Category Archives: musings

Sorting Frozen Moments

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See this mound of completely mixed pictures? That is a classic example of an iceberg. You only see the very tip of it:-). That’s what I was doing recently, sorting the pictures according to subject and series. We got a ton of those as a donation from another department. We have among others: a series that students had taken when traveling to Bergen, a series of children events complete with creepy clown, and very unhappy Plymouth marathonists. It might sound boring, but to tell the truth, it’s right up my alley. If you gave me a box of mixed beads or coins or buttons when I was a child, you’d have me occupied and silent for the rest of the day.
I’m sure that I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say that again: sign and date your pictures. The generations of archivists yet unborn will love you for that forever.

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Lost to interpretation

If there is one thing that I have learned since my arrival to the archives is that very often you can follow the reasoning of people from the past. You see who they were and what they did and why it was important to them. Take Kay-Shuttleworth. He was a doctor-> he saw what poverty did to people-> he didn’t like it-> he had an idea how to fix it. It’s logical. You can follow the process.
Not so with Fawnthorpe. Fawnthorpe was a student of St. John’s and later he became the principal of Whitelands College. This college was a school dedicated to training of female teachers. Hmm, a guy trained to teach boys is a head of school training girls. Well I suppose they couldn’t make a woman headmistress back then, the monocles in all the England would be in peril if they did. Ok, what else is Fawnthorpe known for? A little book called Household Science: readings in necessary knowledge for girls and young women. So the guy who trained women to be teachers also wanted them to be domestic goddesses?
Photo1077But the oddest thing in all this is the Whitelands College May Queen Festival. It all started with Ruskin. Yes, THAT Ruskin. Among many great things that he was, Ruskin was weird. He held very bizarre view concerning feminine purity and innocence. I suspect that the world still suffers because of these ideas. Faunthorpe was Ruskins friend and admirer and following these strange perceptions, he Ruskinmayqueenorganized the May Queen Festival, where a girl would be crowned as a May Queen. It was a celebration consisting of pageants, dances, processions, fun and games. An enormous amount of preparations go into these. There were elaborate dresses made especially for the girls and each one would be presented a golden cross, to tie this festival’s pagan origins to the traditions of Christianity. This festival is celebrated to this day, even that since 1985 it is allowed to choose a King instead of a Queen. It all looks pretty and fun, a venerable tradition if I ever seen one. But I can’t help being weirded out by the roots of it all- one man’s inability to see women as they are and creating an elaborate ceremony based upon it. So, what was with you Faunthorpe? How did Ruskin roped you into it all?
So how do you interpret Fawnthorpe? An enlightened educator or a relic of outmoded thinking? A co-conspirator to other man fantasies or just a guy that wanted to use the occasion to do something nice for young women under his care? I admit that I don’t know.

Pictures are from Whitelands College May Queen Festival by Malcolm Cole

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The thoughts on displacement

In literature as well as in real life,  geography has a great influence on people. And the reason I am talking about it now is the thoughts of alumni that visited the archives recently. They were the ones who started studying in Chelsea and underwent the transition to Plymouth.
Imagine you signed up for this:

 

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Marjon Chelsea entrance

And it turned into this:

 

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Marjon Chelsea entrance

Imagine leaving the place you know one summer and returning to it in autumn. Only to realize that it changed looks and location. You’re no longer walking the grounds that were there since Coleridge had his ‘crazy’ ideas about educating the poor. No more stories of Lady Stanley’s ghost and no more walls to jump.

Instead there is a site under construction, brand new buildings built in modern fashion and a whole lot of space surrounding the place. Imagine you joined one of the oldest schools in England, with the buildings to prove it, only to have it completely changed, seemingly overnight. The college had ran the course of history, the old gave way to the new.
But it doesn’t meant that the old is gone. The new Marjon site was designed to remind us where we came from. Behold the cloisters, old and new:

 

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Marjon Chelsea entrance

The old library and former training school with our legacy building- the chaplaincy centre:

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Old library and chaplaincy centre

As for the ghosts…well, they say that the third floor of the library is haunted and some people would not go there alone. Although I never felt anything otherworldly over there. Maybe some day…

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Eavesdropping through time and space

Previously I said I found something while filing, but that’s not exactly true. I found two things. First is a book by William Finch, The Sea in My Blood. It is his account of life of smack fishermen. But before I start talking about the book and why I found it interesting, I want to talk about the other thing I found. And it is a letter from Finch to Principal Anderson, who fulfilled this role when Finch was at Marjon. The book was a gift to Anderson when it was published.
Suddenly I felt like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that took place in the past. Between two men that never met. And they never will as both are no longer among the living. That is the experience that only the archives are able to provide.
Finch was not only a Marjon. He was an original Marjon, the first year that graduated after the colleges merged. I n his letter he recollects the move: ‘…after a year at Battersea into the luxury of Marks Chelsea (by the 20’s standards)’. And the rules: ‘…and woe betide this miscreant caught stubbing his fag on the school gate post.’ Both of these sentiments I have found before in the memories of other students, and now I feel like I am in on a joke.
After Marjon, Finch went on to become a great teacher, educator artist and writer. He was an inspiration to many and somebody I would love to have known. But at this point, I am contented to listen to him speaking from the past.

