Cataloguing

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Laura joined A Sense of Place in April and finished her work on the project last month. Here’s a post from Laura summing up her time on the project:

 

75_16

MERL 75/16/1-2

So I’ve come to the end of my time working on the Sense of Place project. Having spent the last 4 months cataloguing I have managed to enhance 3126 records, bringing the grand total to 14703!! My records included 100 fire insurance plaques, 90 horse brasses and 272 plant labels.

During my time cataloguing I came across a number of interesting objects I didn’t even know we had. One of the most unusual items was the plaster-cast of Joseph Arch’s hands (MERL 75/16/1–2). Arch was a hedger and ditcher who went on to found the National Agricultural Labourers Union (1872–1892). It was the first successful union to be established, and at its peak in 1874 had 86,214 members. What is particularly interesting is that we hold no information as to how the hands were cast. You can find out more about the hands here.

I also enjoyed following up an enquiry around a set of various bottles found beneath the hearth of farrier’s workshop in Shelford, Cambridgeshire (MERL 66/8/1–48). The objects contents and location suggested magic and superstition were involved in their use – see my previous post.

I have also been able to get a grasp of our handy but sometimes temperamental database, Adlib. I have learned the importance of recording information, especially about provenance such as where the item was made and used. Having come across many records where even the most basic information is missing, it has made me realise how crucial information is in order for the object to resonate and engage with audiences.

I am now about to start my new role at MERL as the Operations and Administration Assistant. As part of this I will be able to continue cataloguing in my spare time, so hopefully I will be able to help the team reach their target of having a fully digitised catalogue.

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63_473

MERL 63/473.

Things have been a bit quiet on the Countryside21 front over the past month, so we’ve kept ourselves busy by ploughing on with cataloguing and satsifyingly reached yet another milestone on Friday – 11,000 records have now been enhanced!!!

The 11,000th record enhanced was part of the Bushell Brothers Collection. The Bushell Brothers ran a canal boat building and repair firm at Gannel in New Mill, Tring, on the Wendover Arm Canal, until their retirement in 1952. The lamp above (MERL 63/473) was painted by Charlie Bushell.

That still leaves another 7,600 which still need to be enhanced – I’m hoping that we’ll be able to plod our way through those when we have other quiet moments on Countryside21.

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Following on from my previous post about Basketry & Beyond’s visit to MERL yesterday, I just wanted to quickly post the list of information we think it’s important to record about baskets in museum collections. When I attended the Woven Communities basketry symposium last year, several museum curators mentioned the lack of expert knowledge about baskets embedded in their catalogues, and the need to work with basketmakers to better understand their collections. This was also the case with the collections at MERL, although baskets acquired prior to 1970 had been examined by Dorothy Wright, who recorded information systematically in her ‘Catalogue of Baskets’ forms. Building on those forms and the experience I had enhancing the catalogue records for MERL’s basketry collections (see earlier post), I compiled the following list in preparation for Basketry & Beyond’s research visit and for future research visits by other basketmakers. Hopefully this can be used to inform future work about baskets both at MERL and at other institutions. I’d be interested to know if anyone has anything else to add!

General information

  • Standard name of basket
  • Dialect names and where they were used

 Information about this specific basket

  • Creator (who made this basket)
  • Place made (where was this basket made)
  • Date made (when was this basket made)
  • Acquisition source (who was this basket acquired from)
  • Acquisition place (where was this basket acquired from)
  • Acquisition date (when was this basket acquired)
  • User (who used this basket)
  • Place used (where was this basket used)
  • Date used (when was this basket used)
  • Use (what was this basket used for)
  • Materials (what is this basket made from)
  • Construction method/techniques (what is the construction of this basket)
  • Shape (what is the shape of this basket)
  • Dimensions (what are the dimensions of this basket)
  • Unusual features (unusual features of this basket, compared with other baskets of this type)
  • Associated information (anything else relating to this basket)

 Information about this type of basket

  • Materials (what was this type of basket commonly made from, if specific example is different)
  • Construction method/techniques (what was the construction of this type basket, if specific example is different)
  • Period in use (when was this type of basket used)
  • Use (what was this type of basket used for)
  • Distribution (where was this type of basket made/used)
  • Makers (who made this type of basket)
  • Current makers (is anyone still making this type of basket – who are they, where are they based)
  • References (books, articles etc. referring to this type of basket)
  • Images and other media (video, audio etc.) representing this type of basket
  • Wider historical context relating to this type of basket
  • Unusual features (unusual features of this type of basket compared with other types of baskets)
  • Associated information (anything else relating to this type of basket)
  • Other museums representing this type of basket

