Templeman Library Closure: SC&A digital resources

In light of recent Government announcements, the Templeman Library closed at 5pm on Tuesday 24th March and will remain so until further notice. This includes Special Collections & Archives; our team is working remotely away from campus.

The Templeman Library is closed from 5pm on Tuesday 24th March until further notice.

The Templeman Library is closed from 5pm on Tuesday 24th March until further notice.

Our Reading Room may be closed, but many of our collections can still be accessed remotely! Here’s a list that we’ll keep updating throughout this period, curated in roughly alphabetical order:

  • Our archive catalogue contains details of the collections we hold along with images for some collections
  • The British Cartoon Archive’s catalogue has thousands of images of artwork along with publication details – click on the image in the record to view it full screen
  • Some of the Buffs (Royal East Kent regiment) collection – namely the ‘Dragon’ journal – is available to view through LibrarySearch. This includes the Dragon’s issues from the First World War.
  • If you’re interested in Local History, we have many images of mills from Kent (and beyond) for your perusal
  • The wonderful Prescriptions: Artists’ Books collection has been catalogued through LibrarySearch and there are images of every item we hold
  • Our next Templeman Gallery exhibition, Printworks, will be explored in this blog over the next few weeks so you don’t miss out

If you’d like to access any other material digitally – or have any other queries – please do get in touch with us. We hope you’re all safe and well and look forward to welcoming you back to the Library soon.



Women and Girls in Science: Mary Anne Atwood, alchemical thinker and spiritualist

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To commemorate this occasion, we’re going to delve back into our Maddison collection to see how women have been involved in sciences from the very beginning. Today let’s take a look at Mary Anne Atwood, who was afraid she had revealed one scientific secret too many…

Photograph of alchemical researcher Mary Anne Atwood, undated.

Photograph of alchemical researcher Mary Anne Atwood, undated.

Who was she? Born in Dieppe in 1817, Mary Anne Atwood (nee South) grew up surrounded by her father’s books in Gosport, Hampshire. Like many women of the era Mary Anne received no formal education but learnt Latin, Greek, and the classics at home. Encouraged by her father Thomas South she joined a circle of theosophists; a religious group who believed that spiritual knowledge was held in a group of individuals known as the Masters. It was this circle that sparked her research in alchemy.

What did she write? In 1846 Mary Anne and her father released a book detailing their thoughts and research so far: Early Magnetism in its Higher Relations to Humanity as Veiled in the Poets and the Prophets, under the pseudonym Thuos Mathos. The work was well received and the praise encouraged the Souths to begin a much bigger project: a full explanation of the purpose and methods of the alchemical process.

What is alchemy anyway? Today, we know alchemy as the discipline of trying to turn lead into gold, practised between the 16th and 18th centuries. However during the 19th century, as it became more widely recognised that this was not possible, alchemy as a discipline took on a more spiritual slant. Researchers began to examine the relationship of mankind – and the soul – to the wider cosmos, exploring if it was possible to refine the soul away from the influences of the external world and society back to a state it would have been in when God created it. This branch of alchemy is known as Hermetism (or Hermetic writings) and it is this that Mary Anne Atwood and her father were interested in, rather than the Philosopher’s Stone story we know from J.K. Rowling’s world today.

Contents page of Atwood's work ' A suggestive inquiry into the hermetic mystery : with a dissertation on the more celebratedof the alchemical philosophers, being an attempt towards the recovery of the ancient experiment of nature'

Contents page of Atwood’s work ‘ A suggestive inquiry into the hermetic mystery : with a dissertation on the more celebratedof the alchemical philosophers, being an attempt towards the recovery of the ancient experiment of nature’. Long title, fascinating book.

