Notebook No. 4 Update

During this lockdown, the Lyell Project has been able to continue enhancing metadata, despite having no access to the Lyell notebooks, thanks to some quick digitisation done by the amazing team at the DIU prior to lockdown. We’ve been working quite a bit with Notebook No. 4, from 1827, when Lyell was balancing his two callings; the law and geology. In 1825 his eyesight was no longer ailing him as it had been years previously, and following his father’s wishes, he was called to the bar and joined the Western Circuit for two years. But during this time, as we can see from the Notebook, he also maintained fervent correspondence with fellow geologists, read the works of George Poulett Scrope, and Lamarck, and thereby fostered a great curiosity for the volcanic Auvergne region in France. In 1825 he joined Scrope as a Secretary to the Geological Society, and contributed frequently to the Quarterly Review (published by John Murray, the archive of issues are available with EASE access here).

This notebook is a fascinating look into this dichotomy Lyell was facing; pages constantly change between matters of law and geology. He expresses great passion and opinion on both, but his notes concerning law and society are often tinged with a sense of discontentedness, whereas his entries on geology are mostly “Queries” about the properties of geological phenomena, or discussions on how he disagrees with a recently published position.

Another curious element in this notebook is the inclusion of citations to works by Dante, namely Dante’s Inferno. These appear often among entries on other subject, and without explanation. Clearly, this an excellent area of research, as we know Lyell’s father was a great scholar on Dante.

That’s all for today’s update! Explore Notebook No. 4 for yourself here!

For more information about the Lyell notebooks, see Lyell Rocks! Saving & Sharing the Charles Lyell Notebooks

The Not-So-Lonely Lockdown of the Transcribing Geologists

Lockdown may seem frustrating and tiresome to some, but it has made space for a few spontaneous and unexpected collaborations!

Over the last month with many “physical” tasks on hold, I have been able to peruse the sections of the Lyell notebooks which were digitised before the introduction of social distancing and the subsequent shut down of the University buildings. And far from being a lonely task – the notebooks have proven to be one of the most social activities I have ever worked on! As it turns out Twitter has a host of geologists, curators, PhD students, as well as academics in subjects ranging from the ideals of Victorian masculinity, to geomorphology… all just waiting to chip in their thoughts on what exactly Charles Lyell was thinking – and its more than likely they are all there because lockdown has disrupted their regular routines.

Now before we start, admittedly there have been some criticism of the notebooks. There is a much more standardised approach to how people “do” notebooks these days, especially in the field: Sketches must have an orientation, a scale bar and some annotation. So there have been a few comments that Sir Charles wouldn’t score very highly if he were an undergraduate summiting his work for assessment.

As a founder of modern geology, it’s important to note how the science has evolved since then, incorporating standards of which Lyell certainly would approve. A very generous statement on twitter from Professor Simon Mudd (@SimonMariusMudd), School of GeoSciences:

“I haven’t spent much time with these notebooks, but from what I have seen this (see sketch below) is the typical quality of the sketches. He was more of a ‘big ideas’ rather than ‘detailed sketches’ type of person.”

Lyell’s oversights in these areas, however, has not been too great an impediment for lively debate, especially when the diagram seems to be a bit of a mystery.

Last week I posted this sketch from notebook 4 on Twitter.

What is it?!? Is it rivers? Oxbow lakes? Waves crashing onto the shore of… Norfolk?

Cue a volley of guesses:

“A Sea-serpent?”

“You are all so wrong, it says “Loch Ness” and here, in the middle, you have Nessy…”

“Was he just bored and doodling??”

So it is true – nothing is sacred to the internet – not even one of the founding fathers of geology’s notebook!

But with the fun came a conclusion: this illustration in Notebook 4 is likely a map of sand banks off the Norfolk coast. Lo and behold, Andy Emery, the geomorphist, produced a map!

And YES – The sketch maybe isn’t as inaccurate as we had initially thought! But how did Lyell know what the submarine landscape off the coast of Norfolk look like in 1827?

