The Dingwall Papers: Conservation of a Diverse Collection

EJD cropped 1Welcome to the Dingwall project blog! This blog will follow a project funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve just one of the University’s diverse collections held in the archives of Senate House Library.

First off, a brief introduction to the life of Eric John Dingwall with some key points from his life:

  • Born in Ceylon in around 1891 (Dingwall was unsure of his actual date of birth)
  • A Graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, he joined the staff of the Cambridge University Library in 1915 as a volunteer and went on to become an assistant librarian, leaving in 1918
  • In his youth he developed an enduring interest in magic and was eventually elected to the Magic Circle.
  • This informed his approach to the investigation of the physical phenomena of mediumship, his major contribution to the Society for Psychical Research which he joined in 1920.
  • In 1921 he spent a year in the United States as Director of the Department of Physical Phenomena at the American Society for Psychical Research
  • He was then appointed research officer to the British Society in 1922. He also had an interest in sexual deviation and peculiar sexual practices, which annoyed some of his colleagues at the Society and led to the termination of his appointment in 1927
  • Released from his responsibilities at the SPR he continued to publish books
  • In 1932 he was awarded his DSc from University College London
  • After the war he became Honorary Assistant Keeper at the British Museum Library (later the British Library) where he became a recognised authority on historical erotica, as well as on magic and psychical research
  • He also continued to publish books including two collections of short biographies of strange characters
  • Married twice, his first wife left him and his second died in 1976. Dingwall spent his remaining years independently and alone until his death on 7 August 1986.

In his will, Dingwall stipulated that his collection of notes and press cuttings be gifted to the University of London on his death. The collection arrived at the University in 1990, and is housed in the Historic Collections department of Senate House Library. It includes slip indexes, scrapbooks, albums and technical correspondence files. After a successful application to the Wellcome Trust, a grant was given to enable the cataloguing and conservation of the collection.

Once catalogued the collection will be open to viewing for research under supervision with the exception of the technical correspondence, which will remain closed until 2025 (as requested by Dingwall in his will).



From the Reading Room

Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (Oxford, 1675)

l calling

Clarissa Sutherland has been in the reading room this week reading the above volume amongst others.  I asked her about her research and this book in particular.

‘I’m writing about the first English stage actresses of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries for my Undergraduate History dissertation. Through my research, I’m attempting to discover whether these women had any impact on society’s views on femininity, and the lives of ordinary women. Richard Allestree’s tract The Ladies Calling is essentially a conduct book for young ladies, taking them through the fundamentals of femininity – modesty, chastity, piety – and detailing how they should behave throughout life – as virgins, wives and widows. The source was essential to my research as it has helped outline the ‘ideal femininity’ of the late seventeenth century which, in conjunction with texts from the later eighteenth century, will allow me to ascertain what kind of an impact the first actresses had, if any. It has also suggested that femininity in the period was very much a construction, which has been useful in my discussion of the actresses’ ‘private’ (yet fairly public) lives potentially being just as much of a construction as the roles they played professionally. Although not strictly related to my question, I was interested to discover a certain empathy with women in Allestree’s writing, which is often absent from moralising discourse. For instance, his assertion that women could be just as great as men if only given an education is a view which would not have been shared by all of his contemporaries.’

As well as the many published works in its collections, Senate House Library holds a good deal of material relating to the theatre both in specialist book collections and in the archives.  The Ternan Family Papers and the Longley Collection of books concern the life and times of actress Ellen Lawless Ternan, who is also known for her affair with Charles Dickens.  Malcolm Morley was an actor/manager/stage director and the Malcolm Morley Collection and archive cover a wide time period and are rich in material on a range of theatrical subjects.  The Florence Farr Papers concern this leading 19th-century West End actress who was also a women’s rights activist, novelist and journalist. She advocated universal suffrage, equal protection for women under the law and workplace equality.  A bohemian’s bohemian she collaborated with artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and theatrical producer Annie Horniman.

Readers may like to attend a talk and discussion hosted by Jonathan Harrison (Head of Special Collections) and Professor Michael Slater (leading Dickens Scholar): ‘The Malcolm Morley Collection of Dramatic Literature’ will be held in the Seng Tee Lee Centre, Senate House Library, on Wednesday 13th March at 6.00pm.  Those wishing to attend should contact the library office on .

From the Reading Room.

‘Cherries nice, cherries nice, come choose,
Fresh and fair ones, who’ll refuse?’

This week Zahava Dalin came to the Reading Room to consult Rebecca and Rowena by William Thackeray, written under the pseudonym M.A. Titmarsh.  The edition she chose is from the Sterling Library and features 8 hand-coloured illustrations by Richard Doyle. The work was originally published in Fraser’s Magazine.  I asked Zahava why she was interested in this volume and how it related to her wider study.

‘As a student of the M.A. Romantic Studies program at Birkbeck College, I am fascinated by how the Romantics turned to medieval themes and topics as a source of inspiration for their own ideals. I took a course in the sibling program, M.A. Victorian Studies and we were asked to compile a critical bibliography on a novel from the 19th-century Farrer Collection.

Ivanhoe (in disguise), Athelstane, Rowena, Cedric and Wamba the jester.

I chose Sir Walter Scott’s work of medieval historical fiction, Ivanhoe, a Romance.  In the course of my research, I was surprised to discover this spoof of Thackeray’s in the Senate House Library’s Special Collections. It is a humorous continuation to Ivanhoe, in large part based on Thackeray and his contemporaries’ dissatisfaction with the fate of the female protagonists in that novel’s conclusion. His “Icy, faultless, prim, niminy-piminy Rowena” (p. 5) henpecks Ivanhoe, who flees England and his wife for the latest crusade. Eventually Rowena dies, Rebecca avows her Christianity and she and Ivanhoe wed. The novel not only proves that readers in the nineteenth century found Ivanhoe lacking, and in what way, but also provides evidence for Victorian criticism of Romantic ideals.

