Tag Archives: Archives

2017: Year in Review

This week we take a look at posts from the past twelve months highlighting key activities, events, and anniversaries from 2017.

Due to refurbishment work taking place in the Hartley Library, 2016 only saw a single exhibition appear in the Special Collections Gallery. While refurbishment continued this summer, we were able to provide a full programme. Our first exhibition of the year was Beyond Cartography: safeguarding our historic maps and plans which ran from 20 February to 28 April 2017. Showcasing maps from the Special Collections, it illustrated the challenges that these objects bring to conservators before conservation or long-term preservation takes place. This was accompanied by Cartographic Operations in the neighbouring Level 4 Gallery. Running from 20 February to 10 March, the exhibition brought together three alternative cartographic operations.

Visitors at the Wellington and Waterloo exhibition

Visitors at the Wellington and Waterloo exhibition

The early summer saw a rerun of the Wellington and Waterloo MOOC (originally run in 2015). To coincide with the MOOC, Special Collections ran a number of related events in June. These included a Wellington and Waterloo exhibition, drawing heavily on the Wellington Archive, and a special Wellington and Waterloo revisited event on 17 June, which included a private view of the exhibition, a lecture on the Waterloo Despatch by Chris Woolgar (read by David Brown), and dancing with the Duke of Wellington’s Dancers.

The autumn brought Between The West and Russia, running from 23 October to 15 December 2017. The exhibition considered impressions of pre-revolutionary Russia from western perspectives and revolutionary ideas and influences.  The following month saw the arrival of this year’s Istanbul Biennial, titled A Good Neighbour, in the Level 4 Gallery on 20 November. Curated by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, the exhibition explores notions of home, neighbourhoods and how private spheres have changed in recent years. It runs until 4 February.

In addition to our exhibition programme, we also continued our ongoing series of Explore Your Archives events. To tie in with the map related exhibitions in the spring, our first drop-in session was Exploring Maps in the Special Collections on 28 February. The event included a talk by Chris Woolgar, Professor of History and Archival Studies, discussing a range of map material from across the collections.

While the galleries were closed for summer refurbishment, we hosted a drop-in session with a local focus on 31 July. Hampshire people and places provided the opportunity for visitors to discover more about the resources we hold for Hampshire ranging from topography to details of everyday life, including an array of printed sources from the Cope Collection.

Visitors to Hampshire people and places

Visitors to Hampshire people and places

In addition to taking part in Hands-on Humanities day on Saturday, 18 November, our last drop-in session of the year took place during Humanities Week on 22 November. The topics covered in Exploring Protests, Rebellion and Revolution in the Special Collections varied greatly, from the Peasants’ revolt of 1381 to the Swing riots in Hampshire of 1830, from the English Civil War to the European revolutions of 1848.

As ever, cataloguing remains a key activity of the Archives with cataloguing projects over the past year focusing on a broad range of material from across the collections. Blog posts highlighting recent cataloguing activities included a look at volumes relating to Sir David Salomons, baronet, and his nephew and heir, Sir David Lionel Salomons, second baronet, and papers relating to the author Pamela Frankau. Meanwhile, February saw descriptions for an additional one hundred archive collections added to the Special Collections website, including collections relating to Anglo-Jewish institutions and individuals, the Duke of Wellington, Alan Campbell-Johnson, Frank Temple Prince, and knitting! Recent acquisitions include papers relating to the pianist, and celebrated child prodigy, Solomon Cutner and Honor Frost, a pioneer in underwater archaeology (with more details on the latter to come!)