There is a good chance that local fisher men would have known about these features, as they are shallower and depending on tides and currents, they might have been the best place to go fishing… or the worst place to run your boat aground.

Another of our online-super-sleuths, Jonny Scafidi (@jonafushi),  messaged to say “On p.308 of Principles of Geology he mentions a Captain Hewett, R. N. who, according to p.56 of Memoirs of Hydrography, Volume 1 by Commander L.S. Dawson R.N. undertook a great survey of the N. Sea”. Most of Captain Hewett’s surveys where completed in the 1830’s but there is mention of a survey in 1822 – 5 years before Lyell sketched this diagram in his book. So it is possible Lyell had access to some surveys.

We will never know for certain where Lyell got the information that inspired this sketch. But what we can prove is that social media can be used to explore a whole array of different angles when investigating historical notebooks!

Stay tuned for more exciting installments of #TranscriptionTime over at @CockburnGeol and try your hand at deciphering the thoughts of historical scientists and collectors.

Thanks to the Science twitterati who helped with this mystery between 9.27am and 10.33am on 24th April:

Andy Emery (@AndyDoggerBank) – RA in Energy Transition, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds

Jonny Scafidi (@jonafushi) – PhD candidate, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Simon Mudd (@SimonMariusMudd) – Professor of Geomorphology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

John Faithfull (@FaithfullJohn) – Curator, Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery

Dan Hobley (@Siccar_Point) – Lecturer, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff Univeristy

Rich Taylor (@RockhoundRich) – Geoscience Applications Development at ZEISS Microscopy

Mikael Attal (@mickymicky06s) – Senior lecturer in Geomorphology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

 

Dr. Gillian McCay

Curator, Cockburn Museum

@CockburnGeol

Earth Day

Lyell, his notebooks, and the quote "The past is the key to the present."

Of the many celebrations of Earth Days, Earth Day 2020 will be remembered.

Not only because it is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, but that it occurs during this unprecedented public health crisis; the parades, marches, and demonstrations characteristic of Earth Day have now been moved online, in the form of Earth Day Live. This intersection of Earth Day and COVID-19 is significant, as it comes at a time when we likely have heightened awareness of the power of nature, and its ability to stop humanity in our tracks, and shift our focus to the natural world we live in (which, here in Edinburgh, is springing to life in truly magnificent ways).

Sir Charles Lyell, known as a founder of modern geology, was innately interested in the course of nature, and keenly observed natural phenomena to form and prove theories about the Earth’s age, and continuous processes. Today, our understanding of climate change is built upon the concepts laid down by early geologists

like Lyell. Only with the concept of the Earth’s continuous process of deposition and erosion are we able to understand how our actions have consequences on the Earth and climate. Daryl Green, Head of Museums and Special Collections, writes,

“Lyell made acceptable the theory that the earth was millions of years old and that it was shaped by geological processes still active in the modern era.  He made it possible for people to think about the earth as a dynamic and developing planet in the way we do today.”

-Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections, Deputy Head of Centre for Research Collections

In his seminal book, Principles of Geology, Lyell constructed a main, pivotal point: “The present is the key to the past.” This keenly illustrates his outlook on geology, as he observed modern phenomena, data, and formations to interpret the geological history of the Earth. His book was key to implementing evidential methods to geology, but also to illustrating these ideas in a way that the public could understand. Dr. Gillian McCay, Curator of the Cockburn Museum writes,

“He was one of the first to open up the development of science through publishing books aimed at a more general reader, allowing lay people to access ideas, and thus allowed more people to examine the world around them and draw conclusions.”
– Dr. Gillian McCay, Curator, Cockburn Museum
On this landmark Earth Day, we highlight the outstanding work of Charles Lyell, through his observation and writing, which allows us to study the Earth and make conscious decisions in our daily lives. In the weeks to come, we will be sharing more from our collection of his scientific notebooks, and correspondence.

