Work continues on re-cataloguing the Geddes family photographs. Working in such close proximity with these photographic collections has provided a rare opportunity to follow intimately the changing face of Patrick Geddes throughout his lifespan. We hope you enjoy the visual journey as much as we did.
Last week our Project Conservator, Nicole Devereux, wrote about how she had uncovered an unusual sticky situation among the Patrick Geddes Collection photographs. Rising to the conservation challenge, Nicole explored some fascinating and experimental conservation processes in order to resolve this particular problem. Read more about Nicole’s work here.
Our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, provides an update on cataloguing work.
One of the major aims of our Wellcome Research-Resource funded project is to catalogue the papers of Sir Patrick Geddes held at both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde. The completion of the cataloguing work will allow the remaining project conservation work to be undertaken and will facilitate the eventual virtual reuniting of the two collections of papers held at both institutions.
I am delighted to report that, after a 6 month hiatus, the cataloguing work which was started in 2017, has re-commenced in earnest. I have been undertaking a stock-take of the Geddes family photographs that are held at the University of Edinburgh, along with creating descriptive content of these for the new collection catalogue.
The Geddes family photographs held at the University of Edinburgh are a fascinating series of approximately 175 photographs which range in size, format and content. Photographic processes discovered include ambrotypes, albumen prints, Carte de Visite through to black and white photographic prints. These illustrate not only Sir Patrick Geddes in formal portraits but also include informal compositions of his family and associates in a variety of locations including, but not exclusive to, their home in Perth, Scotland; the College des Ecossais at Montpellier, France; and also in Mumbai (then Bombay), India. The collection contains original items, duplicates and some related items or duplicates can be found within our own collections at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde but also at other institutions, such as the National Library of Scotland.
To create a catalogue of a photographic collection, an incredible amount of descriptive content needs to be captured, not only in relation to the photograph subject matter but also in relation to the photographers; photograph formats; the photographic processes; and whether the items are original or duplicate (which is not always easy to establish!). I have also been looking to record the relationships with duplicate or related archive items held elsewhere in other institutions. Thankfully, much of this information had already been captured previously in the extensive work undertaken by our colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.
Containing a phenomenal amount of information these inherited lists and indexes were previously only available as hand-written lists and were each arranged in a different way; some numerical, some chronological and some alphabetical and sometimes with differing descriptive content relating to the same photographic item. A sometimes complex process, the descriptive information gleaned from the legacy catalogues and indexes, was however successfully captured and condensed into one electronic document. Creating an electronic and condensed version of these catalogues which combined all of their content has provided us with a fairly comprehensive interim catalogue of the Geddes family photographs. This is already a fantastic step forward in enabling access to this part of the Sir Patrick Geddes collection.
A stock-take of the physical photographs is now well underway. During the stock-take we will also assess the physical condition of the photographs to inform remaining conservation work (this will include re-housing the collection); and additional descriptive content and corrections will be added to the interim catalogue. Once thoroughly checked and edited the content from the interim catalogue will be transferred to the University of Edinburgh’s online archive and manuscript collections catalogue and made available to the public. In the mean-time, we look forward to sharing many of the highlights from the Sir Patrick Geddes photographic collections that we discover in the coming weeks.
Can you help?
I would be very interested to hear from any Geddes experts who may be able to help me identify the sculpture in the background of the photograph above of Sir Patrick Geddes sat in a window recess. If you can help, I would be delighted to hear from you, you can email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In February we held a crowdsourcing event at Strathclyde University. The event took place over two days with the help of 23 volunteers. The aim of the two days was to rehouse the Geddes papers in archival four flap folders. The collection required new housing due to it being in non-archival folders that were too small and over filled. This was causing significant damage to the collection and making it difficult to access when an item was requested.
The part of the collection best suited for this event consists of 180 boxes of which 153 required rehousing. The rest of the collection has already been rehoused and is made up of journals and photographs. The damage found in the collection was tears, surface dirt, creasing and folds which were caused by unsuitable housing and poor handling before the collection arrived at the archives. Conservation work was carried out to stabalise the material before work could begin.
Each day began with a short presentation given by the University Archivist, Victoria Peters and Project Conservator Nicole Devereux. This involved introducing the work of Patrick Geddes, described the conservation work carried out and explaining why the collection needed rehousing. This was followed by a training session on how to rehouse the collection with the rest of the day to start the practical work. In the afternoon subject librarians joined us to chat to volunteers about their roles within the library which was a great way for everyone to network.
It was estimated it would take an individual conservator ten weeks to rehouse the material which we aimed to complete in two days. The event was also a great way to promote the collection and to make individuals aware of the Patrick Geddes collection held at Strathclyde University and the University of Edinburgh.
The two days were a great success with 143 out of 153 boxes rehoused! The event was well attended with a variety of people from different backgrounds. We would like to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone who was involved.
