(Not) A Very Merry Christmas!

18 December 2018

By Lindsey Tydeman

Christmas isn’t always the perfect family time we like to think it is… sometimes illness, arguments, unexpected tasks, family tensions and catastrophes get in the way. We’ve selected some memories from the diaries in the Mass Observation archive of Christmases past which didn’t quite go according to plan…

‘My brother is a policeman and the most reactionary person I know; also he is stoically heterosexual, with two rather colourless children and a wife who thinks women should be paid less than men. It had always been a problem for me to relax among them. The last Christmas I spent with them was agonising. ..There were too many rows. I said ‘Never again’. And I never returned to that house, even for a visit.’
M, 45 SXMOA2/1/20/3

Detail from John Leech’s illustrations to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1st edition (Chapman and Hall, 1843) in the Gilbert Foyle Collection, SxGilbertFoyle/22

‘A nice short service but the ‘Te Deum’ was bloody awful… Read ‘National Velvet’ all afternoon… Gram on all evening, bed 10.30.’
M, 24 SXMOA99/51

‘Rob told me he had had a very severe bout of food poisoning…he thinks on reflection, it was the antipasto. He was violently sick all night and part of the next day…Meanwhile, he told me, Ruth had started to feel ill… As we spoke, upstairs in my bedroom she was violently sick, into a plastic carrier bag, it seems.’
F, 60 SXMOA99/14/4/15

‘The only misfortune was the Aran sweater that my aunt knitted for Elizabeth. The thank you letter is going to take a lot of careful phrasing as the sweater was far too small and had one sleeve an inch longer than the other… If only she’d rung for measurements!’
F, 53 SXMOA2/1/20

‘Karen helped both Marjorie and me to get up out of our seats and to be lowered gently into them! At 86 and 89 both movements need a strong arm to prevent a struggle or undignified collapse… I told Karen to be wary of handsome boys who tend to be demanding and arrogant… I have seen quite a few of them married for six or eight years and then going off with another woman and bringing another family into existence… I didn’t tell her that a billion pounds had not been paid to the first deserted families. Women have had the worst of the sexual revolution.’
M, 89 SXMOA99/85/1/10

‘Eventually cooked a turkey steak, potatoes, green beans and sprouts and was having it as it got dusk. However Jane had brought Sweep across to be here as a refuge because they had visitors and he was unhappy and restless, going to the door, clawing at the carpet etc so I let him out. This deterred me from my dinner and it got a bit cold and I didn’t enjoy it much.’
F, 71 SXMOA99/92/18

‘When I got home Bob went out to ‘do his kiosk’. He takes part in the BT ‘Watch the Box’ scheme which aims to prevent vandalism and ensure speedy reporting of faulty (telephone) kiosks. His particular box is about three-quarters of a mile away and he had reported the coin slot as jammed on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day he decided to take a screwdriver and see if he could free the jammed coins as he did not think the coin box was full. He also made sure he had his BT identity card in his pocket in case someone thought he was a vandal. In fact, the slot was jammed with two 5p pieces stuck together (a trick to try to get £1 worth of phone time, apparently) and he freed it easily with the screwdriver.’
F, 53 SXMOA2/1/20

‘Christmas shopping and preparations begin for me any time after the summer. I make out lists of people to whom I send things, averaging, over the past four years, 45. I keep past lists for about three years so that I may check up and avoid repetitions… on the other hand I don’t like festivities. I am unsociable and avoid them.’
F (no age given) SXMOA1/3/25/1

Detail from John Leech’s illustrations to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1st edition (Chapman and Hall, 1843) in the Gilbert Foyle Collection, SxGilbertFoyle/22

‘Xmas was a day of gloom in our family, my father hated it and did his best to make it a day of misery my mother being religious tried to jolly it up so we had these two opposing forces battling it out, and the shadow of the marital war-games stills hangs over the 25th for me… A gay Xmas is much nicer and less trouble.’
F, 50 SXMOA16/1/1/64/12

‘Christmas at home consists of washing up (one maid and about seven in the house); sitting in the lounge (there are no comfortable chairs) and watching my father go to sleep after lunch; perhaps a walk round suburban roads in the morning and on Christmas morning a ridiculous ceremony of opening presents… I particularly dislike my sister and do my best to conceal it.’
F (no age given) SXMOA1/3/25/1

