Photo a Day #02


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Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birthday! We’re celebrating with this illustration of an Indian woman making offerings at a Hindu shrine. Happy birthday Gandhi!

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birthday! We’re celebrating with this illustration of an Indian woman making offerings at a Hindu shrine. Happy birthday Gandhi!

Photo a Day #01


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This Freedom of the City of Manchester scroll presented to Mrs Enriqueta Rylands in October 1899.
This Freedom of the City of Manchester scroll presented to Mrs Enriqueta Rylands in October 1899. Mrs Rylands built the John Rylands Library as a gift to the people of Manchester. Thanks Mrs Rylands!

Throughout October The John Rylands Library will be running a Photo a Day campaign to increase the digital reach and exposure of the Library’s collections.

Each day, an image from the Library’s collections will be shared on Twitter and Instagram. The images will range from portraits of Alexandre Dumas to postcards from a Buffalo Bill scrapbook, and where possible, we will be supporting local, national and international festivals and anniversaries (such as Manchester Literature Festival and Gandhi’s birthday).

Please support the campaign by following us on Instagram and Twitter, retweeting images, commenting on Instagram or sharing your own images using the campaign hashtag #jrlphotoaday.

The account is @TheJohnRylands on both Twitter and Instagram.

The University Goes to War, 1914


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James Peters writes:

The start of the new academic year seems an appropriate time to reflect on how the First World War affected The University of Manchester exactly one hundred years ago.  Documents and publications in the University Archives reveal some surprising details about the upheaval caused by the outbreak of war.

When Britain declared war on 4 August 1914, the University was in the middle of the Long Vacation. Students had returned home for their holidays, unaware of the unfolding dramas of European diplomacy. When they returned to the University in late September, the campus was already witnessing changes to the very lives of staff and students.

An important source of information about the War’s impact is the Manchester University Magazine, the main University publication of the time. Reading the issues from 1914 makes clear how unexpected and dramatic was the breach with Germany, a country which had enjoyed considerable intellectual and cultural prestige in pre-War Manchester. Before the War, students often travelled and studied in Germany and wrote up their experiences for the Magazine. For example, in the June 1914 issue, there was a humorous student article on “Reminiscences of Germany”, but the next issue in October 1914 included an article describing a narrow escape from detention in the German city of Aachen.

Student opinions about the War can also be tracked through the Magazine. Initially, these appear to have been ‘patriotic’ but relatively subdued. Gradually, more outspokenly pro-War articles appeared, some calling for the internment of German residents. During the early months of the War, there were few reports of pacifist opinions or activities in the student body, although some students were criticised for expressing ‘defeatist’ opinions. A letter to the Magazine in December 1914 criticised students who had informed him “England had gone into the war only to try and collar Germany’s trade… (and ) it was all bunkum to talk about our honour.”

The campus was slowly transformed by the War. Male students drilled in the Main Quadrangle or on the sports grounds, some lectures  were suspended  to facilitate training, ‘Freshers’ social events were cancelled, and the University authorities counselled  students to exercise strict economy for the war effort. Some students became involved in relief work for Belgian refugees, who began to arrive in Manchester in late 1914, and for whom a University Committee for Reception of Belgian Professors and Teachers was established.

Students in the University Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) would have been the first to be “called up”. The OTC was engaged in annual training exercises on Salisbury Plain when War broke out, and some went into active service almost immediately. The OTC commander, Charles Paget Lapage (1879-1947),  a well-known Manchester doctor, kept an album of photos of this period, which shows students drilling in Main Quadrangle and participating in training exercises in the Cheshire countryside.

Students drilling at the University in 1914, C.P. Lapage photo album.

Students drilling at the University in 1914, C. P. Lapage photo album.

A different perspective emerges in the papers of John Graham (1859-1932), the warden of Dalton Hall, and a leading Quaker intellectual. During the War, Graham emerged as a prominent pacifist, defending local conscientious objectors, and editing the pacifist journal Conscription and Conscience. His letters from 1914 reveal deep disquiet about the War, and unease about the possible introduction of conscription. However, at this stage, even he was prepared to support military action in certain circumstances, as he told his son, he would have “no objection to serving under the Government, that is under the military machine, if the country was invaded” (letter to Richard Graham, 16 October 1914, J. W. Graham Papers).

In the succeeding months, the University would become ever more embroiled in the “military machine”, as students joined up or undertook voluntary service, and University staff were recruited for war-related work.  Further posts are planned in the coming months on the University’s evolving response to the War.

On this day in 1946… Much Ado about Nothing


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A guest post by Dr Victoria Lowe, Lecturer in Drama and Screen Studies, The University of Manchester:

Robert Donat (1905-58) was an actor, best known for his film roles in the 1930s, including Hannay in Hitchcock’s The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) and his Oscar-winning performance in the title role of Goodbye Mr Chips (1939). Like many of his contemporaries, Donat’s early career was conducted on stage and throughout his life he always sought opportunities for theatre work, both as an actor and as an actor-manager.