In this blog post Staphany Cheng talks about her time volunteering at Strathclyde University on the Patrick Geddes collection……
Archives and Special Collections at the University of Strathclyde is home to the Patrick Geddes papers, an incredible collection of over 4000 maps, plans, photographs, prints and drawings and over 45 metres of textual records, pamphlets and books. Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was a biologist, sociologist and pioneering town planner, and was one of the greatest social thinkers of his time. The collection vividly documents the development of all his theories and is of international significance.
Over the last year, thanks to funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Centre for Research and Collections, University of Edinburgh has been working in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde in conserving the collection. I was very fortunate to be able to volunteer with Project Conservator Nicole Devereux, who is carrying out the conservation work in the project. Though I am currently completing my second year of an MPhil in Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow I was particularly interested in working with the Geddes papers so that I could gain an interdisciplinary insight into the intricacies of paper conservation and archives and special collections.
Whilst paper and textile conservation have always been distinct disciplines, similarities exist in the material composition of the objects, the way that they are treated and the approaches that are taken by conservators. Often objects in each discipline will also have elements of the other, papers and books may have fabric samples, or embroidered covers and textile objects such as embroideries often have paper backing or lining. Under Nicole’s guidance I was able to apply my conservation knowledge into a different medium. The majority of the collection that I worked on exhibited soot around the edges of the pages this was removed with conservation grade vulcanized rubber sponges. Severe folds that obstructed the text were unfolded with a heated spatula. Tears that were considered vulnerable and likely to worsen with handling were supported with a remoistenable tissue made from Japanese paper and gelatin.
Working with the Geddes Collection allowed me to see first hand the treatment of a large paper archival collection. And how standardizing treatments and storage for a range of different objects can be the most efficient way to conserve an entire collection in a short amount of time. The opportunity to experience the basics of paper conservation has allowed me to further appreciate both the differences and similarities between the two specialisms. It was also a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into the mind of Patrick Geddes. Working through the different boxes I never knew what I was going to find, some days there would be several folders of detailed botanical drawings and on others there were architectural plans for a new university or vegetable gardens for preschools.
While my time working with paper is over for now I would like to thank Nicole and Victoria Peters from Strathclyde University for this wonderful opportunity.
On 19th and 20th February 2018, we are holding a conservation crowdsourcing event here in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Strathclyde. Our aim, over the two days, is to rehouse the Patrick Geddes papers, one of our most important archive collections, in acid-free folders and boxes. Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was one of the greatest social thinkers of his time. He was a biologist, sociologist and pioneering town planner, with a fascination for the organization of human societies and their spatial manifestation in the city and country. The collection vividly documents the development of all his theories and is of international significance. It comprises correspondence, notes, news cuttings, pamphlets, books, photographs, maps, plans, prints and drawings, including Geddes’ famous ‘thinking machines’. You can find out more about it here.
The collection is poorly housed in unsuitable folders and other packaging. As a result, many pages were torn or creased. An extensive programme of conservation to repair the torn pages alongside cleaning to remove surface dirt has just been completed but, to ensure that the collection is properly protected and that no more damage occurs, we need to rehouse it in archival quality acid-free folders. Over the two days, we aim to rehouse the contents of 175 archive boxes.
Each day will begin with a training session in the morning, followed by practical work. In the afternoon, participants will be joined by staff members from Archives and Special Collections who will talk to them about their roles. Complimentary refreshments and catering will be provided throughout the day to encourage networking during break times.
This is a great opportunity to get some hands on experience with archives, and find out what it’s like to work in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Strathclyde.
Booking will close on 11 February, to allow us to organise catering.
9.30 – 9.45: Welcome
9.45 – 10.00: Introduction to the Geddes collection
10.00 – 10.30: Rehousing training
10.30 – 11.00: Rehousing begins
11.00 – 11.30: Tea break (refreshments provided)
11.30 – 13.00: Rehousing
13.00 – 14.00: Lunch break (lunch provided)
14.00 – 15.30: Rehousing and networking
15.30 – 16.00: Tea break (refreshments provided)
16.00 – 17.00: Rehousing and networking
I am very excited to be working on the ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project as Project Conservator which runs for 10 months. During my first month on the project I have been getting to grips with the collection which is split over Strathclyde University in Glasgow and Edinburgh University. Whilst looking through the collections I have come across a variety of different media including photograph albums, photographs, glass plate negatives, and transparent paper, loose sheets of correspondence and drawings.
The majority of the collection requires rehousing, flattening and minor paper repairs. Tearing of the paper collection has been caused by years of handling and inappropriate storage. To repair them remoistenable tissue with gelatine is being used. This method is being used because of the different types of inks used throughout the collection which are sensitive to moisture. It is also a faster repair method for a larger collection. The rehousing will consist of new archival folders for the collection housed in 180 archival boxes and three different sizes of melinex sleeves for the larger items in plan chests. We also hope to set up a crowdsourcing event to help rehouse the 180 boxes.