Rehousing illustrations from the printed collections

Rehousing illustrations from the printed collections

Behind the scenes posts included the rehousing of illustrations from the printed collections and a look at the procedure for answering researcher enquiries for Ask an Archivist Day. User perspectives included reflections on MA History Research Skills sessions (including the discovery of a cook by the name of Mary Berry at Broadlands!) as well as post graduate work on the Nuremberg trials and the discovery of a unique copy of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The past year marked a range of anniversaries which tied in with the collections, including: the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth; the arrival of Basque child refugees into Southampton; the accession of Queen Victoria; the creation of the House of Windsor (and Mountbatten); the deaths of Jane Austen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Princess Charlotte of Wales; the publication of Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookbook; the Balfour Declaration; and the birthday of Jonathan Swift. Posts on commemoration days included International Women’s Day; International Children’s Book Day; Earth Day; International Jazz Day; and World Baking Day, while University related posts tied in with Southampton Science and Engineering Week, and explored student balls and dances; student publications; the history of the University’s Library; and the University’s sports heritage.

Netball team, 1928-9, MS1/7/291/22/2/62

Netball team, 1928-9, MS1/7/291/22/2/62

With the arrival of new acquisitions, a full programme of exhibitions, and preparations already underway for next year’s Wellington Congress, it looks to be another busy year ahead. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog to keep up to date on all our latest activities!

Ask an Archivist Day: Responding to enquiries

Archivists and curators of Special Collections possess a detailed knowledge of the collections in their care and are always delighted to share this. To mark Ask an Archivist Day we provide a brief breakdown of the process involved in responding to researcher enquiries…

Enquiries come by four main routes: by email, phone, via post, or in person. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these days the majority of enquiries we receive are by email. The Archives inbox is managed on a rota, with Archivists taking turns in dealing with enquiries. However, if there is a large volume they will be shared out among the team. Enquiries come from a range of users both national and international, including students, scholars, educators, authors, family historians, genealogists, and filmmakers. The nature of enquiries can vary dramatically and they continually highlight the richness of the resources housed in Special Collections. While some enquiries can take minutes to process, others can take significantly longer. Below are examples of two relatively straightforward enquiries: one relating to a broad topic and the other with a more specific focus.

Enquiry #1: I’ve found material relating to the slave trade listed on the Wellington Papers Database. What other material do you have on the slave trade in the 19th century?

The topic of slavery and the slave trade is covered by both our manuscript and Printed Special Collections. Turning first to the manuscript collections, material can be found among the papers of two nineteenth-century politicians: those of the first Duke of Wellington (MS 61) and of third Viscount Palmerston (MS 62).

Searching the Palmerston Papers Database

Searching the Palmerston Papers Database

As was noted by the researcher, material on the topic can be found listed on the Wellington Papers Database. The database contains item level descriptions of material from the collection, enabling the researcher to narrow their focus to specific letters or documents. Meanwhile, a look at the catalogue for the Palmerston Papers shows there is a series of letters and papers relating to slavery and the slave trade (MS 62 PP/SLT) among the Papers on Foreign Affairs. Having identified these, a search of the Palmerston Papers Database highlights other parts of the collection containing material on the topic. Again, the database contains item level descriptions for identifying relevant documents.

It is now time to turn to the Printed Special Collections. Two collections immediately spring to mind: the Oates collection and the Wellington pamphlets. The Oates collection contains over 220 books and pamphlets on the West Indies and the abolition of slavery, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. While the Wellington pamphlets cover a broader range of topics, the pamphlets on the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies complement those held in the Oates Collection.

An address to the inhabitants of Europe on the iniquity of the slave trade [Rare Books HT 1322]

An address to the inhabitants of Europe on the iniquity of the slave trade [Rare Books HT 1322]

Material from both of these collections can be searched on WebCat, the library’s online catalogue. As with the manuscript databases, this will help the researcher identify particular items relevant to their research. Additionally, a selection of pamphlets from the Oates collection have been digitised and can be accessed remotely on the Internet Archive.

On replying to the researcher’s enquiry, they are invited to visit to consult the collections and access details are provided.

Enquiry #2: My grandfather was a student at the university sometime between 1900 and 1905. Can you provide me with further details?

This is quite a specific enquiry and relates directly to a single manuscript collection: MS 1 Records of the University of Southampton. The first step is to examine the collection’s catalogue for listings of material relating to students covering the date range provided. PDF versions of catalogues for each collection are available to download on the Special Collections website.