Friends celebrate Lyell acquisition

LogoThe Friends of Edinburgh University Library played a vital role in helping to acquire the Charles Lyell notebooks. They celebrate that acquisition in the new issue of The Piper

Joining the Friends is an excellent way to keep informed about Library activities and new collections: Friends Of Edinburgh University Library

Tagged

New Post: Project Archivist (Climate Change)

courtesy of Jasmine Keuter

My name is Elise Ramsay, and I am delighted to introduce myself as the University of Edinburgh’s new Project Archivist on Climate Change. My remit includes cataloguing the Lyell notebooks, and scoping other collections the University holds related to Charles Lyell, climate change, and Earth Science. Even in my short time working with the collection, it is apparent that there is an incredible wealth of research opportunity in these notebooks, not only concerning the environment and climate change, but also women’s contribution to science, 19th century social dynamics, international relations between scientists, and 19th century methods of travel, to name but a few.

about me:

I am an Archivist, trained at the University of Glasgow’s Information Management and Preservation course, and with experience in a variety of academic institutions, recently St. George’s School for Girls, and as a volunteer cataloguing on other projects at the Centre for Research and Collections (CRC). In my undergraduate studies, I read French and History, but was very interested by environmental and earth sciences, so in working on this collection, I can employ my understanding of French (Lyell often drafts letters to French colleagues in his notebooks), and continue to learn about Earth Science so as to create detailed metadata.

why climate change?

The University of Edinburgh has committed to become zero carbon by 2040. In line with this, the CRC is committed to improve access to Earth Science collections, and create opportunities for ground-breaking research about the climate, species biodiversity, and more. The Lyell collection particularly captures many of these initiatives.

progress so far…

For a collection of this size, a set methodology is key to completing the project, and ensuring that all items are catalogued equally.  Therefore, I dedicated the first few weeks to reading biographies of Lyell, highlighting important people, organisations, and places (known archivally as authorities), and created a process for cataloguing. To ensure that each notebook isn’t damaged in the process of cataloguing, I limited the time each notebook is open to 15 minutes. In those 15 minutes, I take note of the following information:

  • How many pages? How many folios? (Imagine you’re taking a picture of each page with text; how many pictures?This number tells us how full the notebook is, and allows us to estimate the effort needed to digitise)
  • Authorities
  • Subjects (the goal of this is to be as detailed as possible; specimen terms are especially important to make note of so researchers can access material based on their specialisation; for example, volcanoes and volcanic activity; strata; lithification; silicification; opal; coal)
  • Illustrations, and page numbers
  • Index, page numbers

All of these elements are then created in Archive Space, and included in the catalogue entry.

character of the collection

In reading the notebooks, I have relied on the support of Dr. Gillian McCay to provide specialised knowledge and identify key areas which will be important to researchers. This means learning about geological theories and concepts, and often opposing ideas from scientists of the time. It is clear that the network Lyell operated in featured intense, driven personalities, all motivated to prove their theories about the Earth’s origins and activity. This therefore informs the way I will catalogue this collection to prioritise authorities and give context to Lyell’s contemporaries.

more to come…

Watch this space for details about the collection, discoveries, photos, and updates on the project!

Rock Star Event

On Friday 28th February, over 100 guests attended an event at the Geological Society in London’s Mayfair to celebrate the University’s successful campaign to buy the Charles Lyell notebooks.


Eight of the notebooks were taken south for guests to view at the event, carefully transported by a team from the Library’s Centre for Research Collections.  David McClay, Philanthropy Manager for the Library and University Collections team, introduced the speakers: Richard Hughes, Executive Secretary, Geological Society of London, and Professor David Stocker, National Hertitage Memorial Fund.

 

Peter Mathieson, vice-chancellor and principal of the University, thanked all those present for their support in acquiring the notebooks and presented gifts to Richard Hughes and Professor Secord.

