Monthly Archives: April 2016

50 objects 17: Meet the Dragon

Bill Griffiths (1948-2007) was, amongst other things, a scholar of medieval literature. For more information on him and his wide-ranging work in other areas, see this post . You can see a description of Brunel’s whole Bill Griffiths collection via the archives catalogue.

The material held in Special Collections here includes his work on Old English poetry, notably on the epic Beowulf in which the hero slays two monsters and a dragon. The section on Beowulf features research notes including translations and articles, and related material such as MJ Weller’s Beowulf Cartoon (Writers Forum, 2004) for which Griffiths wrote an introduction.

Dragon drawn by MJ Weller as part of his Beowulf Cartoon.

Dragon drawn by MJ Weller as part of his Beowulf Cartoon.

Meet the dragon: an introduction to Beowulf’s adversary (Heart of Albion Press, 1996) arises from

Meet the Dragon cover

Meet the Dragon cover

the author’s study of Beowulf but delves into the history of dragons in a much broader way. The history of dragons, beginning with ancient Egyptian and Sumerian beasts, and their development into the later winged, fire-breathing animals we think of today, is outlined, and references are made to named dragons and dragon-slayers from various cultures, from the Norse legend of Sigurd and Fafnir  to the Hindu mythology of Indra and Vritra.

The work also covers the etymology of the name “dragon”, and the relationships between dragons and other mythical beasts such as griffins and wyverns. There are sections covering benevolent and protective dragons, and discussing the dragon as a representation of negative human characteristics, notably greed.

It is intriguing to read this pamphlet alongside the research notes and correspondence underlying it, to see the evolution of Griffiths’ ideas and the process of editing.

Handwritten letter from "John" to Bill Griffiths dated 16th January 1991, discussing roots of the word dragon.

Handwritten letter from “John” to Bill Griffiths dated 16th January 1991, discussing roots of the word dragon.

A selection of Griffiths' notes on dragons.

A selection of Griffiths’ notes on dragons.

Annotated typescript draft of part of Meet the Dragon.

Annotated typescript draft of part of Meet the Dragon.


50 objects 16: Student newspapers and magazines

A post by Library Assistant (and former Brunel student) Oliver Thompson.

Fascinating snapshots of the history of Brunel over the past thirty odd years from the perspective of students themselves can be found within the pages of Brunel University student newspapers and magazines, which Special Collections hosts an archive of, with the oldest available issues dating back to February 1984.

Frequently candid and uncensored in scope and tone, Le Nurb has provided a platform for students to openly express their points of view on student life and the world at large, and each issue in the collection offers the curious reader glimpses of the student experience of the time, as well as a unique insight into the developing history of Brunel through the years. For Alumni they offer a warm feeling of nostalgia as one may recognise the names and faces contained within.

academyThe articles tell the history of many different aspects of the student experience, and often sought to encourage students to fully engage with the myriad of opportunities available to them during their time at Brunel, including coverage of various groups and societies, student union activities, the radio station, and guides to campus facilities such as the athletics centre and various bars.

The earliest issue in the collection is dated Thursday 2rd February 1984, containing articles on a2 feb 1984 Student Union Presidential candidate being disqualified for overspending on his promotional materials, features on important topics of the day such as animal experimentation and human rights, and reports on sports results from local fixtures (including Brunel beating Old Isleworthians 5 : 0 at hockey and Brunel 1st X1 beating Reading 1st X1 5 : 3 at football).

Some key moments for Brunel covered in later issues of Le Nurb include the one day strike that occurred on 15th January 1986, protesting the Government’s cuts in funding for Higher Education, the theft of £25,000 from the Midland Bank on campus that occurred in March 1986, and a 1988 visit by Labour’s then Education Equality 13th Nov 1986spokesperson Jack Straw, and the opening of the Athletics Centre in 2005. Other content in the magazines includes photo montages of students celebrating nights out at the Academy, lists of degree results for graduating students, reviews of concerts that occurred at Brunel, and letters from students debating topics such as politics, Student Union policies and tuition fees. Adverts for Brunel events evoke a sense of nostalgia, such as the 1984 Christmas Ball boasting music from reggae group Aswad and impressions from Rory Bremner.

