Improved Open Access Library fully accessible again

The MERL and Special Collections Open Access Library is now fully accessible again! In this library, which can be accessed from the Reading Room, you can find reference works relating to our Special Collections and to Samuel Beckett, as well as the library collection of the MERL, consisting of about 50,000 books, pamphlets and periodical volumes. We have been working hard to improve the layout of these collections to make it easier for you to quickly find the items that you need. We have also been able to create more space for future purchases and gifts.

This is a summary of the changes we have made:

  • We have integrated our Landscape Institute collection into the main MERL Library
  • We have created a dedicated pamphlet room for MERL and MAFF pamphlets
  • We have turned a storeroom into an additional room for the MERL periodicals

We would like to thank our readers for their patience while the works were taking place.

Discovering the landscape: lost landscapes of Michael Brown

In this post Amber Roberts, recipient of MERL’s landscape academic engagement bursary talks about her work on our Michael Brown collection (Landscape Institute collections).

Michael Brown’s work is unfortunately little known to today’s landscape architects. Thanks to a generous research bursary from MERL I have been able to delve into his archive and begin to uncover Brown’s idiosyncratic approach, his lost landscapes and his lost research.

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Brown (1923-1996) was an Edinburgh-born architect and landscape architect whose career had an international scope and strong links to key designers of the mid-twentieth century, such as Ian McHarg, Dan Kiley and Basil Spence. Brown’s projects covered all scales of landscape architecture and are of particular interest due to his commitment to integrating the theories and practices of landscape and architecture that resulted in a body of work that was both inventive and pragmatic. Brown stated:

The art and aesthetic delight of landscape must emerge out of solving down to earth problems elegantly and simply.

With this focus on the solution of ‘down to earth problems’, his work navigated the complex tensions of the profession that existed both then and now by advocating an objective, theoretical and interdisciplinary approach.

If spaces between buildings are to be used to their best advantage it is essential that methods of analysis and comparison be evolved which will enable the designer to analyse the functions and uses of external spaces very rigorously.

This approach is particularly evident in his work at Livingstone Road, London (1962 and later awarded a Civic Trust Award 1968) developed with the architects George, Drew and Dunn Partnership, a project that is due to be lost to a £300m regeneration project. By undertaking a disciplined survey and analysis of the site Brown identified key issues and opportunities that ranged from the particular microclimate of the site to cut and fill balance and pedestrian movement lines. Brown interwove this analysis with the ‘Court House Concept’ of his tutor McHarg to develop a series of spaces that were given careful detailing landform and levels to create a range of soft spaces.

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Beyond the layout of the courtyard system of open space, Brown sought to foster a sense of ownership for the spaces among the new residents. This was a key approach of Brown’s that he had begun to develop during his early British work with SPAN Housing. Brown himself became a resident of Fieldend and member of the Resident’s Association for the upkeep of the landscape within the estate. The courtyards at Livingstone Road were each given a distinct character and function that was embellished with sculptures and wall panels and Brown actively promoted a resident’s association for the scheme.

Overall Brown had a deeply personal and idiosyncratic approach to landscape,  his publications and designs offered exemplary solutions responding to complex issues from housing and motorway design to the design of public squares. Each of which combined his joint skills in architecture, urban design and landscape. Brown’s breadth of projects are testament to his rich and varied experience merging together disparate ideas and skills.  This research on Brown will be presented with Lead Researcher Dr Luca Csepely-Knorr at the Society of Architectural Historians Conference in Glasgow next month.

Find out more about Amber’s work or our Landscape Institute.

Medieval Caxton leaf: on display from 10 May

University of Reading Special Collections Librarian, Erika Delbecque, with new Caxton discovery

Our discovery of a unique example of 15th century printed text by English printer William Caxton has led to considerable media interest. As a result, the item will be going on display in the University of Reading’s Special Collections department, within The Museum of English Rural Life, from tomorrow (10 May) and not 9 May as previously stated. The display will run until 30 May.

Access to the MERL and Special Collections Library: May 2017

Due to essential maintenance work, we regret to inform you that access to the MERL and Special Collections open access library corridor will be restricted or unavailable on the following dates:

  • Tuesday 16 May – Thursday 18 May
  • Tuesday 23 May – Friday 26 May

This will affect access to Special Collections and MERL open access library material, including books, periodicals and pamphlets.

Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience.

If you are planning to visit the Reading Room on these days, please inform of us of any requests you have for library material in advance by contacting merl@reading.ac.uk

Please contact us for further assistance at merl@reading.ac.uk

Access to The MERL periodicals

Due to essential maintenance work, we regret to inform you that The MERL periodicals will be unavailable from Monday 13th February 2017 until further notice.