 

Richard Hughes, Executive Secretary, Geological Society of London

Richard Hughes, Executive Secretary, Geological Society of London

Professor Jim Secord, University of Cambridge

Professor Jim Secord, University of Cambridge

Professor David Stocker, National Heritage Memorial Fund

Professor David Stocker, National Heritage Memorial Fund

 

 

Two new films on Charles Lyell and his notebooks

Professor Withers and others viewing a selection of Charles Lyell notebooks, University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library, February 2020

There are two new films on Charles Lyell and his notebooks: The Travels of His Own Mind – Travels of His Own Mind where Professor Charles Withers, Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Edinburgh and Geographer Royal for Scotland, discussing the importance of Charles Lyell’s notebooks.

Also ‘Two Hundred and Ninety Four Notebooks, One Thousand One Hundred Donors’ – 294 notebooks, 1,100 donors where Professor Withers and Jacky MacBeath, Head of Centre for Research Collections and Head of Museums, University of Edinburgh, on why we are excited about Lyell!

 

Lyell Notebooks: Progress Report

Collection Curation

Since their arrival, the focus has been on a range of preliminary tasks to get the notebooks ready for digitisation, consultation and exhibition.

Exhibition

The first exhibition of Lyell’s notebooks

 

The first free public display of the Lyell collection is currently on at the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library on George Square, on the 6th floor in the Binks Exhibition Wall of the Centre for Research Collections (CRC). The volumes selected include a journal of a European tour of made by Lyell and his parents in 1818, an 1828 examination of the 1822 eruption of Vesuvius and an illustration of geology of Prosen Village (close to the Lyell family home at Kinnordy, Kirriemuir) in 1874.  The exhibition also features an engraved  portrait and a selection of geological specimens.

The exhibition also features a notebook which contains the description of shells sent to Lyell by Darwin, alongside the shells themselves.  The shells and the geological specimens are part of a wider collection of around 100 stone artefacts (axes, spears and arrow heads), three meteorites, 25 fossils, 25 rocks. These were generously donated to the University in 1927 by the Lyell family (along with a significant collection of Lyell’s papers, now held in the CRC) and are held at the University’s Cockburn Geology Museum.  Although the shells were already well known to us, finding documentation about them in the notebooks was a very exciting discovery.

The exhibition runs until 26 March.

Cataloguing

The notebooks fall into 5 series, the largest of these being Coll-203/A1, the principal scientific notebooks. The other series are Coll-204/A2 – travel journals, Coll-203/A3 – scientific journals / manuscript notes, Coll-203/A4 – Madeira and Canaries and Coll-203/A5 – Indexes.  While full cataloguing will take some time and require to be resourced separately, skeletal catalogue entries for the first series has been created by repurposing a much earlier inventory. Some rudimentary entries have also been created for the volumes in the other series to allow them to be given unique identifiers, which are essential for managing digitisation, consultation and exhibition.

These catalogue records are not yet online but will be in the near future, once the notebooks are available for general consultation.

Conservation & Preservation

Notebooks shelved awaiting boxing

 

While primarily in pretty good condition a full conservation survey has been undertaken and work identified.  In particular a good number the spine labels, which are an essential part of the materiality of the notebooks, are particularly fragile and will require some specific intervention.

Each notebook will require its own ‘book shoe’ after which they will then be boxed for efficient storage and retrieval.  In the meantime, the notebooks have been temporarily shelved in sequence until this work can be carried out.

Digitisation

Two volumes have been selected as initial exemplars for digitisation.  The first volume comes from the scientific notebooks and contains, “Geological notes and observation; Notes on modern causes”.  The second is from scientific journals and contains some drafts of letters from Lyell to Charles Darwin.

A more ambitious plan of digitisation is currently being initiated, prioritising, in the first instance, the most physically robust volumes that require no or little intervention by a conservator.

Juliette Lichman working on Lyell digitisation assessment

Lyell in Context – New Post

The CRC is currently advertising an exciting new post: Project Archivist (Climate Change).  This puts Lyell firmly in context, identifying his papers not solely as a record of his own life and work and of the history of his discipline but recognising its significance in terms of understanding our planet.  Neither does Lyell stand in isolation.  Crucial connections and interactions between him, his contemporaries and his successors run through a range of our collections and properly identifying and making these available for research is a high priority. Vital to understanding the Earth and its needs is understanding its history.  This innovative post will scope out how Lyell’s papers and other collections here can play an important role.

