A post by Rare Books Curator Dr Danielle Westerhof
Imagine gazing at the stars and discovering something that utterly shatters long-held ideas about the universe and our place within it. A realisation that we are not as significant as we thought we were and that there is more – much more – to the heavens than we thought we knew.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Charlotte Spink, a Learning Assistant in our Learning and Engagement Team, reflects on transitioning Little Dragons under 5s group from a multi-sensory museum-based programme to a digital session families access from home during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Lockdown brought with it many changes to ways of working in museums, especially when it comes to engaging with our very youngest visitors – preschool children and their families. Little Dragons, the Oriental Museum’s group for children under 5 has been running as a weekly gallery-based session for over 8 years, attracting an average of 15-20 children per session. Each session is themed around exploring an object the children can see on display, with craft activities, songs and sensory stories. All these activities were very much based on sensory engagement, communicating directly with each individual child and personalising the session for them.
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.
For those of you who are familiar with Sunderland, here is an image of the High Street in earlier times for you to colour in. The image is part of our Pictures in Print digital collection of printed local maps and topographical illustrations. This particular illustration comes from an extra-illustrated copy of William Fordyce’s The history and antiquities of the county palatine of Durham (1857), which is held at Sunderland City Library.
The domed building on the right-hand side is Hutchinson’s Buildings, opposite Havelock House where in 1898 the “Great Fire of Sunderland” started. Can you identify any other buildings?