Friday, 28 June 2013

Introductions & the BT Digital Archives Conference

Introductions & the BT Digital Archives Conference

Hello! My name is Francesca Taylor, and together with Kerstin Doble we are the new dynamic duo of National Archive Trainees here at the Borthwick, specialising in interpretation and online engagement. We’ve been here since the beginning of April and our job over the next year will be to digitise early modern church visitation records from the 16th and 17th century that are tucked away here in the archives.  These digitised records will then be made available online for everyone to see and make use of.  So far, it’s been a busy few months, as we have been filling our brains with all things archives (an area totally new to both of us – I come from an archaeology background and Kerstin coordinated and installed exhibitions at the Tate Gallery) and getting our heads around palaeography (learning how to read old handwriting) in preparation for our main project. We have also been busy filling up our schedule with training events and conferences so that we make sure we get the most out of our year here. So when we saw an advert for the BT Digital Archives Conference at Coventry University we jumped at the chance.  

Courtesy of BT Digital Archives
The BT Archives are a unique resource. Recognised by both UNESCO and Arts Council England for its significance, it provides a 165 year history of the development of telecommunications and its impact on society not only in Britain but internationally. As part of a joint project between Coventry University, BT and The National Archives, they have catalogued, digitised and developed a searchable online archive of almost half a million photographs, images, documents and correspondence. We therefore thought it would be useful for us to see how another organisation had digitised and presented its archives online – perhaps it would also give us ideas!

We weren’t disappointed. Held in the impressive-sounding Serious Games Institute in the Innovation Village of Coventry University, it was great to hear not only from those directly involved in digitising the records but from the academics and researchers who had already made good use of them. There were presentations from a range of people giving us a detailed insight into the process of and equipment used in digitisation as well as how all of this data would be presented on the website. They have decided to use a ‘mosaic’ design as an engaging way for people to browse the archives through tiles of images, as well as the usual search functions. It really emphasised how important front-end web design would be for us in order to attract people to dip into our records.
Most interestingly to us, presentations from a range of academics working in design, linguistics, business and computing highlighted how the archives have been useful teaching tools outside of history departments (one speaker even demonstrated how photographs from the archives had been used as teaching material for undergraduate sports therapy students). It is a demonstration of how potentially useful our digitisation project records could be to an ever wider audience than we imagined… plenty of food for thought!

        Courtesy of BT Digital Archives
The BT Digital Archives go live on the 17th of July and the BT New Connections blog about the project can be found here .

With thanks to David Hay, Archivist at BT Archives, for providing access to photos of archive material

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Tuke Work Experience Project, Part 2: Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Bonaparte?

This week we continue our Tuke themed blog posts with a look at some of the poetry found in the collection, written by one of our work experience students, Rebecca.

You can catch up by reading Part I here.

Studying personal documents from the early nineteenth century, I inevitably found myself looking out for glimpses of major political events; the Napoleonic Wars in particular. I found there to be surprisingly little. I suppose it’s one of those ‘topical silences’ – letters are going to be about the personal and the everyday, not the grand and international. It’s not like I ever wrote about the Iraq war in my letters of the last decade. But I have to say that a selection of comedic poems was not somewhere I expected to find my first reference to Bonaparte (TUKE/2/1/13/1/3). It makes sense though, and it’s a really fun read. The kind of tongue-in-cheek mockery and teasing bravado reminds me of the theme song to Dad’s Army; who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Bonaparte?

Answer to the Enigmas in a note to Bonaparte

I understand Bonaparte, you still think to come
To frighten Old England with the beat of your drum
But take my advice, & never come near us,
For if you land here you’ll have reason to fear us,
If you ever mix with us, to eat up our bread,
We will lull you to sleep with a potion of Lead
We need stop neither Harrows nor ploughs to find men,
Should we meet in the field you’ll find fifty for ten,
For our Bricklayers lads & our wool-combers Boys,
With our guns can play better than yours with Toys
Yes our very Thimbling tribe can all with great skill,
Use their daggers for their daggers as swords a henchman to kill,
Believe me friend Bonney you’ll be left in the Lurch
Whenever you try to demolish our Church;
At the end of your life you will find I speak truth,
And wish for the Solitude you passed in your youth,
So Huzza to old England if ‘ere you dare come,
For we fear neither you nor the beat of your Drum
All the bells in our steeples shall merrily ring
And our young men & maidens will joyfully sing,
The fame of brave Britons to you is not new,
So we’ll use no more ink but to bid you adieu.

Rebecca found other interesting poetry snippets in the collection, like these written by Favilla Copsie:

The poem (left) was written by Favilla Copsie (née Scott), probably in 1807, and is mentioned in letters from her sister Mary Maria Tuke (née Scott) (TUKE/1/6/1/6/24) and her son James Favil Copsie (TUKE/1/37/1/9/7, TUKE/1/37/1/9/8). Favilla evidently enjoyed writing poetry, and we have a selection of her other poems, which often take the form of everyday correspondence. They’re wonderful to read;

‘my dearest James I use this Ink // to let you see on you I think… first I must thank you for your thimble // which make my needle run quite nimble’


‘my Dear Cousin Esther do you go to the Ball // tho I hope before that you will give me a Call’

Little gems like this which seem at once so alien and so familiar made the week’s work experience really absorbing.