As well as focussing on the collections, the Project Archivist will also have a responsibility to liaise with academic and other researchers and stakeholders and to establish and develop a cluster of research interest in and around the collections as a means of identifying the collaborative basis of future projects.

For further details on the post: https://www.vacancies.ed.ac.uk/  Vacancy Reference 050984

If you have any questions regarding the Lyell collections please contact in the first instance Rachel Hosker, Archives Manager and Deputy Head of Special Collections, at Rachel.Hosker@ed.ac.uk or to discuss the fundraising campaign or future funding needs; David McClay, Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections at david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk

 

Professor Richard Fortey on Lyell

  Lyell expert and enthusiast

Professor Richard Fortey is one of the most authoritative and engaging experts on the importance of Charles Lyell. A welcome supporter in the Lyell notebook campaign, he has recently been interviewed by Professor Brian Cox for the joint BBC and Royal Society series People of Science. Watch here for a persuasive account of Lyell’s scientific significance: People of Science

We’d also recommend Richard’s fascinating article on Lyell and deep geological time for the Geological Society (of which he is a past President): Lyell and Deep Time

Lyell, Landscape and a Lorry

We’ve done it. They’re finally here. Late last week I was lucky enough to go down to London and pick up the Lyell notebooks.

The first step in gaining custody was to head to Sotheby’s on New Bond Street with the paperwork to prove they could be released. It’s a curious process of heading down to pre-sales to prove ownership and then be given a token for collection. I was then taken to their manuscripts and rare books department to pick up the archive. There I got my first glimpse of them.

Their scale surprised me. They are more compact and very consistent compared to even the pictures I’d seen of them and with my love of palaeography and our plans for deciphering them, I had to have a look at the content. Having been to Catania in Sicily last year, I picked the Sicily volume and was immediately struck by the depiction of the landscape around Mount Etna and the flow of his hand across the page providing detail. I know we’re going to have a lot of fun making these available in the future!

I had to draw myself back from getting immersed as our colleagues George and Ryan had arrived from Constantines, who were going to look after me and the notebooks, getting us back to Edinburgh securely. And wow what a large lorry, for small notebooks, down the tiny London lanes!

After checking every volume and packing in order securely, I signed the final piece of paperwork and we could take the notebooks on the next stage of their journey.

They were taken to a secure location, through the streets of London in our rather large lorry, with me sat up top in the cab with a birds eye view. I wondered what Lyell’s view of London was, having lived there in the 1830s and how very different the environment and landscape was now.

The next day we were at the secure location at 6am ready to leave. While the team were getting ready, I chatted to a curator from the British Museum, taking items for exhibition out to the Far East. Never thought, at 6am I’d be meeting such interesting people and sharing our experiences of couriering our rare and unique items throughout the world!

George, Ryan and myself soon set off through London, watching it wake and get busy. Over the next 9 ½ hours we drove north through the changing landscape, with all kinds of weather, from rainbows and hail to bright sunshine, looking at moors and hills, farmland planes to forests. I wondered again what Lyell would have thought, interpreted and seen.

 

At about 3:30pm we arrived back in Edinburgh, after a very smooth journey (worst bit was the traffic in Edinburgh!) and were met by Grant and Norman, with these photos being taken, so we could show you their arrival.

   

So, they are here and the next part of our work begins with our archivists and conservators checking and listing them over the next couple of weeks. I’ve delighted to have had my Lyell adventure, picking up these notebooks, so they now can be made available to the world.

   

Thanks to George and Ryan from Constantines who were consummate professionals and looked after the notebooks and myself with good humour and brilliant driving skills, getting us to Edinburgh safely.

Rachel Hosker
Archives Manager and Deputy Head of Special Collections