Why has she not become more famous? In 1850, Mary Anne published A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery which was the culmination of years of research into spiritual alchemy. The work was supposed to be published alongside a poem written by her father, The Enigma of Alchemy. When A Suggestive Inquiry… was published it had not been read (or edited) by Thomas South, and shortly after its release to the world the Souths decided it was not fit for sale and withdrew the book along with most existing copies (to the ire of their publisher). The reasons for this withdrawal are twofold. Firstly (and most importantly) Mary Anne and her father believed that they had explicitly written about secrets that should have stayed hidden within allegorical texts, and that this knowledge could be dangerous if in the wrong hands. Secondly there is a suggestion that Thomas South became more devoutly religious between the writing of the texts and that this prompted a change of heart about the matter.

Following A Suggestive Inquiry…‘s withdrawal, Mary Anne retreated from alchemical society. In 1859 she married Reverend Alban Thomas Atwood and lived a very quiet life in Yorkshire. After her husband’s death in 1883, there is some evidence that Mary Anne was approached about a possible reprint of A Suggestive Inquiry… and whilst she did not wish to see it in print again – for fear of it being reproduced and sold without her consent – she gave a few copies to friends and made some minor amendments to the text itself before her death in 1910.

Why is she important? A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery is the first work that gives a comprehensive insight into alchemy as a discipline, and consequently Mary Anne’s work is vital for establishing this particular area of historical scientific research. In 1918 it was republished by Mary Anne’s friend, the painter and thinker Isabelle de Steiger, for the first time since it was withdrawn from sale in 1850.

Title page of the new 1918 edition of Atwood's work 'A Suggestive Inquiry...'

Title page of the new 1918 edition of Atwood’s work ‘A Suggestive Inquiry…’

Freemason Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, who wrote an extensive introduction in the new edition, suggested that the societal and spiritual impact of the First World War led to increased interest in alchemy and Hermetic writings: 

“It was not, I think, the destiny of such a treatise as this to perish at its birth, but rather, when the time should be more ripe for it, to re-emerge from its obscurity and assert that influence which its great merits are capable of exercising. With that clear, sure prophetic vision with which its writer…penetrated the tendencies of modern world movements and conditions, she discerned the impending catastrophe to human society and institutions through which we are now passing.” (p.64)

The copy of Mary Anne’s work we hold is the 1918 edition, which contains additional quotes by the writer. It was collected by the writer and librarian R.E.W. Maddison for his ongoing collection of books relating to the history of chemistry and physics, within which there are many books about alchemy. Whilst the language of Hermetism appears somewhat obtuse by today’s standards, Atwood’s work is a fascinating summary of alchemical studies – and a solid testimony that there are many ways to discover the world beyond traditional education.

Bibliography and further reading:

Mary Anne Atwood, A suggestive inquiry into the hermetic mystery : with a dissertation on the more celebrated of the alchemical philosophers, being an attempt towards the recovery of the ancient experiment of nature. William Tait, 1918. University of Kent Special Collections & Archives: Maddison Collection 19A15.

R.A. Gilbert,  ‘Atwood [née South], Mary Anne’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. DOI: https://doi-org.chain.kent.ac.uk/10.1093/ref:odnb/53866

Robert P. Multhauf and R.A. Gilbert, ‘Alchemy’, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2019: https://www.britannica.com/topic/alchemy.

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island holds the majority of material by Mary Anne Atwood in its Special Collections department.

As ever, more information about the Maddison collection and visiting us can be found on our website.

SC&A Highlights: 2019 edition

As once again we enter the season of festive goodwill and sparkling lights, the SC&A team are preparing for the winter break and the new decade – but not without a good look back at our favourite memories of the year. As ever, we’ve asked everyone across our team for their highlights and they’re curated for you below:

Karen (Special Collections & Archives Manager): “It’s hard to believe we have reached the end of 2019 already. This year has been a whirlwind of exciting activity in Special Collections & Archives (SC&A).  In March we welcomed our new project archivist Beth, who has joined the team to help develop our latest archive. See Beth’s post below to read more about it. We said to goodbye to Elspeth, our Digital Archivist, in September and welcomed Clair to the team soon after.

