Guest Post: The Barbiers and the French Army

After completing her work on the Barbier archive, our CUROP intern Katy Stone shares her final, fascinating discoveries about life in the French army at the end of the nineteenth and turn of the twentieth century.

For my final blog about the Barbiers I’d like to share some contrasting discoveries about Cardiff-born Georges and Jules Barbier’s experiences of military service with the French Army, revealed through their heartfelt letters written from 1898 to 1904. As shown in a blog by last year’s CUROP student Pip Bartlett, all of the Barbier brothers – due to their dual nationality – completed mandatory national military service with the French Army well before the First World War, with both Georges and Jules subsequently remaining ‘poilus’, or ordinary field soldiers.

Georges Barbier and the comfort of letters in Le Mans

In 1899 Georges Barbier was deployed to the 26th Artillery in Le Mans and many of his letters support Pip’s previous insight that, out of all the family members who went to war, he undoubtedly suffered the loneliest military experience. In one letter dated 3 February 1899, he paints a dark picture of the stark living conditions within his regiment, describing his barracks as a “dirty shack” and expressing gratitude to his brother, Paul Barbier fils, for writing to him – “it is such a blessing to receive letters in this hole”. Georges was clearly unhappy in his regiment and their frequent exchange of letters was not only a source of comfort, but also a channel for escapism. To make things worse, he appears to have found it difficult to fit in with his peers – “all those who sleep in the same room as me are vagabonds, so I have no luck at all”. Hard work was, surprisingly, a blessing in disguise for Georges and I was struck to find him striving for more – “The work is very hard, but that I don’t mind in the least for when I have plenty of work I have not time to worry, which is a very good thing for me”. This eagerness throws light on the mental challenges faced by many soldiers on a daily basis – he was “completely disgusted with life” and would “rather do hard labour than be controlled by a lot of morons who can’t read”.

Scan 1

Barrack detail from a letter dated 20 Februray 1899

Other letters give an insight into his basic military diet – “I live on bread and cheese and once a week I eat meat, on Sundays”. It was also surprising to learn that Georges had to pay for his military meals out of his own pocket, and that his limited financial means meant there was no spare money for any luxuries – “I find that I eat very little here. I have no appetite, and not only that but I have to pay for everything I eat”. A letter to his mother, Euphémie, dated 31 January 1899 reinforces the daily struggle faced by the majority of his peers – “I was so ashamed to buy for so little that I nearly broke down, when there was a lot that could not do as much”. Life was tough in the French Army and although stress and anxiety may have been accountable for his poor appetite, the demands of the physical work also contributed to his struggles with mental and physical health. In his letters he complains of toothaches, headaches and sore feet, yet despite “suffering a great deal”, he avoids going to see the doctor because he “would have to stop work, not only that but I would be unable to go out in the evening”. Another letter sheds light on his perception of being treated differently to his French peers due to his British identity – “You know I have been very sick and had to get treatment in town because the major refused to recognise me … I believe it’s because I’m English”.

Scan 2

Insignia of the Soissons Regiment, 1899

Jules Barbier “far from being miserable” at Soissons

Jules Barbier seems to have experienced a far less despondent national service with an infantry in Soissons. He recalls being “received very kindly” at the barracks, and remarks that “there are some nice boys” and “all the officers have been very kind”. In contrast to the discrimination faced by Georges at Le Mans, Jules mentions that his captain remarked “it was very nice of me to come and do my service from England”. This would have no doubt boosted his enthusiasm and spirits, enhancing his military experience and possibly reinforcing his bond with his French heritage. The Barbier Archive gave me the impression that Jules, to some extent at least,  enjoyed his work in the French infantry, often describing his activities in a buoyant tone – “Yesterday I was taught to salute and about different ranks of officers. I was given my rifle, and tomorrow we will exercise”. This is in stark contrast to the more physically demanding and draining responsibilities encountered by Georges.

Scan 3

Self-portrait of Jules E. Barbier in a letter to his mother, 5 August, 1899

Like Georges, however, Jules often reported that money and food were particularly scant, referring to himself as being “as poor as a church mouse”. In one letter dated 11 February 1899, he feels ashamed for having to borrow 15 francs from a friend, alluding that money was a lingering concern. All his money was solely spent on necessities – “I’m just eating, I’m always hungry”, suggesting that there was no such thing as disposable income in the French Army. Despite having a more positive experience than his brother, Jules’s time in the military was also hampered by illness; “I am in the infirmary. Last bed. I was taken ill with a fever and also with my throat in fact. I have got an abscess there and it is very painful”. But the fact that he was admitted to the infirmary, and a promise that his captain “would come to see me in the hospital”, suggests that the quality of pastoral care was far superior to that experienced by Georges. In one letter Jules announces “I am far from being miserable” and is eager to return to his duties – “Time passes very slowly here in the hospital. I would be pretty eager to go back to the barracks”.

Early colour printing of a barracks scene, 1899

When I embarked on my summer placement with the Barbier Archive at Special Collections and Archives, I did not expect to discover such contrasting personal accounts of life in the French Army through the eyes of the sons of Cardiff. Sometimes harrowing, often spirited, but always heartfelt, this fascinating archive paints a vivid picture of everyday life at a time when the world was on the cusp of one of its most turbulent periods. It has been an absolute indulgence to be able to tease out yet another remarkable story in Cardiff’s history.

 

Advertisements

Guest post: Exploring women’s libraries and book ownership, 1660-1820

This guest post comes from Natalie Saturnia and Molly Patrick, undergraduates in English Literature, who took part in a research placement this summer as part of the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). Natalie and Molly worked as research assistants on Dr Melanie Bigold’s project, ‘Her books: Women’s Libraries and Book Ownership, 1660-1820’. Dr Bigold’s project aims to create the first comprehensive database collection of women’s libraries in the long eighteenth century.


Travel and the Eighteenth-Century Woman

Natalie Saturnia

My post, funded by the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), was focused on finding and organising the preliminary research databases. My daily work included transcribing and cataloguing the booklists identified by Dr Bigold, and trying to identify specific editions of texts using databases such as the English Short Title Catalogue.

Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795)

Frontispiece of Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795)

While spending time with booklists of influential eighteenth-century women such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and Elizabeth Greenly, I noticed a prominent lack of fiction texts across their catalogues. Before embarking on my research placement, I had assumed that most of the texts literary women owned would include fiction and the classics. While their lists still included a number of novels, particularly in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s collection, their catalogues also contained a considerable quantity of travel texts. Because this was a surprise to me, it piqued my interest and I chose to do further independent research to figure out the reasoning for their travel collections.

Detail from Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795).

Detail from Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795).

