Fundraising for Lyell Digitisation

Library and University Collections Philanthropy Manager, David McClay, brings us news on the fundraising campaign to digitise the Sir Charles Lyell notebooks.

Digital colour image of the cover of Sir Charles Lyell's notebook, created during his travels in Italy in 1828. The top of the index details 'Verona to Montecchio Maggiore' (Ref: Coll-203/A1/7)

Cover and index of Sir Charles Lyell’s notebook, Italy, 1828 (Ref: Coll-203/A1/7)

The fundraising campaign to digitise Sir Charles Lyell’s notebooks is now well underway. To reach our ambitious target of £125,000 we are hoping that new and existing Lyell supporters and friends will consider donating. Might you be able to help?

We have already been delighted to receive many individual donations from the UK and overseas. If you too would like to donate you can do so online via our Donation Portal or if you are from the United States of America, please see our guidance here

If you are involved in an historical, geological organisation which would be interested in learning more about Lyell, his notebooks and collections, and our plans to make them fully accessible please do get in touch: david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk

David McClay
Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections

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30 Days In

Senior Lyell Archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, reviews her first month in post and shares some of the exciting work and plans afoot for the internationally significant Sir Charles Lyell archive.   

The Sir Charles Lyell archive is of international importance and attracts great interest from academics and researchers from around the world. A key aim of our Lyell project is to make the archive as openly accessible as possible. To achieve this aim, we are progressing a number of areas of project work.

Colour digital image of the spines of the Charles Lyell notebooks situated on shelf, showing notebook 213 onwards (Ref: Coll-203/A1)

The Charles Lyell Notebooks, 1825-1874
(Ref: Coll-203/A1)

Our project archivist, Elise Ramsay’s cataloguing work continues apace and Elise is aiming to complete the cataloguing of Lyell’s 294 notebooks by the end of July 2021. Between January and March 2021, Elise also undertook a pilot project to transcribe a sample of Lyell’s notebooks using ground-breaking transcription technology, Transkribus. Elise and I were delighted to showcase the Lyell archive, our project plans, and to share our learning from the pilot with 150 international delegates at the EDITOR Transcription Workshop held earlier in March 2021.  (More on that exciting development in a future blog post).

While Elise has been diligently cataloguing, I have been busy mapping all of the Lyell archive. We now have a really useful and comprehensive overview of the location, extent, scope and content of the four main elements of the collection, which feeds into our newly devised cataloguing work plans.

On completion of the first phase of cataloguing, the subsequent focus will be Lyell’s vast working correspondence and notes allocated to the University of Edinburgh in Lieu of Inheritance Tax in 2020. We have already migrated some of the existing descriptive data for this series to an electronic data-set which we can use to undertake a stock-take. This work will allow us to enhance the existing item level descriptions which we will then import into our online archives catalogue ArchivesSpace. With almost 1200 letters and a further 54 folders of papers including lecture notes and field-work we expect this work to keep us busy for some time!

Detail of a letter to Sir Charles Bunbury from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. Stamped envelope, with address, black script handwriting on aged paper.

Letters from Sir Charles Lyell from the Sir Charles Lyell archive.
Photo © David Cheskin
(Ref: Coll-203/Uncat)

Lyell’s correspondence includes letters between Lyell family members from as early as 1806 (when Charles Lyell was only 9 years old), as well as over 640 letters received by Charles Lyell between 1829 and 1874. 65 of those letters are from botanist, explorer and close friend of the naturalist Charles Darwin, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911). They cover almost 40 years (1846-1874) during which time, Hooker was appointed botanist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain, undertook expeditions to India, the Himalayas, Syria, Palestine, and Morocco, and was latterly appointed Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. We can’t wait to discover how these letters further illuminate the relationships and ideas shared between Lyell, Darwin and Hooker. We will be sure to share our findings with you here – watch this space.

Thanks to generous funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, supplemented by philanthropic donations we are delighted that a comprehensive conservation and preservation project will commence, we hope, later in the summer of 2021 (global pandemic permitting). I have been working closely with our Special Collections conservator to pull together a work-plan for our incoming project conservator. The conservation project will see all of the Lyell archive cleaned, repaired, consolidated, stabilised, rehoused and the conservation work fully documented.  This work will serve to stabilise the collection, preventing the exacerbation and risk of further deterioration. Expect more updates on this work later this year.

