Intelligent, demanding, and meticulous: getting to know Bishop John Cosin

Over the last year, History PhD student Lily Chadwick has been cataloguing the correspondence of Bishop John Cosin, founder of Cosin’s Library on Palace Green in the centre of Durham. Reading through his letters, she caught a glimpse of his personality.

Cataloguing the correspondence of Bishop John Cosin over the course of the last eight months has provided considerable insight into the personality and mind of one of Durham’s most imposing figures. Certainly, there are limitations to the source material, which mean that we cannot draw definitive conclusions about Cosin as a person.

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The miraculous cure of Sister Aloysia Gonzaga O’Connor: Spotlight on the collections

One of our archivists, Dr Jonathan Bush, retells the story of a miraculous cure that stunned doctors and caused quite a stir in 19th-century England. The account of Sister Aloysia’s healing is found in the archives of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, which Jonathan has been cataloguing.

The substantial archive of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, dating back to its foundation in Liege in 1642, documents the rich and colourful history of an English convent abroad. The records in the collection tell the story of the community in Liege, its evacuation to England during the turbulent years of the French Revolution, and its subsequent flourishing as a school and convent at New Hall, near Chelmsford, Essex.

One of its more remarkable personal stories concerns the extraordinary ‘cure’ of Sister Aloysia Gonzaga O’Connor. News of the case caused something of a sensation in a country where Catholics and their tales of ‘miracles’ were treated with suspicion and derision by a predominantly Protestant media.

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Conservation training during Covid-19

Katie, one of our conservators based at Palace Green Library, is studying for her ARA certificate in Archive Conservation. A significant element of her training is getting practical experience – not the easiest thing to accomplish at the moment. But last year, in between lockdowns, she managed to head to Flintshire Record Office for her placement with Conservator Mark Allen. In this post, she shares the results of her training.

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Journeys: Reading the World

This February saw the launch of our new online exhibition Journeys: Reading the World, showcasing material relating to travel and tourism from our rare books, archives and manuscript collections. David Wright, Assistant Curator (Exhibitions), gives us a preview of the exhibition, which we would encourage you to visit for yourself.

There is a certain irony to us launching an exhibition about the pleasure, value and excitement of travel when are all mostly stuck indoors, unable to venture much further than the local supermarket, but so far visitors seem to be finding it a pleasant escape from the mundanity of lockdown.

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University Library and Collections – favourites from our collections…

As part of our World Book Day celebrations, we’ve been exploring the theme of ‘Choice – curiosity has no age limits and neither do books.’ There can be no better examples of this than from our very own collections held within our archives, special collections and museums. With a vast range of books that are as fascinating today as they were when first written, they continue to generate a desire to discover and learn and will cultivate this curiosity for many, many years to come. 

With that in mind, we’ve asked some of our librarians and curators to choose their favourite book from our collections and share their insight into these incredible items… 

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#Hist2020: History Day 2020, celebrating our collections

Every year University College London organises a day for academic, cultural and heritage institutions to come together to showcase the enormous range of historic collections in archives, libraries and museums. In pre-Covid times, the day would be held at Senate House and would be attended by anyone in London with a serious interest in historical research.

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Spotlight on the collections: Anne Stevenson Poetry Library

Anne Stevenson at a book launch in 2009 (Photo Credit: Simon James, Flickr, via CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to Anne Stevenson, who died on 14 September 2020, a poet is that rare person ‘who is in thrall to nothing but poetry’s weird tyranny and ungovernable need to exist’. The volume and breadth of her poetry and scholarly interests attest to this uncontrolled creative urge, and we are very fortunate to have part of her poetry library.

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A warm welcome to Durham University Library and Collections 2020-2021

A message from Mike Wall, Assistant Director and Deputy Librarian in the University Library and Collections

If you are a new student joining us at Durham University this year, welcome! We’re so pleased you’ve chosen Durham for your studies and we hope your time with us is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience. And to those of you who are returning at the start of a new academic year, welcome back! After such an unceremonious parting six months ago, we’re excited to be able to open the doors of our libraries to you once more.

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Book conservation in lockdown

What do Conservators do when separated from the archives and rare books they normally work on? One answer is that they make their own! Tony King, our Senior Manager Collections Care and Conservation, describes the process of creating a historic bookbinding.

The history of Western bookbinding stretches back to antiquity and has involved significant changes in the way books are bound, sometimes leading to obvious external differences but often not. Books are complex 3-dimensional objects and working out how a book was put together several hundred years ago requires a fair bit of detective work. Very few descriptions of life in the bindery have survived so the only way to really understand the processes involved is to make a new book using what we believe to be the techniques, tools and materials of the period.

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Multicultural Amman: Engaging Jordan’s Youth (Part 2)

In part 2 of this blog post, Ross reflects on colleagues from Jordan visting us here in Durham…

The second part of the training was the most difficult as we needed to bring some of the trainees to the UK to complete part two at Durham. By October 2019 the trainees arrived in Durham for an 8 day training programme. The Jordanians worked with the Learning and Engagement Team with a visiting school, family activities and meeting staff from all over Library and Collections. We ate at various colleges, explored all the venues of Durham Castle, Palace Green Library and focussed many of our training sessions at the Oriental Museum. Both the Jordanian delegation and the Learning and Engagement Team found this a truly valuable learning experience on both sides!  


We then spent the second half looking at other museums. We explored the venues of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) at Newcastle, went to Beamish Museum and sampled the fish and chips – I can assure you British food is not as tasty as Jordanian food, and I’m sorry, but British Levant-esq restaurants don’t even come close to road side Jordanian coffee and falafel! We even explored as far reaching as the Bowes Museum!  

The aim was for the curators who have now completed both parts of the training at Jordan and the UK to now work in partnership between the private, public and museum sectors to develop a schools programme and deliver a school session.  

By November, the 28th November in fact, perhaps one of the proudest days of my career. Sat in Programming Panel my phone buzzed. I naughtily checked it (sorry colleagues!) and there it was, the images of the first organised whole day, facilitated school trip to the Jordan Archaeological Museum on the Amman Citadel. The university students helping the curators to deliver a session on the archaeology of the citadel. The children made model Umayyad Palaces, based on our Castle building session on our own visit. Truly lovely to see and an amazing thought that the training had come true. As time went on, school visits started to happen.  

By January 2020 word had reached UK Research and Innovation who contacted us to make a documentary highlighting the project as best practice for international example! Filming began in February and our filming in Amman was due to take place on the 19th March 2020. This has been postponed due to the COVID-19 situation. As has our final visit in October 2020 where we plan to hand over the reins to our newly trained curators to become the trainees and continue the legacy of learning and engagement in Jordanian Museums using the best practice of both UK and Jordanian museum and heritage sites.  

Blog post 2i
Ross, centre, with his Jordanian colleagues before the corona-virus digital shift

Ultimately this project has been a huge learning curve. We have learnt practice on from our Jordanian colleagues and I hope the same goes the other way too. It has opened doors and I now have a huge network of culturally engaged, professional and amazing colleagues working across Jordan to deliver our passion for history, collections and understanding where we come from and to disseminate this knowledge with our future, the children we educate and learn with every day.  

Coronavirus has paused the project, but together we have been sharing ideas on how we innovate digitally with some amazing projects happening with our Jordanian partners and with us. An amazing experience with amazing people in an amazing country.  

Fingers crossed that Ross can write a part 3 when we are able to travel and collaborate again!

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