My initial reaction when I saw the quantity of travel books was that it showed a desire in these women for knowledge beyond their own domestic borders. Alison Blunt writes that,

work on British women travellers has focused on their ability to transgress the confines of “home” in social as well as spatial terms. The travels and writings of individual women suggest that they were empowered to travel and transgress in the context of imperialism while away from the feminized domesticity of living at home.[1]

While this specific quote only refers to female travellers who documented their own journeys, perhaps the same can be assumed for women who read and owned travel writing. In the case of Lady Mary Montagu, she did travel, yet she also collected travel books. This, along with her own documentation of travel in her Turkish Embassy Letters, proves that she valued the experience and knowledge gained while traveling and felt she was enriched because of it. One of her travel books Le Gentil Nouveaux Voyage au Tour du Monde (1731) translates to the ‘the nice new trip around the world’. This text possibly reflects a desire in Montagu to learn and study parts of the world she had not travelled to, which again demonstrates the value she placed on travel.

In contrast to the other women I researched, Elizabeth Greenly’s book list contained a large collection of Welsh travel books, such as Wales illustrated: in a series of views by Henry Gastineau and Wanderings and excursions in North Wales by Thomas Roscoe.[2] Born in Herefordshire, Greenly later lived in Wales and maintained a lifelong interest in all things Welsh. Before she became less active later in life due to a stroke and rheumatoid arthritis, she used to ride her horse between Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, and Breconshire. Her collection of Welsh travel books exemplifies an early sense of Celtic pride which is further evidenced by her ‘ardent support of Welsh causes of the day, including Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams 1747-1826).’[3] Greenly’s detailed knowledge of the Welsh border counties clearly enhanced her desire for literature on the surrounding area. It may also have been the case that, as a local gentlewoman, she was actively supporting Wales-related books through her purchases.

Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated, in a series of views (1829?-1830)

Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated, in a series of views (1829?-1830)

Ultimately, I believe that these women, whether or not they were privileged enough to travel themselves, valued the insight that travel books provided. Travel books about places foreign to them allowed them a glimpse into parts of the world they were unable to experience first-hand. As for travel books of familiar places, it often represented and reinforced a sense of identity. Indeed, as an expat myself, I am acutely aware of how integral geographical location is in relation to identity. More importantly, I think travel, whether across short or long distances, instilled in these women as sense of pride in their own intrepid spirit. Their library collections speak to that spirit of travel, adventure, and self-creation.

While ‘Her books: Women’s Libraries and Book Ownership, 1660-1820’ is still a work in progress, the new perspectives I gained and conversations I started during my month of research on these women’s catalogues has ignited my own research ambitions. Most importantly, though, the process has highlighted the many new insights that a comprehensive catalogue of female book owners during the long eighteenth century will provide.

[1] Alison Blunt, ‘The Flight from Lucknow: British women travelling and writing home, 1857-8’, Writes of Passage ed. James Duncan and Derek Gregory (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 94.

[2] Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated: in a series of views, comprising the picturesque scenery, towns, castles, seats of the nobility & gentry, antiquities, &c (1829?-1830) and Thomas Roscoe, Wanderings and Excursions in North Wales (1836).

[3] Dominic Winter, Printed Books & Maps (2016), p. 83.

 

Divinity Books in Women’s Libraries: Teaching Femininity

Molly Patrick

Sarah Jones' inscription in The Christian Life [1695], by John Scott.

Sarah Jones’ inscription in The Christian Life [1695], by John Scott.

The eighteenth century was an important period in the history of women’s literary participation. The growth of personal libraries coincided with this increased engagement and book collections reflect, as Mark Towsey argues, the intellectual and cultural aspirations and values of their owners.[4]  Elizabeth (Smithson) Seymour Percy, the first duchess of Northumberland, Mrs. Katherine Bridgeman and Elizabeth Vesey all had extensive personal libraries which featured many advice-giving divinity books. By examining what these texts teach women, it is possible to see how femininity in the eighteenth century was constructed and justified using the authority of God.

Elizabeth Seymour’s library catalogue includes a sub-section dedicated to Divinity texts, many of which function as pedagogy.  Featured in Seymour’s collection is The Whole Duty of Man by Richard Allestree (first published in 1658). In the chapter entitled ‘Wives Duty’, women are given advice on how to conduct themselves in marriage. They are told that God will ‘condemn the peevish stubbornness of many Wives who resist the lawful commands of their Husbands, only because they are impatient of this duty of subjection, which God himself requires of them.’ This shows that religious, devotional works were often used to establish women’s subordinate position, using God as an authority to these teachings. The book also gives specific instructions regarding how the wife should act if asked to do something ‘very inconvenient and imprudent’ by her husband: she should ‘mildly […] persuade him to retract that command’, not using ‘sharp language’ and she should never steadfastly ‘refuse to obey’. Clearly restricting the wife to a passive, subordinate role, this passage confirms the unequal power dynamics of seventeenth-century marriage. In addition, The Whole Duty of Man blames women for men’s sinful behaviour: ‘how many men are there,’ Allestree asks, ‘that to avoid the noise of a forward wife, have fallen to company-keeping, and by that to drunkenness, poverty and a multitude of mischiefs’. Here, a stereotype about the nagging wife are held against women in general.

Richard Allestree's The Ladies Calling (1673)

Richard Allestree’s The Ladies Calling (1673). The copy in Special Collections belonged to an seventeenth-century woman, Elizabeth Scudamore.

Richard Allestree’s sequel, The Ladies Calling (1673) and The Causes and Decay of Christian Piety (1667) also appear in the divinity section of Seymour’s personal library collection. The Ladies Calling questions the origin of gender inequality, but nonetheless reproduces a similar message advocating a subordinated, passive femininity. Allestree avers that ‘in respects of their intellects [women] are below men’; however, ‘Divinity owns no distinction of genders’ as ‘in the sublimist part of humanity, they are their equals.’ The Causes and Decay of Christian Piety, on the other hand, inscribes the argument that religiously devoted women pose a threat to established gendered roles. Allestree contends that ‘when women neglect that which St. Paul assigns them as their proper business, the guiding of the house, their Zeal is at once the product and excuse of their idleness’. Indeed, Allestree implies that women only seek religious vocations in order to avoid their natural place in the domestic sphere. In this sense, divinity texts from the eighteenth century not only advise women to be passive and subordinate, but also caution them against turning to a religious life.

Katherine Bridgeman’s collection evidences a similar interest in divinity texts. In her edition of The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living (1651), Jeremy Taylor advises that women should ‘adorn themselves in modest apparel with Shamefacedness and Sobriety, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearl, or costly array’. This narrative of passive femininity permeates a multitude of divinity texts in Bridgeman’s collection, such as in Robert Nelson’s The practice of True Devotion (1721). Nelson defines women’s ideal religious expression as ‘their chastity’ and ‘modesty’, which are both passive acts signifying a withholding as opposed to active expression. Both Bridgeman and Seymour’s collections feature divinity books which promote a repressed, subordinate version of femininity and it could be argued that their libraries reflect a wider view of women and their place in eighteenth-century contemporary society.