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10000

Our cataloguing log – we enhanced our 10,000th record today (15 February 2013)

We’ve done it, we’ve finally done it. We have just catalogued our 10,000th record! That’s right – TEN THOUSAND records enhanced! This is the target that Felicity and I have had in our heads since we started the project and, although there were times when we didn’t think we’d get there, we’ve finally done it! And 10,000 records is over half of the total number of object records at MERL. I only hope that once the Sense of Place project is completed there’ll still be the opportunity to do bits of cataloguing every now and then to chip away at the remaining records. It really does feel great to have reached 10,000!!!

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2012 is drawing to a close and so is the Sense of Place project, with just a few more weeks when we come back in 2013.

We’re frantically trying to reach 9000 records before the end of the year – we have about six hours of work left and 30 records to go. I think we can do it! As well has finishing all the cataloguing from the 1950s, we’ve now also finished cataloguing everything that’s been accessioned in the 2000s. So that just leaves 40 years’ worth of objects which need their records enhancing – unfortunately, it’s beyond the scope of the project! But hopefully someone will get a chance to work on the catalogue once A Sense of Place finishes.

The new year will see us winding up A Sense of Place. We still have a little bit more cataloguing we’d like to do before we finish (I’d like to finish the British Council traditional craft collection) and then there’s all the other things to be done – user testing of the enhanced catalogue records, evaluation of the project, launching the Bucklebury App, updating the cataloguing manuals we put together at the start of the project, tidying up object names, going back to records we’ve only partially enhanced because of ‘issues’, and writing our final blog posts.

Until then, we wish everyone a very happy Christmas and New Year!

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Next week, the Sense of Place team will have another chance to tell people about the work we have been doing as part of the project.  We will be giving an informal lecture, ‘A Sense of Place: putting MERL’s objects on the map’, as part of the Museum’s popular Lunchtime Talk series.  We will give guests an introduction to the project, an update of our progress so far through interesting case studies, and a demonstration of some of the resources that we have created.

The talk will take place at the Museum on Wednesday 5th December, from 1-2pm.  It is an informal event, so do feel free to bring your lunch with you.  You can book in advance from the Museum website but don’t worry if you haven’t had chance to book – come along on the day anyway.

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The 1960s.  Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  The Chinese cultural revolution began.  The first series of Star Trek was aired.  MERL acquired object number 60/1/1-2, a pair of candle snuffers from Binfield.  I know this because we have just finished cataloguing every object accessioned to the Museum in the 1950s! 

Our first main motivational target (‘leave the 1950s’) has therefore been reached!  This leaves us with our main personal target remaining: finish 10,000 records by the end of the project.  We’re currently at 8570, so I’d better get started on those candle snuffers…

 

Candle snuffers

60/1/1-2: Candle snuffers from Binfield.

 

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 As you might have guessed from recent blog posts, the past couple of months have been incredibly busy.  Over the last few weeks, then, it has been a real relief to get back to some solid days of cataloguing again, and as a result we have finally reached another milestone – 8000 records enhanced!  Hopefully we’ll pick up pace again over the next couple of months, as we really want to reach that target of 10,000 records by the end of the project. 

 

54/45

To celebrate, I thought I’d share with you an object record that always makes me smile. Whenever I’m getting fed up of cataloguing yet another auger or chisel, I return to this sketch for a bit of cheering up.

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We’ve gone a bit quiet over recent months on the progress of our work with Historypin, so I thought it was perhaps time for an update on what we’ve been doing behind the scenes.  If you go to the MERL Historypin channel you will be able to see some of the first objects we have pinned to the map.  Most of these are from the Berkshire village of Bucklebury, but there are also some wagons and ploughs from a wider geographic area.

Inevitably, these first trial uploads have thrown up some technical issues that we hadn’t considered.  When we export data from our own Adlib database, we want to minimise the alterations made to that data before it is then uploaded to Historypin.  The fewer changes we make in that intermediate stage, the more manageable and future proof the whole process becomes.