These are the volumes found in the rooms at the far end of the open access library corridor and includes Country Life, The Engineer, Farmers Weekly, Farmer & Stockbreeder, The Field and Royal Agricultural Society Journal among other journals.

We will make an announcement when they are accessible again.

Students: apply for a landscape research bursary before the end of February

Why should I apply?

Our landscape collections are pretty special.

Read this overview of our landscape collections or search our combined library, archive and object catalogue.

Take a look at reasons to use our landscape collections in your research and topic and resource ideas.

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

But could I apply?

Are you:

A) A taught undergraduate or postgraduate student?

B) Studying landscape architecture, design or management?  History, geography, architecture, environmental science, ecology or design?

C) Desperate to impress your dissertation supervisors?

D) Reading this before 28 Feb 2017?

Then we look forward to receiving your application!  (Just ask us if you want to check you are eligible).

If you are a taught student in part or full-time higher education, you can apply for one of landscape student travel bursaries.

We welcome your innovative ideas on how you will use our collections in your research.

How do I apply?

The purpose of the student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

We are offering 2 bursaries of £150 each.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line).  Applications will be invited from any student in part or full-time higher education.

Interested applicants should submit a CV, and a short statement (max 400 words) outlining their interest in and current work on landscape, stating how the bursary would be spent and how it would be beneficial to their studies.  Applicants should identify those materials in the archive that would be of most benefit to them.

Timetable

28 February 2017 – applications close

31 March 2017 – successful candidates announced

Any work will need to be carried out and monies claimed by 31 July 2017.

 

Please feel free to get in touch with our Reading Room if you have any questions. We look forward to welcoming you and telling you more about our landscape collections.  

Written by Project Librarian: Claire Wooldridge

Discovering the Landscape: Post-War Landscape Architecture project awarded Academic Engagement Bursary

We are delighted to announce that Amber Roberts has been awarded our Landscape Academic Engagement Bursary.

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Amber will be using our Michael Brown Collection to analyse key design theories and projects in the development of the profession of landscape architecture, 1945-1975.  The project will focus on post-war modernist Britain and the international outreach of British landscape architecture.  The post-war era saw significant changes to the practice of landscape architecture, such as the focus on new towns, motorways and industrial sites.

Redditch New Town, Michael Brown (AR BRO)

Redditch New Town, Michael Brown (AR BRO)

Amber’s project will highlight the potential of our Michael Brown Collection whilst shedding light on developments in the field of landscape architecture in the post war period.

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Michael Brown (1923-1996) was a landscape architect and urban designer known for his limited use of materials which produced distinctive landscapes.  The collection contains drawings, slides and photographs.

Thank you to everyone who applied for the bursary.  We received some great applications and it was a tough decision.  We wish Amber all the best with her research and we are looking forward to keeping you up to date with her progress.

 

 

 

Students: your landscape archive needs you

If you are an undergraduate student, don’t forget you have until the end of February 2017 to apply for a bursary to support your use of our landscape collections.  Click here for more information.

Show Garden, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Show Garden, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Please feel free to get in touch with our Reading Room if you have any questions. We look forward to welcoming you and telling you more about our landscape collections.  

Written by Project Librarian: Claire Wooldridge

Discovering the Landscape: how to use our collections in your research

Are you an undergraduate, postgraduate, independent researcher or at school?

Are you studying history, geography, architecture, environmental science, ecology or design?

Then come and use our landscape collections in your research (if you’re an undergraduate apply for one of our landscape student bursaries).  We’ve even got topic and resource ideas listed here.

So why use our landscape collections?  And how?

3 reasons to use our landscape collections:

1. National significance

MERL now holds the best collection of 20th century landscape archives and library material in the UK.  Our Landscape Institute collections hold everything from plans, drawings, slides, books, journals and pamphlets to the LI’s institutional archive containing all of their corporate records, such as minutes and membership files.

So if you are interested in a particular project (from anywhere across the UK), a specific landscape architect (maybe Jellicoe, Crowe, Colvin?), the Landscape Institute itself or the emergence of landscape architecture as a profession then we have what you need.

Lots of our other collections support landscape studies too, such as The Land Settlement Association and the Open Spaces Society.

AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Geoffrey Jellicoe collection, Shute House, AR JEL DO1 S2/20

2.  Explore your archive

Every day we inhabit built and natural environments.  The landscape is all around us, all the time, shaping and informing our lives.

You can reveal all that our landscape collections have to offer by using them in your research.  You can draw out previously unknown themes, connections and discoveries.

We house the collections, keeping them safe and making them available to you.

But only you can bring them alive by using them in your research.

For the MERL and Special Collections teams to thrive, we need tea.  (Never near the collections, of course).  For our landscape collections to shine, they need to be accessed and used.

