Tag Archives: Earth Science

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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Hello from Pamela, new Strategic Projects Archivist

Strategic Projects Archivist, Pamela McIntyre started in mid January, and will be leading on the Charles Lyell Project. Pamela introduces herself, and shares her insight on the internationally significant Sir Charles Lyell archive.   

Hello! After training in a number of repositories across the UK I qualified as an Archivist from Liverpool University in 1995. My first professional post was a SHEFC-funded project to catalogue, preserve and promote the archives of Heriot-Watt University, and its then associated colleges – Edinburgh College of Art, Moray House and the Scottish College of Textiles. Since then, I’ve worked with local authority, private and business archives, and with fine art and museum collections. I have always really enjoyed the practical elements of archive work, and getting people involved, and consequently, I’ve diversified, working in the third sector with volunteers. My last post was Project Development Officer, Libraries. Museums & Galleries for South Ayrshire Council – some highlights of my time there include breaking the ‘Festival of Museums’ with a ‘Day o’ the Dames’ event (sorry, Museum Galleries Scotland!), hosting an amazing exhibition about the history of tattoos, and spending two days at Troon, Prestwick, Maidens and Girvan beaches in support of COP26. I’m thrilled to join Edinburgh University, getting back to my archival roots – and it’s safe to say, Charles Lyell and I are getting on great!

I’m so impressed with the work that’s been done so far. I want to thank the previous staff for all of their efforts.

I am new to Geology, and one of the ways I get to know collections is by searching for subjects I do know about – using family names or places I know. Lyell travelled extensively, and whilst this may well influence my forthcoming holiday plans – it was particularly reassuring to find and read about his trip to the Isle of Arran – a place I love.

From Hutton’s visit in 1787, many geologists have visited Arran. Robert Jameson published his account in 1798, followed by John Macculloch in 1819. Geologists from overseas also visited, and Lyell had studied von Dechen and Oeynhansen’s accounts of 1829. As Leonard Wilson notes in his book Charles Lyell: the Years to 1841:

With its granite mountains and numerous dikes of traprock intersecting and altering stratified sedimentary rocks, Arran was a veritable laboratory for Lyell’s study of hypogene rocks and for the confirmation of his metamorphic theory.

Charles and Mary Lyell stayed at Arran for the first two weeks of August 1836, a trip chronicled by Lyell in Notebooks 62 and 63. Notebook 62 is digitised, and available on the University of Edinburgh’s LUNA image website. From page 60, Lyell noted their plans – arriving in Glasgow, a meeting with Hooker, and stop offs at both the Hunterian and the Andersonian – then plans his trip around the island.

Notebook No.62 p.60 plans for travel round the island of Arran

He then began an analysis of the geology of the island, posing questions, and offering amazing drawings.The pages of the notebooks are packed with details, almost at a breath-taking pace.

Notebook No.62 p.62

 

Notebook No.62 p.63

Lyell immediately made connections with what he saw in Arran with Forfarshire, Fife and Antrim, whilst taking the details of experts and mineral sellers resident in Glasgow, and making another simple line drawing showing the skyline of Goatfell.

By page 66 he is making significant notes entitled ‘Elements’, culminating in what appears to be the proposed structure of chapters for his book.

Wilson adds to the context of that trip; Mary met Lyon Playfair on the boat across – Andrew Ramsey later joined the party. Playfair accompanied Mary on the beach collecting shells, whilst Ramsey and Lyell geologised. At the end of their trip to Arran, the Lyells returned to Kinnordy until the 28th September. Wilson notes:

It was a long rest and summer vacation – a complete break from London, foreign travel and scientific meetings. During the preceding four years Lyell had worked through three editions of the Principles, three tours on the continent, one long trip through Sweden, and all the duties and demands of the foreign secretaryship and presidency of the Geological Society. Mary had acted in part as his secretary and assistant. She wrote many of his letters, helped to catalogue shells, and protected him from visitors. She had accompanied him on his excursions on the continent often under extremely primitive conditions; she had been abandoned in hotel rooms while Charles was off geologizing; she was often lonely. The vacation was for her too a chance to revitalise. When they arrived back at 16 Hart Street Lyell wrote to his father “Everyone is quite struck with the improvement in Mary’s health & appearance’.

I know Mary Horner Lyell as the daughter of Leonard Horner, who by setting up the Edinburgh School of Art in 1821 laid the foundations for Heriot-Watt College. It’s a small world. I am looking forward to being reacquainted with Mary, whose intelligent support to her husband is evidenced in the Lyell Collection by copious correspondence from when they first met.

