Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition: Hard Decisions!


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This week we met with our colleague Elaine Sheldon from the Conservation Team to discuss display proposals and concerns about some of the objects we are hoping to show in our Life of Objects Exhibition. One of our hardest decisions is trying to narrow down our choice of material so that they will fit into the display cases, without looking cramped or damaging the items, but that the selection continues to reflect the themes and stories we wanted to tell.

Elaine & Splendid Weeping

Elaine & Splendid Weeping

Elaine Sheldon writes:
A member of the library’s collection care team is assigned to each exhibition; our role is to look after the objects ensuring they are not damaged by handling or display. We work with the curatorial team assessing the suitability of objects for exhibition; we also mount the exhibits and install the objects in the display cases. Life of Objects is a lovely exhibition to be working on because the objects on display are from the libraries rich visual collections. The selected objects are made from a variety of materials and range in date from the 17th to the 20th century.
A condition report will be completed for each object; this report will describe the condition of the object and document any areas of damage before the object goes on exhibition.
The objects in the exhibition will be displayed on textile covered boards which will be made in the collection care studio. Other objects will need further support including a glove belonging to Queen Victoria, from the Burney Collection, which has been selected for the exhibition.

Queen Victoria's Glove

Queen Victoria’s Glove

It was exciting to see how Elaine would tackle the content of this exhibition as the library’s usual exhibitions focus on books and literary works, not objects. Elaine’s expertise was really valuable; she instantly recognised issues related to the materiality of our objects, which made it slightly easier to discount some of our favourite items. Her understanding of how and what would work visually and practically was fascinating and it enabled us to look at the objects we had chosen from the group’s perspective rather than just a curatorial point of view. Understandably there were some items that could not be displayed; one example of this was the large typescript artwork “Splendid Weeping” by dom sylvester houédard, (seen with Elaine above), which proved difficult to fit in the case. Luckily Stella has discovered a mini version of Splendid Weeping that fits perfectly. Another reason for discounting certain items was due to them being considered for future exhibitions, for example Li Yuan-chia’s sou’wester.


Li Yuan chia’s sou’wester.

Our meeting with Elaine showed just how important it is to have input from all of the people involved in the planning of an exhibition to ensure the best possible outcome for the objects, the visitors and the team involved. We had some debate about how to display the objects, what colour backing boards to use and an animated discussion on whether to label or not to label, or rather how to label the objects. This may just be the precursor to the big debate on panel boards! Next stop our colleagues from the Heritage Imaging Team.

John Rylands Research Institute Visiting Research Fellowships



The Institute has announced a call for Visiting Research Fellowships.

The University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections count among the foremost repositories of primary sources in the UK, offering research potential across an exceptionally broad array of disciplines, chronologies and geographical areas. Visiting Research Fellowships are an opportunity for applicants external to the University of Manchester to conduct research using the Library’s Special Collections. This research must be linked to collaborative projects with University of Manchester academics and directed towards future grant capture.

Further information on how to apply can be found at:


Practical class in morbid histology, University of Manchester Pathology Department, 1900. Ref. UPC/2/337.

More Medical Archives…


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Efforts to catalogue the University’s many and varied medical archive collections are continuing in earnest. August saw the successful end of a project to catalogue the Manchester Medical Manuscripts Collection and the papers of 20th century haematologist John Frederick Wilkinson and at the beginning of September a new Wellcome Trust funded project began which will allow us to tackle several new collections. These include the early to mid-20th century case files of prominent Manchester neurosurgeon Geoffrey Jefferson, the medical illustrations of Manchester-based artist Dorothy Davison, and papers collected by William Waugh relating to artificial hip pioneer Sir John Charnley.

The Jefferson files represent a near continuous run of patients he saw at the Manchester Royal Infirmary from 1927 to 1940 which informed his research and served to illustrate many of his published papers. The files contain the full range of records you would expect to see in patient case files, such as case notes, clinical reports, charts, correspondence, and in some cases clinical photographs and x-rays. In the interests of his research Jefferson also followed a number of the cases up many years later to ascertain the state of the patient’s health following treatment and discharge. As part of the cataloguing process information recorded about each patient will include age, diagnosis, symptoms, surgical procedures, and the result of treatment to best facilitate detailed research.

Similar collections of neurosurgery files exist in archives across the country including the Norman Dott Papers at the Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA), case notes of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at UCL, and the records of the Military Hospital for Head Injuries at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. The addition of the Jefferson papers to this mix will see the creation of a network of collections and a formidable resource for the study of the development and practice of neurology and neurosurgery across the UK in the first half of the 20th century.


Huge suprasellar extension in the right frontal lobe. Sketch of tumour as seen at operation.

The other major element of the upcoming project involves the medical artwork of Dorothy Davison. Davison spent all her working life in Manchester where she created intricate illustrations to accompany the research work and publications of a number of Manchester’s medical academics. She produced a great many pieces to accompany the work of Geoffrey Jefferson and it is hoped that it will be possible to make links between her artwork and the case files belonging to the patients they represent.

We will be posting more updates as the project progresses so look out for more posts.

Newberry Library/JRRI Joint Fellowship 2017/2018 – applications invited


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The Newberry Library-John Rylands Research Institute Joint Fellowship provides two months of support for a scholar to be in residence for one month at the Newberry Library in Chicago and an additional month in residence at the John Rylands Library. The proposed project must link the collections of both libraries; applicants should plan to hold the two fellowships sequentially to ensure continuity of research.

All application materials should be submitted to the Newberry, but applications will be reviewed by both institutions. The stipend will be $2,500 per month at the Newberry, £1,500 at the John Rylands Library, plus an additional $1,000 (or the equivalent in English pounds) for travel.