Le Nurb was rebranded as Route 66 magazine between 1997 and 2005, and these issues are also in the collection. Since reverting back to the title Le Nurb, in recent years the student newspaper has expanded and established its own website which hosts more recent issues of the printed newspaper, and also maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

50 objects 15: Library Then and Now

Brunel University Library: Through the decades

A post by Graduate Trainee Becky Tabrar.

We’ve had a rummage through our Brunel Library archive and found some intriguing photos of the Library through the decades. We decided to recreate the images in the present day for a side by side comparison, and in doing so, realised how the unique brutalist architecture of the building (a form popular between the 1950s and mid 1970s) has characterised and identified the library through its forty two years of operation. The open dome through the centre of the Library has watched over Brunel undergraduates since the Library’s opening, and likewise, our concrete bench on the second floor has been used as a study space by Brunel students for four decades.

Of course, however, the interior of the library has continuously evolved over the four decades, as is evident in the images. The entrance to the Library is no longer on the first floor, and following suit, the Help Desk has also relocated to the ground floor. Though, the most obvious change is the rise of the computer.

The furnishings and layout may have changed, but over the past four decades, the Library’s ethos, of supporting Brunel students to the best of our means, has remained the same.

We hope you enjoy having a look through the photos.



50 objects 14: Ships

Amongst Brunel’s Special Collections are artefacts relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship-building career.

SS Great Britain, launched in 1843, was Brunel’s second ship, innovative in a number of ways. She was the first ship to be propelled by a screw, and the first ocean-going iron ship.

Fragment of wood thought to be from SS Great Britain

Fragment of wood thought to be from SS Great Britain

She served as a passenger ship to Australia and later as a freight vessel; her working life ended in 1933, and in 1970 she was salvaged and brought home from the Falkland Islands to Bristol, where she had been built. After expert conservation, SS Great Britain is now open to visitors.

Within Special Collections is a piece of rust-stained wood thought to be a fragment of the original timber, taken from SS Great Britain at Bristol.
SS Great Eastern, begun in 1854 as a passenger liner, was the biggest ship there had ever been, and her building and launch presented a number of engineering problems for Brunel and his colleagues to solve. After suffering a number of mishaps and contributing to the bankruptcies of more than one company, Great Eastern was converted into a cable-laying ship.

Cable alleged to be from that laid by SS Great Eastern

Cable alleged to be from that laid by SS Great Eastern

A previous attempt had been made to join England and North America by cable, but the cable had failed after connection. Great Eastern, the only vessel available that had the capacity to carry the whole of the transatlantic cable, laid the successful cable in 1866. This enabled almost instant communication between Europe and the USA, with far-reaching economic and political effects.

Amongst the artefacts held at Brunel is a short section of cable thought to be from the remnants of this cable, the first of several laid by SS Great Eastern.

References and further reading:

(all websites accessed 6 April 2016)

Emmerson, George S., The Greatest Iron Ship: SS Great Eastern (London: David & Charles, 1981),1440,The_first_transatlantic_cable

50 objects 13: Match analysis – from notebook to rocket science in 50 years

By Celia Brackenridge OBE, Professor Emerita, Brunel University London

Those of you sports nuts who know all about Opta, ProZone and match analytics may find it hard to believe but once upon a time there was no computer analysis of sports matches – that’s right, nothing! Charles Reep was the first person to make an impact on match patterns – notably the so-called ‘long-ball game’ – through his historic analysis of soccer play in the 1950s but hand-written notes were all that would-be analysts could use back then.

In the early 1980s, two major technologies were brought together to advance the science of match analysis: the first was the choreographic tool of notation, mainly associated with recording dance patterns, that was modified to record sport match patterns. In the early 1980s, coach Jake Downey developed a badminton notation and about the same time I developed a notation for lacrosse. These notation systems allowed us to store complete records of games, rather like musical scores, and to pore over these after each game to search for playing strengths and weakness. However, I was able to extend the technical analysis through the second innovation – the BBC desk-top microcomputer which could be used to crunch match data in seconds rather than hours.

