Tag Archives: volunteering

Guest post: The ‘netzwerk’ of Benjamin Morse

This guest post comes from Fiona McLellan, who spent two months volunteering with us this Spring. Fluent in German, Fiona catalogued the German-language correspondence contained in the archive of Benjamin Morse. Over 120 letters are now accessible to researchers for the first time, with the online catalogue providing highly detailed summaries of both content and context.

Benjamin Morse

Benjamin Morse

“Held at SCOLAR is the archive of Benjamin Morse (1899-1977). Professor Morse was the lecturer in education, then Italian at University College, Cardiff, where he was employed from the 1930s through to his retirement in 1966. After his graduation from the University of Aberystwyth in 1923, he spent a number of years in Europe, living in both Osnabrück and Trieste. Some of the connections he made while on his travels lasted for decades, and this is attested by his great hoard of letters written in Welsh, English, German and Italian.

Having contacted Alison Harvey concerning volunteering opportunities, I was pleased to be offered the chance to catalogue the letters Morse received in German. This I have now done, with the result that their authors, dates and summaries can be accessed online via ArchiveSearch, alongside Alessandra Toschi’s earlier work on Morse’s Italian papers.

Although among some 126 catalogued items, only one was written by Morse himself, a partial view of his life and character can be made out from the remarks of his friends and professional contacts in their letters to him. ‘Very Honoured Morse’, or ‘Herr Prof. Dr. Morse’, or ‘Jeeb’ was an exemplary networker. In his lifetime, networking was a word for communications engineers; it had yet to have its social meaning consecrated by LinkedIn; but with his numerous dispatches from his summer holidays, on top of his seasonal messages during the  Christmas and Easter vacations, Morse may have single-handedly kept the Italian postcard industry in the black.

However, Morse did not confine himself to postcards. Several of the letters he received from Germany in the late 1940s are partly taken up with thanks for the care packages Morse had sent to the family of Rilke and to fellow academics. To my mind, it is a sure indication of the difficult conditions of life in post-war Germany that  Morse’s gift of three packs of Ovaltine to Professor Mertner of the University of Münster could be met with such apparently sincere gratitude.

It was Rainier Maria Rilke, the poet of mysticism and of feeling, of roses, Apollo and art who occupied the greater part of Morse’s literary attention. The subject of Rilke dominates the German correspondence: scholarly books begin to criss-cross the North Sea within a couple of years of the end of the war, translations are disputed, new publications recommended or traduced. Rilke knew Trieste, having spent a year not far from there in the castle of an aristocratic patroness of his.  I do not know if this was Morse’s reason for choosing Trieste as a destination when, some ten or more years later in the 1920s, he left Britain. Certainly, his interest in Rilke was enduring. In the 1950s, Morse seemed to have viewed the fin de siècle poet as a potential refuge and a comfort: the one letter in the German correspondence to come from Morse’s own hand is addressed to Ilse Blumenthal-Weiss, a concentration camp survivor. His letter quotes in full one of Rilke’s lesser-known poems ‘Heute will ich dir zu Liebe Rosen fühlen.‘ (‘Today, for your sake, I wish to feel roses.’)

But Morse’s papers touch on many subjects, and have allowed me a glimpse into the day-to-day preoccupations of Morse’s far-flung circle: a student from Osnabrück wonders if he has a future as a published German translator of T. S. Eliot; a plagiarism scandal is hushed up at Münster; a retired book seller complains that his children don’t love him any more since he doesn’t have any money. Not only the words, but also the material and physical details of the letters were informative. Those sent in the 1940s were written on sub-toilet-tissue quality paper almost as transparent as a window.

postmark (2)Of additional interest were the social histories contained in the Freistempel or postmarks: the example given here cautions pen-and-paper enthusiasts that ‘the telephone saves time and money’.

My time spent working with Morse’s papers was highly enjoyable and profitable to me. I’d like to thank the staff at SCOLAR for their friendliness, and Alison in particular for managing the project, and for tolerating with such good grace the regular presence of a squatter in her office.”