Consulting the paper catalogues

Consulting the paper catalogues

At this point, it should be noted that the University manuscript collection does not contain personnel files for individual members of staff or students. However, a quick search of the catalogue provides a number of potential resources:

MS 1/3/476/3/1 Record of students, 1870-1900

MS 1/3/476/2/5 Register of students of the day training department, 1899-1915

MS 1/3/476/2/6 University examination results, arranged alphabetically by student name, 1905-36

Now it’s time to have a look at the records in the strongrooms! A location guide provides details of where items from the collections are located as there are several kilometres of shelving to navigate.

Accessing material in the strongrooms

Accessing material in the strongrooms

A search of the first volume doesn’t yield any results. The dates covered are possibly too early. The second volume, however, does contain an entry for the individual. Having graduated in 1905 their examination results are also listed in the third volume. As the individual is deceased, data protection rules do not apply and a response it sent to the researcher. They are invited to visit to consult the material themselves or, if they prefer, to order copies of the records (for the purposes of private study and research) through our reprographics service.

So please feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding our collections or service. We are always happy to hear from users! Contact details can be found on our website at: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/contact.page

Update on exhibitions and events

This week’s blog post looks at current and upcoming events taking place in Special Collections.

Archive Senses
We’re happy to announce that Archives Senses, the current exhibition in the Hartley Library’s Level 4 Gallery, will continue for an extended run. The exhibition looks at Archives as a part of the wide-ranging conversation around materiality, and emphasises the continuing importance of the archive object — not just as a less accessible alternative to the digital object as sometimes perceived, but as a critical resource that runs alongside and underpins the digital.

Wellington papers - iron gall ink corrosion to paper

Wellington papers – iron gall ink corrosion to paper

The exhibition represents the material nature of archives through themed sets of images of such things as envelopes and containers, folds and creases, marks and annotations, the nature of ink and paper — and the space and the labour of the archive. There are also some rather unexpected archive objects.

Ceiling ducting for air-conditioning

Ceiling ducting for air-conditioning

WSA Professor Jussi Parikka has written an introductory wall text:


If you have not yet had a chance to visit be sure to drop by. For more images from the exhibition please visit the Level 4 Gallery blog at:

Exploring Arts in the Archives
Special Collections will be continuing its current run of Explore Your Archives events on Wednesday, 14 December 2016, with an open afternoon focusing on music, theatre and the visual arts. The afternoon will provide an opportunity to view material from the collections and meet the curators. It will also include a talk by Eloise Rose from the John Hansard Gallery.


Space is limited. To reserve a place please go to:

Visitors at the Exploring the Wellington Archive event

Visitors at the Exploring the Wellington Archive event

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended our previous sessions. It’s been great meeting you all and we hope to see you in Archives again soon!

Reopening of the Special Collections Gallery
Due to the on-going building project taking place in the Hartley Library, the Special Collection Gallery has been closed since May 2016. We are glad to announce that the Gallery will be reopening in the New Year!

Special Collections Gallery, Level 4 of the Hartley Library

Special Collections Gallery, Level 4 of the Hartley Library

Details of forthcoming exhibitions and events will be posted in due course. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog and check our Events calendar and Facebook page for further updates and announcements.

International Archives Day

As today is International Archives Day we have decided to ask staff members (past and present) to give their views on the archives profession and their experience working in Special Collections…

Firstly, how do the archives fit into Special Collections?

At Southampton, Special Collections is used as an overarching term to encompass the Archives and Manuscripts and the Printed Book Collections. The Archives and Manuscripts are unique collections of original historical records and documents which provide a permanent record of the past. The Printed Book Collections are primarily published material, often held in named collections, which have a specific subject focus, such as the Parkes Library or Cope Collection.