The King and Sir Wilfrid play chess as the messenger arrives.

Thackeray focuses on what he perceives as Scott’s overly unrealistic idealization of chivalry. On an entirely separate note, Thackeray’s treatment of Rebecca, whom he admires, is entirely antithetical to Ivanhoe’s original conclusion. Though both Scott and Thackeray esteem the Jewish figure, Scott also respects the role of Rebecca’s religious faith in giving her character strength. Thackeray’s solution to the Jewish protagonist, typical of his time, is to convert her.  I highly recommend this text for anyone interested in Victorian reactions to Romanticism, those researching 19th-century satirical texts, or anyone looking at 19th-century literary reactions to English Jewry.’

From the Reading Room

All this week Dayton Haskin has been working in the reading room, a professor at Boston College, Newton, Massachusetts, USA; he has been looking at some material from the University of London Archive.  I asked Dayton why this material was of particular interest to him and how it was relevant to his research.

‘I am working on a book about how English Literature was turned into an academic subject in American colleges and universities, c. 1870-1910.  These institutions created ‘English’ departments and associated curricula ahead of the Oxford English School (c. 1904) and the Cambridge Tripos for English (c. 1917).  However, precedents for faculties such as these had already been set in other British Universities as evidenced by, for example, the UoL BA exam papers and the University Extension Lectures.  The exam questions and associated syllabi found in the University Calendars and material in the Extra Mural studies archive are my main sources.  I have been aided by two catalogues compiled by Piers Cain, 1982, one regarding the Extra Mural department and the other Examination Registers.  Within English Literature I have been concentrating on how Shakespeare and Milton were made into academic subjects.’

The University Archive

These are the records created by the University’s Central Administration, which are listed online.  These records reflect that, from its inception, the University of London was at the forefront of fundamental change by its inclusion of non-conformists, women, and external students from all around the globe.

From the Reading Room

As part of a regular series, we ask one of the researchers using the Historic Collections Reading Room to describe how they are using the collections in their research.  Katherine Johnston, a visiting PhD researcher from Columbia University has been using the microfilm collection Plantation Life in the Caribbean, which reproduces material from the Vanneck-Arcedekne papers, held at Cambridge, and the Simon Taylor Papers (ICS120), part of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies collections at Senate House Library.  As well as bringing together two important archive collections, the microfilm is also important as a surrogate for the fragile original papers.

I have been reading the papers of Simon Taylor, a planter who lived in Jamaica in the late eighteenth century.  He wrote numerous letters to a friend and absentee planter in England, and this week I’ve been looking through about thirty years of correspondence.  This material is incredibly rich, filled with accounts of the weather, plantation management, and the health care of the enslaved populations.  I find his letters to be of interest in part because he discussed political issues, such as debates about the abolition of the slave trade and the French and Haitian revolutions, but mostly because he provides some excellent accounts of health care on Jamaican plantations.  My research focuses on concerns about health in the eighteenth-century West Indies and Taylor’s letters provide the most comprehensive source I have seen to date.  He was not a doctor himself, but was preoccupied with combating illnesses such as yaws and lockjaw that severely affected enslaved people.   

The collection is part of a range of archival material in Historic Collections on slavery and plantations; other important collections include the Newton family Papers (MS523), the Hewitt Papers (MS522) and the Castle Wemyss Estate papers (ICS101).  These resources are complemented by print holdings on slavery and abolitionism in the Goldsmiths Library and Porteus Library.

From the Reading Room

On occasion we ask a researcher from the reading room why they are using the material we have supplied for them.

Nessa Malone was in last week working on a volume of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tracts relating to comets for the Historical Bibliography module of her MA in Library and Information Studies, which she is undertaking at UCL.  I asked her why she was particularly interested in this volume: ‘The pamphlets reflect how there was a shift in thought about comets and astronomy in the seventeenth century.  They are part of the Augustus De Morgan collection; he was a nineteenth century mathematician. 

From ‘Lectures and Collections / Made by Robert Hooke..’ Robert Hooke, London, J Martyn…, C1678

In the sixteenth century comets were interpreted in relation to the Zodiac, the cosmology of Aristotle and as signs from God.  In the seventeenth century this classical and medieval legacy blended with the discoveries of Kepler, Brahe and Galileo, Protestant ideas of providence and the new experimental science of the Royal Society.  Comets were interpreted as natural and political signs.

The seventh pamphlet in the volume ‘The Petitioning Comet’ was written during the Exclusion Crisis and the Popish Plot of the 1680s.  Other pamphlets relate historical events to the sighting of comets.  Robert Hooke’s ‘Cometa’ includes ‘Mr Hally’s Letter and Observation of the Comet of 1677’ which first details how the transit of Venus across the Sun can be used to calculate the distance of the Earth from the Sun. 

‘Mr. Hally’s letter and observation of the same made at St. Hellena’ (detail) from Lectures and Collections… Robert Hooke

Halley’s career was negatively affected by the view that he was overly irreligious.   The last pamphlet in the volume from 1757, ‘On the Calculation and Measurement of the Orbit of the Comets’, has no historical or political content showing how scientific interpretations had subsumed the astrological and/or the political.’

Nessa Malone June 2012 MA student.