BRAC3newThanks to a grant of £1200 from the National Coaching Foundation I was able to spend some time developing and pilot testing the lacrosse notation system around 1983-84. It was a laborious process! First, I divided up the field of play into sections and decided on a set of symbols to represent these, the players and the techniques. Next, I used a hand-held dictaphone to speak a running commentary of these elements from the pitchside. After each game, I replayed the tape and notated the match using a set of vertical staves and the set of symbols: I called this system ‘BRACstat’. A full match of 50 minutes would cover 7 or 8 pages. From the notated score I could then extract frequency analyses of passing and shooting patterns, individual player profiles and various other things. It was possible to read the score to see different tactical ploys, e.g. fast breaks, zone defences, and whether or how they were effective. I used this paper-based system during two stints as Assistant Women’s Lacrosse Coach at Harvard University in the USA in 1983 and 1984 and also tied the resulting match data in to social psychology testing with the women’s team there. Meanwhile, my colleague Anita White (then at Chichester) was working on her own analysis system for women’s hockey: we presented a joint paper at the 1984 Olympic Scientific Congress in Eugene, Oregon.

Handwritten match analysis

Handwritten match analysis

My colleague Dr John Alderson at the then-Sheffield City Polytechnic wrote a software programme for the BBC microcomputer and we typed in all the patterns from the paper version of the BRACstat score and the software did the rest, yielding print outs of various game parameters that I could then use to inform my coaching. I developed the system at some regional tournament games and went on to use it when I was England coach. John designed a prototype hand-held touch type system for squash which could be used to input match data in real time from the court gallery, with analysis made available to the player and coach during the one minute break between games. Shortly after this, a similar kind of rugby analysis was developed by now world-famous Keith Lyons: Keith has gone on to lead the world in rugby analysis, advising teams at the recent men’s Rugby World Cup and working for many of the international rugby coaches. He also held a position at the Australian Institute for Sport in Canberra for several years, tasked with researching and developing match analytics.


Annotated computer printout of analysis

Annotated computer printout of analysis

During the late 1980s and 1990s match analytics grew at a rapid rate as computer technology, statistics and sport science expanded their symbiotic relationship. Many professional soccer clubs began to employ match analysts and now it is unthinkable for professional sports of all kinds not to have on their staff at least one analyst armed with the most sophisticated computer technology. Their work is often kept secret for reasons of possible industrial espionage but scientific organisations like BASES have embraced analysts in their professional structures.
I wrote a few papers on match analysis (see Appendix) but my research career took a very different turn when I was sacked as national coach for not winning the 1986 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup! It was a severe blow after 25 years in the sport but I moved in a new direction and have since completed almost 40 years of research and activism in child abuse and violence prevention in sport. Looking back, I am proud of my few years of match analysis work in Women’s Lacrosse. It certainly helped me and many of my national squad members and perhaps helped to boost the acceptance of science in sport.

Appendix:       Match analysis items held at the Brunel Library in Special Collections

(Celia Brackenridge Archive)

Box G11: Match analysis research 1983-86 (Women’s Lacrosse) 

G11 1 1 Match analysis research – statistics and coaching Information
2 1 England match analysis 1984 – statistics and coaching information
3 1 South match analysis (1984 Territorial Tournament)
2 Pilot Test of Bracstat match notation system (Spring 1983)
4 Mini-audiotapes of match data – live recordings plus one C60 tape: England v Wales 1985; England v Reserves 1985; England v USA ?; selection comments 1985 and England v Wales 1986; Hockey v Sheffield League (u/d); England v Reserves 1986; Scotland v England 1986; Wales v Scotland 1986

Box G12a: Research papers, articles, reports and book chapters

 1: 1973-1993, includes:

Lacrosse interaction questionnaire and match data; Interaction analysis in a team game with particular reference to the use of microcomputers; You can play but don’t touch the ball; Understanding and developing team interaction; Interaction analysis methods in team games (with Anita White); Help or hindrance? Reactions of women’s team coaches and players to psychological consultancy; Coaching applications of team game analysis; Match analysis (with GJK Alderson); Interaction analysis methods in team games; Team game analysis; End-of-grant report on Microcomputer assistance in coaching women’s lacrosse.