Author Archives: elise

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

From the Stores #2: Gideon Mantell

This week in the stores, I began to delve into the box lists which describe the new-to-us collection of further papers of Charles Lyell and the family which was received by the University in the summer through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. These are 18 boxes of papers and correspondence of Lyell, and I have embarked on scanning these box lists which will prepare for more in-depth cataloguing in the short to medium term. Here is what most box lists look like:

Gideon Mantell was a frequent correspondent of Lyell, and their life-long relationship started with a bang in 1821, when Lyell casually called on Mantell while visiting his old school at Midhurst. Having heard tell of the doctor from some workmen in the nearby quarry, Lyell rode the 25 miles over the South Downs and knocked on Mantell’s door nearly at dusk. Presumably they might have known each other’s names from the Geological Society, but one would imagine the visit would still have come as surprise at best. However, common interest prevailed, a well-stocked fossil cabinet provided great amount of conversation, and the two reportedly gossiped until morning. (Bailey, p. 48) Their published letters cover all from scientific theories, discoveries, to the latest gossip and accounts from the GeolSoc and Royal Society, of which they were both members.

In a week which is dominated by a race for a vaccine, we see similar scientific rivalries in the early years of geological science. Today Mantell is known for bringing to light and describing dinosaur reptiles. These letters from 1851 with Lyell may relate to a legendary dispute between Mantell, Lyell, and Sir Richard Owen surrounding a reptile fossil which was found in ancient rock, which previously had only yielded fish. At this time, years before Darwin’s Origins of the Species, views of the evolution of life were split into two camps; progressionists (today, this sect is called orthogenesis) believed that organisms have an innate tendency to evolve to a particular goal, and most followers believed this to mean a trend of increasing biological complexity through time. Any description of a tree of life usually falls within this hypothesis. Lyell and Mantell opposed this belief, identifying as anti-progressionists. A famous dispute occured between Lyell, Mantell, and Owens when Mantell and Owens wrote opposing descriptions of this curious fossil. The legend resolved with Owens in the wrong, and Lyell and Mantell in the right, but research using the archival collections of Owens and Mantell proves the legend wrong, revealing that Lyell urged Mantell, thought infirm and ailing, to write the description long after Owens had already been tapped to view and describe the fossil, and it was Mantell and Lyell who were in the wrong. This is a woefully clipped version of events, but I find the true value of work with archives here: with access and research to correspondence archives such as this one, the true stories of history are told, and legends can be found faulty.

References:

Charles Lyell, Sir Edward Bailey, 1962

For more about this progressionist dispute, see Michael J. Benton’s Progressionism in the 1850s: Lyell, Owen, Mantell and the Elgin fossil reptile Leptopleuron (Telerpeton)

 

Elise Ramsay

Project Archivist (Sir Charles Lyell Collection)

From the Stores #1: Packing List for Fieldwork

Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist, holding an open scientific notebook and smiling

Elise Ramsay at work in the stores

Progress in the Lyell project has taken a giant leap these last two weeks thanks to two developments. Firstly, physical work in the stores where the collection is secured at the University Main Library has been deemed safe, if approached with new procedures, which has meant I have been able to access the collection in person for the first time since March 10th. This has meant the first stage of rapid capture and transcription of Lyell’s indexes has begun. This level of detail will make for rich metadata in the catalogue, and eventually allow researchers to search across the notebooks by subject matter. Thus the need for a new series of blog posts, released each week on Tuesday, where I can highlight all the discoveries I made in working with the collection!

Secondly, I am so excited that Nicky Monroe, a former History of the Book student, has agreed to volunteer on the project remotely. He will be transcribing these indexes and researching Lyell’s life for extra context in the catalogue. We will hear about his progress and discoveries in the collection in the coming weeks!

From my time in the stores last week, I captured this fantastic packing list, inscribed by Lyell in the earliest notebook we have of his, from 1825. During this time he would have been balancing his fondness for geology with his law work, which is reflected in the organisation of this notebook. The first half is brief notes on cases, mainly tenancy law and divorce cases. The second half begins from the back of the notebook, and reverse orientation compared to the first half, where Lyell writes notes from a Geology lecture he attended April 29 1825.