Other work for me has centred around developing our project plans for the next three years: looking at how we can best enable collections access and bring to light the fascinating stories, ideas and knowledge from within the Lyell collections, to support learning, teaching and research. With this in mind, we quietly launched our public engagement account on Twitter on 8 March 2021.  We were somewhat overwhelmed by the warm welcome we received and are delighted to have amassed 184 friendly followers already.  You can follow us @LyellTime for more regular project highlights and chat from the project team as we work to preserve, catalogue, digitise and engage with the Sir Charles Lyell archive.

As well as plans for the development of our online resource ‘Charles Lyell’s World Online’ (thanks to generous funding from the International Association of Sedimentologists), we have a high profile, impactful and collaborative exhibition and engagement programme in our sights for the second half of 2023.

Our plans also include a significant programme of collections digitisation. We have completed a trial of photographing at high resolution 12 of Lyell’s notebooks. This means that you can now view over 1500 pages from these 12 notebooks via the University of Edinburgh Image Collections website. These images are CC-BY licensed supporting the University of Edinburgh’s open education activities and initiatives. You can find more information on CC-BY licensing on the Centre for Research Collections Image Licensing website pages.

Digitisation helps us to protect and preserve this unique archive collection whilst simultaneously enabling and enhancing access. Completing the digitisation programme means that digital images of the Lyell collections will be openly accessible online. Digitised content is also critical to our plans to generate transcriptions of the Lyell collections using Transkribus. Our ambition is to build on our existing transcription pilot to build a significant body of transcribed material, making the collections more broadly accessible to all levels of scholar.

We hope you have enjoyed reading about our news from the last month.  Please share your thoughts in the comments. Next month, Elise and our project volunteer Erin McRae, will be bringing you an update on our pilot transcription project – stay tuned!

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

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The Lyell Project Team is Growing!

22 February marks the anniversary of the death of renowned Scottish geologist, Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, says ‘hello’ and reflects on Lyell’s contribution to our understanding of the world.  

Headshot of Elaine MacGillivray, newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

Hello Everyone! My name is Elaine MacGillivray and I am very happy to introduce myself as the newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections.

I am a registered archivist and bring to the project almost 20 years of experience working across archives in the local authority, business, community, and higher education sectors. I have worked at the University of Edinburgh since 2014, first as the archive lead on the School of Scottish Studies Archives refurbishment project and later, managing two Wellcome-funded, collaborative, archive cataloguing projects. In 2019, I was awarded ‘Record Keeper of the Year’ by the UK Archives and Records Association. I am a trustee of, and professional advisor to, a number of rural heritage organisations.

I enjoy the meticulous organisation of what often seems to others like utter chaos, and I love to connect people and their research interests to each other and to archive collections. When I am not knee-deep in project management and archive metadata, you will find me outdoors; up a hill, or exploring the back roads of Perthshire on my bicycle.

It is a real privilege to be entrusted with responsibility for the Sir Charles Lyell archive collections. Prior to the collections being transferred to the Centre for Research Collections, it is clear that the Lyell family invested a great deal of time and care in preserving and organising the collections whilst in their care. This places our archives and conservation team on a great foothold as we progress conserving and cataloguing the collections further, in order to ensure that they are preserved for posterity and, at the same time, made more widely accessible.

Lyell’s notebooks, correspondence, papers and objects are an immense and invaluable body of evidence. Collectively, they serve to illustrate how Lyell and others in his vast network came to formulate, interrogate and revise their ideas and their understanding of the world around them. Lyell is renowned for his contributions to geology, but the collections bring to light yet more about his own and others’ thinking, across a range of subjects and disciplines.

Earlier this week, Europe’s most active and iconic volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily, erupted once again. The 3,350m tall mountain has the longest recorded history of volcanic eruptions, dating back to 1500BC. The historic lava flows are considered to date as old as 300,000 years. It was Lyell’s systematic and methodical observations of Mount Etna from 1828 onwards that led him to develop his theories around geological time and to argue that the Earth was much older than had been previously believed. Lyell’s work throughout the nineteenth century was key to a monumental shift in our understanding of time and our place in the universe.

