First World War: Looking beyond the war

Photograph of interior of Swimming Baths, 1914, with swimmers and spectators.
Swimming Baths, 1914

“Some of us had almost forgotten that there ever was such a thing as a bath—those of us, at least, who are beyond the region of its influence. It is a pleasure, therefore, to be reminded of that great achievement in the verses which we publish on another page. They were written in those other days of long ago when the bath was uppermost in our minds; they were of necessity omitted from the last number, because that other matter had taken hold of our minds, and the bath was forgotten, as belonging to the former era; but let us remember that every war has an end ; that no war ought to absorb us to the exclusion of every other matter ; and that the bath will still be a treasure of our School when the war is ancient history, and when we are able to look forward without the deadly oppression of the present encircling us like a nauseous London fog.”

From ‘Bootham’ magazine, March 1915. The school swimming baths had been opened in June 1914.

First World War: March 1915 magazine editorial

“In case anyone should suppose from this that we, from the editorial chair, regard the effects of the war on others, as well as ourselves, with something akin to tolerant cynicism, we would draw attention to the amount of really excellent work that is being done. Halfpenny newspapers may talk about shirkers, and misguided women may distribute white feathers, but for our own part we are genuinely amazed at the way in which everyone, from the greatest to the least, has shouldered the burden, each one taking upon himself that which appeared to him most necessary to be borne. At the moment we would like to draw special attention to the work of the Emergency Committee for the Assistance of Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in Distress (convened by the Religious Society of Friends to aid innocent “Alien Enemies” in Great Britain rendered destitute by the war). It is not easy to find ways for reconstructing human society whilst war is still waging, but there can be no doubt at all that this Committee, which is assisted by several Old Scholars, is counteracting, as far as its scope and its means permit, the spirit of race hatred which has grown so terribly in the last six months. Even those who believe that every member of the German and Austrian Empires comes into the world with a double dose of original sin, if there really are such, must perceive the necessity of showing such benighted people that there is a sense of pity even in Englishmen; moreover, one direct result of the work of this committee has been the starting of a reciprocal committee to guard the distressed men and women of our own country in Germany and Austria-Hungary. But it is not for these reasons alone that we would commend the work; if it did not benefit any Englishman in the eyes of any German it would still be a work of purest Christ-like pity. The vast majority of those whose claims are considered are far less responsible for the present condition than you, O reader ! and than ourselves. Are they all to suffer, the guiltless with the guilty? And are we, then, so guiltless that we are their lawful judges? This, no less than many other things that our fellow Old Scholars are doing in these days, some of them working in secret, so that none of us know it, is a true work of love and of reconciliation. This is the way of hope.”

From ‘Bootham’ magazine, March 1915

First World War: A letter from the trenches from Edmund Walker (Bootham 1903-1906)

We are glad to be able to publish the following letter from Edmund Walker to our beloved Secretary :— “I thought you might be interested to know that at least one copy of BOOTHAM has found its way into the trenches. My brother sent mine on to me here, and I have just spent a very pleasant hour in my ‘dug-out ‘ reading it. It was very interesting to read about the fellows who are working out here in the Ambulance Unit, also the list of other old Bootham boys out here. We have been in the firing line about six weeks, and, although they seem very quiet along the line, we have had plenty of thrills [censored]. It takes some time to get accustomed to the feeling that you can’t show your head without two or three bullets whizzing past it. We have also had a baptism of shells. We had one burst in a room with about thirty men in. It missed me by about two yards.”

From ‘Bootham’ magazine, March 1915

UKAD Forum – 19th March 2015, The National Archives

Last week I attended the UKAD Forum at The National Archives in London. The title of the forum was ‘Born Digital Realities’. It was reassuring to find that lots of organisations are all looking for solutions to similar issues around getting digital material, cataloging and providing access. Below are my notes, in case others working in archives can take anything useful from them.