Pantomime, music hall and stand-up comedy all in one blog!

Pantomime, music hall and stand-up comedy all in one blog!

The Templeman Gallery space has hosted some amazing exhibitions throughout the year. In May we worked with Olly Double to mount ‘Alternative Comedy Now’, an exhibition celebrating 40 years since the arrival of alternative comedy. We displayed some fabulous items from the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. ‘Keep Smiling Through: Humour and the Second World War’ was an exhibition showcasing items from the British Cartoon Archive. It certainly kept visitors entertained. We are ending the year with a double exhibition showcasing material created from projects we were involved with. Firstly ‘Diaries of the Here and Now’ in which people were asked to create a diary of the 11th November 2018, 100 years after the end of the First World War. Secondly we have’ Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas’ created as part of the 50th anniversary since Gulbenkian was opened – see Tom’s post below. They will be up until the end of January 2020 so do pop in and have a look if you are passing.

We’ve made lots of new friends this year – including our four bursary interns and a whole host of new volunteers. The involvement of all these people really does help us to progress the work on our collections and enables us to make even more of our material available to our users. Clair and I attended the Comic Forum in Leeds, taking items from our cartoon collection to their market place event. This has led to some new links with other Universities and we hope to share more about this next year.

Clair (Digital Archivist): “2019 has been the year that I had the fantastic opportunity and privilege of joining the Special Collections & Archives team on a permanent basis.

Personally it’s been a bit of a whirlwind year, with lots of professional development alongside new challenges and exciting opportunities. One particular highlight for me was our Hands-on History event in June. This event saw us welcoming ten volunteers in to special Collections for a two week period to learn some archives and cataloguing skills, and to work on the Max Tyler Music Hall collection.

Volunteers are examining documents from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room

Volunteers working on our Music Hall collection

The first week focussed on the team sharing expertise and experiences with the volunteers in the form of presentations and workshops, whilst the second week was very much hands-on with the volunteers cleaning, repackaging and describing materials from the collection. This included music hall ephemera such as posters and programmes, Max’s research notes, photographs, musical and lyrical songsheets, audio cassettes and even Max’s suit and straw hat!

It was a really positive and productive week with the volunteers producing a total of 291 catalogue records, which is a testament to how dedicated and proactive the group was. It was an absolute pleasure to have them working with us, and we’re lucky enough to still have some of the group volunteering with us on an ongoing basis.

Another exciting project that I’ve been involved with this year is the return of the Beaverbrook Cartoon Collection to the University of Kent.

The Beaverbrook Foundation logo

This cartoon collection holds what is widely regarded as some of the most important British political cartoons from the twentieth century. It features work by artists David Low, Victor Weisz (‘Vicky’), Michael Cummings and Sidney Strube.

Selection of political cartoons found in the Beaverbrook Collection

Selection of cartoons found in the Beaverbrook Collection

The collection has been beautifully repackaged by the Beaverbrook Foundation and they have now loaned the artworks back to us so that they can be made available for teaching and research. Although the artwork can already be found on our British Cartoon Archive catalogue, we will be re-digitising the entire collection during 2020 to a high archival standard.

It’s a really exciting time for the Special Collections team with lots of exciting projects in the pipeline… I can’t wait to get stuck in in 2020!!!”

Jennie (Library Assistant, Digital Curation & Metadata): “This year I’ve really enjoyed working to add two collections to our catalogue – the Max Tyler Collection and the Peter Baldwin Collection.

One of the toy theatres in the Peter Baldwin collection undergoing preservation

One of the toy theatres in the Peter Baldwin collection undergoing preservation

Both archives are related to theatre, albeit toy theatres in the case of Peter Baldwin! I’m looking forward to our first request for these items to be brought up to the reading room for consultation – especially some of the scenery and figures for Peter Baldwin’s toy theatres. Describing them for the catalogue has been a bit of a challenge, but it is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy and I’m sure that 2020 will bring even more of it!”