Much Ado About Nothing

Poster for Much Ado About Nothing and The Man Behind the Statue at the Manchester Opera House, 1946.

The poster above was for a two-week season of plays produced by and starring Donat in September 1946 at the Opera House in Manchester, the city of his birth. During the Second World War he became more involved in theatre work, partly because of a dispute with the film studio MGM, with whom he had signed a contract in 1937. He had initially sought to engage the actress Gertrude Lawrence, (1898-1952) to play Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing but she was unavailable (see a telegram from Donat to Lawrence in the archive FRD1/8/1/92) The part was eventually taken by Renée Asherson, (1915- ), a young actress who had appeared as Katherine in Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V (1945) and was later to become the second Mrs Donat. The other production in the season was a new play by a young and relatively unknown actor and writer, Peter Ustinov, about the life of Simon Bolivar. Donat wrote in a letter to the author on 26 March 1945 that The Man Behind the Statue was ‘the best thing that has come my way for years and years and years’ (FRD1/1/437).

Although Much Ado about Nothing opened to reasonable reviews in Manchester, the Ustinov play was a critical disaster (see press reviews in FRD1/6/3/17) and Donat withdrew it before the season moved to the Aldwych Theatre in London in October 1946. The West End run of Much Ado fared little better and barely two weeks after the opening night, Donat informed the company that the play was to close. In a message on the Aldwych board he wrote, ‘I am more than sorry that there is no real public interest in Much Ado. Every possible consideration has been carefully weighed but the box office gives us no hope at all. Under the circumstances there is no alternative but to take the play off, and the run will finish on Saturday 9th November.’ (Trewin, 1968:174)  At the end of this theatrical venture, his last as an actor-manager, Donat had lost £12,000.

He went on to star in more films during the 1940s and early 1950s and the occasional play, but became increasingly hampered by the asthma that afflicted him throughout his life. He died in 1958, not long after completing his scenes as the Mandarin in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958).


Carcanet Project shortlisted for international award


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Our Carcanet Press Email Preservation Project has been selected as one of the finalists for the prestigious Digital Preservation Awards. Administered by the Digital Preservation Coalition, the awards celebrate people and organisations across the world who have made significant and innovative contributions to ensuring our digital memory is accessible tomorrow. We have been shortlisted for the Award for Safeguarding the Digital Legacy, which rewards projects focused on protecting ‘at-risk’ digital objects.

In our case, these objects were the emails of staff at premier poetry publishing house, Carcanet Press, which were languishing on hard drives and local networks at the Carcanet office. Carcanet’s hard copy archive – held at the Library – fills around 1,300 boxes, but the correspondence files have been dwindling in size with the shift to digital communication. Our project has rescued over 200,000 emails and 65,000 attachments, and we will be adding to this huge archive on an annual basis.

Carcanet publishes many established, award-winning poets from around the world – but also up and coming young writers. Only last week four of their authors appeared in the once-in-a-decade list of 20 Next Generation Poets announced by the Poetry Book Society. Our project means that the emails of these great writers of tomorrow have been saved for posterity. Michael Schmidt, founder and Editorial and Managing Director of Carcanet Press, said of our email archiving work, ‘The Rylands was among the first British archives in the field to recognise and address the challenge, and Carcanet is a proud guinea-pig and beneficiary’.

One of our visualisation experiments based on the email of Michael Schmidt, Carcanet's Managing and Editorial Director

One of our visualisation experiments based on the email of Michael Schmidt, Carcanet’s Managing and Editorial Director

You can read more about the work we have been doing in a previous blog post, as well as related post containing our reconstruction of Elizabeth Gaskell’s inbox!

We are up against extremely stiff competition, and we find out who has won at a ceremony on 17 November.

Magical Amulets and other Marvels – From Egypt to Manchester

Originally posted on kateantiquity:

Robeta, Campell, and RYlands add 1166

Robeta Mazza explaining the so-called ‘last supper amulet’ (P Rylands Greek Add. 1166) to Campbell Price

Scholars from Sydney to Cairo converged on Manchester this week-end for heady talk about papyrus fragments. Following on the announcement earlier in the week of the newly discovered ‘last supper amulet‘, the atmosphere of the John Rylands Research Institute’s symposium, From Egypt to Manchester, Unravelling the John Rylands Papyrus Collection, was always going to be exciting.


P Rylands Greek Add. 1166

The scholarly contributions of the conference itself were themselves spectacular, ranging from early Greece to the rise of Islam. Particularly interesting to me, of course, were the papers on early Christianity and later paganism. Roberta Mazza’s  breaking-news talk about the new Christian amulet (P.Ryl. Greek Add. 1166 verso) offered a marvellous mix of technical know-how (how do changing laboratory dating techniques change what we can know?) to reflections on the sociology of ‘magical thinking’ in…

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UMIST Archives Cataloguing Project


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We have recently completed a project to survey and partly catalogue the important archives of the Principal and Registrar of the former University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). The project has been supported by the John Rylands Research Institute, and one of its objectives is to encourage greater academic and public engagement with the history of UMIST through these collections.

