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Guest Blog Author Tim Fedak

We are delighted to welcome Tim Fedak – a Curator and Palaeontologist based at Nova Scotia Museum – to our blog! Tim has been waiting ever so patiently for access to Charles Lyell’s Notebook number 104, documenting his visit to Nova Scotia in 1842 to view the geology and fossil trees at Joggins, and which ushered in a new era of geology….

 

 

 

 

Today, Nova Scotia is well known among geologists around the world for its important geology.  The Joggins Fossil Cliffs UNESCO World Heritage Site has a world class interpretive centre and regular tours of the famous fossil forests. The importance of that site, as well as the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Global Geopark on the northern shore of the Minas Basin, both find their beginning in 1842.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.

 

In July and August of 1842, Charles Lyell was visiting Nova Scotia for a month of geology, to engage the local geologists and to examine the fossil forest that everyone, including Darwin would come to hear about.  The interactions he had and the insights he gained from walking along the shores of the Bay of Fundy shaped his observations and convictions about ancient trackways and life in the Coal Age.

Cliffs of South Joggins, Figure 18 from Charles Lyell’s Travels in North America, Vol 2. 1845.

Sir. William Dawson was born and raised in Pictou, Nova Scotia but he had studied at the University of Edinburgh in 1840-41. He was still just a young man passionate about geology and fossils when Lyell visited the province, and they shared insights and views of geology. When Dawson published his iconic Acadian Geology in 1855, he noted in the introduction:

The year 1842 forms an epoch in the history of geology in Nova Scotia. In that year Sir Charles Lyell visited the province, and carefully examined some of the more difficult features of its geological structure, which had baffled or misled previous inquirers.“  p6.

Dr. Ebenezer Fitch Harding, a community physician in Windsor, Nova Scotia, was another local geologist that Lyell interacted with, accompanying him to the geology sites and mud flats of the Minas Basin, Bay of Fundy in the summer of 1842.

See more on this important period in Nova Scotia geology, including the links between Nova Scotia and Edinburgh, and Harding’s contributions to science in Tim’s article https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/scientia/2021-v43-n1-scientia05889/1078926ar/ 

Lyell’s trip to Nova Scotia is well described in Volume 2 of his ‘Travels to North America’ published in1845. However, when I first heard that the University of Edinburgh was attempting to purchase Lyell’s 294 Notebooks for archival research, I was immediately thrilled with the thought of what more he might have written during his visit to Nova Scotia. I then celebrated when the project was successful and have been waiting (somewhat) patiently since then.

In early September this year, I learned that Notebook 104 had been scanned and was now available online. I dropped everything and began to carefully make my initial examination of the notes and drawings of the scanned pages.  You can see my short presentation of some of the immediately interesting observations made about Notebook 104 at:

https://youtu.be/A1OxD0Hpqog

Joggins Sketch

The Joggins cliff sketch on page 48 was immediately of great interest and value. This illustration became the key that unlocked the understanding that the gypsum and limestone layers (now known as the Windsor Group) – were below the coal.

Detail of two preliminary sketches of the Joggins Cliffs in Lyell Notebook 104, p. 48.

Shubenacadie River

The notebook includes many important sketches of the work carried out along the Shubenacadie River, which included contributions from J.W. Dawson, William Duncan, Richard Brown and others.

Field Work, Travel Notes

I am interested in the people of geology and what it was like for them to carry out the work and attain their insights. I was particularly struck by the notes of the bags that Charles and Mary Lyell travelled with, and the supplies that they required. A very personal view into the travelling aspect of field work.

Mary Lyell

Mary Lyell being on this month-long visit to Nova Scotia is also incredibly interesting. It remains difficult to locate any records that describe her activities when they were apart. However, there are notes in Charles’ notebook, as well as in letters he wrote to Dawson that Mary was actively engaged in discussions of geology and conchology.

Extract from Letter from Charles Lyell, to William Dawson, Pictou, Nova Scotia, quoting “…Mrs. Lyell says…”

 

I am truly grateful for the opportunity that the University of Edinburgh and the project partners are providing in making these notebooks available for research. Here in Nova Scotia, this is a special way to celebrate 180 years since Charles and Mary Lyell where here exploring the geology and natural history of Nova Scotia.

I’ve mapped the Lyell’s travels in Nova Scotia using the information in Notebook 104, descriptions from Lyell’s Travels in North America, and links through to archived letters on this interactive timeline. Follow the hashtag #NS1842 and find additional information in this Tweet Collection #NS1842

Thanks Tim – it’s great to hear more about Lyell’s impact in Nova Scotia. We love your enthusiasm (and patience!).

 

“An epoch in history” – Charles Lyell in Nova Scotia 1842

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The Cockburn Geological Museum at the Grant Institute holds an extensive collection of over 130,000 geological specimens that reflect the whole spectrum of earth science materials, including minerals, rocks and fossils. Most of these specimens have labels – some have multiple labels, some of these labels are loose paper in the bottom of specimen boxes, while others are glued directly on to the rock or mineral. Some information is written on with red or blue paint. Some specimens have all of the above – some don’t have any labels at all.

There are several specimens at the Cockburn that are clearly marked ‘Sir C Lyell’ – in what looks to be his own handwriting – a good indication that they were originally part of his own collection.

Now that the University of Edinburgh has acquired Lyell’s 294 Notebooks, for the first time, in a long time, both the specimens and the documentary records, can be brought together to share the same space. The notebooks offer the chance to enrich our knowledge of the specimens, adding valuable context and insight into when and where they were collected, and what they were potentially used for.

Gillian McKay, Curator of the University of Edinburgh's Cockburn Museum

 

 

 

 

 

Using our now well-developed Lyell ‘next level’ palaeography skills, we feel ready to explore the links between specimens and the written information – but to get us started, we brought in the label expert!

Kate Bowell studies the Cockburn Museum's Lyell specimens.

 

Postgraduate researcher Kate Bowell is exploring the stories the National Museum of Scotland has told in their collection of 20,000 exhibition labels and how these stories have changed over time (See Kate’s blog here https://blog.nms.ac.uk/2021/12/14/a-history-of-exhibition-labels-and-the-stories-they-tell/ ). Her experience in studying the stories behind labels means she is the perfect person to help us start formulating a plan.

 

 

 

 

We were also pleased to have undergraduate student Will Adams join us. Currently in 4th year Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, Will’s interested in archives and how they relate to archaeological collections – he is also on the quest to find a dissertation topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could we join forces to help each other out? What followed was a joyous 3 hour discussion – exploring the history of labels, the history of collections, why people collect, how people use labels, personal collection administration, split and movement of collections, the rise and purpose of museums – and how museums subsequently label items, both for use and for public enjoyment.

Lyell’s administration throughout his collection – his page numbering, indexing and the labelling of his specimens – show that he actively used them as a resource for his work. No actual catalogue exists – and so we have to start slowly working out how he kept his collection in order, and how he used specimens to aid his understanding. Now that the collections are together, it should be possible to start to see how it all linked up – and there is huge potential to learn much more about the specimens.

For example, one of the Cockburn’s specimens, and part of Lyell’s original collection is this amazing Agate, labelled in Lyell’s own handwriting:

We recognise Lyell’s distinctive ‘e’ – and the place name Mount Horne points us to British Columbia[1]. The specimen’s original owner is noted by Lyell as the Honourable C.A. Murray. In many ways similar to Lyell, Charles Augustus Murray was an author and diplomat,. He attended Oxford University, and spent several years travelling across Europe and America from 1835 and 1838, describing his experiences in popular books on his return [2].

We know Lyell visited British Columbia several times; the collection includes both Charles and Mary’s certificates recording their passing behind Niagara Falls to Termination Rock dated the 7th June 1842; and a card representing Columbia College dated 1853. As we are able to identify critical information – names of people, places, mineral types – on the labels – these can be cross-referenced to text in the notebooks, allowing us to focus in on the history of the specimens. Creating this framework of knowledge allows us to develop our hypothesis about how travel, collaboration, and collecting (or trading) specimens fed into the larger ideas of the time relating to “how the earth systems worked”.

CA Murray's specimen relating to Mount Horne, part of the Lyell Collection at the Cockburn Museum

Will’s presence also helped us see how he can add archaeological detail to the specimens. Lyell’s interests where wide ranging, and his exploration of the history of man resulted in him collecting neolithic objects ranging from tools to beads. Of course, we cannot be experts in everything, and with the collection of specimens being held by the Grant Institute, they have been categorised very much as geological specimens. Will’s contribution proved how collaboration with people who can view the objects with an “archaeological eye” adds significant detail to the objects. Our meeting provided him with the perfect opportunity to dive in and begin to think about a project combining his interest in archives and collections. Inspired, Will has booked into the CRC Reading Room to start looking at the collection in more detail, and is talking to his dissertation advisor to firm up a plan.

The benefits in bringing both the collections and experts together are tangible. Collaborative work will really enhance the Lyell collection – indeed, our afternoon spent considering label gave us a practical insight into how he himself worked and used the collection.

[1] https://www.mindat.org/feature-6081205.html

[2] Charles Murray (author and diplomat) – Wikipedia

Considering labels

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Conservator Claire turns to the dark side (but it all ends well).

I am now in my final week of the Lyell Project; time has flown by as myself and our exceptional interns have breezed through the plethora of material in this collection. Once they had finished their internships, my work turned to focus on some of the most challenging conservation work … the printed books!

Held within both the Lyell new accession and the University’s own collections, 22 printed volumes and a handful of special collection volumes were identified as being in need of interventive treatment. Several of the printed volumes had significant structural damage to their boards and spines. It was clear that through use, the tension the volume had undergone – that is the opening and closing – had led to this damage. I had to be careful that whatever method I chose to rectify this would be sympathetic to the remaining structure, and that new materials would need to be carefully introduced to support the volume structurally. All 22 volumes were at different stages of degradation; they all needed some form of structural repair to mitigate this damage. It was a similar picture with the special collection volumes, which were alike in binding style. This blog focuses on the worst of those bunch.

A small handful of the volumes were in the condition that you see Figure 1 below. Spines and boards were detached or even missing altogether. What was left, was falling apart, and the leather had little integrity.

Special Collections volume before treatment

Special Collection Volume before treatment (SC6373)

Figure 2- Diagram demonstrating the layers of the Honey Hollow technique

After some thought and research, I decided to use the ‘Honey Hollow’ technique to restore the structure of the volumes, which introduces new materials including a cast of the spine that acts as the new structure. The original spine is then attached to it, but no longer takes on any structural responsibility. This was the most feasible choice, as the condition and strength of the leather that was remaining was too poor. An illustration of the Honey Hollow technique can be seen in figure 2:

 

All book conservation work started with surface cleaning, consolidation of red rot and any corner repairs. Normally the first step is to lift the original spine piece from the volume. As this had already detached this was not needed. Once they had been safely stored, the casting could begin. The book was placed in a finishing press, and cling film was tightly wrapped around the spine to act as a barrier from any moisture whilst casting the spine. Pieces of 12gsm Japanese tissue were cut and attached layer by layer onto the exposed spine using wheat starch paste. Dependent on the width of the book, between 7-10 layers of tissue were required to make a strong cast.

Figure 3 – Casting of the spine using Japanese Tissue and wheat starch paste

Once the cast had dried, it was removed and trimmed. The book remained in the finishing press whilst the leather on the boards was carefully lifted using a leaf spatula. This is where the new Aerolinen fabric would be inserted. This fabric is commonly used in book conservation for both board reattachment and spine repairs. As it needed to wrap around the entire spine, a piece of the linen was pasted to the cast with a 1cm margin either side for insertion into the boards. The attachment to the spine needed to be strong, so EVA was the adhesive used for this part of the process.

Figure 4 – Left: Lifting of the board leather, Right: New Aerolinen cast

Aerolinen can be toned to make the original spine piece in other applications, however in this case it is best to cover the linen with a toned Japanese tissue of a heavier weight. A medium tone was chosen that could match the darker parts of the leather, rather than the lighter areas where it had degraded. Once attached and trimmed, it was now time to attach the original spine cover to the cast (making sure it was the right way up!).

Figure 5 – Toned Japanese Tissue cover of the cast

As often only two thirds of the original spine cover was left, some more acrylic painting had to be done to mask the toned paper. The degradation of the leather was much worse on the spine piece, so the toned Japanese tissue did not match it as well as the sides. After a little bit of painting, the overall look of the new cast was more in keeping with the original spine. All that was left to do was to repair any inner joints inside the book at the start and end of the volume with a light Japanese tissue.

Figure 6 – Special Collection Volume after treatment

The technique overall was a success; this volume and others like it are now safe to handle, and the repairs blend in with the original condition of the rest of the book. It was a really interesting technique to employ and, more importantly, a satisfying one.  This was a great experience for me to put both my ethical and technical skills to work to protect the volumes and retain what was left of the binding.

Claire

 

 

 

New blog from the Digitisation Service

Project Photographer John Sikorski attends to the process of setting a Lyell Notebook into the digitisation camera.

Its taking teams of multi-skilled people to open up the Charles Lyell collection! Read all about the Cultural Heritage Digitisation Service Team’s efforts to digitise the Notebooks on their latest blog here:

From Castles to Cradle: Photographing the Lyell Notebooks | Digital Imaging Unit (ed.ac.uk)

Its a long road ahead, but already 87 of the Notebooks are now completed and online. The images are being added to the University of Edinburgh’s Image website, LUNA, and you can find them here:

Search Results: All Fields similar to ‘Coll-203’ and Who equal to ‘Lyell, Charles (Sir)’ – University of Edinburgh

Thanks to all the CHDS staff – keep going!

Lyell staff update the Murray family donors

It was a great pleasure for some of the Lyell project staff to welcome the Murray family to the Library, and to show them how their generous support is allowing the archive to be conserved, digitised and curated. The repairs and bespoke rehousing of the notebooks were found to be particularly interesting.

John, Claire, Pamela, Susan, David and colleagues look forward to updating the rest of our supporters as well as welcoming further donors to Edinburgh in the months ahead.

Some of the Lyell project staff  post with John and Ginny Murray when they met at the University's Main Library

We are digitisation ready to go!

We want to share our exciting news featuring the Sir Charles Lyell notebooks! Curious? Read on…. 

We are very happy to advise that the fuller project to digitise Lyell’s notebooks will start in September 2021. This means that we will soon be able to add yet more digital images of Lyell’s notebooks to those currently available to view online.

This important work is possible thanks to our generous supporters, who, in responding to our funding appeal, have donated over £40,000. That’s enough to fund two specialist photography staff for 12 months. The work will take place in a newly fitted out digital imaging studio, kitted out with new equipment.

The logo of the Geologists' Association Curry FundThank you to all the individual donors and bodies who have supported us so far. In addition to our anonymous supporters, we would also like to acknowledge the ongoing support of the Murray family, Jim Hunter, the History of Geology Group and the Geologists’ Association Curry Fund. If you are interested in helping us complete the digitisation project’s funding target that would be wonderful. Individual gifts may be made online at: https://donate.ed.ac.uk/portal/public/donate/donate.aspx?destination=LyellAccess

Or please contact David McClay directly to discuss: 07815903725 or david.mcclay@ed.ac.uk

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

 

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

 

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