Monthly Archives: October 2016

50 objects 43: Travellers’ Aid Society poster

Special Collections at Brunel holds a range of material useful for studying the changing role of women in society, and for more general women’s history. One item giving a window onto women’s lives in a different time is this framed poster warning women to make sure they have respectable, safe, accommodation before travelling to a new town – advice still relevant for everyone today.

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The Travellers’ Aid Society was set up in 1885 by the Young Women’s Christian Association in collaboration with organisations such as the Girls’ Friendly Society and the National Vigilance Association. The aim was to have accredited workers meet female passengers on arrival at stations, to help them travel safely and find safe accommodation and work. The Society could vet potential employers or accommodation providers on request. At this time there was a constant stream of young women travelling from rural locations to London to seek jobs in domestic service, many of them vulnerable to exploitation.

From 1939 the Society was run by the National Vigilance Association, and it was wound up in 1952.

For other records of the Travellers’ Aid Society and the National Vigilance Association, contact The Women’s Library which is based at the London School of Economics.

50 objects 42: William Belcher’s Navy service

One of the Burnett collection of working-class autobiographies held at Brunel is that of William Belcher (1884 – 1961).  He served in the Navy 1903 – 8 and 1914-19, and was an electrician from 1919 onwards. Much of the interest in his autobiography lies in the supporting documents that accompany the notebooks: his school certificates, shorthand qualifications, and his naval career record.

Here are a selection of the documents in question, giving insights not just into Mr Belcher’s history but into the history of education and into the record-keeping of the Royal Navy.

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50 objects 41: Letters of Mary Anning

Mary Anning: Letters ed. Bill Griffiths, 1973; Pirate Press.

Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was a fossil-hunter, searching along the cliffs at Lyme Regis for remains from the Jurassic period, which she sold to collectors. Arising from this work she is said to be the subject of the tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the sea shore“. She made many significant finds, including a number of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. She became acquainted with several recognized scientists and members of the Geological Society of London, which did not at that time allow female members. Anning’s work led to Dr William Buckland’s publication of the conclusion that certain Jurassic animals had used ink for defence, just as modern cephalopods do; and it was she who worked out that the stones known as “bezoar stones” were in fact coprolites, fossilized faeces.

Buckland credited her publicly for this work, but she was not always acknowledged. Her great contributions to palaeontology and related sciences were not properly recognized during her lifetime, since, as a rural working-class woman, she was outside the scientific community and the influential groups. Her letters fit in with many other items in Brunel’s Special Collections which can be grouped thematically as marginal voices or unheard stories.

In recent years there have been many publications on her life and work, including children’s books and fiction based on her story; you can find a range of these via our Library catalogue or via union catalogues such as COPAC.

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This is a small and plain booklet, the only illustration being the simple but effective cover. There is a short preamble about Anning’s life, but no indication of why this subject was chosen for the Pirate Press, or why these particular letters, amongst the whole of Anning’s surviving correspondence, were chosen for publication. The introductory text reflects Bill Griffiths’ interests in local history, dialect, and language change, noting that in Lyme Regis in Anning’s time vertebrae were called “verteberries” and fossil fish “turbot”.

The text of the letters is given, with some corrections and clarifications in brackets, but as the original letters are not reproduced it is hard to gauge the accuracy of the transcription. There are some mistakes, such as “dof” for “dog” and “leyyer” for “letter”, which are clearly typing mistakes in the transcription, rather than faithful copies of mistakes in the original, but other unusual readings are less clear-cut.

The letters here are mainly to Mrs Murchison, wife of geologist Roderick Murchison, who became Anning’s lifelong friend. Perhaps the most vivid writing is this spirited description of being caught by the tide when digging out a plesiosaur, from February 1829:

“I [was] so intent in getting it out that I had like to have been drowned and the man I had employed to assist me, after we got home I asked the man why he had [not] cautioned me [about] the tide flowing so rapidly he said I was ashamed to say I was frightened when you didn’t regard it, I [wish] you could have seen us we looked like a couple of drowned rats”.

Select bibliography:

Cover imageMcGowan, Christopher. The dragon seekers. Persus Publishing, 2001.

Allaby, Michael, (ed.). A Dictionary of Geology and Earth Sciences (4 ed.), OUP, 2015 online edition.

Lyme Regis Museum: Mary Anning

University of Berkeley: Mary Anning

Bill Griffiths collection at Brunel

 

 

 

50 objects 40: the LibSmart Point

A post by Subject Liaison Librarian Joanne McPhie.

Some items in our blog series Brunel Library 50 Objects have long histories and fascinating pasts, but Brunel Library is also about looking forward as well as back. This week’s object, the LibSmart Point desk, is a relatively recent addition to the Library, but one that could play a part in many lives going forward.

LibSmart is a dedicated study skills package run by the Subject Liaison Librarians. It is designed to support students with academic practice, information literacy, and employability skills they need to get the best out of their time at university and beyond. The LibSmart Point plays a key role in the package.

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This is the place where users can come to speak to a librarian to get help in finding and using resources, referencing or just to have a chat about their studies. It is located in what is another new area of the Library, the Learning Commons on the first floor. This is a flexible space where users can come to study in groups, use the floor space for projects or attend small workshops run by the Academic Services team. Nestling in the corner of the room, the desk is staffed from Monday –Thursday 1-6pm and Friday 1-5pm during term time.

If furniture could talk the LibSmart Point would already be able to tell many stories. Narratives beginning with moments of confusion, anxiety and panic in student lives resolving in flashes of epiphany and revelation as users understand the resources and their own capabilities. Having had the privilege of working on there this year I value it as a point of connection with our users, where we can take the time to sit down and have an actual conversation. Knowing that the work that is done there may impact on a current grade then a future career and life is powerful stuff.

So, although the plywood and metal contraption that is the LibSmart Point may not have inherent value and a rich history, it is nonetheless one of the unique items in housed in the Library.

For further information about the LibSmart programme, either drop by the desk in Learning Commons or see our LibGuide.libsmartpointbright

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