‘A went to bed for his usual siesta. I watched The Reluctant Dragon, which I had recorded and which, in 1941, I had given top rating. Why? I was very unimpressed and bored by it all and even the cartoon was below Disney’s then high standard…. We are both very relieved when Twelfth Night has passed and it can all be abandoned. I enjoyed my childhood Christmasses and our carol services at boarding school, but that was then; this is now.’
M, 68 SXMOA16/1/2/18/12

‘Continued typing a letter begun yesterday to a dear gay friend in Australia. He’d sent me a tea towel with lots of little Koala bears on it, and a sexy Xmas card. At page five-and-a-half I smelt burning. The peas! Mostly blackened; I salvaged a few and got some more out, scoured the black pan, boiled it clean again and set it boiling again; this time winding up my very useful timer clock to remind me in five minutes.’
M, 66 SXMOA16/1/2/18

‘I spent all Xmas Day in bed coughing due to a flu virus, waited on hand and foot by my mate who had had it a little earlier but was still coughing. Luckily we have two different coughs, she sounding like a trombone, I like a cat being sick.’
F, 50 SXMOA16/1/1/64/12

‘Shopping – I leave that as far as possible to mother. Services – never attend them. Emotions – disgust. Interest – nil. Parties – never go to any. Dances – don’t dance…. Christmas I know from past experience will be a bore, it always is. For example, Christmas Day, spent at home with parents and a widow of some 75 years who always visits us at that time. Dinner is late and mother gets irritated because of the extra cooking. After dinner sit around and eat chocolates and nuts and play some damn fool card game.’
M, 28 SXMOA1/3/25/2

Detail from Birmingham Co-operative Society leaflet, 1938, SXMOA1/3

‘I cycled to church… a lovely ride through West London. The church was a tiny one in Petersham. I wore trousers but no-one in my family complained. It was the first time I had darkened the doors of a church for ages…..We had Christmas dinner at half past six. My sister had provided a chestnut and apple roast as a turkey substitute for me and the other vegetarian in the family. My other sister asked me to wear a skirt for the meal. I declined but I don’t think she really expected me to anyway.’
F, 25 SXMOA16/1/2/3/11

‘The evening buffet started with soup served in the dining room but – Someone Had Blundered and the buffet was not yet laid out in the Turpin Room and we had to wait. Profuse apologies from the waiter.’
F, 77 SXMOA99/92/18


German-Jewish history and identity: exploring the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers at The Keep

24 September 2018

by Anika Wagner

Alles Erleben ist eine Episode. Auch Hitler war eine Episode. Daß er nur eine Episode bleibt, liegt an Euch.’

‘Every experience is an episode. Even Hitler was an episode. That he remains just an episode is up to you.’

Eva Ehrenberg, Sehnsucht – mein geliebtes Kind, p67

I’m a Librarian Master’s student from Berlin/Leipzig, Germany and, earlier this year, I joined The Keep for a nearly nine-week internship. This is not my first time abroad; during my apprenticeship as Library Assistant and my Bachelor study I’ve already been in London, Baltimore and Vienna to work in different libraries. So the procedure in preparation for this internship was nothing new to me. In November 2017, I started to write to lots of different libraries in the UK, asking for the possibility to intern with them. Luckily, I got a positive reply from the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep. After this, I applied for financial support from ERASMUS+ and my University’s Friends’ association (both of which I got, hooray), booked my accommodation and finally the flight as well.

Still, it was exciting: a new house, a new city, a new workplace and new colleagues. Everyone was really welcoming and tried their best to make me feel comfortable! During the first few days, I was introduced to all the staff here (unfortunately I’m not good at remembering names), had a tour of the building and got familiar with the collection I was going to work with over the next few weeks.

Rewrapping the archive material to ensure it is protected

Rewrapping the archive material to ensure it is protected

My work here focused on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. I checked the collection box by box, folder by folder. In six weeks, I got through the first 33 boxes, which contain a lot of different materials, from letters, photographs, passports and medals to newspaper cuttings and even hair. With each folder, I compared the catalogue entry with the real material. Was everything in the folder? Was the number of pages identical? Did the description match? Sometimes I had to give the material a new title to make it more meaningful. Last but not least, I tried to fit the material into a new, revised classification. Some objects needed new packaging, so I got new folders for them or wrapped them in tissue paper and made a label with their reference number and title on it. It felt a bit like wrapping Christmas presents.