So be inspired by the National Archives Explore Your Archive week: come and find our more about our landscape collections.

Colvin inscription to the Jellicoe's, in the front cover of a 2nd edition of her Land and Landscape.

Colvin inscription to the Jellicoe’s, in the front cover of a 2nd edition of her Land and Landscape.

 

3. Visual delights!

Our Reading Room visitors are greeted by our beautiful peacock stained glass window

Our Reading Room visitors are greeted by our beautiful peacock stained glass window

We host a lot of reader’s in our wonderful Reading Room.  So we know that you could spend many studious hours looking at reports, minutes or papers.

All very good research that is too.

But you could be looking at this stuff:

(just saying)

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

 

How to search and access our landscape collections

We hope you have been inspired to use our landscape collections.  Here’s how you can find out more:

Students: your landscape archive needs you

If you are an undergraduate student, don’t forget you have until the end of February 2017 to apply for a bursary to support your use of our landscape collections.  Click here for more information.

Please feel free to get in touch with our Reading Room if you have any questions. We look forward to welcoming you and telling you more about our landscape collections.  

Written by Project Librarian: Claire Wooldridge

Shaping the Land – why is the first of our new galleries all about trees?

Written by Guy Baxter, Archivist

The introductory text

The introductory text

The first space that visitors to the new MERL galleries enter is deceptively simple. It contains one object (a timber carriage), one large picture (an oak tree) and one literary quotation. Thanks to the projected animation and immersive soundscape, visitors can also see and hear the seasons change in the woods.

The gallery was conceived to give visitors the idea of being out in the countryside – after all, the Museum is in the middle of a large town. This is where we hint at the idea of there having been a “natural” environment, before people came along and started “shaping the land”. The theme of woodland reminds us that a greater proportion of England would have been wooded in pre-historic times, and so our ancestors would have faced the massive task of clearing trees in order to grow crops and graze animals.

But the gallery also carries a number of smaller and more subtle messages. Let’s start with the oak tree. Not only is this a powerful symbol of England – it appears on the “English” version of the pound coin after all – but the image chosen is the first photograph ever taken of an oak, by William Henry Fox

The Fox Talbot tree and the timber carriage

The Fox Talbot tree and the timber carriage

Talbot. Of course, his connection to Reading is well known given that he produced The Pencil of Nature, the world’s first photographic book, in the town. His oak tree is shown in the winter, standing strong against the ravages of time. Longevity is another trait of oak trees that suits the context of the gallery: the “timeframe” here is one of centuries not years.

The second idea that we introduce is seasonality. This is done through our animation which effectively shows all four seasons in one day – not such a rare occurrence in England! The animation, made by the Netherlands-based firm ShoSho, shows a woodland and also some land beyond that has been cleared – but with a lone oak in the background as well. In this gallery we introduce the changing seasons in nature partly as a prelude to the next section, A Year on the Farm, which examines how the seasons relate to the food that we grow and eat.

The animals that occasionally appear in the animation include a gall wasp. This was partly inspired by Dr George McGavin’s amazing documentary on oak trees in which he notes not only the symbiosis between the gall wasp and the tree but also the subsequent use of oak gall in the production of ink. So much of what is in our library and archive – indeed so much of our recorded history and knowledge – owes a debt to that relationship between insect and tree.

In front of the animation stands the timber carriage – a large and constant reminder of man’s interaction with the land. The carriage itself, also known as a ‘timber jill’, was used for hauling timber by

Photograph of a timber carriage in use

Photograph of a timber carriage in use

the Hunt Brothers of Waterside Works, a firm of millwrights in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The donor, Mr Tom Hunt, requested that they be recorded as ‘in memory of Thomas B. Hunt, Millwright, of Waterside Works, Soham, Cambs.’ This was his father, who died in 1954 at the age of 95 and was working almost up to the last. It was given to the MERL in 1955 – the year that we opened to the public for the first time – so it’s appropriate that it should be “object number 1 in gallery number 1” as we re-open.

We have also displayed a photograph, from the Miss Wight Collection, to show a similar carriage in use. The photograph was taken around 1935 in Aconbury Woods, Herefordshire.

The quotation, chosen by Dr Paddy Bullard in the Department of English and American Literature, is from the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It comes from his poem Pied Beauty. We also considered another of Hopkins’s poems, Binsey Poplars in which he mourns the felling of trees in 1879;

The quotation and the images of leaves

The quotation and the images of leaves

and we looked at using a section from A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Houseman (verse 31) which describes the same wind blowing through the trees that blew on the Romans many centuries before.