The content of the books featured in Elizabeth Vesey’s library, however, offer an alternative view of women, femininity and their place within religion. One such work that exemplifies this difference is Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity: being a Vindication of the people called Quakers (first published in 1678). The text openly disputes women’s subjugation within religion and the established church. Barclay contests the idea, apparently deriving from ‘the church’, that ‘women ought to learn […] and live in silence, not usurping authority over man’. Barclay notes that, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle writes rules concerning ‘how Women should behave themselves in their publick preaching and praying’. This, he argues, is evidence that early religious figures did not refute women’s right to actively express their religion. Deborah Heller points out that Elizabeth Vesey was accumulating her library at the same time as significant changes were happening in literary, social and cultural environments. Around the mid seventeenth-century, ‘owing to the proliferation of novels and conduct literature, there was a rapid transformation, and a powerful new identification of women with subjectivity’.[5] The presence of Robert Barclay’s book in Vesey’s library seems to confirm women’s alignment with greater religious subjectivity.

In conclusion, the personal library collections of Elizabeth Seymour and Katherine Bridgeman include a multitude of pedagogical divinity books. These texts encourage women to be passive, subordinate to men and to avoid public religious activity. Elizabeth Vesey’s book collection, however, seems to inject a different narrative. Taking Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity as an example, it is possible to see how Vesey’s collection, unlike the books found in Seymour’s and Bridgeman’s libraries, focus on women’s religious and personal empowerment. Vesey’s collection demonstrates a possibility of different cultural and social aspirations, an alternative way of thinking about women’s role in contemporary society.

[4] Deborah Heller, ‘Subjectivity Unbound: Elizabeth Vesey as the Sylph in Bluestocking Correspondence’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 65.1 (2002) pp. 215-234. P. 218.

[5] Mark Towsey, ‘‘I can’t resist sending you the book’: Private Libraries, Elite Women, and Shared Reading Practices in Georgian Britain’, Library and Information History, 29.3 (2013), 210-222 (p. 210).

Guest post: Conserving the Collingwood Archive

This post comes from Devin Mattlin and Joanne Hoppe, MSc Conservation Practice students at Cardiff University, and conservation volunteers at Glamorgan Archives. Both have been working on the Collingwood Archive conservation project as student conservators thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust

Earlier of this year we had the fantastic opportunity to help conserve a collection of diaries and sketchbooks from the Collingwood Archive held at Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University. The Collingwoods were a world-famous family of remarkable artists, archaeologists, and writers from the Lake District. W. G. Collingwood was John Ruskin’s secretary and biographer, and a friend of Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons and a suspected double agent. The archive spans 60 boxes and comprises a treasure trove of distinctive materials largely inaccessible to research and the public – thousands of letters and correspondence dating from the 18th century (including letters from E. M. Forster and Beatrix Potter), diaries, sketches, personal recipe books, photographs, illustrated story books and outstanding landscapes of the Lake District.

Jo & Devinstudy of English costume

Study of English Costume, possibly by one of the Collingwood children, c. 19th century

 

Jo & Devin diary before conservation (002)

Diary of Dora Collingwood (1886-1964), before conservation work

In 2017, Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives was awarded their second successive grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to conserve key items from the archive, and we were delighted to be selected as part of our MSc Conservation Practice course to give them a hand. This was a great opportunity to learn new skills in paper conservation and to work with Lydia Stirling, an Accredited Conservation-Restorer, at Glamorgan Archives. The objects in question dated roughly from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries and consisted of several diaries, sketchbooks and a recipe book. The ultimate goal of the conservation work was to stabilise the objects for responsible and appropriate display, and allow access to researchers and the public in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room.

A Sketchbook of British Costume

One of the first objects we treated was a sketchbook of British Costume (c. 19th century) written in iron gall ink which, if left untreated, can rust through paper. This was confirmed with iron (II) indicator paper, as seen in the figure below – the paper turns a pink colour if iron (II) is present.   After removing the dirt from the surface using a smoke sponge the pages were labelled in pencil and the threads used to originally sew the pages together were removed. To stabilise the iron gall ink, the pages were placed into four different water baths for 10 minutes each: water, calcium phytate, water, calcium bicarbonate. The calcium phytate reacts with the iron to form iron phytate compounds, which progressively slows down the iron corrosion. The calcium bicarbonate bath stabilises the paper by reducing its acidity, because as paper ages it becomes more acidic and thus more brittle. After the last water bath the wet pages were placed between blotter paper to dry. Once the pages had dried flat, the book was rebound using waxed linen thread.

Jo & Devin iron gall ink testing (002)

Iron gall ink testing showing a positive result

Jo & Devin iron gall ink treatment

Joanne stabilising the iron gall ink in various water baths

Collingwood Diaries

Many of the Collingwood diaries were falling apart and needed repairing due to the broken metal staples that were used to bind the pages together. To treat this type of damage we first removed the staples with a spatula, cleaned the surface and numbered the pages (once unbound, the sequence of the pages could be lost). Treatment of the holes involved shaping a piece of Japanese repair paper to the size of the hole by placing the original page on a light box with a sheet of plastic and the repair paper on top. The repair paper was then shaped to match the hole by using a needle and was then applied to the hole with wheat starch paste. A layer of thin Japanese tissue was then applied over the repair which was also treated with wheat starch paste to make it stronger. Tears in the paper were also repaired in the same way. Once all the repairs were done, the diaries were rebound, and the covers were reattached by adding mull (a type of bookbinding cloth) to the edge where the spine attaches and then adhering the repaired cover to that cloth strip.

Jo & Devin lifting leather

The boards are revealed under the original leather cover

However, one of the diaries could not be treated in the same way because it had a leather cover, unlike the others, which were paper. The spine on this diary had almost completely fallen off, so we made the decision to authentically restore it using new leather. First, the original cover was cut and lifted to expose the boards underneath. The repair leather was then shaved with knives to make it as thin as possible, so it would bend easily and fit under the original leather. Once the piece was sufficiently thin enough, it was saturated with wheat starch paste and then fitted onto the spine and under the lifted original leather. The original leather was then adhered on top.

Jo & Devin Spine Repair

Finished spine with the repair leather

 

The Collingwood Celebratory Conference

After we had completed the work we were delighted when the project team invited us to talk about our experience at the Collingwood Archive Celebratory Conference. Here we were given a fantastic platform to present our journey with the archive to a large audience of over 40 delegates from across the world, and share what conservation is and how archives are cared for. We were so grateful to the project team for this opportunity to communicate with many different heritage stakeholders, an essential skill that will be invaluable as we embark on our careers in conservation.

Jo & Devin conference talk (002)

Devin and Joanne sharing their conservation experiences at the Collingwood Archive Celebratory Conference, April 2018

We would like to thank Lydia Sterling, Alan Vaughan Hughes and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust for the opportunity to work with such a unique collection. Through this experience we practiced our paper conservation, bookbinding, and communication skills. It was also interesting to see beautiful artwork and to get a glimpse into the lives of the Collingwood family and the Victorian era. Our favourite items had to be an article pasted into the recipe book discussing how onions are so underrated, and a Cadbury’s advert from 1881!