In 2021, Mount Etna is still one of the best-studied and monitored volcanoes in the world and its significance endorsed by its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value.

Detail of a hand-drawn watercolour map of Mount Etna from the Sir Charles Lyell archive (Ref: Coll-203/Uncat).

Detail of a hand-drawn watercolour map of Mount Etna from the Sir Charles Lyell archive (Ref: Coll-203/Uncat).

One of my favourite items from the collection thus far is a hand-drawn watercolour illustration of Mount Etna. My colleague and Head of Special Collections, Daryl Green, discovered the drawing in August 2020 as he sifted through part of the collection shortly after it arrived at the Centre for Research Collections. The drawing forms part of the continuous record of observations of Mount Etna dating from 1500BC to the present day. I suspect that it is only the first of many remarkable finds to come.

I am looking forward to working with colleagues, building on the fantastic work already undertaken in cataloguing, digitising and making the collections more accessible. We will continue to share our discoveries and project progress here.

We want to hear from you!

What else would you like to see on the ‘Through Lyell’s Eyes’ blog? Would you like to hear from our volunteers and interns? Perhaps you would like to read guest posts from academic experts? Would you like to meet more of our team? What about a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of our cataloguing, transcription or conservation work? Should we include more visual content illustrating some of the items from our the collections? Would you be interested in more audio-visual content?

Let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below – I look forward to hearing from you.

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

 

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Charles Lyell’s World Online events

On the 9th and 16th of February we were joined by over 250 people from 17 countries to learn about our progress and future plans to make Charles Lyell’s notebooks and archives accessible online through our forthcoming Charles Lyell’s World Online website. For those who were unable to join us may view these recordings. Whilst the first 35 minute section of each event are similar each event had a unique live question and answer part.

9th Feb event

16th Feb event

Charles Lyell’s World Online events

To learn more about our new funding priorities to help us accelerate our digitisation and online plans please contact David McClay, Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk 

Find out more about supporting the Collections. 

Charles Lyell’s World Online funded

We are delighted to announce that we will shortly be receiving a generous donation from the International Association of Sedimentologists to fully fund the design and development of a new website: Charles Lyell’s World Online.

Daryl Green FSA FSAScot, Head of Special Collections, writes “This gift will allow us, over the next two years, to develop an online resource of digital photographs of the archives and notebooks, alongside transcriptions, indexes and catalogues, interpretation and contextual content so that anyone, from seasoned researcher to the merely curious, can easily navigate and discover the richness of the Lyell archives.

Thank you to the IAS Bureau and members for sharing our vision for making the Lyell archives accessible.”

The International Association of Sedimentologists is a Not for Profit Organisation, known for academic publishing and supporting students field and lab work, conferences and other public events.

To learn more about our new funding priorities to help us accelerate our digitisation and online plans please contact David McClay, Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk 

Find out more about supporting the Collections. 

Introducing Charles Lyell’s World Online events

We’d like to invite you to our Introducing Charles Lyell’s World Online event, running on Tuesday 9th and 16th. Hear from Library staff and guests why Lyell and his archives are so important and how we plan to share them. This will include hosting high quality images on  our new website Charles Lyell’s World Online.

For the question and answer part we are pleased to receive questions in advance (email: protocol.office@ed.ac.uk) or during the event. If we are unable to answer all questions during the events we will post answers on this blog.

Looking ahead the fuller potential of the Lyell notebooks and archives are about to be realised, we look forward to sharing these ambitions and progress with you.

To book [ctrl + click to follow link]

Introducing Charles Lyell’s World Online Tickets, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite

If you have any issues booking or have any other questions please contact David Mcclay, Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections at david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk

Lyell notebooks

 

Thank you Acceptance in Lieu scheme

The Charles Lyell archives feature in the Arts Council England’s Cultural Gifts Scheme and Acceptance in Lieu annual report 2020/21 .

Both schemes are remarkably important in ensuring important cultural collections are cared for by the right public institutions. The 2020 allocation of the extensive Charles Lyell archives to the University of Edinburgh Library, thereby reuniting them with his other papers including his 294 notebooks, is just one example of the scheme producing a wonderful result.

