Much of my work, apart from teaching, involves me sitting for long hours in front of the computer. I talk about old things, the digitisation of old things, and the wonder of old things… but actually, its very rare nowadays that I have the time to get involved with the physical media. So I was pleased today to finally make it up to UCL Special Collections to have a behind the scenes tour from the Head of Special Collections. We’re planning some interesting research projects (more very soon about this I hope!) and I got to see some treasures, housed in an unassuming ex-warehouse ten minutes walk north of UCL central campus.
What did I see. Well. The Johnston-Lavis collection of early printed material that relates to Volcanoes (one of my students a few years ago made that fantastic website as part of their project based on the collection, and it was great for me to finally see the books). Sir Galton’s work on the invention of fingerprinting technology. The first edition of probably the most important medical book ever published – recording Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood. These and others … and last but not least, the slipcases above, which contain the manuscripts and diaries of one Eric Blair, including the notebook for his development of a little book called “1984”. Wonderful.
UCL Library Special Collections is one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. I really didnt know much about it until my visit today. If you are in London, try and make a trip north of the Euston Road to see what they have.