International events in the Barbier archive: from the Dreyfus Affair to the Boer Wars

In this guest post, Katy Stone, who has been cataloguing the Barbier archive as part of a CUROP student intern project, keeps us up to date with some more fascinating insights into the Barbier family, and what their archive can tell us about key international events at the end of the nineteenth century.

In this update I’d like to share with you my discoveries about international events as revealed through the eyes of the Barbiers. Over the summer I have delved through boxes of intriguing letters dating from 1898-1904 and these have shed light on various international controversies, tensions and conflicts that shook the world during the family’s time in Cardiff. Of all the Barbier sons, the archive suggests that Georges took the most interest in international current affairs, noting he would “very much like to be more up to date”.

Portrait

Georges Barbier

The Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus

In 1898, Georges often writes about the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal which divided the French Third Republic from 1894 until 1906. The controversy centred on the question of guilt or innocence of a Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of treason for selling military secrets to the Germans in December 1894, but finally pardoned on 19 September 1899. French citizens were torn between those who supported him (Dreyfusards) and those who thought he was a traitor. Georges presents the situation in France as “very bad”. His letters reveal that he clearly supported Dreyfus, referring to those who condemned him as “pigs”, and adding that if Dreyfus’s innocence could be proved, he would not complete his military service, revealing his disgust with the army who took an anti-Dreyfus position. Euphémie Barbier also referred to the scandal in a letter dated 1898, hoping that “spirits will calm, and we won’t have a war”. Isabelle Bornet placed high hopes in the new French President, Émile Loubet, writing in 1899 that “France will soon be rid of this affair which it has suffered for a long time”.

 

The Spanish-American War

Georges also wrote in some detail about the Spanish-American War, fought between America and Spain between 21 April 1898 and 13 August 1898. Hostilities began after an explosion sank the American battleship USS Maine, which was sent to protect US citizens and property after anti-Spanish rioting in Havana Harbour in Cuba that led to US intervention in the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, which began in February 1895. The conflict ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and the US acquired territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.  I was struck by his personal perception that England supported America simply because they were the “same race and origin”. Considering this, Georges’s support for the Spaniards and his proclamation that “it would be a great pleasure to see them [the Americans] receive a good beating”, surprised me. Perhaps Georges’s support for Spain stems from his European heritage. Euphémie was also supportive of the Spaniards, describing them as “patriotic”, after telling of one civilian who sold everything he had to support the war effort, later receiving an honourary title. Again, her opinions may be biased due to the Barbier family’s European roots.

Euphemie2

Euphémie Bornet

Anglo-French relations preoccupy Paul Barbier fils in his letters dated around 1898. He discusses the Fashoda Incident, which was the climax of imperial territorial disputes between Britain and France in Eastern Africa: “The question of Fashoda seems rather serious, although it is probably less serious than it looks”. I was fascinated by his thoughts about the attitudes of the press in London, and especially the Daily Mail, which he implies was perhaps not the most reliant source of information regarding the conflict and its “apparent gravity“. Later, he states it was obvious there would be war “if England insists on the pure and simple reminder of the Commanding Officer to precede all negotiations”, demanding his father to “ask the Consul in all cases what is my duty in this case, if it is absolutely the same as in the case of war with Germany, i.e. my immediate return to the regiment”. Paul’s offer to step in suggests that he was frustrated by the unwillingness of the Commanding Officer to take a leading role in negotiations. Perhaps to reassure Paul, his mother Euphémie related that his father believed “the Fashoda affair will calm itself”.

Other letters reference the Second Boer War, particularly the Siege of Ladysmith in Natal between 2 November 1899 and 28 February 1900. The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and the two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire’s influence in South Africa. In a letter of 1900, Marie mentions demonstrations in Cardiff for the relief of Ladysmith, which occurred during nightfall on 28 February 1900, when the siege was lifted. Marie notes somewhat ironically, that “all the young people at the Docks have a break this afternoon”. This perhaps reflects a feeling of antipathy towards those protesting. I would be interested to see how much contemporary documentation exists about this demonstration beyond the Barbier archive, if any.

Circle portrait

Marie Barbier

In short, some material in the Barbier Archive makes compelling reference to international affairs, contributing greatly to our understanding of tensions throughout the period by unveiling contemporary interpretations that may be missed by history textbooks, particularly as perceived in Cardiff. I found the parallels between the reporting on current affairs at the time, and current affairs today including concerns over the neutrality of reporting, particularly interesting. I was most drawn however to the human elements within the text, and the family connections strengthened through these letters as they kept each other up to date with ongoing affairs.

Guest Post: Safeguarding the Adrian Gibson Collection

This guest post is courtesy of first year Architecture student Theodora Stefan, who has been working on the collection of architectural historian Adrian Gibson (d.2006) as part of a CUROP project with the Welsh School of Architecture and Special Collections and Archives.

As a first year architecture student at Cardiff University, I have been studying the complex relationship between photography and architecture. I have been particularly fascinated by the evolution of photography and its recognition as ‘art’ in its own right, and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with the Welsh School of Architecture and the Special Collections and Archives team on a summer research placement, ‘Scoping and Safeguarding the Adrian Gibson Collection’.

Architectural historian Adrian Gibson (1931–2006) was the foremost authority of his time on the study of timber-framed buildings, and his collection of 20,000 photographic slides was donated to Cardiff University in 2017. As well as images of historical timber-framed buildings, there are photos of archaeological digs, and nine A3 portfolios of intricate drawings and notes by Adrian Gibson and Cecil Hewett. For a student, and indeed anyone interested in historic or photographic architecture, this collection provides a truly unique resource.

Theodora 4

However, like most new donations, the descriptive information is minimal and inconsistent, and in some cases lacking entirely. My role is to analyse the collection and create an electronic list of the contents. I have also been tasked with improving the physical storage of the slides, which are currently in random order in metal filing cabinets. Many are dusty and inappropriately packed in acidic paper packages secured with deteriorating elastic bands, jeopardising the sustainability and accessibility of the collection for immediate and future research. Part of my role will also involve repackaging the slides in acid free boxes, thus ensuring their survival, while my list and analysis will provide an essential insight into the contents of the collection for current and future researchers.

Theodora 3Passionate about archaeology as well as vernacular architecture, Adrian Gibson managed to create a truly beautiful and diverse collection. The slides are evidence of his extensive journeys throughout Britain as well as Europe, showcasing his never-ending enthusiasm and desire to travel, analyse and employ a comprehensive recording system. He photographed the finest construction details and facade embellishments as well as creating a visual record of impressive interiors and surviving timber framing systems. At the start of the programme I envisioned that I would primarily work with slides containing information about timber frame buildings mainly from Essex, Sussex and Wales, and was initially completely unaware of the real potential and complexity of the collection.

Theodora image 1

Nevertheless, once I started recording and transferring the metadata I became aware of just how elaborate, comprehensive, and incredibly diverse the collection is, addressing subjects such as Romanesque, Gothic, Classical Revival and English Baroque architecture as well as early medieval and Anglo-Saxon architectural remnants. In addition, I uncovered multiple packages of slides visualising famous megaliths such as Pentre Ifan, Carreg Sampson and Cortan, with many depicting distinct points of interest and view angles of these prehistoric architectural forms.