Jo (Senior Library Assistant, Special Collections & Archives): “Since September 2018 we’ve been working regularly with sixth form students at Simon Langton Boys School. Under the supervision of their History teachers they’ve been coming up weekly to research the life of Hewlett Johnson, better known as the ‘Red Dean’ of Canterbury Cathedral due to his socialist views. As Hewlett was Dean from 1931 – 1963 he was well connected with hugely influential political figures and thus his archive is a fantastic snapshot of 20th century society.

Dean Hewlett Johnson smiling whilst holding a telephone; one of his published books is beside him.

Dean Hewlett Johnson

It’s been a real joy to see students develop their archival research skills across the year – many of the 2018/2019 cohort are now applying to read History at university which has in part been decided by their visiting us. The 2019/2020 cohort, having completed a training day about how to use archives, are now fully immersing themselves in the collection and are asking so many great questions along the way.

Artwork by Carl Giles for the Ministry of Information film 'The Grenade'

Artwork by Carl Giles for the Ministry of Information film ‘The Grenade’

My other highlight of the year was working with our two wonderful interns, Thomas and Nicola, to develop an exhibition exploring humour and the Second World War. This was a great chance to explore our British Cartoon Archive in a lot of depth; Thomas and Nicola established some great themes which allowed the exhibition to discuss political cartooning trends from 1914 to the present day. My favourite part of the exhibition was how Alex, our Digitisation Assistant, transferred two animations from VHS onto DVD: the films were created by cartoonist Carl Giles for the Ministry of Information during the war. They’re really funny sequences and added a lot of atmosphere to the exhibition.”

Beth (Project Archivist for the UK Philanthropy Archive): “The UK Philanthropy Archive is a new project to identify, collect and preserve archives that record the activities of philanthropists, philanthropic trusts and foundations, networks and other related organisations. These archives are important and are an essential component in supporting research in the history and current practice of UK philanthropy and charitable giving. Our aim is that the material in the archive will represent the history, experiences and perspectives of philanthropists, trusts and foundations and their impact on the UK and globally, and will form an important and well-used research resource, and a tool for engaging more people in philanthropy.

Beth and Dame Stephanie passing on the first items from the Shirley Foundation Collection

Beth and Dame Stephanie passing on the first items from the Shirley Foundation Collection

We are fortunate to be supported in this project by Dame Stephanie Shirley and the Shirley Foundation – the papers of which also form our founding collection. Dame Stephanie is a tech entrepreneur and philanthropist who focussed her giving on women in tech, IT projects, and autism research and education. One of the highlights of the year was our first trip to meet Dame Stephanie and talk about her collection. This was quickly followed by receiving the first deposit of material including the project files with details of all the projects supported by the Shirley Foundation over its lifetime. This collection is now being catalogued and should be available for research early in 2020. We are also fortunate to have the philanthropic papers of Amanda Sebestyen, a journalist, activist and feminist interested in human rights, women and social justice. This interesting collection is also being catalogued ready for 2020.  In the first year of the project we have been focussing on planning and developing contacts to encourage new donations – and we are delighted that this is now bearing fruit with negotiations underway with several trusts and foundations about their archives. Watch this space for more about this in the new year!

Some of the items in the Shirley Foundation archives

Some of the items in the Shirley Foundation archives

We have planned a seminar event about archives on philanthropy to mark the end of the first year of the project and to officially launch the UK Philanthropy Archive. This will be followed by a wine reception and our inaugural Shirley Lecture – to be delivered by Dame Stephanie Shirley. This will be a fantastic event on Wednesday 11th March and we are really  looking forward to welcoming people to the library to learn more about archives, philanthropy, and the life experiences of Dame Stephanie.

