We wish all our readers and visitors a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year. The John Rylands Library reopens on 3rd January.
Carcanet Press, Chris McCully, Digital preservation, Elaine Feinstein, Fergus Wilde, Grevel Lindop, Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts, Herbert Lomas, JISC, John McAuliffe, L.P. Hartley, LGBT History Month, Literary archives, Michael Schmidt, Norman Nicholson, Poetry, Rylands Modern Literary Archives Programme, Tony Dyson
On 7 December, we held the annual meeting of our Modern Literary Archives Programme (MLAP) Steering Group – providing the opportunity to reflect on the activities and achievements of this programme during the past year.
The MLAP Steering Group, which includes writers, academics, and professionals from other libraries, was founded in 1991 to oversee the management and development of our outstanding twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary archives. The MLAP is directed by Rachel Beckett (the Library’s Head of Special Collections), Chris McCully (poet, writer, academic and expert angler), and Michael Schmidt (Managing & Editorial Director of Carcanet Press, poet, critic and general polymath). The Programme’s day-to-day work is undertaken by an archivist – or at least part of an archivist (about 45% of me, Fran Baker).
The MLAP manages over fifty collections, and many of these have seen extensive use by students and researchers this year. Some of our key achievements of the past year include:
Here’s to an equally productive 2013!
Thursday 6 December saw the tenth annual Rylands Poetry Reading. This prestigious programme of readings was inaugurated by the Board of the Library’s Modern Literary Archives Programme, and is run in conjunction with the University’s Centre for New Writing. To mark this significant anniversary, we welcomed Sir Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Professor of Poetry, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets writing in English today.
Sir Geoffrey provided the audience with a combined reading and masterclass on poetic form, which was both entertaining and throught-provoking. He read and reflected on verses by some of his own favourite poets – including Gerard Manley Hopkins and D.H. Lawrence – as well as presenting his own work. The audience was treated to poems from some of his four forthcoming books, which will appear together in the eagerly-anticipated Collected Poems 1952-2012 (due to be published by Oxford University Press in 2013).
It was the best-attended reading we have held to date, and the eagle-eyed would have spotted numerous other poets in attendance.
It can be frustrating to find something described as miscellaneous but sometimes that is just what it is. I’d like to share my reflections on a few events which I’ve attended over the last couple of weeks, which taken together give a good idea of the variety of life in the world of Special Collections.
Last week I attended a session on Approaching Medieval Manuscripts which had been organised by artsmethods@manchester primarily for Post-Graduate researchers at the University of Manchester. The session was led by Dr Luca Larpi, a Researcher at the University of Manchester who used early medieval manuscripts in his PhD. The session was highly interactive – we were immediately faced with deciphering the runes on “Thror’s map” from Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Luca showed how perserverance and dedication can lead from confusion and “strangeness” to familiarity and understanding. The relationship between the text and the materiality of the physical object was also clearly illustrated with examples of interesting provenance from the digitised manuscripts at the British Library and videos showing the construction of medieval manuscripts. The session ended with Mr Bean – a disturbing display of how NOT to handle manuscripts, which I had not seen before.
On Monday I went to London for the British Records Association Annual Conference entitled “Jewels in the Crown? Archives of Empire”, where papers were read by academic researchers and library professionals on a wide range of topics, from records of slavery in an English country house to dance across the British Empire. I was struck by the huge potential that British Libraries and Museums have to support and illuminate international research, especially when we can think outside the limits of format and institution. Here at the Rylands our collections encompass Foreign and Commonwealth Pamphlets, letters of East India Company officials, early photographs of Australia, records of mining in Africa, manuscripts created by indigenous cultures around the world and missionary records – to name but a few. Tom Lawson’s paper on genocide in colonial Tasmania showed us that where the official record is lacking, we can often find evidence in cultural remains, reminding me that the Library itself is a record of British Imperialism.
Tuesday saw the launch of the Arabic Aphorisms Project in our School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. It was exciting to hear about such a wide ranging and interdisciplinary project working with manuscript source material. The project seems to make the most of emerging technology, bringing together a range of diverse manuscript sources to enhance our understanding of the relationships between Ancient Greek, Arabic and later European thought. The researchers involved in the project spoke enthusiastically about the finds they had already made and about how working with Arabic translations and commentaries was developing their understanding of Ancient Greek and cultures of translation.