The collection is stored in five filing cabinets containing up to 4000 slides each. The challenge is to sort out each drawer, copying the metadata written on the packages, counting the slides and ordering the misplaced ones. This is surprisingly a refreshing and intellectually stimulating activity, as each and every package has its own points of interest, and the research process that follows the sorting and the description is something that truly enriches my architectural knowledge.

Last week, for example, I came across multiple packages with technical drawings, sections, plans and elevations of one of the oldest surviving architectural complexes in the UK. The medieval barns located in Cressing Temple, near Braintree in Essex, were once owned by the Knights Templar. This exquisite example of English vernacular architecture was carefully recorded and investigated by Adrian Gibson, offering me an extensive insight into timber framing construction and the assembly process, as well as the geometry of both the Barley and Wheat Barn.

Theodora image 2

By contrast, among many intriguing examples of Romanesque vestiges from France, I came upon the Jumièges Abbey, a mid-7th century monastic assembly that was reconstructed in the 11th century following extensive deterioration caused by Viking raids. The remaining yet majestic stone ruin depicts a former impressive Romanesque abbey held in high regard by the famous William the Conqueror, whose origins can be traced to Normandy. This week, I encountered multiple 17th and 18th century English halls, designed in either Adam or Wren style, as well as a 13th century property, bearing the name of Stokesay, which was once owned by one of the most powerful wool tradesmen of medieval England, Lawrence of Ludlow.

The collection has not only enhanced my architectural knowledge, but also my historical awareness as a result of researching the historical context of these rare architectural examples, which is appropriate, because this form of art is designed to be embraced and integrated in society, leaving us the opportunity to interact with history itself and all its conundrums. With 12,148 slides already completed, I can’t wait to see what I will discover next, since I am only halfway through the recording process. I am sure though that in the weeks to come, I will encounter many more intriguing pieces of architecture that are endowed with a vivid historical past.

In dog-eared pursuit of Isaac Newton’s library

I am very pleased to announce the discovery of another book which we believe to have come from the library of Isaac Newton. Our copy of The Paschal or Lent-Fast apostolical & perpetual by Peter Gunning (London, 1662) is the third volume we’ve found in our stacks (so far) with a connection to the illustrious scientist. As in the case of our first discovery, it all began with a couple of bookplates. 

Shortly after Isaac Newton’s death, his entire library was purchased for £300 by a local prison warden named John Huggins. Not an especially scholarly man himself, he had acquired the books for his son Charles who had recently become rector at Chinnor in Oxfordshire. On the books’ arrival at the rectory, Charles Huggins’ armorial bookplate (which can be seen here) was pasted into each volume.

bookplates

James Musgrave’s bookplate, with Charles Huggins’ bookplate faintly visible underneath.

When Charles died in 1750, the benefice of Chinnor went to Dr. James Musgrave, who was an acquaintance (and later, son-in-law) of Charles’ older brother William. Along with the patronage, Huggins sold the contents of the library to Musgrave, who placed his own bookplate bearing the motto “Philosophemur” on top of, or occasionally beside the Huggins bookplate.

The books remained in the Musgrave family for several generations, but by the end of the 18th century, their association with Newton appears to have been forgotten. When the family experienced financial difficulties in the 1920s, hundreds of the books were sold at auction and scattered around the world. 

So on Wednesday afternoon when I sat down to catalogue this rather unassuming quarto and saw a bookplate with the motto “Philosophemur” and the shadow of another armorial bookplate underneath, I began to get rather excited. 

title page

The Paschal or Lent-Fast apostolical & perpetual by Peter Gunning (London, 1662), with James Musgrave’s “Philosophemur” bookplate on the pastedown.

There was still plenty of work to be done before I felt comfortable announcing that we’d found another Newton book though. The presence of both the Musgrave and Huggins bookplates is generally accepted as proof that a book previously belonged to Isaac Newton. However, Charles Huggins would also have placed his bookplate in any books he purchased after acquiring Newton’s library, so the bookplates alone are not an absolute guarantee.

Fortunately for us, the 1727 purchase was accompanied by a list of titles included in the sale, commonly called he “Huggins list”. The original manuscript still survives in the collections of the British Library and its contents have been published in The library of Isaac Newton by John Harrison. Short of Newton’s own handwriting, inclusion on the Huggins list is the most definitive form of proof that a book came from his library. Unfortunately for us, The Paschal or Lent-Fast does not appear on that list.

This isn’t quite as damning as it sounds, however. Thanks to a detailed inventory of Newton’s possessions which was conducted shortly after his death, we know that his library held 1,896 printed volumes, along with an unspecified number of pamphlets. The Huggins list includes 969 separate titles comprising 1,442 volumes, but also several vague entries for groups of books, such as “3 Dozen” or “About a hundred & half”. It’s entirely possible that our volume belonged to one of those blanket entries.

ownership inscription

Our volume has inscriptions on the title page, but not in Newton’s hand.

Without a matching entry on the Huggins list, I would need to look for evidence left by Newton himself, such as marginalia in Newton’s own hand. The only ink markings on our volume are an earlier ownership inscription on the title page (“Th: Ch:”) and a price (“pr: 4s 6d”) in what appears to be the same hand, suggesting that Newton bought the book second-hand.

He did have a habit of marking his books in another way though. Several of Newton’s books have dog-eared corners, and not just with small, neat, page-marking folds. He would fold over large portions of pages so that the corner pointed to a particular word or passage on the page. (You can read more about Newton’s dog-ears here.) While all of the leaves in our volume are currently unfolded, I noticed while checking the book’s signature statement that I could just make out the shadow of a crease on several leaves, showing that they had once been dog-eared in a manner very much like what’s described in the link above. Without an entry on the Huggins list or Isaac Newton’s own handwriting in the margins, it’s impossible to be 100% certain of the book’s origins, but between the dog-eared pages and the bookplate evidence, it seems reasonably likely that our copy did, in fact, come from Newton’s library.

dog-ears

The corners of several pages show signs of having been folded in the past.

As I mentioned earlier, The Paschal or Lent-Fast is the third book we’ve found bearing both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates. Our first discovery came in 2012 when my predecessor Ken Gibb traced the history of our copy of Myographia Nova by John Browne (London, 1698) by means of the two bookplates on the front pastedown of the volume. The second volume to come to light was Meteorologicorum libri sex by Libert Froidmont (Oxford, 1639), also catalogued in 2012. A fourth volume, The works of that learned and judicious divine, Mr. Richard Hooker (London, 1676), has Musgrave’s bookplate but not Huggins’, suggesting that it may have been a later addition to the Musgrave family library. All four volumes come from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, which Cardiff University purchased from Cardiff City Council in 2010.