In 2004 Special Collections took over responsibility for UMIST’s institutional archives, which included records of its administrative and academic departments. The records of the former Principal’s Office are considered to have particular importance because of the wealth of detail they provide on the inner workings of the institution.

Project archivist Clare Connolly writes:

“The cataloguing of the UMIST Principal’s archive has focused on the period of the Institute’s rapid expansion into one of the country’s foremost technological universities from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. It was felt that this era offers huge potential for research, and the archive’s contents provide ample source material to do this.

Until 1955, UMIST had been the Manchester Municipal College of Technology which provided both vocational and university-level education in technological subjects (since 1905 the College had been the Faculty of Technology of the University of Manchester). In 1955 the Manchester College of Science and Technology succeeded the College of Technology, and was later renamed as UMIST.

The Principal during this transformative period was Vivian Bowden (1910-89). Bowden was a passionate advocate of technological higher education, which he believed had been under-valued by both government and industry. When appointed in 1953, he set about building a new type of technological university, one which could hold its own with the German Technische Hochshulen or the American Institutes of Technology. In his Proposals for the development of the Manchester College of Science and Technology (1956), he set out his vision for the College, proclaiming “we must become industry’s university”. This would mean not just raising funds from industry, but designing courses and undertaking research which had direct relevance to industry’s and the country’s needs.

Vivian Bowden (1910-89), Principal of UMIST

Vivian Bowden (1910-89), Principal of UMIST

Under Bowden’s leadership, student and staff numbers grew, and new courses were introduced. Some departments achieved national and international reputations in research, and students were introduced to new types of learning, such as the industrial placements required by many courses.

The campus expanded rapidly with a series of new buildings in a characteristically modernist style. These included new buildings for mechanical and civil engineering, chemistry, physics, and maths. The Renold Building, which opened in 1962, provided space for lectures, conferences and exhibitions, and exemplified the new outward-looking spirit of the institution.

UMIST's Renold Building, opened in 1962

UMIST’s Renold Building, opened in 1962

By the 1970s this pace of expansion inevitably slowed. But renewed concern about British economic performance also focussed attention on UMIST’s innovative approaches to education. Within UMIST, there was both an eagerness to work with new industries like microelectronics, but also a concern that declining industries such as machine tools and textiles could no longer absorb its skilled graduates. Despite these setbacks UMIST continued to explore the opportunities for collaborative research and attracted a significant amount of external funding in the form of research contracts and grants.

The catalogued files in the Principal’s Archive help tell the story of this major period of change at UMIST. Given the institution’s innovative approaches to education and research, the Principal’s archive is of more than local significance. The Principal’s files capture some of the major debates of the time on the purpose of higher education, relations with government and business, and the ‘politics’ of promoting research in innovative areas.

Currently the catalogued portion of the Principal’s archive focuses on the 1950s to the 1970s, the period of optimistic expansion and covers most of the major issues of the time – campus development, the development of new disciplines, staff-student relations, and relations with external bodies. The archive is not however merely of interest to historians of universities, but provides some raw material for wider University and public interest in the history of UMIST, something which is currently being promoted by the University’s History and Heritage Programme.”


Annual Conference of the American Theological Library Association


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American Theological Library Association Conference, New Orleans, 2014

American Theological Library Association Conference, New Orleans, 2014

Earlier this year, Dr Gareth Lloyd, curator of Christian religious archives, was honoured to accept an invitation to present a paper at the prestigious annual conference of The American Theological Library Association (ATLA), held in New Orleans, 17-21 June 2014.

The theme of the presentation was “New Audiences, Challenges and Opportunities: A Victorian library transformed”. The paper examined the response of the John Rylands Library to a rapidly changing special collections environment and how this has fundamentally transformed the institution in positive yet sometimes challenging ways. The presentation was well-received and will be published in the conference proceedings.

ATLA is a very appropriate forum for such a discussion. With over 800 members, it is the world’s largest professional association providing support to theological/religious studies libraries, including special collections. The membership is centred in North America, although there is some international participation. The focus is Christian, but there is representation from other major religious traditions, including Judaism and Islam. The association engages in a wide range of activities including provision of a wide range of electronic resources such as the ATLA Religion Database® (ATLA RDB®), ATLASerials® (ATLAS®) and ATLA Catholic Periodical and Literature Index® (ATLA CPLI®).

The John Rylands Library has world-class special collections across the field of religious studies, but it has had little previous involvement with ATLA, so this was an ideal opportunity to showcase our collections and facilities and to engage with colleagues from around the world in one of America’s most exciting and culturally diverse cities.



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