Another highlight for the project has been in developing our approach to collecting to ensure that the UK Philanthropy Archive reflects the variety and diversity of the philanthropy sector as a whole – including both the activities and perspectives of philanthropists and grant-givers, but also the impact that funding has had on grant recipients. We believe that collecting the records of some of the organisations and initiatives that have been supported by philanthropists represented in our collections will provide a more comprehensive picture of grant funding and philanthropic practice in the UK. We are very excited by the possibilities of this approach and we look forward to seeing how the collections develop as a result.

It has been a fantastic experience working in Special Collections & Archives so far – the collections are brilliant and have so much potential, the special collections team are wonderful and supportive – and I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings.”

Rachel (Liaison Librarian for the Arts and Humanities): “I was involved in the Hands on History event in June and talked about finding aids and online resources with a particular focus on the Gale Newsvault.

My daughter came to the library for her school Year 9 Welcome to Work Day in October and gained a valuable insight into the work we do as well as into the world of work. She particularly enjoyed her introduction to Special Collections and Archives.

Special Collections and Archives supported an ‘ArtsBites’ event in the library in November celebrating the academic output of the School of Arts, with a bookpod and accompanying talk by Dr Sophie Quirk, a drama lecturer in School of Arts.

Poster, 1980. Originally a venue, The Comic Strip collective quickly embarked on a national tour, released an LP and produced TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…”

Materials from the Stand-Up Comedy Archive were displayed alongside the bookpod and talk ‘Why Stand-Up Matters: Comedy and its Politics’ .”

Tom (University Archivist): “My highlight of 2019 was working with the Gulbenkian to help celebrate their 50th anniversary with their National Lottery Heritage Fund project ‘Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas’. This saw us delivering a number of workshops using the University and Gulbenkian archives to help set the context for the establishment of the Gulbenkian and focusing on its place in the new university and the radical student politics of the time. Groups from the various youth groups of the Gulbenkian came to look at architectural plans, production files and posters, photographs, prospectuses and student publications and newspapers amongst other archive items. It was great to have a younger audience using our collections and to see how they responded to the archives. In addition to the workshops, the project generated an exhibition curated by ART31 and displayed Colyer-Fergusson, Beaney House of Art and Knowledge and the Templeman Gallery. We also recruited a team of volunteers and an intern to help repackage and enhance the catalogue records for the production files from the Gulbenkian collection (by the end of the project the first 20 years will be completed), improving the accessibility and ensuring the preservation of this collection.

Youth groups exploring the Gulbenkian archive

Youth groups exploring the Gulbenkian archive

One of the most exciting things about the project was that it generated new content for the Gulbenkian Archive, including oral histories with Kent staff and alumni from the late 1960s and early 1970s on their memories of the early years of the Gulbenkian. It also resulted in a zine containing original creative writing inspired by the collections, a copy of which will in turn become part of the archive.”

Zine from the Radical Roots project

Zine from the Radical Roots project

See this blog post for more on the Gulbenkian at 50: https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/specialcollections/2019/12/11/radical-roots-and-dangerous-ideas-archives-and-gulbenkians-heritage/

Alex (Digital Imaging Assistant): “The year 2019 began with a rescue mission – a collection of VHS Videotapes donated to the University by the late comedian and activist: Jeremy Hardy. To ensure that the British Stand Up Comedy Archive had digital copies of this material before the magnetic VHS tapes suffered any further deterioration I duplicated the relevant content to digital file.

Jeremy Hardy

Jeremy Hardy

Jeremy Hardy

Jeremy Hardy

Amongst the various sketches and stand up sets was a (possibly unique) American recording of a fresh faced Jeremy at the famous New York comedy club; “Carolines”.

From Spring 2019 I began work on archival digitisation of the more than 800 analogue recordings of Open Lectures given at the University over the past 50 years. These recordings feature many well know speakers and experts in their field. I have already unearthed many highlights in these recordings. Topics have included the truth behind the “Bridge over the river Kwai” myth by a soldier who lived through the experience and “Stonehenge Decoded” by a noted archaeoastronomer.