When much of the Musgrave family library was auctioned off in 1920, its association with Newton was long forgotten and the books sold at bargain prices, the majority of them in lots cof several books bundled together as “Theology (Old)” or “Books (various)”. In 1927, Richard de Villamil published an article in The Bookman entitled “The tragedy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Library” tracing the connection between the Musgraves and Newton. After the article’s publication, the value of books bearing both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates skyrocketed. 

booksellers note

A bookseller’s note in Myographia nova reads, “A fine Copy with brilliant impression of the portrait by White.”

Both Myographia nova and Meteorologicorum libri sex have their purchase prices written in pencil on the front pastedowns (£5-10-10 for  and £1-15, respectively) and neither seems astronomically high. For comparison, a 1655 edition of Euclid which sold for five shillings in 1920 was offered for sale at £500 the following year after the scribbles in its margins were identified as Newton’s own hand (see Harrison, p. 51-52). Our copy of Myographia nova has a bookseller’s note describing it as a “fine Copy” but with no mention of Newton anywhere, suggesting that it was sold before the publication of de Villamil’s article in 1927.

In the early 1920s, the Cardiff Public Library was still actively building its rare book collection, so it is not inconceivable that more books from the Musgrave auction may have ended up in their stacks. Given that a significant portion of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection has not yet been fully catalogued, I can’t help but wonder how many more of Newton’s books might be there, waiting to be uncovered.

Guest Post: The Barbier Family in Victorian Cardiff

Yet another fascinating post on the Barbier family courtesy of Katy Stone, who is discovering much about this exceptional family, and life in Victorian Cardiff, by working her way through their archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.

In this blog post, I’d like to share my discoveries about life in Cardiff during the Victorian era (1837-1901), as seen through the eyes of the Barbiers. Since I started working with the archive earlier this summer, I have sifted through boxes of letters from 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1903 and 1904, and they have given me a fascinating insight into daily life in the Welsh capital during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Sadly, the letters reveal that poor housing conditions, outbreaks of infectious disease and premature death were not uncommon in Cardiff. Much of the archive in this period is dedicated to correspondence from Euphémie Barbier to her son Paul Barbier Fils. In one of her letters I discovered that a servant of the De Guélis household fell ill with diphtheria due to unsatisfactory sewage arrangements in the house. I have also found repeated reports of influenza, particularly during 1898 and 1899, and in one unfortunate case the family’s milkman died very suddenly, showing how the epidemic could lead rapidly to pneumonia. Euphémie’s letters also highlight poor dental health. The younger Euphémie Barbier (known as Phémie), suffered terribly from neuralgia (intense pain along a nerve, especially in the head or face). One letter from 1898 recounts how her mother had called the doctor as her daughter’s hands and face were “twitching”. I was particularly struck by Euphémie’s explanation of how she tried to bribe the doctor with cups of strong black coffee to encourage her to visit again, underlining the high demand for access to medical care. Her letters also mention a variety of other disorders including brain tumours, lumbago, ringworm and chicken pox. Victorian Cardiff’s poor sanitary conditions are boldly summed up by Georges Barbier’s stark description of the city as a “dirty hole”.

The Barbier letters also reveal stories about the widespread use of curious medicines during this era. In a letter from 1898, Euphémie Barbier advised her son to take “rhubarb pills” or “Epsom salts” to help alleviate the deafness in his ear. Another example from 1898, tells of the application of cocaine to treat an abscess on Isabelle Barbier’s mouth, which surprised me given it’s illegal today! More often than not though, simply taking a bath was recommended to relieve the painful symptoms of various ailments and illnesses. In one letter, Georges Barbier even recommends mixing disinfectant into bathwater in order to kill germs, which sounds a bit extreme to me!

1 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

The poor quality of public health appears to have put a strain on family finances as contemporaries were often forced to take time off school or work to recover. I quickly noticed from the letters that there was a daily struggle to make ends meet. Euphémie’s lists of household spending usually included only basic commodities, highlighting that luxuries were rare. Opportunities to go out or travel were often missed, and Euphémie remarked that it was “unfortunate” to have to live like that on a daily basis. In fact, as the mother of the Barbier Family, her letters are often preoccupied with money worries, describing the pressure to pay taxes as “tormenting”.

The archive also reveals Victorian attitudes to education, with a letter written by Uline Barbier featuring an illustration of a boy wearing a ‘dunce’ hat drawn by Paul Barbier Fils. Pupils who were slow at learning were made to stand in a corner wearing a tall pointed hat decorated with a letter D or sometimes the word ‘dunce’, while the teacher and their peers mocked them. Nowadays this seems harsh, but contemporaries believed that all pupils were capable of learning and that a slow or backward pupil was being deliberately lazy or reluctant to learn. I was stunned by a criticism made by Phémie’s geography teacher, Joan Reynolds; “I know that your mental capacity is not great, in fact we all know that you have not much brain power”.

4 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

Victorian Cardiff is certainly portrayed as a close-knit, vibrant community by the archive, with many letters uncovering a wealth of clues about the social activities of the Barbiers during this era. They often dined with family friends, danced, listened to music and played chess, for example, and generous gifts like brandy, chocolates, sweets and even chickens, were often received. Personally, I think this shows how much the Barbier Family were truly valued and respected by their friends and the wider Cardiff community.

I also noticed references to a number of monuments to civic pride in Cardiff during this period. Phémie writes about an exhibition for the stores of Cardiff to promote their businesses to the public at Park Hall, a theatre and cinema that was situated along Park Place, for example. Dances were also held in places such as Aberdare Hall, a residence for female students established in 1883 by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which now stands a Grade II-listed Gothic revival hall of residence belonging to Cardiff University.

Overall, the Barbier Archive offers colourful insights into many aspects of life in Cardiff during Queen Victoria’s reign. It has been particularly fascinating to discover a series of health epidemics, and the pessimistic outlook people held towards potential learning difficulties. I look forward to sharing further discoveries that emerge from the extraordinary range of materials I have encountered whilst working on this magnificent archive, which holds great potential for future researchers.

Guest Post: Barbier Archive Launch

This guest post is courtesy of Katy Stone, an undergaduate with the School of Modern Languages who is currently working through the fascinating Barbier family archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.


Following a year of study abroad at l’Université Savoie Mont Blanc, France, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to participate in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My responsibility during the eight weeks is to pursue the efforts made by Pip Bartlett, last year’s CUROP student, in scoping the Barbier archive under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University. So far this has involved organising, archiving and describing materials from the archive, using my language skills to translate and interpret the sources. I have been cataloguing the information into a spreadsheet for future researchers. Thus far, I have completed boxes 1898, 1903 and 1904, which have revealed fascinating details about this period.

Soon after commencing my placement, I participated in the official launch of the archive and unveiling of a special commemorative plaque in honour of Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, a Barbier family member, on Wednesday 6th June, the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I thought it would be fitting to offer an account of the event for my first blog post.

Katy2

The afternoon of celebration took place at the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park. The Special Collections team had put together a small exhibition about the history of the Barbier family, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis and the archive. The display showcased some treasures of the rich and extensive archive, including a framed letter from Prime Minister David Lloyd George discussing Belgian refugees in Cardiff.