Last but not least, on Wednesday I attended a public lecture at the Manchester Museum by Dr Keekok Lee on “Divergance and convergance: Traditional Chinese and Western Modes of Thinking” (organised by the Confucius Institute). The talk focused on the historical relationship between the I-Ching philosophy of Ying and Yang and the Western mode of dualism derived from the philosophy of Aristotle, and the explosion of this difference by Neils Bohr’s work on Quantum Physics. While some of the philosophical discourse went above my head, it has given me an interesting perspective on the “Orientalism” still evident in the management of non-European Library collections. I will attempt to bring my new philosophical outlook to bear next week when we welcome a group of visitors from Manchester’s Chinese Community, part of a project the Library is working on with All About Audiences.
Over 300 historical maps spanning 200 years of Mancunian history have been digitised and published by The University of Manchester Library.
The collection of maps and plans of the city from the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, mostly from the Library’s Special Collections, will be freely available, allowing users to zoom into street level.
Also digitised by the Library are a series of maps from Manchester City Council – not seen in public for 60 years- showing the extent of bomb damage to the city during WW2. Images can be accessed via this link: Record of location of aerial bombs on the City of Manchester
The work, carried out by the Library’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care (CHICC), comprises maps by private surveyors, detailed Ordnance Survey maps, and plans of the Manchester Ship Canal.
Included is the first large-scale map of Manchester, produced by…
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This floor plan, made in Sumeria in the Ur III period (circa 2100-2000 BC), is currently on display in the “Before the Flood” exhibition at the CaixaForum in Barcelona. It has been digitised and made available on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website (see post Digitisation of Ancient Cuneiform Texts).
The tablet bears no inscription to identify the owner of the building or its function, but it was probably a building within a temple complex.Few Sumerian building plans have survived in such complete condition. There may have been a custom of destroying the plans once a building was complete, or plans may have been more usually drawn on an ephemeral material such as wax tablet. It does not appear that such plans were reserved for special buildings, as most have fairly simple layouts. A plan such as this would have been useful for calculating the quantity of bricks needed to complete the construction. Clay or mud bricks were the most common building material of the period and would have been moulded and sun-baked for each construction. Similarly this plan was made out of clay (a common writing material), inscribed with a wedge shaped tool (from which the word “cuneiform” is derived), and hardened in the sun.
The plan is roughly to scale and gives nineteen measurements, which are given in terms of KÙŠ (a cubit of about 50 centimetres) and GAR (about 6 metres). The building itself would have been approximately 22 by 16 metres, a fairly substantial property. The walls of the building were probably about 150 centimetres thick, which may have enabled the building to support a second storey and provided insulation against extreme heat and cold. There is a doorway on the left wall, and the rectangles in the upper left-hand room probably indicate stairs. The layout is very regular and does not appear to be restricted by other buildings encroaching on the plot, which suggests the building was in the precinct of a temple or palace. The central room may have been a courtyard or acted as an ante-chamber within a shrine or small temple.
Before we lent the plan to Spain we had to ensure that it would be safe to travel and be on display. We noticed that there were two substantial cracks running across the friable surface of this fragile plan. A specialist object conservator at our sister institution, the Manchester Museum, carefully applied 5% PVAlc and plaster/pigment to stabilise and consolidate the tablet.
DONALD, Trevor: «A Sumerian Plan in the John Rylands Library», Journal of Semitic Studies (Oxford), volume 7, number 2, 1962, pages 184-190.
FISH, Thomas, «Aspects of Sumerian civilisation as evidenced on tablets in the John Rylands Library», Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (Manchester), volume 18, number 1, 1934, pages 131-139.
KOLINSKI, Rafal: «Building a House in the 3rd Millennium Northern Mesopotamia: When Vision Collides with Reality», in: VEENHOF, K. (ed.): Houses and Household in Ancient Mesopotamia, PIHANS LXXVIII, 1996, pp. 137-144.
This post tells the life story of an Arabic manuscript of folk tales. The manuscript is not particularly old, nor particularly beautiful, but it has a curious tale of its own. My interest was sparked by the spine of the Victorian binding, which does not bear the title or author of the work, but instead describes the book as follows: “Arabic M.S. given to Miss Gurney by Mrs. Leider”. This provenance was obviously of importance to the owner, but who were these women?