Short-Term Fellowships are available to postdoctoral scholars, PhD candidates, and those who hold other terminal degrees.

For more information, including application guidelines and additional fellowship opportunities, please visit the Newberry’s fellowship page. Questions about the application process should be addressed to

Closing date for applications is 15 December 2016.

Paul & Florence


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One of the great strengths of a correspondence collection is the insight it can provide into personal experiences of historic events. Formal or informal, letters give a sense of the character of the writer, and a sense of connection with the key moments in history that they describe.

They also often include good stories. In this blog post, I have chosen a letter which led me to a story I hadn’t heard before. Paul Ignotus was a Hungarian journalist and press attaché, who had fled his native country at the beginning of the Second World War, and wrote a wide variety of articles for the Manchester Guardian on the political and economic issues facing Hungary.

In the letter reproduced below, written in 1944 to Kingsley Martin at the New Statesman and Nation, and passed on to C.P. Scott, Ignotus describes his desire to return to Hungary to try to provide assistance in a chaotic time. However, a month after this letter was written, Miklós Horthy, regent of Hungary, on the point of confirming an armistice with the Soviet Union, was deposed and replaced by the Nazis. This completed their occupation of Hungary, and presumably rendered Ignotus’ plan impossible.

Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Ignotus would not return to Hungary until 1949, and on his return, he was arrested by the communist government and charged with acting as a spy for the British. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour, and vanished into the prison system, where no news of him could be gained, as no contact with the outside world was permitted for political prisoners.

Towards the end of his incarceration, Ignotus found himself in a cell next door to another political prisoner, Florence Matay. During their incarceration, Ignotus and Matay communicated by tapping out messages to one another on the walls of their cell. Despite their surroundings, they fell in love, not ever having seen one another in person. On their release from prison, they were married.

The Manchester Guardian speculated that Ignotus’ release from prison in 1956 was part of ‘…an attempt to improve relations between the East European Communist parties, and the Socialist parties of the West.’ Whatever the reason, on his release, Ignotus was elected as a member of the committee of the Hungarian Writers Council, and played an active part in the Hungarian revolution. He returned to Britain as a refugee, and published books and articles on the politics of Hungary, and also an account of his experiences in prison, Political Prisoner, which describes the conditions in the prisons, the torture of prisoners that he witnessed, and the brutality of the Hungarian Secret Police and the prison officials.

There was one more twist to the story. As I was researching Ignotus’ contributions to the Manchester Guardian, I discovered that, 10 years after escaping to Britain, Florence Ignotus was killed in a house fire. Paul Ignotus was taken to hospital suffering with burns, and their son was said to be suffering from ‘shock’.

Despite the melancholy end, and although Ignotus played a part in some truly significant events in Hungary’s modern history, for me, the image of this story which remains is of Paul and Florence, tapping out messages to each other through a prison wall.


Mary Jane Clarke, an Unsung Hero


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Jane Donaldson writes:

As one of 3 volunteers working on the Guardian Archive project ‘What the Papers Say’, I am assisting in cataloguing the correspondence collection and my focus is Women’s Suffrage.

The Suffragette movement was at its height during the early 1900s prior to WW1 and this is reflected in the correspondence of C.P. Scott. There are letters from prominent suffragists of the time and also politicians and journalists both supporting and opposing votes for women. Scott was a supporter for Women’s Suffrage though did not agree with the militant tactics taken up by The National Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), whose leader was Emmeline Pankhurst.

One of the letters to C.P. Scott from Emmeline Pankhurst gives an extremely personal insight into the complete and absolute commitment of these women to the cause. The letter, sent on the 27th December 1910 informs C.P. Scott of the death of her sister, Mary Jane Clarke, who died on 22nd December 1910.

Mrs Clarke had been imprisoned three times in Holloway. In 1909 she had been among a group of protestors who had gone to number 10 Downing Street and tried to get an audience with Prime Minister Asquith. She was sentenced to one month in prison and was kept for some of the time in solitary confinement.  C.P. Scott had visited her during this time and Emmeline reminds him of this at the beginning of her letter, going on to inform him of Clarke’s most recent incarceration, and of her death two days after her release.


The letter includes her reason for informing Scott:

I write to you not only because you saw her in prison but because I believe you perhaps more than any English man alive out side the Cabinet have the power to bring this dreadful struggle to an end.


In November 1910, a suffragette deputation went to the House of Commons to protest against Prime Minister Asquith after finding out he would not give any more time to the Conciliation Bill which had aimed to give some women the vote. The WSPU had agreed during the reading of the Bill to suspend support for window breaking and hunger-strikes. Mary Clarke was arrested the second time for window smashing soon after the event known as Black Friday.

In her final stay in prison, Mrs Clarke went on hunger strike and was force fed, a procedure the prison authorities had brought in at the end of 1909. It is thought the traumatic effect of forced-feeding may have contributed to her death from a burst blood vessel.

In her letter, Emmeline Pankhust writes:

This year has seen the breaking for me of three of my closest bonds to this world, my boy, my mother and my dearest sister.

Emmeline Pankhurst’s son, Henry had died in January of that year and along with her mother and sister’s death, this seemed to make her more determined to make her voice heard through the militant action she and the WSPU followed.

Can you wonder that today I want beyond all other things to end this fight quickly and get rest?


Mary Jane Clarke’s obituary written by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence stated that Mary Jane Clarke was “the first woman martyr who has gone to death for this cause” but her story is not widely known. This is thought to be because she died at home in the winter holidays at a time where militant action was just beginning after a period of non-action, compared with the later death in 1913 of Emily Davison who was killed very publicly by the Kings horse at Derby, at the height of the WSPU’s fight for Votes for Women. Emmeline Pankhurst wrote about her sister:

She is the first to die. How many must follow before the men of your Party realise their responsibility.