Finally, we added some images of leaves – manipulated by our photographer Laura Bennetto to reflect the style of Fox Talbot’s early leaf photographs. The actual images were provided by the Dr Alastair Culham at the University Herbarium and show the following native English varieties: oak, elm, ash, beech, willow, hawthorn, hazel, elder and apple. The leaf motif has also been used to decorate the new areas of glass in the Museum’s introductory area.

This has been a really fascinating gallery to work on and – because of its seeming simplicity – also quite a challenge. We took inspiration from many places and, made some fascinating discoveries along the way – not least David Hockney’s brilliant Yorkshire Wolds film. It has also been a really collaborative effort and one that has, we hope brought out the best of our creative, technical and curatorial skills.

War Child

The MERL is very excited to announce the publication of War Child, an online ‘mixed-media book’ which explores our Evacuee Archive from a fascinating new angle.  In this visually stunning work, Teresa Murjas, Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television at the University of Reading, and alumnus and film-maker James Rattee have woven together an intricate tapestry of content focusing on the story of how the archive came into being and how it continues to shape the life of its creator, Martin Parsons.

war child2 sm
The inspiration for this unique project came from Teresa’s initial meeting with Martin in 2013 when he was speaking about the Evacuee Archive at a meeting for scholars interested in the University’s Collection Based Research programme:

 I became particularly curious about the Evacuee Archive through my meetings with Martin. His willingness to talk to me lies at the centre of the project. My interest about how the archive came into being was generated in discussion with him. The project attempts to tell a story of the archive’s growth through focusing on a series of edited audio fragments from our dialogue and on imagery that investigates and reflects on a small collection of significant objects. These key elements act as ‘guides’ on a sometimes light-hearted journey of exploration into a few of the possible reasons why this archive exists, and the relationships and attachments associated with it. This is why the title of the project incorporates the phrase ‘meditating on an archive’. It might also be possible to argue that the new material we have collected and drawn together as part of the project is an extension of the archive held at MERL, or perhaps that it creates a new gateway to it.

warchild-boatsmThe British Government scheme to evacuate children from cities during the Second World War began in September 1939. Children, usually without their parents, were sent to areas of Britain that were considered safer from bombing and the effects of war, these were often rural areas.  Our collection contains written memoirs, oral history interviews and research material relating to former evacuees and war-children.

In his career as a historian of Second World War child evacuation and lecturer at the University of Reading, Martin accumulated a wealth of research materials and documents which he generously donated to the Museum helping to make our Evacuee Archive the largest resource of its kind outside London’s Imperial War Museum.  While ‘War Child’ displays many of these records and artefacts in an accessible and unique format, the real power of the project is combining the materials collected with audio files, which exhibit its creator’s extensive knowledge of the collection and its origins.  As Martin’s daughter, Hannah, explains in an audio clip from ‘Meeting Five’ of War Child, her father is the archive and it is a rare treat for this kind of memory to be captured alongside the physical collection.

Understanding and exploring this aspect of our archive was however, a natural process for the creators of War Child:

A lot of my research and teaching focuses on the work of arts practitioners whose interests lie in communicating the experiences, memories and stories of children affected by war. ‘War war child - masksmchild’ builds on that research and teaching, in that it seeks to both point towards and respond to, what is a very important conflict-related resource for researchers, whatever their age and background – namely the Evacuee Archive. Seeking to understand and explain how war continues to affect children remains an ongoing and urgent necessity. Consulting and contributing to this ever-expanding archive can form part of that process.

When exploring the War Child site, I personally found Martin’s discussion of the evacuee luggage label of particular interest.  Not only does Martin describe how these labels were a symbol of the immense logistical feat achieved during the War, he also emphasises the dehumanising effect they had on the evacuated children.  Significantly, these labels were often kept as prized possessions and have become an evacuee’s own version of a military medal, with people proudly displaying their labels on Remembrance Day for the march past at the cenotaph.  Meanwhile, for Teresa, one of the most interesting artefacts from the collection is actually one that is missing:

 war child- dollsmI am really interested in the section about the doll. Arguably, I got disproportionately excited about the doll in the archive that cannot be found! No one really knows where it has gone, or when it went. Working through our disappointment, but also our, in retrospect, persistent questions about what it was like, what it would be like to find it and so on, could probably be a bit wearing for Martin at times, I think, and he was extremely patient. Nevertheless, those discussions feel very rich and complex now, because there was this strong sense of investigation about them, on everyone’s part. For me, that section feels in some important way as though it is at the centre of the work.

While War Child is a fantastic companion piece to our Evacuee Archive, it is also an illuminating archive in and of itself; a significant chapter of the story, containing records and memories of the experiences of those most closely involved in developing the collection and bringing it to MERL where it can be preserved for and shared with generations to come.

It would be great if people felt motivated to re-visit War Child over time. It contains a lot of material, and coming back to that in stages, as we have, can shed new light.

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian