butterflies and 150 years of history new plans
to open up the University's collections and archives
musical to scientific instruments, art to archaeology,
zoology to dentistry, the University's thirty special
collections span all disciplines and document life inside
and outside the University over the last hundred and fifty
years. Some are displayed in departments, others still
used as teaching aids, and all have enormous academic
and historical importance. Threatened by changes in teaching
needs and pressures on space and finances, but protected
by dedicated - and in many cases unpaid - curators, these
irreplaceable treasures are now promised a safe future,
thanks to a new plan put together by the University.
hold some of the most important, yet least known and least
accessible, of the country's artistic and scientific artefacts.
Many who retain collections are faced with the problems
of inadequate storage facilities, limited display facilities
and little staff time available for documentation and
upkeep. As a result, the collections are underused for
teaching and research, and little known outside their
respective departments. Some institutions have taken radical
steps to solve these difficulties, getting rid of their
that's not been the case at Leeds, as collections officer
Deborah Snow explains: "Our collections have great academic
and historical significance. Leeds is one of the few universities
in the country to still have a chemistry teaching collection
and a biological collection dating back to the late nineteenth
century, both in their original cases. We are also one
of the first universities to look at positive solutions
for the difficulties and opportunities posed by these
collections, and the plans we are putting together should
be useful for the sector as a whole."
collections, such as the international textiles archive
have secured individual funding to create their own 'museum'
(see Reporter 465), or, like the art collections, are
managed by the library, and exhibited in the University
gallery. Others depend on their respective departments,
where budgets are, as ever, continually under pressure.
Where collections are used in teaching, there is usually
some money to support them, but departments may deem historical
collections to come low on the list of priorities.
senior fellow in biology Sandy Baker (pictured below
with co-curator of the biology collections, Dr Jenny Edmonds),
who works on a voluntary basis as curator of the zoology
collection, explains the dangers this can pose:
biology teaching and research is now on a molecular level,
so the collections aren't much used for these purposes.
However, the discipline moves through swings and cycles,
and we don't yet know our future needs. Leeds' biology
collections exhibit a wonderful range of biodiversity
in the plant and animal kingdoms. It's a heritage worth
curator Pat Harkin is also conscious that much of his
collection is irreplaceable, yet vitally important for
training future generations of doctors: "We have specimens
which show diseases like cutaneous anthrax, once quite
common in Leeds during the height of the city's tanning
industry. The condition is now treatable with antibiotics,
so a similar specimen wouldn't be available today. Photographs
and written descriptions aren't as effective, yet it's
vitally important that doctors learn to recognise such
the University approaches its centenary, the collections
also offer an insight into the work of past academics
and their achievements. The physics collection includes
X-ray material used by 1915 Nobel prize-winners William
and Lawrence Bragg, and a prototype of the range finder
invented by two Yorkshire College academics, Barr and
Stroud, who later set up the well-known optical company
in their names. Range finders were a crucial instrument
used for naval sighting during the First World War.
the brightly coloured compounds and crystals held in meticulously
sealed and labelled glass jars in the chemistry collection
are nodules of manganese, trawled from the ocean floor
during the Challenger expedition of 1876 and residue from
an early experiment by Bunsen of burner fame. To
curator Mike Hoyland (pictured left), the collection
is evidence of the preoccupations and interests of his
are the only place outside the British Museum to hold
manganese from Challenger's expedition which shows
how dedicated the early curators were to building up an
important museum. We're still in the process of cataloguing
the collection, and until that's done, we won't know what
other stories these jars and bottles might tell."
out exactly what the University holds and where it is
was Deborah Snow's first job. She unearthed far more items
than anyone knew existed, and thinks there may still be
important artefacts lost in forgotten drawers or cupboards.
strategy she is putting together has to take into account
not only the diverse content of the collections, but also
their differing use: "It's preferable that collections
can remain in departments, especially in cases like anatomy,
pathology and earth sciences, where they are intensively
used as a teaching resource.
we hope that some of the onus will be taken from departments,
with proper support provided to curators. Simple things
like purchasing a single software system for cataloguing
is an example of how a centralised approach can really
help. We also want to create some exhibition space, where
certain parts of the collection can be put on display
for the wider public."
to this long-term strategy, the University has also applied
for a grant from the heritage lottery fund to widen access
to the collections. If successful, items of particular
interest will be taken out in a series of workshops for
community groups, schools and special interest groups
in the city and wider region.
Snow (pictured right) said: "Using the collections
in this way makes the University itself less intimidating,
as academic study is shown as something concrete, that
people can see, touch, and relate to. We hope the project
will encourage wider access, taking the University out
to new and non-traditional audiences."
final strand of the new plan is the creation of a centre
for heritage research, with University academics joining
forces with local museum curators to encourage research.
Collaboration between universities and museums is fairly
unique, and centre director Dr Graeme Gooday hopes it
will see the start of a wider use, both within and without
the University, of the underused resource that the collections
centre's inaugural seminar takes place at 4.30pm on April
30 in the University Gallery. Speakers include head of
collections for Leeds museums and galleries, Tim Corum,
and director of education and learning at the Yorkshire
Museums Council, Jane Walton.
more details, see http://www.leeds.ac.uk/heritage/
full list of the collections can be seen on the collections
website at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/collections/
ancestors former chair of geology Professor P F
Kendall, on Fylingdale Moor in 1912, one of 10,000 mainly
local photographs in the Godfrey Bingley collection taken
between 1884-1912 and held in media services