Conducting research in the Special Collections reading room

Conducting research in the Special Collections reading room

The following Q&A relates to the work of the Archives and Manuscripts team (Pearl Romans, Sarah Maspero, John Rooney, Tace Fox and Lara Nelson):

What attracted you to archives?

LN: I have always enjoyed learning about the past and how it has led to the world we have today. Engaging with history through interacting with primary sources was an activity I much enjoyed at primary school, secondary school and university, due to it strengthening my understanding of a particular period. One of my earliest memories of engaging with history is a primary school trip to St John’s Museum in Warwick, where one aspect involved hiding under a table with a helmet on when an air raid siren sounded.

JMR: I enjoy the depth and diversity of archive collections. Archives cover such a broad range of human activities you never know what types of materials you may end up working with. For example, after my post graduate studies I ended up managing corporate archives, an area in which I had no prior knowledge. I found it fascinating to immerse myself in the rich history of the companies I worked for. That said, I have always had a particular interest in religious communities and institutions and was immediately attracted to the impressive range of Anglo-Jewish collections held by the University.

PMR: History was my favourite subject from a very early age. I was fascinated by historical questions: How did we know the ‘truth’ about the past? Where was our evidence for that truth? That led me to my local record office to use primary archive sources to write my dissertation. Everyone there was a fantastic help but I hadn’t thought of archives as a career. I enjoyed research; I wanted to work with people; I had liked working in my local library. It was only after my degree that I heard about a post in the University Archive… and I found out, on the job, that it was the one for me.

What qualifications do you need?

JMR: In order to become a qualified archivist I studied the MA in Archives and Records Management at University College Dublin. While it is often assumed that a background in history is required to become an archivist, my undergraduate studies were in Biblical and Theological Studies and Early Irish. Through studying both of these subjects I was made acutely aware of the importance of preserving and enabling access to original sources.

SJM: I chose to do my postgraduate studies at University College, London.  Experience of working in an archive (either paid or voluntary) is key to getting accepted onto the course. Prior to my MA, I volunteered at Portsmouth City Records Office and the Glamorgan Records Office before getting a job as a Records Assistant at Hampshire Records Office.

PMR: I studied for an M.A in Archives and Records Management at Liverpool University. I was fortunate to work as an archive assistant in my University Archive for a year. Prior to that I had worked as a library assistant.  Before starting the M.A. I carried out a work placement at a city record office and completed a course in Latin palaeography.  There is a lot of helpful information about training and placements on the Archives and Records Association website at www.archives.org.uk/

Special Collections staff member fetching material from the strongrooms

Special Collections staff member fetching material from the strongrooms

What sort of people visits you?

SJM: The Special Collections is open to everyone, and no charge is made for use. People from all sorts of walks of life use our collections including family, local and amateur historians as well as depositors. As you might expect, most of our users are academic – undergraduate, post graduate and lecturers – both internal and from other universities. People tend to think of the archives as only being of use to students of history, but we have visitors from various academic departments including Music, English and Engineering as well as Communication & Marketing and Development & Alumni Relations.

PMR: We have a strong focus on public access, helping staff and students, and supporting teaching and research. It is very rewarding to see students discovering the resources here and going on to do well in their dissertations and degrees. We have a great many visitors from abroad, as our collections are international in scope. We look after the historic archives of the University and its predecessor organisations and this involves us in commemoration, publicity, and alumni relations. Some visitors come to see our exhibitions or are attending conferences on subjects related to the archives; others are guests of the University and we often provide tours and displays of documents on subjects of interest.

What is the best thing about the collections?

TF: There are so many great things about the collections held here. First and foremost they are entirely unique and hold so much research potential for academics or genealogists and historians that their worth is inexpressible. In terms of how special the collections are, no other archive will have a copy of a poem by Lord Byron written down by Jane Austen from memory. Then there are the famous collections such as the Palmerston Papers or the Wellington archive, the latter of which includes the letters sent to and from the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo! Historically to me these collections are priceless and I think the fact that so many people visit us every year suggests that many others feel the same.