Initially, we had exported our data into a CSV file (it stands for ‘comma separated values’, apparently).  When we looked at the resulting pins on Historypin, we realised the limitations of this approach.  Whilst most of our objects have only one known ‘place made’, ‘place used’ or ‘place acquired’ (if at all), there are some objects for which we have more complete object biographies, where we know perhaps two or three previous owners.  Similarly, there might be a composite object, with multiple parts made by different people.

Fork - 60/290

This fork (60/290) was made in multiple places. Its handle was made by Bucklebury handle-maker Harry Wells, whilst the metal head was made by a local blacksmith.

Because of the way they work (something to do with being ‘comma separated values’) CSV files can only export one occurrence of each database field.  We had to find a new method of exporting which would enable us to pin objects to all the places with which they are associated.  We are currently trialling the use of XML files as an alternative.  We’ve yet to try uploading to Historypin in this way, but our first tests show that we can at least export multiple occurrences using this type of file.  So, we’re making progress.

Another problem we’ve been working through is trying to find a way to export latitude and longitude data for associated places.  Focussing on place has already necessitated the addition of extra fields to the database – initially we recorded latitude and longitude in the notes field of the thesaurus records, but specific fields for grid references have since been added, and we now record the information there.  Due to the way the database works, though, we were initially unable to export the latitude and longitude for places added as ‘associated places’ (rather than as a ‘place made’, ‘place used’ or ‘place acquired’).  This problem has since been solved by extra changes to the databases, but it highlights how projects working with technology such as this require a significant amount of technical work behind the scenes to get museum data online.  It is not always just a case of looking at the accession files and then bunging it all on a computer.

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Given that we spend so much of our time looking at places on maps, it is hard not to pay attention to some of the more memorable place names.  There are some gems in the English countryside: places such as Nether Wallop in Hampshire, Wyre Piddle in Worcestershire, and my personal favourite address in Berkshire, Rotten Row, Tutts Clump.  It certainly leads one to think about the origins and etymology of those names.  We notice patterns when cataloguing collections from particular counties; there are lots of places in Sussex with the name component –hurst, and lots in Somerset that include Coombe or Combe.  Incidentally, hurst is a reference to a ‘wooded hill’, and Combe essentially means ‘valley’ (see below for a link to a great website you can search for information like this). 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently spent a lot of time cataloguing ploughs, and one of the most interesting things about the earlier ploughs is that their names often include the name of the county in which they were designed to be used.  Ploughs might be heavy or light for different soil types or the gradient of the landscape.  It is interesting to think that the names of the places in which those ploughs might have been used often reflect those same features of the landscape.  At school in Redditch we were often told that the town was named for the bright red clay that passes for soil in the local area, and like Combe above, many other place names relate to hill and valley features.  As objects often show the links between people and places, so too do the names we call those places.

 

Gloucestershire Long Plough (54/91)

This is a Gloucestershire Long Plough (54/91), used at Bangrove Farm, Winchcombe. The farmer who used it said that the heavy plough was made to cope with the local clay-like soil, and that he had to hitch five Suffolk punch horses to it to get it going 'full pelt'.

Reading, like many other places, is formed of a personal name and the –ing component – it means ‘the people of Reada’.  Reada, according to an article in The Independent, was ‘an otherwise forgotten man… whose name suggests that he had red hair’.  This feels appropriate, given that I am a redhead myself.  Another somewhat amusing place name etymology is that of Nottingham.  It is formed of a personal name, the ­–ing component, and the –ham component.  In total, it formed Snotta-ingas-ham – the village of Snot’s people.  Nottingham is, all things considered, a rather better name.

It is outside the scope of this project to start recording the origins of the place names we are entering into a hierarchy.  A project which is carrying out this valuable task is the Survey of English Place Names, at the English Place-Name Society and the Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham (or, the University of the village of Snot’s people).  On their website, you can search a map with information about the origins of English place names.  There is also a wealth of websites and books out there with information about this fascinating area.  For me, it remains an interesting side topic to the main geographical cataloguing I do.  Noticing these sorts of patterns in the names of places in different areas of the country helps me to get an even better appreciation of the significance of place and the landscape for people’s lives, and consequently, the objects in MERL’s collections.

Perhaps there are some other great place names out there that you know about, or places that mean something to you – do comment on this post and share them.  We might even have catalogued an object from there – we can let you know!

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