Sincere thanks from the University of Edinburgh go to all of the staff, volunteers and supporters who make these schemes such a success.

 

David McClay david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk

Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections

Lyell’s School of Rock

Juliette Lichman working on Lyell digitisation assessment

In November 2019 the Library excitedly welcomed Sir Charles Lyell’s two hundred and ninety-four notebooks into its Special Collections. With support and funding from leading institutions, groups and donations pledged from over 1000 individuals, this tectonic acquisition meant the notebooks were able to stay in the UK and join the Library’s existing collection of Lyell-related materials. As part of the DIU team, I was lucky enough to photograph Lyell’s notebooks, working with the world’s finest quality cameras to digitise a previously private collection into the public sphere and beyond.

Before I dig a little deeper I would like to share a quote from Charles Withers, who we filmed late last year talking about Lyell. He captures the essence of these notebooks perfectly in his description;

“They contain, in a sense, the emergence of thought of one of the world’s leading Earth scientists. But Lyell is much more than that. Lyell was a leading geologist but he was also a geographer, an antiquarian, an archaeologist. He writes with literary references, he writes with a lawyer-like precision, and he’s in touch with very many people whose names, along with Lyell’s, inform our understanding of the emergence of 19th century science.”

Professor Charles W J Withers, Ogilvie Chair of Geography,
University of Edinburgh, Geographer Royal for Scotland

 

 

We’re very lucky that Lyell was such a great organiser and essentially catalogued his notebooks for us. With a robust system of pagination and a glossary, he was able to quickly reference information when needed. These small, unassuming notebooks accompanied him everywhere, and in his regular ‘Memoranda for Town’ (a.k.a. to-do lists) there are mentions of particular notebooks which he wanted to pack for later reference, as seen in no.4 below. Very conveniently the locations he visited are neatly labelled on the front of the notebooks. The writing within, however, can be difficult to decipher in some cases, especially where Lyell used his own form of shorthand and references, or if he was in the field resisting against the elements and pressure of the wind.

I find that to-do lists are a simple and yet revealing insight into our every day lives and passing thoughts; little reminders which help us to achieve a larger goal or shape our daily lives. Without having to read a whole passage as you would in a journal, we are able to get a sense of Lyell’s day to day life.

 

My favourite list is for items to take on an upcoming voyage. There is a glimpse of ‘Lyell the husband’, as he mentions a hat box and a bonnet box, separately, and again, a parasol and an umbrella, alluding to his wife’s presence with him. Indeed, this notebook is from 1837 and the catalogue description indicates:

“This notebook was kept by Lyell during his travels with Mrs. Lyell to Denmark and Norway, where they focused on contact zones between sedimentary rocks and large intrusive bodies of granite and syentie, as well as dykes and sills.”

If you wondered what it was like to travel with Lyell, this is a great example of how he packed light.

 

I came across an example of ‘Lyell the brother’ in this simple note. His sister, Marianne was a keen lepidopterist, and enjoyed collecting and naming insects. This was especially popular in Scotland, where much of the flora and fauna had no official name. He writes, ‘Curtis –  No. 1. Did he not find a spider’.  Maybe it was of personal interest, but there is no doubt he would have had illuminating conversations with his sister about entomology and the natural world, perhaps describing foreign insects he encountered in the field, to her delight!

 

Lyell was well acquainted with the notable entomologist, John Curtis which is evident in this letter he sent to his sister in 1827;

“Dear Marianne, Curtis sends me a note to say that there are good things among the Spring insects, and says the Miss Lyells will do wonders in Scotland. He hopes you will get some general knowledge of botany, as a little knowledge even of Scotch plants, would, he says, double the value of your entomological information. “

 

Another favourite find of mine was this illustration of what I assume to be a bovine tooth, with a sketch of Southwold Sea and the beach where he found it. After walking back and forth along the beach, looking intently at the sand for specimens, he stops and notes sadly “no shells”, only teeth!

 

My most recent find in the notebooks was the most exciting by a landslide. We often come across interesting and unique watermarks in our department, but we found one in the notebooks which was very sweet and ornate. This was found in a loosely bound section that Lyell added to the start of a notebook, acting as a preface. The watermarks in the corresponding volume do not bear the same image, so it’s likely that he needed extra paper while travelling and bought some directly from the supplier.

