMGC 1/2 Shaw P192

Photograph by Fred Shaw of unknown group, including Charlotte Cooper, taken at Bookham Common, Surrey 22 April 1923: GLS Archive SMGC 1/2 Shaw P192

Shaw’s collection was presented by his wife Helen to the Gypsy Lore Society Archive which is deposited with University of Liverpool’s Special Collections & Archives. The titles in the exhibition are the captions recorded by Fred Shaw on his photographic negatives or prints.