To read more about our student volunteers' work with the Tuke archive, please see Growing Up Tuke and Views of York.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Tuke Work Experience project. Part I: Growing up with the Tukes

Between April 15th and April 19th, the Borthwick enlisted the help of a team of Work Experience students to help us work through the large collection of Tuke material that we hold. Part of their remit was to pull out interesting documents form the collection to form a series of blog posts.

This week we look at contributions from Sara, Ceri, and Stephanie.

We are a group of students currently undertaking a work experience placement at the Borthwick Institute of Archives in York. Over the past week we have been re-cataloguing the vast Tuke family archive consisting of letters, maps, photographs, silhouettes, finance and other personal items including hair.

 The Tuke family were a notable Quaker family in York, in the 18th and 19th Century. They were active in the local community, and were involved in areas such as pioneering new mental health treatment, founding a Quaker school, a tea and coffee business and other charitable work.

 The week has given us a great insight into what it would be like to work in archives. If anyone is interested in working in this area, they should be aware that opportunities are offered twice a year for York University students to work at the Borthwick for a week.

Sara found a great piece on teenage heartache...

One of the greatest joys of working through this collection was the opportunity to glimpse into the personal lives of members of the Tuke family (perhaps the archival equivalent of peering over the hedge). The Tukes’ private declarations of love, fear, and indignation make them people, rather than personages, and human, rather than historical. A prime example comes from the correspondence of William Murray Tuke (1822-1903). In 1837, he received a letter that any 15-year-old would dread: his girlfriend was breaking up with him. 
TUKE/1/30/2/2/1. Letter from Y.Y.Y. to L.N., William Murray Tuke. 28 Oct 1837.

Though Y.Y.Y. is unidentified, L.N. is a codename for the young William. ‘My dearest L.N.’, Y.Y.Y. begins, and then she gets straight to the heartbreaking point: ‘I have long thought that as we are both too young to think about such things and yet too old to be so foolish as I now think we have been for the last two or three years [. . .] I do not wish to risk my future happiness by continuing our present correspondence’. Once you see past her handwriting and eloquence, you realize that Y.Y.Y.’s concerns are both modern and strikingly teenaged: ‘I love you as much as ever I did’, she says, but ‘I know your affections may perhaps be fixed upon another person much more worthy of your love than I am’.

With a bit more sleuthing, Y.Y.Y. might be identified and the nature of her relationship with ‘L.N.’ elaborated. For now, this letter remains a mysterious and poignant peek into the heart of an adolescent. In 1846, nine years later, William Murray Tuke married Emma Williams, yet he kept this letter until his death. Perhaps Y.Y.Y.’s naïve words remained with him throughout his long marriage: ‘I shall not forget you as being my first love.’

Ceri found a number of sketches and insights into the everyday life of the young Daniel Hack Tuke...
A sketch from TUKE/1/32/1/4/14
This week has given me the chance to follow an individual from early life all the way to a bearded old age. This was one of the great delights for me; Daniel Hack Tuke proved to be the most interesting character and my favourite Tuke of the week after reading his youthful doodle-laden letters to his older brother William Murray Tuke from c. 1841. His sketches of the family during Hebrew lessons (TUKE/1/32/1/4/14) or gathered at tea (TUKE /1/32/1/4/22) brightened up the letters with a mixture of colourful imagination but also morbid curiosity; tucked in with the

A sketch from TUKE/1/32/1/4/22
collection was a small card with a woodcutting and the details of a hanging at York castle. (TUKE/1/32/1/4/25) The letter about Daniel flying his kite was not dissimilar to how a child today would sheepishly admit to a misdeed. The quote “I have been flying my kite to day but is at present in a tree, not in our premises” (TUKE/1/32/1/4/19) partnered with the simple ink sketch provides a poignant childhood memory which was good to keep in mind when reading his later more grown-up correspondence. This collection, in particular was filled with animated anecdotes and was an entertaining insight into the whimsical childhood activities of this prominent figure of the Tuke family.

Stephanie also found some interesting childhood letters, this time from James Favil Copsie...

One of the nicest things about working with original documents is that you are continually reminded of the humans behind the stories that are eventually consolidated into historical narratives. The documents take you away from the general and encourage you to empathise and engage with individuals’ tribulations. This experience will probably be what I will remember best from my week working with the Tuke Collection, my complete immersion in the Copsie family’s lives. Seeing James Favil Copsie transition from a child first living away from home, profusely thanking his parents for the cakes and apples they sent him to an apprentice, falling off the Sunderland Pier and spending time with his friends, to becoming a business man, working in coffee and tea businesses and even considering setting up a mustard business, was fantastic. His childhood letters were by far my favourite though, especially one in which he discussed the breaking off of an engagement (see the quote below), as his childlike honesty contrasts with the more polite and ceremonial letters regarding marriage in other parts of the collection.

“I am glad to hear Miss Rodhams match is broke off. I remember having dear sister Favilla say that she said she would marry at the age of sixteen or before I did expect it would be a poor match as a person of fortune and sense would not have her who knew nothing she is not handsome nor learned nor yet very industrious. So that if any would chase her it would be only for money.” (TUKE/1/37/1/8/3)

To read more about our student volunteers' work with the Tuke archive see Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Bonaparte and Views of York