 

It is during this time, while he struggled with his law practice and his eyesight, that he invested more in geological field trips, often with visiting gentleman scientists. In the early summer of 1824 Lyell and Prevost travel from London to Bristol and Land’s End, ending up at Lyme Regis when Mary Anning made her great discovery of two complete Ichthyosauri. (Bailey, 1962) In the autumn, Lyell focuses on his Scottish roots, living at the Kinnordy estate and hosting William Buckland (his geology tutor from Oxford) to venture to Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Elgin, and Inverness to Brora; then back to Inverness and, after a quick jaunt to Brora, south by Blair Atholl, Glen Tilt, Perth, and Kinnordy to Edinburgh. Throughout these journeys, they were  “comfortably interlarded with breakfasts and dinners without end”, stopping to see Sir James Hall near St. Abb’s Head, and twice at the Jameson’s. (Lyell and Lyell, 2019) I would bet that this packing list would have been in preparation for any of these foundational field trips. Stay tuned for Tuesday next week when another installment will be published!

 

References

Bailey, E., 1962. Charles Lyell. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.

Lyell, C. and Lyell, K., 2019. Life, Letters And Journals Of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. Alpha Editions.

Discoveries in the Charles Lyell Collection

“[Charles Lyell’s] cultivated mind and classical taste, his keen interest in the world of politics and in the social progress and education of his country, and the many opportunities he enjoyed of friendly intercourse with the most leading characters of his age, make the letters abound in lively anecdotes and pictures of society, constantly interspersed with his enthusiastic devotion to Natural History.” -Katherine Lyell, Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart, 1881

To mark 7 months working with the Lyell collection, I’d like to share some discoveries I’ve made while cataloguing these amazing notebooks, and researching Lyell’s published works. Lyell today is known for his great discoveries of the Earth, and the elevation and establishment of the science. Here, we see Lyell’s other interests.

Discoveries:

  1. Charles Lyell was deeply interested in the role of universities and education in society. He writes in his notebooks extensively about the religious requirements at Oxford and Cambridge, to which he objected. In  Notebook 4 he  makes  this  list:

An image of a notebook page written in pencil or light pen in which Charles Lyell writes his thoughts on University education. Transcript: What is the portion of those who ought to have a Univ[ersit]y Ed[ucatio]n in England. Who really have one? 1. Learn number Att[ourn]ys & their cle-rks. Barristers not Oxf[or]d or any Univ[ersit]y men - Dissenter who an barrister, attournies, or spe-cial pleaders &c [etc] 2. Engineers, Architects, Surveyors 3. Physician dissenters how many Surgeon d[itt]o. Discipline was intended. ought not those below 16 to be required to go to church.

Notebook No 4, p. 106, one instance of Lyell’s notes on Universities and education.

Transcription: “What is the portion of those who ought to have a Univ[ersit]y Ed[ucatio]n in England. Who really have one? 1. Learn number Att[ourn]ys & their cle-rks. Barristers not Oxf[or]d or any Univ[ersit]y men – Dissenters who an barrister, attournies, or spe-cial pleaders &c [etc] 2. Engineers, Architects, Surveyors 3. Physician dissenters how many Surgeon d[itt]o. Discipline was intended. ought not those below 16, to be required to go to church.”

 

2. Dante’s Inferno was a constant reference in Lyell’s notebooks, though it’s not clear yet for what purpose, other than the geologist’s keen interest. In the midst of notes on other subjects, Lyell often makes brief abbreviated citations of the parts and lines of Dante. These must have been important to him, because he regularly references these citations in his table of contents. His father being a Dante scholar, this is intriguing for further research to understand how Dante’s poetry influenced Lyell’s understanding of the earth.

Excerpts from Notebook No. 4 (1827), where Lyell cites Dante.

3. Lyell wasn’t the only naturalist in his family, his sisters and father were keen on insect collecting and naming. In those days, much of the flora and fauna of Scotland had no official name, and therefore budding lepidopterists “discovered” and named the insects they caught. We hope to describe illuminating family letters like this in the newly acquired papers of Lyell.

Letter to Marianne from Charles Lyell concerning the Lyell sisters’ prowess and interest in identifying insects

4. Lyell’s eyesight is known for being poor and limiting his abilities all his life, but the reason why is now contested. Most biographies cite that his eyesight worsened while studying the law by candlelight, but in a letter to Murchison in preparation for their Grand Tour to France and Italy, Lyell writes that his eye injury was caused by the long days in the Tuscan sun on holiday with his family. On that Grand Tour, to appease his father, Lyell brought with him a clerk named Hall to aid him in his work and treatment of his eyes – though no detail of the treatment has yet been found.