 

The ‘Beehive’ watermark originated with a family of Dutch papermakers by the name of Honig [honey], who owned mills in Zaandyk (1675–1902). The coat of arms of the Honig family (incorporating the beehive motif) became a watermark extensively copied throughout the Netherlands and abroad in places such as Russia and Scandinavia.1 The ‘Beehive’ watermark became a common motif for Dutch papermakers and those who wished to allude to Dutch papermaking. Eventually it also came to represent a particular paper size.

National Gallery of Australia
https://nga.gov.au/whistler/details/beehive.cfm

 

Here are a few examples of watermarks and branding from C&J Honig. Note that ours is very similar to the first watermark, with the exception of larger bees.

 

We’re thrilled that this second batch of notebooks is now digitised and available online for all to enjoy. I photographed Lyell’s notebooks for the majority of the year, and with the added lockdown and social distancing restrictions, for a time it was just myself and the notebooks in the DIU. I will certainly miss seeing Lyell’s familiar scrawling hand and pencilled field sketches – intimate notes that he likely never anticipated sharing with anyone.

It’s been just over a year since our acquisition of these notebooks and it feels as though we have only scratched beneath the surface of the treasures contained within. They are a rare and fascinating glimpse into this famed geologist’s daily life, and like many others I shall be eagerly awaiting the transcriptions and new discoveries from this most beloved rockstar!

Juliette Lichman
Photographer

 

Useful Links:

Virtual Event: An Introduction to Charles Lyell

Engraving of Charles Lyell, and the quote "The present is the Key to the past."We are excited to offer a new opportunity to experience this collection, a Zoom presentation by the Lyell Project staff on 10 December 2020 at 1pm GMT. This event reveals the ongoing work  at the University of Edinburgh with the geological collection of Sir Charles Lyell, a rich corpus of material including his notebooks, family papers, and geological specimens.

Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist, will introduce Lyell and show several key pieces of the collection using the Centre for Research Collection’s new innovative visualizer technology. This collection includes specimens collected by Charles Darwin, letters between Lyell and Darwin, and notebooks in Lyell’s own hand during his fateful tours to France and Italy. Dr. Gillian McCay, from the Cockburn Geological Museum at the Grant Institute, will connect Lyell’s legacy to modern scientific perspectives. Each will discuss adapting working practices over the past year to continue opening up this rich collection of earth science material.

You can find out more about the Sir Charles Lyell Collection here in this blog, and at https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc/the-sir-charles-lyell-collection

This talk is part of the Carlyle Circle 30th Anniversary online exhibition. The Carlyle Circle was formed in 1990 and in 2020 it celebrates three decades of impact, highlighting the many ways legacy giving has supported opportunities for world-leading teaching and research.

Instructions to join this free talk will go out to all attendees in advance of the online event. We welcome any who are interested, and look forward to seeing you.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mapping-a-remarkable-life-a-virtual-introduction-to-the-lyell-collection-tickets-129715619911

From the Stores #3: Notebook No. 13

This week I spent some time working with the following notebook, No. 13, which Charles Lyell kept during his tour in southern France in 1828. This tour was originally started with Roderick and Charlotte Impey Murchison, and was foundational in Lyell’s decision to devote his work to geology over law, and also to begin work to write Principles of Geology. It was in comparing the rock formations of Paris to the south of France, Montpellier, Nice, and Italy that he found common fossilised shellfish, and concluded that these areas must at some point have been underwater, and have since been slowly lifted. (Maddox, p. 42) It was here, too, that in writing to Murchison from Naples 15 January 1829, he devoted himself to the study of geology, “I shall never hope to make money by geology, but not to lose, and tax others for my amusement.”

The notebook is filled with journal style writing, daily entries, with full page detailed sketches, as pictured below. Lyell writes in ink and pencil. Subjects include: Valley of Magna, Etangs, Comparison of Montepellier calcium deposits to those in Paris.

References:

Maddox, Brenda. Reading The Rocks. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

 

Elise Ramsay

Project Archivist (Charles Lyell Collection)

Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

enewcome@ed.ac.uk