It is frustrating when trying to identify women in historical sources that not only are their first names often hidden but that on marriage they usually took their husband’s surname. In Mrs Leider’s case, that surname is likely to have been misspelled. My favourite candidate for the role is a remarkable woman by the name of Alice Holliday, who in about 1838 married the missionary Revered Johann Rudolph Theophilus Lieder in Cairo. Jaromir Malek notes that “the name is sometimes rendered in a distorted fashion, e.g. Leider, Leeder, or Lieders” ( ‘The Monuments Recorded by Alice Lieder in the ‘Temple of Vulcan’ at Memphis in May 1853’ ). For many years Alice Lieder successfully ran the Mission school for girls. Malek paints an intriguing portrait: “Judging by the accounts of travellers who visited Cairo in the 1840s and 1850s and met her there, Mrs Lieder was a very enlightened and exceptionally determined woman who occasionally proved very much too independent for her male contemporaries” – a description reminiscent of Enriqueta Rylands, the founder of this Library.
In his article, Jaromir Malek also relates the story that Mrs Lieder “taught the wife and two daughters of Ibrahim Pasha in his harem” – which leads to a tempting (but unsubstantiated) hypothesis regarding her acquisition of the manuscript. This manuscript was written by a Christian Copt in 1129AH (1717CE), possibly for a Cairo contemporary named Yūsuf Qumṣ. Alice and Johann Lieder had a close relationship with the Coptic community in Cairo (see article by Paul Sedra) and are known to have collected Egyptian antiquities (see the British Museum blog). Indeed, the core of the manuscript collection in the John Rylands Library was formed by Lord Lindsay, Earl of Crawford. His collection of “Oriental manuscripts” began during his visit to Egypt in 1836-7, on which he met Rev. Lieder and acquired through him an illuminated manuscript of the Koran.
To the question “Who was Miss Gurney?” the simple answer is that I don’t know. There are a number of highly educated and cultured women bearing the Quaker family name of Gurney. To narrow it down we can look to the later life of the manuscript. It was sold to the John Rylands Library in 1922 by “Mrs Braithwaite” having previously belonged to “J.B. Braithwaite”. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite (1818-1905) had a substantial library, which had grown from a collection of books given to him by Joseph John Gurney in 1834. Joseph was particularly close to his eldest sister, the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (the Library holds her heavily annotated Bible). However, she married in 1800 – probably before Alice Holliday was even born. Perhaps “Miss Gurney” was Joseph’s daughter Anna who married John Backhouse in 1843, but died in 1847 aged only twenty seven. Another possible candidate is Joseph’s cousin Anna Gurney (1795-1857), an Anglo-Saxon scholar proficient in many languages. We may never know for certain.
This manuscript (Arabic MS 658 (819)), along with the Rylands’ sixteenth century manuscript of Arabian Nights, is currently on display in Paris as part of the “Les Mille et Une Nuits” exhibition at the Institut de Monde Arabe. If you have any evidence or information about which would help identify the previous owners of this manuscript, I would very much like to hear from you.
Dr Gareth Lloyd, the Library’s curator of Christian religious archives, represented the Rylands at the joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) in Chicago between 16 and 20 November.
The AAR and SBL are the world’s largest organisations devoted to the study of religion in all its aspects and the Chicago meeting attracted nearly 11,000 delegates, including representatives from the Religions and Theology department of the University of Manchester. The annual meeting showcases the latest in biblical and religious scholarship, fosters collegial contacts, advances research, and focuses on issues of the profession. One of the world’s largest exhibits of books and digital resources for biblical and religious studies is also on display.
Dr Lloyd, who has presented at previous AAR/SBL annual meetings, acted as joint convenor of a session on the theme of evangelical texts, traditions and theologies. This session, held each year in collaboration with Liverpool Hope University and George Fox Evangelical Seminary in the USA, offers an opportunity for junior scholars to present short papers on topics that promote primary research using archive and rare print collections.
In addition to the session, Dr Lloyd also took the opportunity to publicise Rylands collections and join with academic colleagues from the Religion and Theology department to promote study opportunities at the University of Manchester.