Our audiovisual digitisation equipment

Our audiovisual digitisation equipment

From the content I’ve digitised so far I’m sure that there will be many more gems as I work my way through this collection in 2020!”

On behalf of the whole SC&A team, we hope you have a lovely Christmas break and we’ll see you in 2020! The Reading Room reopens on Monday 13th January.

Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas: Archives and Gulbenkian’s Heritage

Guest blog from Barbican archivists Matthew Harle and Thomas Overton.

Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas, a youth-led project responding creatively to the archives of the Gulbenkian Theatre at the University of Kent at Canterbury, took place at a doubly exciting time. It was not only the Gulbenkian’s 50th anniversary, but a moment at which our participants were thinking differently about archives, authority and protest  in the era of social media and the internet.

The University of Canterbury at Kent (UKC) was founded in 1965 as one of a group of institutions which sought to broaden access to higher education to a growing population of young people. This was the Baby Boomer generation: the children of those who had returned from the Second World War.  In contrast to the typically red brick of the universities built in the Victorian era, or the medieval ‘dreaming spires’ of those built long before, the University of Kent at Canterbury was among those known as plate glass universities. This name referred to their modern architecture and design – the glass, concrete and steel which sprang up on the site of this old farm on the edge of the ancient cathedral city of Canterbury.

View of Rutherford College in 1968, the second college at Kent to be constructed.

Building continued in phases as the university expanded in its scope and facilities, accepting its first cohort of undergraduate students in 1965. During their first three years at the University, this group would see both the campus and student culture grow around them. By the time they graduated in 1968, there were three colleges, a university Library, the poet W.H. Auden had delivered the first TS Eliot lectures, and a new student magazine FUSS had been established. 1968 is remembered for a turn in youth culture across the Western world; the May student rebellion in Paris sparked a year of global struggle for progress which was fought on many fronts. From the US Civil Rights Movement to protest against the Vietnam War, and the groundswell of support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, messages of protest spread through the mass media whipped up activism and solidarity across students bodies round the world.

Kent was no different, with an active and vocal student culture that assembled in a group of 1500 in the centre of Canterbury to protest Apartheid in South Africa. Sit-Ins, demonstrations and meetings continued on-campus, organised by a busy set of societies and reading groups. To mark the 50th anniversary, Gulbenkian’s young filmmakers group SCREEN 31 spoke to some former staff and students who recounted political and cultural activities from the late 60s-early 70s. (These ‘oral histories’ are now available in the University of Kent Special Collections and Archives.) In just three years, Kent, like some of its fellow  Plate Glass universities, such as Sussex, East Anglia and Essex, had grown into one of the most progressive student cultures in the country.

Kent students at a protest in support of Biafra, April 1969

A year and a month after May ’68, a theatre and arts centre, the Gulbenkian, opened up on the University campus. It takes its name from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which contributed £35,500 to the overall costs of around £54,000. Inspiration came from Leicester’s Phoenix Theatre, which was opened in 1963, and renamed the Sue Townsend theatre in 2014. The committee in charge of the Gulbenkian hoped to demonstrate ‘the possibilities of low-cost theatre building for universities’, hosting a varied programme for students and the general public.

Gulbenkian Theatre under construction, 1968

The first production, The Exploding Dream by playwright Richard Drain responded to the revolutionary atmosphere on campus by re-imagining the story of Guy Fawkes. Drain’s avant-garde re-telling of the Gunpowder Plot had been chosen by the Gulbenkian’s young Director, Mike Lucas, as an attempt to shake up the Canterbury establishment and bring the radical tendencies of the University’s students to the local community. The play contained full-frontal male nudity and dialogue calculated to shock the local press. The Gulbenkian had made a name for itself in its opening performance, though later productions were more conservative.