While doing this, I had the chance to read the odd letter or literary manuscript. This was really fascinating and I had to watch out to not just read all day long. With every folder and box, I got deeper into the Ehrenberg family. When I reached the boxes with the family’s photo albums and loose photographs, I already knew so much about the people, what their past had been and what become of them in the future. It’s saddening when you read next to a portrait the simple caption ‘Hans im Konzentrationslager’ (Hans in concentration camp), although you already know he survived. I got most emotional about the photos of Eva Ehrenberg in her later years, as she reminded me of my grandmother.

My attempt to get an overview of the Ehrenberg family and their relatives

My attempt to get an overview of the Ehrenberg family and their relatives

I was told me on one of my first days that I may need to write a family tree while working on that collection. First this advice puzzled me a bit, but soon I did so. In the end I had at least five family trees interweaving different strands of the Ehrenberg family.

The Ehrenbergs, especially Eva, were in contact with so many different people that I easily got lost. Even if it turned out that they were related, I still had to work out which side (Eva or Victor) they belonged to. Luckily there is already material about that in the collection itself. One of my most exciting objects in this collection was a book about an old German legend (I had never heard of before) which was dedicated by the late Kaiser Wilhelm II to Eva Ehrenberg’s father Siegfried Sommer.

In my last two weeks, I did some research in preparation for a collaboration with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. They also hold material by and about the Ehrenberg family, which they have already digitised. I checked their digital archive to see if what they hold is also in the Ehrenberg/Elton Papers collection at The Keep, so it can be later linked into the catalogue.

As The Keep is a partnership of different institutions, I was  introduced to their staff, their work and their different kinds of materials. I also had the opportunity to join a lot of sessions and events of different kinds. These included a workshop called ‘Refugees in Times of Crisis, 1938-2018’, which reminded me that history sometimes repeats itself, and the 12 May Day Diary, with fun activities like badge-making. I didn’t know that so much could be done for outreach in an archive. Most of the sessions were for students to show them what an archive is and the kinds of materials are held here. It was really impressive to see how enthusiastically the colleagues spoke about their work and collections!

Having fun at the 12 May Day Diary event at The Keep

Having fun at the 12 May Day Diary event at The Keep

I’m really sad that my time in Brighton and The Keep ended so quickly. I would have liked to spend more time here and finish my work on the Ehrenberg-Elton Papers. Whilst working here I learnt a lot: about archives in general and The Keep’s collections in particular, about British life, emigration and identity, and about German-Jewish history. Of course, in school we often talked about this dark episode in German history but my own country’s history became more graspable to me, working with all these authentic and personal materials. Especially at a time when right-wing populists are regaining power in so many countries, it is important to know the history and prevent repeating it.

I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the work of archives to join The Keep for an internship or work experience. It was my most enjoyable internship, and I’ve done eight so far!




A Digital Woolfian ‘Ode’

24 July 2018

By Dr Bryony Randall, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Glasgow

Just over a year ago, on 14 July 2017, an innovative new digital edition was launched of a short work by Virginia Woolf, rejoicing in the name Ode Written Partly in Prose on Seeing the Name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s Shop in Pentonville (surely the longest name Woolf gave to any of her works). The six-page typescript of this work is one of the most fascinating items in the Monks House Papers, the archive of Virginia Woolf’s papers held by the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep, and was selected for republication by the New Modernist Editing Network, or NME.

Virginia Woolf, photographed c1912

Virginia Woolf, photographed c1912

The NME (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) brought together people involved in or with an interest in the scholarly editing of modernist texts, including academics, publishers, editors and book artists, in the light of the many new editions of modernist writers currently underway. One of our aims was to produce an interactive digital edition of a modernist work, and to showcase some of the issues and challenges faced by the editor of a modernist text by handing over as much control as possible to the reader. The new edition, produced collaboratively between Network members, can be found here, and we would be delighted to get feedback from anyone who’d like to explore it!

This digital edition of the ‘Ode’ shares many features with existing digital editions of literary texts. For example, we were able to reproduce facsimile images of the original typescript, alongside a transcript. This was particularly important since, in common with the vast majority of the short fiction Woolf wrote, the ‘Ode’ remained unpublished during her lifetime. So we are not dealing with something that Woolf necessarily saw as a finished work, and we wanted to convey this to the reader. What’s more, Woolf’s typing was not particularly accurate, so her editors often choose to ‘correct’ the typescripts they have quite substantially in published versions. By presenting the facsimile and interactive edited version side by side, the reader can clearly see – and if they wish, disagree with! – the editorial ‘corrections’ made.

Another feature common to many digital editions is the presentation of explanatory notes as pop-up windows which appear when you click on an underlined word, rather than having to turn to the back of a book as one would with a printed edition. But we also used this feature to show a range of alternative possible readings of Woolf’s handwritten insertions, some of which are more or less illegible – even to experts with years of experience of reading Woolf’s handwriting! In addition, Woolf herself revised the typescript in both ink and pencil; the digital format means that readers are able to view a transcript showing the pencil revisions only, or ink revisions only.

Screenshot of the index page of the NME digital edition of Woolf's text

Screenshot of the index page of the NME digital edition of Woolf’s text

However, one important feature of this text makes it particularly intriguing and distinctive as the subject of a new digital edition. Although the use of the term ‘Ode’ in the title, to some extent the quality of the language, and the layout of the type on the page, may collectively indicate that this text was intended to be set out with line breaks like verse, there is also evidence to the contrary. For a start, the title indicates that the text is indeed ‘partly in prose’. In addition, a number of Woolf’s typescripts from around the period that ‘Ode’ was typed have a similar appearance to this one, with a very wide left hand margin taking up almost one third of the width of the page. For that reason, we felt that the question of whether to preserve the line endings of Woolf’s typescript remains moot, and invite the reader to experiment with the effect of each version – whether presented as verse, or as prose.

In the year since its launch, this edition has been used for teaching in a number of universities across the UK and beyond. We’re delighted that it’s proving useful in introducing students to some of the issues facing the scholarly editor, and hope it piques further interest within and beyond academia. The idea of ‘textual editing’ might evoke images of the solitary scholar buried in a dusty archive ploughing through arcane manuscripts; our hope is that this digital ‘Ode’ not only showcases Woolf’s own lively and dynamic writing, but does so in a way that brings out the lively and dynamic aspects of the work of the textual editor!

Lights, Camera, Action! Introducing the Richard Attenborough archive

12 June 2018

By Eleanor King

Following an 18-month cataloguing project, the archive of Lord Richard Attenborough, former Chancellor of the University of Sussex, is now accessible to the public here at The Keep. The archive came to the University’s Special Collections based at The Keep from Attenborough’s home and offices in Richmond in November 2015. Two archivists and one graduate archive intern were employed to organise, appraise and catalogue the collection of papers, photographs and memorabilia that span Attenborough’s life and career from his early days as a drama student at RADA to his final film project Closing the Ring in 2008; nearly 70 years.

Whilst much of the material pertains to Attenborough’s film career, both in front of and behind the camera, the collection also covers his other business and personal interests, including his involvement with Chelsea Football Club and Capital Radio. Attenborough was also committed to many charity projects throughout his life, which feature predominantly in the business and personal correspondence that can be viewed here at The Keep. As one might expect with a high profile figure such as Attenborough, there are many famous faces and names (including his brother Sir David Attenborough) scattered amongst the collection’s vast correspondence, and throughout the 25,000+ photographs. Frequent correspondents include Sir John Mills, Bryan Forbes and Sir John Gielgud, as well as political figures such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and royalty including Prince Charles, Diana Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II.

Correspondence between Richard Attenborough and Dirk Bogarde can be found in the archive

Correspondence between Richard Attenborough and Dirk Bogarde can be found in the archive

Fittingly, one of the largest series in the collection is the material relating to Attenborough’s film epic Gandhi. Although Attenborough’s 20-year journey to make the film is already fairly well documented, what one learns from this archive is the true scale and scope of this project, how close it came to being made in both the 1960s and 70s, and how very different a film it would have been. Examples of the scale of the project include ‘Call Sheet 55’, the call sheet for the day of filming Gandhi’s funeral procession, also known as ‘Operation Rajpath’. For this sequence, over 300,000 extras were used, and perhaps unsurprisingly in this day of CGI, this scene still holds the record for the greatest number of extras used in a film. Attenborough’s personal commitment to the project is also striking, and he directly sought the ear of Indian and British Government officials. Long-running correspondence between Attenborough and figures such as Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi are indicative of the respect and admiration he inspired throughout his life.

The material relating to Gandhi is just one example of the scale of this fascinating collection, which offers a unique insight not only into the life of Richard Attenborough, but also into Britain in the 20th century. Alongside his personal career as an actor, producer and director, Attenborough was also a pioneer of the British film industry and worked tirelessly to promote and save it. Largely overlooked in most biographical writing, Attenborough also maintained a career in broadcasting and journalism throughout the 1950s, focusing mainly on music journalism. He supported many charities, with a focus on access to the arts for those with disabilities, and was a lifetime supporter of the Muscular Dystrophy Group, becoming its President in 1971. As well as his commitment to charity work at home, he actively supported civil rights causes abroad such as the release of Nelson Mandela and an end to Apartheid in South Africa. In short, this archive offers a unique view of a changing time.

Photographs capture the making of Brighton Rock in 1948, with Attenborough starring as Pinkie Brown

Photographs capture the making of Brighton Rock in 1948, with Attenborough starring as Pinkie Brown

Attenborough’s list of accolades and achievements is impressive, but among the documents relating to these, and the celebrity names and faces, there are also letters and correspondence from fans, listeners, viewers and the public in general, and these have proved an equally enlightening record of this man’s life, work and achievements. So now you can come and discover ‘Dickie’ for yourself – there really is something for everyone in this collection. ‘Keep’ an eye on our website for further updates from the collection and also activities and events that we will be holding in connection with this truly remarkable archive.






Delving into Mass Observation – what the 12th May Day Diaries can tell us about health

24 April 2018

By Kirsty Pattrick

The joy of the day diary is that it catapults the reader into someone’s life for that brief moment. With a fascination of people, their lives and behaviours, this always feeds my sheer nosiness. The 12th May day diaries come from people of all ages across the UK, and they always leave me wanting more. All we know of these writers is their age and gender; that is our only request for the purpose of this collection, although some give further biographical information. I read of the mundane to the life-changing and utterly personal, feeling touched and richer from the experience.

12 May diaries submitted to Mass Observation in previous years

Examples of 12th May day diaries submitted to Mass Observation in previous years

Issues of health and wellbeing arise in so many of Mass Observation’s collections. These diaries capture the minutiae; the small, the repetitive, the routine. Yet what I see in a number of them is how daily events and actions are led by or the result of people’s health and wellbeing.

‘Today was a typical day as far as the last three months is concerned but not for my “normal” life. I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in December 2016. This time it has spread to my neck. The oncologist arranged for me to get a three-week course of radiotherapy. Since then I have suffered greatly with fatigue and can quite easily sleep for 16-18 hours a day.’ Female, 49

In The Keep’s Reading Room, I’m moved as I read of grief, loss and healing, of the value of friendships, of family and loved ones shared. The reflectiveness of those who wrote last year and the changes their lives have seen. For some, life can turn on its head far too quickly.

The 12th May 2017 was a Friday, and a wet day for many. Getting out into the garden was seen as a hobby for some, but a form of therapy for others; for health, for healing and for the serendipitous fun of seeing what food-growing skills they can master. Something I definitely identified with, reflecting on my sweetcorn harvest and cauliflower failure.

‘Life became unbearable due to his alcohol abuse and entanglement with someone else. My garden is my slave and I, its slave – a willing one.’ F,70

I saw similarities in routines: our use of media, commutes to school, work, exercise classes and duties of care, as well as food shopping, diet and financial worries. Yet within this ran a thread of how our daily lives impact on our health, and how our health has an impact on our daily life; from those in bed with colds and coughs, to injuries and then those managing illness, for some life-limiting and life-threatening.

12 May postcard

My friend ‘has dementia and over the past four or five years it has resulted in a personality change, sad. She forgets what she has ordered by the time it arrives, and actually thought she had already had lunch. He is very patient and calm, and lets some of her wilder statements pass.’ Female, 87

I read of cancer, the NHS, carers and the managing of medication along with the exploration of alternative therapies; the hope, the fears and the lifelines given.

‘My husband gave up work 16 years ago because of ME so he holds everything together at home and keeps the ship sailing while I go to work.’ Female, 55

Conversations with family, friends, groups or the local shop owner range from everyday actions, providing pleasure and happiness, to feelings of burden, frustration or an upset. For some, these events provided a beacon of support and a boost of mood.

My friend ‘wanted to introduce me to another friend whose child is self-harming and has recently made a suicide attempt. My older child did the same 5 years ago, so we chatted about that and what had helped in my child’s situation. It was all quite ranty and sweary, and much more fun than its sounds as we were all pretty honest about some quite difficult subjects and it felt quite cathartic.’ Female, 45

‘I sit on a table with three ladies who always make me laugh. I needed that today because my overall mood today was down. I woke up missing my children and my mum and I know I will go to bed feeling the same.’ Female, 55 Sutton Park Prison

‘I wake up at 6. I was feeling pretty low last night – stressed, poor and stretched in multiple directions – and it still weighs on me this morning. I try not to let it show. I sit on the sofa with my two-year-old and dutifully read through the first “Where’s Wally” book (my own childhood copy, it must be about a quarter of a century old)’. Male, 31

The diaries provide multiple windows of observation on the lives of individuals, families, communities and groups on the same date across Britain. They can give an insight into how people’s health and wellbeing, their feelings and emotions can guide their day and their actions. Ways of managing, overcoming and avoiding health issues are explored and explained; from medication and meditation to exercise and regular companionship.

The parallel lives recorded on this one date are compelling. We share a lot of love for porridge, for morning exercise, tea in bed, and for hiding back under the duvet. We are also habitual in grabbing for our devices before we rise, checking the news, emails and Facebook. It was the end of the week for a lot of our writers, and pizza was on the table in quite a few households. Concerns and worries were heavily linked to politics, to the next general election and to Trump’s presidency. In the evening, there were also thoughts and reflections upon the NHS cyber attack that had taken place earlier in the day.

One thread that runs through is the action of recording, of writing, sharing and reflecting. The process itself is cathartic, therapeutic, purposeful and productive for many. As closing time hits the Reading Room, I spend time reflecting on the diverse lives I’ve shared today and, as ever, am in awe of the time our writers dedicate to Mass Observation.

If you’d like to meet the Mass Observation team and hear extracts from 12 May Day Diaries dating back to 1937, do join us on Wednesday 9 May for an afternoon talk, Recording Everyday Lives. You can also bring your friends and family to The Keep on Saturday 12 May, for Writing Your Day with Mass Observation, a hands-on morning of activities. More details and booking info can be found on the Events pages of our website.

Mass Observation has teamed up with Action for M.E. for this year’s 12 May, with the aim of capturing everyday lived experiences of people living with M.E., or those caring for or living with them. Find out more about the project and how to take part on the Mass Observation website.




What is the SPRU Oral History Project – and why does it matter?

16 March 2018

By Ângela Campos

In 1966, history was quietly being made at Sussex University. The Unit for the Study of Science Policy (quickly renamed Science Policy Research Unit) was officially founded thanks to the vision and tenacity of the then Vice Chancellor Asa Briggs and the commitment of a pioneering group of people who thought the ‘Sussex ethos’ and its ‘new maps of learning’ provided the ideal conditions for this project to germinate. Core founders Chris Freeman, Geoff Oldham and Jackie Fuller started their experiment in the uncharted territory of the science policy field. Informing their academic rigour and theoretical and methodological breakthroughs was a simple yet firm commitment to transforming the world into a better place, much in the wake of J. Bernal’s notions of science with a social conscience.

The next five decades are ripe in examples of how successful the founders and succeeding interdisciplinary, international SPRU teams were in implementing and extending such principles, whilst establishing pathbreaking research directions – and in the process putting Sussex University on the map and unofficially becoming a finishing school for generations of policy makers across the Globe.

However, SPRU’s major and numerous contributions to the science policy field are not within the scope of this blog post. Our focus is on the importance of investigating the wider historical identity of this rather idiosyncratic research unit. Is there a tangible SPRU spirit indissociably linked with – and forged at – Sussex? Where can we capture the legendary SPRU collegiality? Catalyse the continuing echoes of inspiring pioneering figures like Chris Freeman, Geoff Oldham, Marie Jahoda and many others? How, from their Sussex base but firmly steeped in a wide-reaching international arena, has this problem-driven unit (able to straddle academia, industry, and policy making) contributed to change the world we live in today? And why does all of this matter now?