Guests included members of the Franco-Welsh Barbier family, some of whom had come specially from France to attend the events. It was clear to me that for many of them, some of whom had not met for many years, the event was an opportunity for a family reunion. Owing to the family’s bicultural identity, in some cases, I witnessed first-time meetings between those based in France and relatives who hailed from Paris and elsewhere in France, with others coming from UK destinations such as Devon and Marlborough, Wiltshire.

I found the introductory presentations by Hanna Diamond and Alan Hughes extremely illuminating. They highlighted the extraordinary range of materials in the archive including an abundance of diaries, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs. I was particularly struck by the significant extent to which the 19th century Frenchman influenced Cardiff’s society through his involvement with local cultural societies like ‘La Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff’, and his personal commitment to preserving the Welsh language. As a consequence, it is clear that the archive boasts an important array of sources on social history. I would be curious to mobilise the archive to discover more about what life was like for people in Victorian Cardiff during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Mrs. Delphine Isaaman, granddaughter of Paul Barbier who donated the archive to the University along with her cousin Paul Barbier, also spoke about how her interest in her family’s story grew after finding family documents. This led to her spending around a decade researching in order to fill in the gaps, and resulted in the development of the archive. Delphine had actually stored and catalogued much of the archive before it arrived in Cardiff University Special Collections. In her talk, she shared tales from the archive, such as tips from other family members on bringing up babies, much to the amusement of the audience. This particular story demonstrated Hanna Diamond’s earlier statement that “the archive holds vast research potential for people working on the role of women in World War One”.

06.06.18 mh Barbier Jacques Guelis Archive Launch 29

To celebrate the life of Paul Barbier’s nephew, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, the talks were followed by a swift relocation to his birthplace at 3 Museum Place, at the heart of the University campus. During the Second World War, de Guélis played a crucial role as a spy in the secretive Special Operations Executive due to his Franco-British background. A Blue Plaque to honour his remarkable achievements was unveiled by Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, together with Claudine Ripert Landler, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom. As a historian and a linguist, it was thrilling to see the war hero’s efforts formally recognised, and the pure elation upon the faces of those who came to witness it. Thanks to the former spy’s bilingualism, he was able to go unnoticed behind enemy lines, fighting with the French Resistance on the ground and contributing to the liberation of Nazi-occupied France. For me the event therefore highlighted the value and importance of learning foreign languages. One monolingual member of the Barbier family who I talked to teased that he was envious of his sibling’s bilingualism. I am optimistic that the plaque will promote Jacque’s story, and I hope that it might inspire others to engage in learning a language.

After the emotions of the plaque unveiling, the afternoon closed with a drinks reception in the foyer of the School of Modern Languages, at 66 Park Place. This was a final chance to exchange with the family and other interested parties. It was a valuable opportunity to get to know the family, and I even managed to practise my French with some relatives from Paris! I very much look forward to conducting oral interviews with Hanna Diamond to capture the life stories of Paul and Mary Barbier in July. Flowers were also laid on Jacques grave in Cathays Cemetery by his cousin and the Friends of Cathays Cemetery, a touching tribute to the brave man and a moving end to such a special day.

Barbier relative at Cathays

Overall, it was a humbling experience, and a pleasure to finally put some faces to names. I look forward to immersing myself in the project, with the ambition to help unlock the incredible story of this French Cardiff family and especially their role in Cardiff during the Victorian era.

Guest post: Exploring historical gender inequality in prize and gift books

This guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, PhD candidate in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, who is researching early 20th century book inscriptions and reading practices in Great Britain.


The World’s Your Oyster… Unless You’re a Girl:
Exploring Historical Gender Inequality in Prize and Gift Books

From the #metoo campaign to the gender pay gap, in recent months, the topic of gender inequality has seldom been out of the headlines. Since the early twentieth century, bolstered by the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union, women in Britain have been fighting for equal rights and opportunities. While images of imprisoned suffragettes on hunger strike or members of the Women’s Liberation Movement burning bras are ingrained in our minds as early examples of the struggle against gender inequality, there is one form of historical discrimination that remains largely forgotten, despite the fact that it is still prevalent in our society today: the giving of books as gifts and prizes. The full extent of this highly gendered practice only became apparent to me through a delve into the Janet Powney Collection at Special Collections and Archives.

The Janet Powney Collection is made up of some eight-hundred children’s books, largely dating from the late-Victorian and Edwardian era. These books were predominantly given as gifts or awarded as prizes to children and, as such, most bear an inscription on their front endpaper.

The years 1880 to 1915 are generally considered to mark a key period in the development of a distinctive girls’ and boys’ culture in Britain. Nothing illustrated this distinction more obviously than books. As book production grew and new designs and modes of distribution developed, publishers began to recognise the commercial potential of identifying specialist readerships, particularly girls and boys. Taking advantage of the emerging ‘vanity trade’ in which buyers were strongly influenced by a book’s outer appearance over its internal content, publishers produced books whose images, typography and colours were heavily influenced by gender.

More than one hundred years later, these same marketing strategies can be observed in children’s books today, as seen in the photo below from Waterstones taken by the #LetToysBeToys campaign group.

Books are, of course, not the only objects to have become genderised. From a young age, advertisements (and indeed many parents) are still largely responsible for teaching children that dolls are for girls and cars are for boys. The breadth of this issue and the various debates it provokes have most recently been demonstrated by John Lewis’s decision to introduce gender neutral clothing lines for children. While many people praised the progressive move of John Lewis, arguing that “you don’t look at food and say it’s going to be eaten by a man or a woman, so why should it be any different for clothes?” others criticised the retailer for “bowing down to political correctness.” The mixed responses that this topic has generated indicates that, now more than ever, it is necessary to return to the past in a bid to improve the future.

Books as Gifts

What it meant to be a girl and a boy in Victorian and Edwardian Britain can be clearly seen through the inscriptions made in gift books within the Janet Powney Collection.

For girls, religious fiction was most frequently gifted, primarily by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Religious fiction emphasised traditional female qualities of sacrifice and obedience and encouraged girls to uphold the conventional role that had been pre-established for them in society: that of being a wife and a mother. In contrast, boys were chiefly given adventure fiction by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Adventure fiction promoted cultural expectations of masculinity, and focused heavily on the notions of imperialism, heroism and comradeship. For both boys and girls, it was the mother who inscribed the book; the father’s name was conspicuously absent. The Victorian scholar, Kate Flint, claims that the mother was generally considered the most appropriate person to choose a book for her children – a belief that still prevails today (please click through to request access to the article from the author).

The fact that the same split into religious fiction for girls and adventure fiction for boys can also be observed when friends gave each other books as presents indicates that the purchaser of the gift was typically an adult, i.e. the child’s parent, and so, it was their views on gender appropriacy that were given overriding priority. The book historian, Jonathan Rose, claims that girls’ books only sold well because they were chosen as presents by adults, and, in fact, many Victorian and Edwardian girls preferred adventure fiction and often read their brothers’ copies surreptitiously. Adventure fiction was discouraged for girls, as it was deemed harmful to their ‘fragile’ minds and risked diminishing their value as females.