JMR: I am continually amazed at how rich the resources housed by the Archives are and just how much information is held within them. The collections are entirely unique sources of information and attract people from all over the world for a variety of research purposes. I really enjoy the fact that you never know what types of enquiries you will receive, whether it’s someone trying to trace the ownership of a Vermeer painting or someone trying to find out whether the car they bought once belonged to Lord Mountbatten!

SJM: We hold the raw materials for the study of history; the primary sources for researching what was said and done by people in the past.

PMR: I agree with all that my colleagues have said: our collections are unique – diverse – useful – and valued for many reasons. I think they shed light not just on the past but on how we live in the present. The best thing is that anyone can see these records today, and know that they will be preserved safely for tomorrow.

History students consulting the Wellington Papers

History students consulting the Wellington Papers

What is your favourite item in the collections?

TF: My favourite item would be Byron’s poem written in Jane Austen’s hand. I have to admit I find the idea that you are holding something written and held by Austen herself pretty cool! I also like the Samuel Rich diaries, because I have worked with these diaries to find quotes relating to the Second World War for the Special Collection’s blog and I love the detail in them. Samuel Rich never missed a single day when writing his diaries during the war which means there is a wealth of contextual, historical and social information available for this period. However, these diaries also offer a personal insight into war that we sometimes lose in text books. So these are perhaps my favourites.

LN: The handcuffs within the Papers of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry (MS 254). They act as a symbol of the efforts that the pressure group went to in demonstrating for the rights of Jews refused permission to leave Russia.

JMR: There are really too many to choose from. However, I have really enjoyed cataloguing the letter books of the secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians. The physical nature of the collection meant that, prior to being catalogued, much of the content was obscured. It’s really exciting to enable greater access to the records of this pioneering Jewish charity and help users engage with what had been a largely hidden resource.

PMR: There are many wonderful collections here but I have particularly enjoyed working on the Hampshire Lieutenancy papers within the Wellington archive. They are a fascinating source for life in Hampshire during the period 1828-1852 when Wellington was Lord Lieutenant. In that role he appointed magistrates (a coveted position of power and responsibility) and deputy lieutenants. The papers provide wonderful insights into local issues and individuals at the time – their ambitions and concerns – not to mention their disagreements! The scope of the records is a constant surprise: crime and peace keeping, the Swing Riots, elections, politics and the Government of the day, poverty and the Poor Law, agriculture, the yeomanry cavalry and militia, local families, schools, transport, there are even references to racing and hunting.

How is the world of Archives changing?

TF: That’s a tricky question. In some ways the world of archiving is very much the same, we collect, we preserve and we make available these collections for future generations. However, perhaps it’s more the world we live in that is starting to affect change in archives. There is more technology available, records are being produced in a variety of electronic formats and information is being stored in a variety of places (including social media such as twitter and Facebook). How we capture that information and present it is perhaps one of the key issues that archivists are currently faced with. Even with collections hundreds of years old, we have to consider how to raise awareness for those collections, possibly by writing a blog or a tweet and so on. Also what kind of information is made freely available on the web or how you access data from outdated technology are further issues we must consider. Therefore I would say that the archival world is changing in the way that, despite our ambitions being the same, we must continually adapt to our ever shifting environment.

SJM: Many people today expect everything to be digitised and freely available to everyone online. Twenty-first century technology provides amazing opportunities for making material more widely available but it’s important to remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to problems of access and preservation.  Not only are there challenges in the areas of data protection, copyright and confidentiality but digital solutions are as yet untried in terms of providing long term sustainable solutions.

PMR: Online catalogues and digital copies of records have raised the profile of collections and improved access to them: visits, enquiries, and demands for service have all increased. Our user community is now global, as well as local; online, as well as face-to-face in the search room. Instant communication is driving demand for instant service, and expectations have never been higher. This is exciting and challenging. New technology has added focus to a very longstanding debate in the archive world about balancing preservation, access and resources.