Excerpt from a letter to Murchison, April 29, 1828, explaining his father’s wishes for Lyell to bring his clerk with him, to make up for his troubles with his eyes.

 

References:

Lyell, C. (2010). Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart (Cambridge Library Collection – Earth Science) (K. Lyell, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511719691

Bailey, E., 1962. Charles Lyell, F.R.S., (1797-1875). Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.

Charles Lyell Notebook No. 4, digitised here: https://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/cennww

 

July was a busy month for the Sir Charles Lyell Collection, and the Centre for Research Collections.

After much planning and advice, the CRC passed inspection, and we opened again for University of Edinburgh researchers on 8 July with new ways of working, but offering access to our collections once again. This has also meant that we were able to welcome in new acquisitions whose delivery was paused during the nation’s lockdown. Which means, at long last, we are able to share the news of a very exciting addition of papers, correspondence, and rare manuscripts to the University’s Sir Charles Lyell Collection.

Rachel Hosker assists with off-loading the material in auction boxes, and moving them to be condition checked by Katherine Richardson.

This new collection includes over 900 letters to and from Sir Charles Lyell (including additional letters from Darwin, Joseph Dalton Hooker, John Murray, etc.); intimate correspondence between Lyell and his wife, Mary Horner Lyell, and his wider family; autograph manuscripts of a number of lectures delivered both in the United States and in the United Kingdom; a part of the autograph manuscript of Principles of Geology; maps commissioned for lectures and publications; and heavily annotated editions of Principles of Geology and other works marked up for later editions. This additional collection was allocated to the University of Edinburgh Library in 2020 by HM Government under the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance Scheme, from the estate of the 3rd Baron Lyell.

Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections, inspects a hand-drawn geological map of Kinnordy Estate and its district from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. A drawing of Charles Lyell is projected on a screen behind Daryl. Photo © David Cheskin

Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections, inspects a hand-drawn geological map of Kinnordy Estate and its district from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. Photo © David Cheskin

Daryl Green, our Head of Special Collections and Deputy Director of the CRC, has had a chance to have an initial dive into this collection in order to check its inventory and gauge its quality. Here’s some initial reactions:

“Having arrived in March to my new post as Head of Special Collections, one of my first tasks was to oversee the transfer of this material from its holding location in London to the University. Lockdown prevented our best laid plans, however, and the Acceptance in Lieu material finally arrived on a warm and quiet day mid-July. Sifting through this material in an initial ‘getting to know you’ session, I was struck at how thorough the correspondence archive was. There are folder and folders of correspondence with Charles Bunbury, Joseph Dalton Hooker, John Murray and many others, but also transcripts of letters going out that were copied by one of Lyell’s sister-in-laws, Katherine Murray Lyell. Here, too, is a lifetime of correspondence between Charles and Mary Horner Lyell, from initial courting, to full blown intellectual romance, to letters later in life. 

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 to his fiancée, Mary Horner, from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive. Photo © David Cheskin

As I sorted through folders I came across diagrams for how Lyell wanted his lecture theatre laid out for his tour of the States, I found hand-drawn maps and illustrations, both by Lyell and commissioned from others, including alluring diagrams, a gorgeous watercolour map of Etna, and a huge geological map of the Kinnordy Estate and its district.

Detail of a hand-drawn map of Mount Etna from the newly acquired Sir Charles Lyell archive.

 “This archive is by all accounts an amazing resource in its own regard.”

Letters upon letters between geologists, students, and admirers have all been beautifully preserved and organized by the Lyell family, and included in the archive was some of the work done by a member of the Lyell family in the 20thcentury to track down and copy correspondence, especially between Lyell and Charles Darwin, which had ended up in other collections. This archive is by all accounts an amazing resource in its own regard and, when paired with the notebooks, the further archive material, the publications and the geological samples, gives a more complete picture of how science was conducted in the 19th century than any other archive I am aware of.”

Conservation and archival description work is ongoing in order to provide public access to this collection. To support these activities and digitisation, read more here.

NEW Further Charles Lyell Papers

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

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.

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!