In Radical Roots, we were interested in how the Gulbenkian and University’s past spoke to young people half a century on. What does it actually mean to be ‘radical’?  Were their forebears more or less ‘radical’ than they were? Many of the struggles engaged with by students and artists of the 1960s seem almost obvious to young people today: from gender and racial equality, LGBTQ rights, to democratising our experience of culture and exploring marginalised social voices in the arts and media. Yet, only days before the project began, several of the students had picketed their schools on climate strike, or travelled up to London to protest Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain. Rather than feeling that the struggles of the 1960s were remote and to be taken for granted, the participants responded to the energy spread among the letters, magazines and ephemera they discovered in the archive. Their own interpretation and responses have since been absorbed into Kent’s collections — awaiting re-discovery by the next generation.

Gulbenkian Theatre in the 1980s

World Digital Preservation Day 2019

Thursday 7th November is World Digital Preservation Day, an initiative launched by the Digital Preservation Coalition in 2017 with the aim to “create greater awareness of digital preservation that will translate into a wider understanding which permeates all aspects of society”.

Digital preservation in simple terms can be defined as a series of activities that are carried out in order to ensure objects (such as datasets, analogue and digital audio/video, images, text documents, etc) remain accessible and usable now and in future.

To celebrate this year we’ve decided to focus on the work we’ve been doing with the University Archive’s Open Lectures collection.

The Open Lectures were an early initiative of the University, first starting in 1967 as part of its commitment to the local community, and are still going strong today. To date there have been over 850 lectures. Lectures were (and remain) free to attend and covered a wide range of subjects, everything from the literature of the First World War to the Neapolitan mafia. The lectures have attracted many of the leading figures of politics, literature, journalism, philosophy and the arts as speakers, including Edmund Blunden, William Golding, Patrick Moore, Shirley Williams, Kate Adie and Antony Beevor. Up until recently these analogue audio recordings have only been available on cassette tape and are at risk of becoming inaccessible due to this format’s likelihood of obsolescence.

Over the last few months our Digital Imaging Assistant, Alex, has been busy digitising these tapes and has so far digitised 160 tapes from the collection. Digitisation can be a complicated process and involves a number of stages to complete.

Pre-digitisation the tapes must be inspected and evaluated to:

  • Check there are no signs of damage or degradation
  • Ensure the pressure pad within the cassette housing is present and positioned correctly
  • Determine if the tape winds slow or appears to be problematic in any way by ‘exercising’ it. This is done by fast forwarding/rewinding the tape several times.

Any issues discovered during this stage of the process will be addressed wherever possible before moving on to the next stage. Once we are satisfied that the tape is fit to process, we can move on to the actual digitisation. We use a specific combination of hardware and software to carry out the audio digitisation process. This is carried out in ‘real time’, meaning that it takes the same amount of time to digitise the tape as it would do to listen through it at normal speed. The digital recording is captured in a Broadcast Wave format (.wav) and metadata is embedded in to the resulting file. This metadata records information about the recorded content itself as well as the digitisation process and how it was performed.

Once the digitisation process is complete and we have a digital master copy of the recording, the cassette tape is returned to our archival storage facilities where it will remain. The digital master copy, alongside an mp3 access copy, will be saved in our secure digital storage space, and will be preserved to ensure that it can be accessed for information and research purposes for our future users.

This is a clip from “Art and politics: Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, a lecture given by Toni Del Renzio at the University of Kent in 1987. Toni was an artist and writer of Italian and Russian descent, who was also leader of the British Surrealist Group for some time. He met Picasso in 1938 whilst he was in Paris, and speaks about one of Picasso’s best known works, ‘Guernica’, in this lecture.

If you would like to have a look at what we have in our open lectures collection, just search for ‘open lecture’ on Librarysearch. To listen to any of the recordings please get in touch at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk.

Our thanks go to the Del Renzio family for granting permission to share this audio recording.