Building The National Archives ‘Discovery’: born digital realities (The National Archives)
1. Building processes to appraise, catalogue and make digital material accessible
a. How do we manage sensitivity review at scale – e.g. identifying material that needs to remain closed for data protection reasons?
b. What metadata is required?
c. Do we need lots and lots of levels when arranging, or is usability enhanced by flattening the hierarchy to an extent and retaining the provenance trail by showing the file structure in the description?
d. The National Archives are describing everything to item level. Is there a way of doing this on a lower level of resources?
e. How can I ensure that where material is accessible to the public, it is searchable and easy to use? How can I incorporate the searching of digital material text into catalogue searches on my catalogue?
Archivist and Donor –deposit and transfer (Christopher Hilton, Wellcome Library and Simon Wilson, Hull History Centre)
2. Question of ‘who owns the stuff’!
a. Issue of donors also giving copies to other institutions
b. Need for clarity about intellectual property rights
3. Fears by donors about whether information can end up online when they weren’t expecting it – need for clarity and trust over the process, how access works, how it can be limited.
4. Useful to find a few supportive people/groups to use as a pilot
5. It’s helpful if the methods of getting digital material from organisations have a mimimal impact on how the organisation works, otherwise no one will get round to it!
Archivist and User: access and reuse (Fran Baker and Caroline Martin, University of Manchester Library)
6. Dealing with email collections – library tried this with one organisation they were already getting material from.
7. University of Manchester Library sampled their ‘designated community’ to look at access, e.g. asking whether researchers wanted traditional finding aids. The ability to search and filter was important.
8. Are there alternative ways of displaying information, particularly large quantities of data, and creating ways for researchers to find what they need and to see connections – visualisations, network graphs etc – see Stamford projects (MUSE and ePADD)?
Lightning Thoughts
9. Challenge of getting balance right so that search results are not swamped by digital material results, in effect hiding paper material.
10. How do you decide whether to collect something in paper or digital format? What is deemed the definitive version by the creator? Having a digital version may increase what can be done with the item later on, or at least make it easier.
Syncronising born-digital metadata (Christopher Hilton, Wellcome Library and Christopher Fryer, Parliamentary Archives)
11. Both organisations linked catalogue software to their DCMS.
12. Additional catalogue fields were created (file path, date created, date last modified, preservica ref, file type, URL). Extra fields were added on a pragmatic basis.
13. Issue of how to describe extent in a way that is useful to the end user – just including number of kb may not be all that useful!
14. Try to set up workflows first, and automate where possible. Investing the time initially will help later.
15. May be useful to include something in the notes to indicate to users where a description has been automatically generated.
16. Should you change file names to something more helpful to the end user, and where do you record the original file name?
17. Aim is to integrate digital and paper collection information, so that the end user interacts with the same system for everything, regardless of format.
Spotlight on the Digital (Karen Colbron, JISC)
18. Digitised collections are often hard to find.
19. Users are typically looking for item level.
20. JISC report – ‘Improving discoverability of digitised collections…’
21. Avoid silos
22. JISC guide – ‘Make your digital resources easier to discover’.
Final Thoughts
23. The record keeping system is a whole – it is possible to rework how elements fit together within that system, and we should be thinking critically about what we do.
My Planned Actions
• Join UKAD community
• Look at process of cataloguing digital material – do I need to create extra fields, how might users search for material, how can I make the process more efficient? Is it feasible to catalogue to item level, at least with very basic information?
• Read JISC reports on making digitised collections easier to discover

Solar Eclipse

As it’s the eclipse this week, I found two accounts of the solar eclipse of June 29th 1927 in ‘Bootham’ magazine.

Two boys travelled to Giggleswick, partly because a group of astronomers from Greenwich Observatory would be there – they were “lucky enough to be able to help the Astronomer Royal’s party to move their camera”. There were quite a few clouds, but the clouds parted with two minutes to spare. “Suddenly the darkness swept over us, and as we turned towards the sun we saw the black disc surrounded by the corona, which was shown up like ‘bright metal on a sullen ground’ by the dark blue sky behind it. All our instructions were forgotten in that wonderful moment. Ignoring all scientific details, we just gazed at the beauty of the corona, until the rim of beads flashed out a bright white, telling us that totality was over. O.C.R.”