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The language you speak-Tony Wright’s Interesting English

One of my favourite things to do in the archives it digging through our book collection. Maybe because there is such a wide range of material there, from fiction to resource books, from published dissertations to poetry. During my last foray among the pages, I found Interesting English by Tony Wright. Tony was at one point working on teacher education programmes in Marjon and is currently retired.
There is something very interesting in the approach of Tony’s book. What the book does is making people stop and think about the language. It is not just simply resource for teachers on how. It also asks why and in what way. It shows influences persons capability and relationship with language.
Apart from tasks that exercise the understanding and mastery of the language, Tony sets ‘thinking’ questions. One of them was especially standing out to me.
‘Is English your friend or foe? Can you explain why?’
I think that this is a profound question that any learner should ask themselves.
I remember when I first started to learn, English was my foe. It was something that my parents forced upon me. Something I saw no point doing, something that had to be endured. And even now, so many years later, I observe adults that treat English as something to be conquered, or as a necessary evil to be accepted. How can anyone learn under those circumstances? Can anyone learn under those circumstances? I think not. Yet the questions about the language are so rarely asked, so rarely taken under the considerations.
Tony’s book can make the reader aware not only of technicalities of English, but also of the human side of the language. He proves, that the separation of the language from the feelings people have towards it, is impossible. The language is not a construct, but a landscape to be explored.
And you? Have you ever asked yourself about your feelings towards the language you speak?

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Memory vs Archives

 

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Paul Tobin strolling down the memory lane

We recently had Paul Tobin again with us, but this time not as a poet, but as a historical source. He donated pictures from his album from the time he was a student here 1980-1983. He was sittig patiently numbering them and adding names to the faces. He would name the place and the event, from a raging party to a RAG week. Two things I would take away from that session:
1. Archives are no match for human memory. We could have records of students, their names, dates of leaving and enrolment. But we wouldn’t have the stories that go with them. We wouldn’t know that the board games were all the rage (a picture of two students in the middle of a heated scrabble game), what a shirtless, strangely posed man was doing (he was a show-off), and what is that strange thing in a corner ( a coffee grinder, that at the time was a must-have of every student- obviously:- ). A picture might be worth a thousand words, but sometimes a picture demands a thousand words. A thousand words the archives are usually unable to keep.
2.Human memory is no substitute for dating and marking. Paul’s memory is very good. He was able to remember dates, faces and names from over thirty years ago. He could remember the details of parties, places, people, and occasions. But even he would occasionally stumble. A great help was then the notes he made thirty years ago, when the pictures and memories were still fresh. It is so much better to get a picture with date, occasion/place and the people’s names written on the back. This way it would never lose its meaning, even if the human memory fails.
I’m not as good with morals as I would like to be or, as a writer, I should be. But archives need people to fill in where paper and pen cannot. And people need archives at the limits of their memories. So maybe it is time to pop into local archives, see what the archives can do for you and what you can do for the archives.

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Digging my Potato

I am back finally. Life gets in the way of archives but the archives are always victorious in the end.:-)
I’ve probably said that before, as a creative writing student I didn’t have any contact with first hand historical sources. And in a way I am still blown away by the sources we have in the archives. I am talking notes and reports that are so old that you can’t say if they were written in a brown ink or it just faded to be that way. It is going page by page minutes of meetings that were held long before you were born. Or chasing the entries in the catalogue that turns out to be defunct. And being a person that is prone to making strange analogies, the archival research seems to me like digging for potatoes.
Sounds crazy I know, but imagine if you will the archives as a field. You know that the ‘potatoes’ are there- the things you want to know, you just need to dig them up. Sometimes you dig and dig and there is nothing. Just random information that you don’t need right now. But just as you are about to give up on this patch- there is a potato. Here is what I dug out recently, all concerning the library/books.

  • The amount that library books cost in 1846, just after St. Marks College was open. It was £60, under ‘extra requirements’.
  • ‘ … books to the value of one pound be presented to college kitchen maid on her departure to Australia, in acknowledgement for her long and faithful services.’
  • In ’45 the library is barely mentioned in the prospectus. I guess it wasn’t deemed as important as it is nowadays.
  • In ‘71-‘72 Librarian Report mentions a significant book donation from British National Book Centre Exchange Scheme and London Institute of Education Library.

All those little potatoes might be used in the project about the history of our library. They may be transformed from loose information into something coherent. In other words, the potatoes are going into a salad.:-)
So next time you read historical book, know that you’re ‘eating potatoes‘ somebody had dug out for you.:-)

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