Guest post: Volunteering in Special Collections and Archives

This guest post comes from Julie Ryan, who spent one month volunteering with us this summer, in order to gain the experience necessary to be accepted on a postgraduate vocational qualification in archives administration:

‘Owing to work commitments, and my own indecision, I only emailed SCOLAR about a month in advance of the particular 4-week period I was available to work. I was pleasantly surprised when Alison emailed me back with details of a project she would like some help on, and suggested meeting to discuss it further. It was really useful to know the details of what I would be doing in advance, as I could see how relevant to the course it would be, and also I felt more prepared for my first day. The project’s aim was to bring together all of the information about past students and put it into one resource. My first job was to transcribe records from the University’s matriculation book, working with an initial five year sample. These records also contained the name, address and occupation of the student’s parents, which was particularly interesting to see.


This was my first experience of transcribing, and being involved with making a secondary resource gave me a good insight into the problems that can occur with them. I saw how easy it was to read one word as another, or to not be able to read some things at all. Alison advised me to use the internet, for example Google maps, to double check that what I was transcribing made sense. In particular, the rural, Welsh place names could be difficult. Once these records had been transcribed, I then added the student number, which had been assigned at matriculation, to other data such as examination results, graduation, attendance. All of these documents were then imported into one spreadsheet. It is now possible to easily bring up all of the data about a particular student. Of particular interest is the data on parents’ addresses and occupations, in terms of what it tells us about the geographic spread of students and their socio-economic backgrounds.

matbook - occ

I really valued being able to be part of one project from start to finish, rather than doing small parts of a project and never getting the satisfaction of seeing it complete. I also appreciated the freedom I was given at this placement. I felt involved right from the beginning, and although Alison was always around if I needed her help, it was good to be given space to make my own choices.

This placement has given me experience of transcribing and digitisation, which are directly relevant to the course I am going to do. It has also given me an insight in to the work that an archivist does, as I have been working from a desk in Alison’s office, and so been able to see what she does from day-to-day. I also had the added bonus of listening in on a talk about book binding, and spending a day looking through old photographs and picking some to be used for a social media campaign. This placement has been great preparation for an MA course in Archive Administration, but it has also been good fun to be part of interesting project, and experience what it would be like to be an archivist.’


Summer volunteering in Special Collections and Archives

This guest post comes from Alex Barlow, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, who spent three months volunteering with us this summer, in order to gain the experience necessary to be accepted on a postgraduate vocational qualification in information studies:

‘As I approached the end of my second year of the English Literature BA at Cardiff University, I started to think more and more about career options. I am mostly leaning towards ‘information services’ i.e. libraries and archives and thought that my own library would be a good place to start. I speculatively emailed Special Collections and Archives to explore voluntary work experience and was very excited when Alison agreed to meet me and discuss my plans. It was then agreed that I would undertake 12 weeks of work experience within Special Collections and Archives in order to gain a significant amount of experience, and to be able to really get stuck in to different tasks.

AB1Throughout the 12 weeks I have catalogued Julian Hodge’s business archive, and completely reorganised and catalogued the archives of Keith Waterhouse, Joan Reeder and Bernard Knight. Alison provided guidance but otherwise allowed me to manage the work independently, which will act as beneficial experience for my Project Management module starting in September. I also researched and found materials for use in Special Collections seminar workshops for The Illustrated Book module, also starting this September. Through these activities, I now understand how cataloguing works, and I know how to properly use the archives, which will be hugely beneficial to my studies in my final year.

AB2Not only have I gained some experience to add to my CV but I’ve also had a very enjoyable few months working within Special Collections and Archives. Alison and Peter have been very helpful throughout my time here and have been accommodating and understanding in relation to what I wanted to get out of this experience and to the kinds of work I enjoyed doing. If, like me, you are interested in an information services career and would like to gain some experience I would heartily recommend working within Special Collections and Archives.’