Recent Acquisitions

A pleasure of special collections work is purchasing for the collections. Recent acquisitions include two books for the Sterling Library: first editions of Jane West’s The Mother (1809) and Christina Rossetti’s Commonplace and Other Short Stories (1870). Both complement other works by the respective authors in the Sterling Library, and in Senate House Library more widely. As a bonus, both books incorporate something of their history. The Mother at an early stage belonged to Maria Frances Montgomery of Convoy (County Donegal, Ireland). Maria presumably liked West’s didactic style; at any rate, her bookplate is also to be found in a copy of John Bennett’s courtesy book Letters to a Young Lady (not held at Senate House Library).  The Rossetti title formerly belonged to a well-known bookseller and bibliographer, Graham Pollard (1903-1976), several of whose books are held in our Palaeography and Book Studies collections and who is further connected with the University of London by being the son of the first director of the Institute of Historical Research.



Ghost hunting with Harry Price …

Historic Collections recently received a visit from Kirsten Zesewitz of Deutschlandfunk (German national radio) to conduct an interview with Professor Owen Davies and Paul Cowdell, of the University of Hertfordshire, for a forthcoming broadcast on British investigations into ghosts and hauntings. During the interview Owen and Paul discussed the activities and legacy of Harry Price and talked about some of the items from his extensive library and archive, notably a file of papers relating to Price’s 1936 BBC broadcast of his investigations into an alleged haunting at Dean Manor in Kent (HPE/1/2). Price’s script for the broadcast details for his listeners the instruments and equipment placed in the Manor house to detect ‘aural, visual, or thermal phenomena’ and the precautions taken to combat ‘trickery, mal-observation, self-deception, or experimental error’. Price and seven colleagues kept vigil in the house for three and a half hours before broadcasting an account of their experiences at 11.45pm. Price concluded enticingly that ‘under rigid control … I have heard and seen strange things which simply could not be accounted for by normal means’. While ‘not necessarily caused by spirits’, Price ventured that the ‘manifestations were perhaps a somewhat distant echo of some tragic and emotional scene …’.

From the Reading Room

This week Simon Mick (Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat, Freiburg) was in the reading room consulting the Friedrich Gundolf archive which belongs to the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies (IGRS), part of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Gundolf was a literary scholar and a poet.  He rejected an ahistorical approach to the study of literature and his new way of thinking sought to ground great writers such as Goethe and Shakespeare firmly in their own time and culture.  He was interested not just in the texts themselves but also the wider effects that those texts had.

I asked Simon which parts of the archive interested him in particular and how they were relevant to his wider research.  “My search in the archives is mainly a quest to find unpublished poems by Gundolf concerning the death of another member of the George circle (1) – Maximilian Kronberger.  In two of the archive files I found 3 definitely unpublished poems and possibly some others.  I also found an early draft of a poem published later.  After looking at the files concerning Gundolf’s poems I consulted correspondence between several members of the George circle again looking for material relating to the death(s) of any of the circle.  I am carrying out research for my PhD concerning the ‘Poetic Sepulchral Culture of the George Circle’; I am trying to locate every piece of poetic or literary evidence concerning the deaths and/or mourning of members of the circle.  My focus is on the form of the poems regarding mourning alongside associated sociological issues.” 

(1) Stefan George was at the centre of the ‘George Kreis’ an influential grouping of academics and young writers.  He also published  the journal Blätter für die Kunst.

Visit from Beijing

On 10 September we hosted a visit from twenty senior university administrators from Beijing, organised by Beijing Municipal Commission of Education. This is the governing body for all higher education bodies in Beijing, including the appointment of presidents and policy framework. Within England, we worked with the Centre for Higher Education Studies (CHES) at the Institute of Education to enable the visit. After a general talk about Senate House Library, the visitors were shown items fetched out as being of special interest for China or education:  the 1858 charter of the University of London, allowing students studying anywhere in the world to obtain a degree from the University of London; an eighteenth-century textbook; a small book of tangrams from when they first became popular in Europe, entitled The Fashionable Chinese Puzzle (New York, 1818 – testimony to the diversity of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature); books pertaining to description and travel in China in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One of these was one of a series of small travel books about various countries published in the seventeenth century by the publishing family of Elzevier and held in our Elzevier Collection: as this is one of our lesser used collections, it was good to feature it in this way. By special request we also displayed a Shakespeare folio and a copy of Das Kapital inscribed by Karl Marx.

From the Reading Room

The Stuart Papers – part of our microfilms of mansuscripts collection are the feature of our occassional series on visitors to the reading room, the material they choose and the research that they are conducting.


John Bergin of Queen’s University Belfast has been using the microfilms.

The Stuart Papers are of course a very large and very famous collection, which can hardly be ignored by anyone interested in Jacobitism or Catholics in Britain or Ireland, from c. 1690 to at least the mid-18th century. One of my interests is in Irish Catholics and their politics in this period. The papers have been calendered in their entirety to 1718, and extensive selections from the subsequent years have been published in P. Fagan (ed.), Ireland in the Stuart Papers (2 vols, Dublin, 1995).

I wanted to test how good the calendars were for the years to 1718 (excellent, it appears), and to see how complete Ireland in the Stuart Papers is. The latter a more complicated question, and there is certainly material omitted which I was able to examine on microfilm. Though Ireland in the Stuart Papers is an immensely useful edition, it did not include, e.g., correspondence of Daniel Macnamara (1720-1800), an important Irish Catholic lawyer in London who acted as an intermediary between Charles Edward Stuart and his English supporters in the mid-18th century.

The microfilms were easy to use, thanks to the very full card index, created and kept with the original papers in the Royal Archives at Windsor, but also microfilmed. It was especially convenient that Senate House Library has printed these indexes from microfilm, and bound them in 5 volumes; this made reference very fast. Furthermore, Senate House’s superb microfilm viewing and scanning machine made capture and saving of images very easy.
This is certainly the largest single microfilm collection I have ever consulted (well over 550 reels), and the prospect was rather daunting in advance. Senate House’s combination of good organisation, excellent technology and very helpful staff made it suprisingly manageable, and made my visit very productive.”

John Bergin


Dante conference display

The conference season is in full swing again. The Institute of English Studies conference ‘Dante in the Nineteenth Century’ (6-8 September) is an easy one for Senate House Library to support with a display of relevant library material — the main restriction is the size of the available display case, which prevents us from showing illustrations by Blake and Doré. We started with a 1544 edition of the Divine Comedy, a copy known to have been in a library in London, and hence part of the English experience of Dante, in the nineteenth century. On the whole we selected a few of the many editions spanning the nineteenth century, from the miniature Diamond Classic of 1823 to the Dent desire to bring attractiveness to mass production at the end of the century. As Dante was known not just through editions or translations of his works, but through biography, we also wanted to show specimens of books mentioning him. In a year in which Dickens is so prominent, for example, the first edition of Dickens’s Pictures from Italy, with its brief romanticised image of Dante sitting in front of the cathedral in Florence, chose itself.

Edited by Baldassare Lombardi