Mary Elizabeth (née Horner), Lady Lyell
by Horatio Nelson King
albumen carte-de-visite, 1860s
NPG x46569
© National Portrait Gallery, London

I have not come across any mention of Ailsa Craig! However, I have found a reference to Kilmarnock, a topic for a future blog! Familiarisation – to some extent – achieved, it’s now time to decide priorities, to create projects, to engage with people, and to continue the aims of opening up the Lyell collection to all.

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The Lyell Project Team is Growing!

22 February marks the anniversary of the death of renowned Scottish geologist, Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, says ‘hello’ and reflects on Lyell’s contribution to our understanding of the world.  

Headshot of Elaine MacGillivray, newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

Hello Everyone! My name is Elaine MacGillivray and I am very happy to introduce myself as the newly appointed Senior Lyell Archivist at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections.

I am a registered archivist and bring to the project almost 20 years of experience working across archives in the local authority, business, community, and higher education sectors. I have worked at the University of Edinburgh since 2014, first as the archive lead on the School of Scottish Studies Archives refurbishment project and later, managing two Wellcome-funded, collaborative, archive cataloguing projects. In 2019, I was awarded ‘Record Keeper of the Year’ by the UK Archives and Records Association. I am a trustee of, and professional advisor to, a number of rural heritage organisations.

I enjoy the meticulous organisation of what often seems to others like utter chaos, and I love to connect people and their research interests to each other and to archive collections. When I am not knee-deep in project management and archive metadata, you will find me outdoors; up a hill, or exploring the back roads of Perthshire on my bicycle.

It is a real privilege to be entrusted with responsibility for the Sir Charles Lyell archive collections. Prior to the collections being transferred to the Centre for Research Collections, it is clear that the Lyell family invested a great deal of time and care in preserving and organising the collections whilst in their care. This places our archives and conservation team on a great foothold as we progress conserving and cataloguing the collections further, in order to ensure that they are preserved for posterity and, at the same time, made more widely accessible.

Lyell’s notebooks, correspondence, papers and objects are an immense and invaluable body of evidence. Collectively, they serve to illustrate how Lyell and others in his vast network came to formulate, interrogate and revise their ideas and their understanding of the world around them. Lyell is renowned for his contributions to geology, but the collections bring to light yet more about his own and others’ thinking, across a range of subjects and disciplines.

Earlier this week, Europe’s most active and iconic volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily, erupted once again. The 3,350m tall mountain has the longest recorded history of volcanic eruptions, dating back to 1500BC. The historic lava flows are considered to date as old as 300,000 years. It was Lyell’s systematic and methodical observations of Mount Etna from 1828 onwards that led him to develop his theories around geological time and to argue that the Earth was much older than had been previously believed. Lyell’s work throughout the nineteenth century was key to a monumental shift in our understanding of time and our place in the universe.

In 2021, Mount Etna is still one of the best-studied and monitored volcanoes in the world and its significance endorsed by its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value.

Detail of a hand-drawn watercolour map of Mount Etna from the Sir Charles Lyell archive (Ref: Coll-203/Uncat).

Detail of a hand-drawn watercolour map of Mount Etna from the Sir Charles Lyell archive (Ref: Coll-203/Uncat).

One of my favourite items from the collection thus far is a hand-drawn watercolour illustration of Mount Etna. My colleague and Head of Special Collections, Daryl Green, discovered the drawing in August 2020 as he sifted through part of the collection shortly after it arrived at the Centre for Research Collections. The drawing forms part of the continuous record of observations of Mount Etna dating from 1500BC to the present day. I suspect that it is only the first of many remarkable finds to come.

I am looking forward to working with colleagues, building on the fantastic work already undertaken in cataloguing, digitising and making the collections more accessible. We will continue to share our discoveries and project progress here.

We want to hear from you!

What else would you like to see on the ‘Through Lyell’s Eyes’ blog? Would you like to hear from our volunteers and interns? Perhaps you would like to read guest posts from academic experts? Would you like to meet more of our team? What about a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of our cataloguing, transcription or conservation work? Should we include more visual content illustrating some of the items from our the collections? Would you be interested in more audio-visual content?

Let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below – I look forward to hearing from you.

Elaine MacGillivray
Senior Lyell Archivist

 

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