Another group got up at 2am and travelled to Wensleydale, to view the eclipse from Middleham Moor. They weren’t as lucky as the Giggleswick group – they saw glimpses of a partial eclipse, but clouds hid the sun at the moment of totality. “The moor was crowded with spectators, but all was quiet during those twenty seconds; then the light swept across the countryside, and conversation started again. A few minutes later a rift appeared in the clouds and we saw again the partially eclipsed sun…. K.F.N.”

Memories from the Archives – Part 2

In January I did a talk as part of the Thursday lunchtime recital room series. It was entitled ‘Memories from the Archives’ and I talked about a number of memories from Old Scholars. I’ll share the photographs and text from the talk in several parts on the blog. Read Part 1 here.

George Scarr Watson (1842-1929; Bootham 1853-58). Photograph from 1866 John Ford Memorial.
George Scarr Watson (1842-1929; Bootham 1853-58)
Photograph from 1866 John Ford Memorial

George Scarr Watson wrote some reminiscences for the Sheffield branch of the Old Scholars Association, which were then reprinted in Bootham magazine in 1908, fifty years after he left school.

In the article he remembers music (or lack of it), sleep, and columns.

“The bare rooms of my day, cold, and destitute of sinful ornament, knew only the voice and the restrictions of the plain Friend. No music soothed our savage breasts save the siren strains of the Jews’ harp, and that was only tolerated for its Biblical associations. Now, I am told, string bands call up the ghosts of protesting broad brims and coal-scuttle bonnets, or would do if the sacrificial fire of a few years ago had not exorcised them and initiated a new era. Laughter and shouts are perennial, and we could do as well as our successors; we could sing too, in a way, but surreptitiously. Our choral song at 10pm one night was loud and without the refinement of a trained chorus, but the teacher who heard us need not have said he thought at first it was a party of drunken revellers returning home from their carouse.” It wasn’t until 1882 that the Committee gave the Headmaster permission to hire a piano, to be used only for practice during leisure time.

He goes on to outline his day, starting with the “wakening sound of the horrid startling bell – they always, as the little boy said, send you to bed when you are not sleepy, and make you get up when you are.” Staying in bed too late earned you columns. He says “Ten minutes’ work at twelve words per minute equals one hundred and twenty words: three syllable words extracted from Butter’s spelling book, beginning with ‘ abrogate, absolute, adamant, admiral, affable, aggravate’ (I know them still), and written on a slate.” Apparently one of the other boys at school at the time got into trouble so many times that he became very proficient, so was given a section of Virgil to be learnt instead.

Often those writing about their education expressed views about how good (or not) their style of education was, and what they thought a good education should look like. These are George’s suggested seven principles of education (his alternative to the seven arts and sciences of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music).

1.The formation of character
2.The formation of character
3.The formation of character
4.The training of the mind to think
5.The training of the mind to think
6.The training of the mind to think
7.The acquisition of a few facts.

First World War: Dunkirk Ambulance Unit Appeal

DEAR MR. EDITOR,—The response to an appeal for help from friends of the School for the Ambulance Unit at Dunkirk has been most generous. We have sent nearly 5,000 articles of clothing and blankets, etc., from Bootham, and £300 has come in cheques to be spent as necessities arise. May I take this opportunity of again thanking all those who so kindly and readily sent assistance urgently needed? With the rapid extension of hospital work the wants of the Ambulance continue to be great.

Yours sincerely, ELLEN H. ROWNTREE.

From ‘Bootham’ March 1915

First World War: Football matches

“Football during the past winter has naturally felt the effects of the war. Indeed, we were lucky in being able to obtain any recreation of the kind during such a national crisis. We decided unanimously to give up two afternoons a week to ambulance drill, and not a few thought that the variety thus introduced was good for our general condition, and that practices were keener than usual. Naturally, a large number of our football matches with men’s teams were cancelled, but football was continued with unabated vigour, and as a result the boys’ matches showed considerably better results than the previous term; nevertheless, some very good matches were lost.”

From Bootham magazine, account of Spring Term 1915 in June 1915 edition