I had a great idea recently. Because we often have requests to find information on somebody that at one point was in Marjon, as a student or otherwise, I decided to create a little project. Normally, when such request comes in, we have to scour the materials in search of that person. That means digging through registers, year books and other assorted material. One day I had this great idea to put all the names in a small database, so if a request comes, we at least have a rough idea where to find them. Big mistake. I started with the earliest register we have, one from Battersea Training School. This dusty old tome contains around 1400 names alone. Written in scribbles. Yeah, you already know where this is going. I managed to do about thirty before I had to stop. On one hand, I’m pretty sure this qualifies as a cruel and unusual punishment. On the other hand, this database would be a great help and save a lot of time. Decisions, decisions…
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We interrupt our planned schedule to point to you the arrival of the St. Mark’s day. In the ages past, this was a widely celebrated event in our University. The festivities would start at 10am and go on untill late. It was a tradition that was not interrupted even by the WWI, when the building itself was requisitioned for a military hospital. Sadly, what war couldn’t destroy the sharp tooth of time had consumed. Today you wouldn’t even know that there is something o celebrate.I know that technically it’s a celebration Christian in origin. But would anyone be offended if we wanted to celebrate our school? I know I wouldn’t. So hey, powers-that-be, make it happen. Bring back the celebrations of St. Mark’s Day.
Filing. Nobody ever wants to do filing. After the research is done, paper written, the exhibition goes down from the cases. When it’s all said and done, there is filing. I guess it’s like a cooking and eating a meal. And the person drawing a short straw is going to wash the dishes. In the archives, the doubtful honour falls to the archivists, or rather to anyone the archivist has under their command. That is usually interns or/and volunteers. And at our archives that would be me:-).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. But some books had to go back on the shelves this past week and I was the one climbing the shelves. There is an unexpected side effect to the filling stuff and putting them back in their original places. The effect is that you sometimes find things. I especially like to write about unexpected things. So for the next couple of posts I’ll be catching some waves. Ahoy!:-)
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?
Sorry, no post this week. I’ve dropped the ball being involved in a special project. I promise to tell all about it later.
Tolstoy is the writer that I have a complicated relationship with. On the one hand I can’t deny his importance and influence; his books survived the test of time and are still being read after all that time. On the other hand, he was the only man that put me to sleep with his book (okay, that sounded better in my head:-).
In 1861, Tolstoy came to visit Marjon. This visit went almost completely forgotten and undocumented. At that time he was still completely unknown, so we could assumed that for the teachers and students of Marjon he was just another random visitor, a foreigner at that, wishing to see the college and the Practising School attached. Ten years later and we would have a couple accounts and maybe even a photo from the day the famous Russian writer came around. But that was before he gained his fame. At the time, Tolstoy was on a mission to reform education in Russia and, like Shuttleworth, he went around the Europe visiting schools to see how things can be (or should not be) done.
There is one thing I still don’t understand. Apparently, at each school he visited he would request pupils to write short essay for him. You can read the essays the students of the Practising School wrote for him in the book ‘Tolstoy in London’ by Victor Lucas. The essays are full of the simplicity of a young boys’ life- who hit who and who won at marbles. But for some reason Tolstoy needed those as he would collect and take them away with him. Why would he need those? What would he use the essays for? Wouldn’t be more useful to him to make notes and grill the teachers about their methods? This is the Tolstoy secret. If you dear reader, see a method to this madness, please tell me. I really would like to know.
Stephen Southwold, aka Neil Bell-one of our alumni that made career of being a novelist. But this one is special to me and it will soon be clear to you why.
He had no stomach for the Marjon as it was in 1905-1907. The stern discipline and the monastic isolation was hard on him and who can blame a creative soul to rebel against that? Yet he apparently did pretty well, especially in French.
He is one of those writers that were quite prolific in their time, but now fell into obscurity. And I don’t mean one that can be bought 10p a dozen. I am talking worldofrarebooks.com obscure with ebay only having his collection of stories circulating among hardened bibliophiles. And it is a shame, as he was writing a lot and in variety of genres, including fantasy, speculative- and science-fiction, all at the time where these genres were just being developed. It would be good to see his name next to Gernsback, Campbell, Zamyatin and Čapek. And I’m stopping right there before you’d get a lecture on the history of SF that you never asked for.:-)
What we have of him, next to one of his (now rare) books, are the letters he wrote to one of his friends. There is something very personal about letters, even when they are not addressed to you. It feels like this man, dead for so many years, still speaks to you somehow.
He writes a lot about his creative process and the issues around the world of publishing of his time.How he tried to gather material for a war book, but only rumours so he can write a speculative account of a war that did not happen yet. He writes about troubles with his publisher, saying that he was the only person that didn’t like his new book and how the epistolary novel fell out of favour yet again. Or how he seems to have a quirky fondness for the name ‘Esteban’ naming thus another of his characters. I wish I had read his letters when I was still a creative writing student, plenty of good research material there.
So Stephen, Mr Sci-Fi Writer from the past, do you have anything else to say to your colleague from the present?
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.:-)
Due to the fact that I felt like a vampire squid for the most of this week(look them up, they can turn themselves inside out!) there will not be a regular post. Instead, here is a picture from one of Marjon publications, commenting on the mixed styles of the buildings on the campus:
I was thinking long and hard about todays’ post. I was thinking if I can really ‘do justice’ to somebody that archived much in his life, yet still is mostly unknown. I probably can’t. This is internet, ‘TL;DR’ is the way of the reader around here. But what I can is at least mention him, so you can go out looking and find out what can you learn from Michael Roberts
He hung around Auden and Elliot and published his poems in a few collections, edited and co-authored books. He was a true blue poet, yet he made his career as an educator. Some thought that this is a mistake that being a teacher would kill his poetic spirit. Not so. He was good at what he did. Roberts was bit controversial at the time. See, he had this wild idea to make people think, rather than to repeat ideas. That made him a bit suspect in the eyes of orthodox teachers.
He was a principal of Marjon, even that it was only for a short time (1945-48), he had the thankless job to make Marjon a school again. After the war, when the war hospital finally moved out, the Marjon ‘…building was in poor state, the library mouldy, the furniture gone, the grounds a wasteland.’ Imagine you get that and a task to make it a place of education. But he did it.
As for me, I see him as an ‘updated’ Shuttleworth. Like him, Roberts was all for making the education a tool to combat poverty. But he went a step beyond, he saw the education as a tool for social equality, ‘…the integration of the whole people into a living cultural tradition.’ He understood how the ability to think and reflect is connected to solitude and self-reflection-you can’t learn in an overcrowded home with no space just for yourself.
My tutor once said that history is not only facts and dates, but also a relationship with the people who went before us. I might not have ‘done justice’ to Michael Roberts, but I feel richer by knowing him.