Dr Neil Cocks gives a public lecture on the Ladybird archive

Dr Sue Walsh writes:

On March 1st Dr Neil Cocks gave an open lecture on ‘The Ladybird Archive atReading’.  He was introduced by Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, the director of CIRCL (Reading’s Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media) and of the MA in Children’s Literature (www.reading.ac.uk/circl/MAinfo.htm).  Karin explained a little of the history of how CIRCL came to be aware of the Ladybird archive and of Neil’s work with MERL (The Museum for English Rural Life – www.reading.ac.uk/merl/) which will result in a unique opportunity to see the wonderful collection of original Ladybird artwork currently held in the archives, at an exhibition to be held at MERL in September of this year.

 

Neil’s talk was attended by a wide range of people, from undergraduates and postgraduates in English to alumni of the MA in Children’s Literature, and from representatives from a range of departments in the University including Typography and Modern Languages to people from outside the University, both from its immediate environs and from as far afield as London and Bristol.  Before the talk there was a very rare opportunity to see close-up a small display (organised by Guy Baxter, the University Special Collections Archivist), of the truly stunning original artworks for Ladybird’s What to Look for in Autumn (from the What to Look for series published in 1959-61), by the renowned wildlife illustrator and engraver C. F. Tunnicliffe.

 

As to the talk itself, Neil demonstrated with great virtuosity that the supposed simplicity of children’s literature should be subjected to serious scrutiny by showing the multiple and complex ways in which one double-page spread from What to Look for in Autumn could be read as raising questions about the relationship of pictures to written text, and of text (both pictorial and written) to reality.

 

At the end of the talk Neil invited the audience to join with him in discussing another illustration from the text, and the responses and questions showed how involving and engaging the audience had found the talk as many further issues were touched on and explored: from Tunnicliffe’s working practices, to typographical questions about the effects and implications of how written text is placed on the page, to ideas about how differentiations between man and the natural world are both set up and broken down by the texts.  I came out of the talk buzzing with excitement and ideas and the people there that I had the opportunity to speak to afterwards clearly felt the same way.

For more information about the MA programme offered by the Centre for International Research in Childhood, see below:

CIRCL MA-A5-leaflet-web-2012

 

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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