Tag Archives: Archives Digitisation

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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Fundraising for Lyell Digitisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

David McClay
Philanthropy Manager, Library & University Collections

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30 Days In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

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