Despite these gender stereotypes that were largely influenced by the giver’s concept of what was suitable for the receiver, the collection has one notable exception: in all examples of Aunts giving books to Nieces, the books belong to the adventure fiction genre. While this suggests that the modern-day concept of the ‘cool aunt’, in fact, has its origins in the late-nineteenth century, this theory falls apart slightly when noting that nephews continued to receive adventure fiction, with no examples of religious fiction given. This gives weight to the widely asserted claim by the scholar, Barry Thorne, that it is more acceptable for girls to associate with masculinity than boys with the lesser valued and ‘contaminating’ femininity.

Many of the above points are still relevant in today’s society. While religious fiction has largely disappeared from bookshops with the increase in secularisation, it has come to be replaced by the romance genre – perhaps a reflection of the growing acceptance of girls’ sexuality, yet still stereotypical in its own way. Boys’ fiction, on the other hand, continues to be dominated by adventure and fantasy novels. Despite the fact that a recent survey demonstrates that comedy is now the favourite genre of most boys and girls in the UK, with David Walliams and Jeff Kinney being cited as the favourite authors of both genders, when it comes to gift-giving, many family members and friends still resort to stereotypical genres and authors. Equally, while it is now widely acceptable for girls to receive Harry Potter or Hunger Games books as gifts, for example, very few boys are the recipients of books by Jacqueline Wilson or Jill Murphy. Although the Representation Project is attempting to challenge and overcome gender stereotypes by encouraging parents to buy books for children based on their individual personalities and interests instead of defaulting to gender-specific gift options, these findings show that there is still clearly a long way to go.

Books as Prizes

Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era, awarding books as prizes was standard practice for most schools, Sunday schools and other institutions across Britain and its Empire. While these books were typically awarded in recognition of an outstanding achievement or contribution, they also served a secondary function of moral education and they were often used by educational and religious institutions as tools to disseminate approved fiction. Writing in 1888 in favour of prize books, the literary critic, Edward Salmon, argued:

“The young mind is a virgin soil, and whether weeds or rare flowers and beautiful trees are to spring up in it will, of course, depend upon the character of the seeds sown. You cannot scatter literary tares and reap mental corn. A good book is the consecrated essence of a holy genius, bringing new light to the brain and cultivating the heart for the inception of noble motives.”

The prize books in the Janet Powney collection generally reflect similar trends to the gift books, although there is some variation according to awarding institution. For example, within Sunday schools and faith schools, both boys and girls were most likely to receive religious fiction. As the prize book movement was largely aimed at bringing respectability to working-class children, religious fiction was considered the most suitable type of book to provide appropriate models of behaviour to boys and girls. More importantly, however, educators saw religious fiction as a ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ book genre that advocated conventional masculine and feminine roles. These gender differences are explicitly reflected in the titles of prize books: ‘sacrifice’, ‘obedience’ and ‘barriers’ most frequently occur in girls’ titles, while ‘winning’, ‘voyage’ and ‘victory’ feature most regularly in boys’ titles. These words demonstrate that girls were expected to live a contained life with limited opportunities and within local boundaries, but boys had the freedom to explore the global picture and the choice to do as they wish.

Despite supposedly having no religious affiliation, board schools also favoured religious fiction as prizes for girls; in contrast, boys were awarded adventure fiction. In some cases, boys were also given history and biography books, which tended to emphasise the view that to be British was to be a conqueror, an imperialist and a civilising force. This fits with the argument of historian, Stephen Heathorn, that the Victorian and Edwardian elementary classroom served as a workshop of reformulated English nationalism.

Although most prize books awarded by clubs were directly liked to their ethos (i.e. Bible classes distributed Bibles, Choirs presented music books etc.), many clubs still showed gender bias in their choices. For example, both religious and secular clubs awarded books to boys that focused on temperance and the criticism of other vices, such smoking, gambling and pleasure-seeking. These books also placed great attention on the importance of chastity and the concept of chivalry as a means of self-control. These issues were highlighted, as educators feared a supposedly causal link between boys’ crimes and reading matter that influenced them. Boys’ books also focused on the importance of saving money and owning a house, which fit with the traditional view of ‘man as economic provider’.

The girls’ book given by both religious and secular clubs, on the other hand, focused heavily on the notion that moving out of one’s social station was against God’s will and often warned girls of the dangers of switching religious allegiances. As the ‘weaker’ sex, girls were considered more likely to become ‘corrupted’, particularly by Catholicism, which was believed to be strongly linked to the forces of social and political reaction, moral decadence and foreign treachery at this time.

While such stark gender inequalities may not be as apparent today in prize-giving practices, they still prevail in some institutions, albeit covertly. Sunday schools throughout Britain still promote the awarding of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ books. Seemingly innocent titles, such as ’10 Boys Who Changed the World’ or ’10 Girls Who Changed the World’, in fact, reveal that the boys are all involved in dynamic actions as sailors, smugglers or gangsters, while the girls are confined to lowly positions as slumdogs and orphans, or have physical and mental impairments.

Even within non-religious institutions, such as state schools, prize books remain gendered with neutral stories, such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, creeping into volumes labelled as Favourite Fairy Tales for Girls and Favourite Stories for Boys respectively. Although book titles no longer appear to use stereotypical adjectives to define boys and girls, just like in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, they remain ladened with gendered words: witches, fairies and unicorns dominate girls’ books, while dinosaurs, castles and football are exclusive to boys’ books. Recently, the National Union of Teachers carried out a Breaking the Mould Project to encourage nursery and primary classrooms to challenge traditional gender stereotypes through books. They recommended awarding books, such as Anne Fine’s Bill’s New Frock or Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess to engage with the range of ways in which children can be stereotyped. Given the complexity of this topic, it is unsurprising that many schools have now opted to award book tokens instead of books to avoid the difficult act of choosing.

A child’s home and educative experience has a direct effect on his or her short-term and long-term achievements and is responsible for shaping his or her pathway in life. For this reason, it is important to engage with historical artefacts, such as the books in the Janet Powney collection, to learn from negative representations of gender. By using the gift and prize books to map particular attitudes to and constructions of gender, we can correct any potentially harmful behaviours that still remain in our society and strive towards living in a country with gender equality for all.

Exhibition: Collingwood Archive

This exhibition explores the lives of the Collingwood family: four generations of influential artists and writers based in the Lake District. Their passions included art and art history, photography, archaeology, architecture, aviation, Icelandic studies, and philosophy.

Launched on the first day of our Collingwood conference, the exhibition celebrates the archive and the year-long project to catalogue it. Thanks to funds received from the National Cataloguing Grant (UK National Archives) and the National Manuscript Conservation Trust to open up the archive through cataloguing and conservation, the exhibition will be the first time many of the magnificent items from the Collingwood Archive will be available for public viewing.

The exhibition will run until the Autumn – highlights are available online.