In 2014, close to the critical 50th anniversary juncture, Professor Johan Schot, then recently appointed (and current) Director of SPRU, recognised the need to tap into five eventful decades of SPRU history. As often is the case, the Unit’s development and achievements were at points better known from afar than at home, as crucial institutional DNA amassed during decades remained at risk of being overlooked or lost through staff change and archival loss.

Part of the response to this challenge resulted in the development of the SPRU History Project (2014-2016), which encompassed the recording of oral history interviews with a diverse sample of relevant individuals about their SPRU-related experiences. Recently archived at The Keep, the resulting SPRU Oral History Project collection, comprising 26 narrators, over 53 hours of recordings and 105 GB of audio files and supporting documentation, has just now been made available via its Special Collections.

Despite certain acknowledged limitations in representativeness – project constraints determined a focus on the 1966-1986 period – the collection illustrates how oral history is a powerful means of engagement with institutional memory, providing answers to many of the unique questions emerging from SPRU’s trajectory, as well as valuable standpoints for surveying the last fifty years and inspiring the future.

Packed with fascinating research material of unexpected breadth, the SPRU Oral History Project collection encapsulates a nuanced understanding of the vibrant academic and social life of the Unit since 1966. It highlights little-known angles on the development of the science and technology policy arenas in the UK and internationally, as well as the expansion of SPRU’s research and teaching as typically breaching great divides: qualitative and quantitative, conceptual and empirical, constructivist and positivist. The collection also conjures the portrait of a global unit at the forefront of international collaborations (pursuing links with the IDRC, OECD, UN, Harvard University, and many other partners). It includes inspirational reflections on academic leadership and governance, evolving gender issues in academia, and navigates 50 years of highs and lows in higher education from a Sussex perspective. On a human level, we access rich narratives by mostly warm, charismatic personalities interspersed with humour, pathos, inspiration and congeniality – and certainly a lot of fond memories!

What is done with these materials, which lend themselves to such a wide range of research purposes, is up to researchers. The Special Collections team at The Keep look forward to welcoming them to discover why the collection matters!

To find out more about SPRU and outputs of the SPRU History Project, visit: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/about/history).

Ângela Campos is a Research Associate at SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) at the University of Sussex. As an oral historian, she developed work on the qualitative angle of the SPRU History Project (2014-2017), having collected and processed the SPRU Oral History Project interviews for archiving at The Keep.




New display celebrates Women’s History Month at The Keep!

8 March 2018

By Eleanor King

For Women’s History Month this year, a display has gone up in our reception area highlighting some of the lesser known heroines of our collections. Pictured below, the display loosely takes the themes of ‘a woman in a man’s world’ and the power of the female voice and friendship. The women featured all created something unique in their lifetimes and all have contributed to the place of women in the 21st century. To gather these women together, I put a call out to the ladies of The Keep for their champions and unsung heroines, and sure enough the call was answered.

A women whose archive I‘ve wanted to explore in more detail for while is that of the remarkable Dr Rosey Pool, whose scrapbooks of her time working with African America poets in the United States I have had the pleasure of being able to leaf through in teaching sessions. Dutch-born Dr Pool studied in Berlin until the expansion of the Nazi regime forced her return to Amsterdam, where she became a teacher, counting Anne Frank among her pupils. She had formed an interest in African American poetry at university and during the war continued to seek out and collect works by poets and artists. Following the war, Pool spent time in America, lecturing and speaking out in favour of civil rights, desegregation and championed the work of unknown African American poets and artists. Her archive includes a wealth of poetry from the middle of the 20th century, as well as much of her own writing. A recent display at The Keep featured a book from Rosey Pool’s archive that underwent conservation last year. A piece written by Special Collections Supervisor Rose Lock about this book and its conservation can be found on the University of Sussex library staff blog.

Eva Ehrenberg, a woman in a man's world; SxMs96/14/1

Eva Ehrenberg, a woman in a man’s world; SxMs96/14/1

Another woman I knew I had to feature was Tilly Edinger, an eminent scientist whose pioneering work led to the discovery of ‘paleo neurology’. It was Samira Teuteberg, archivist for the German-Jewish collections held at The Keep, who told me about Dr Edinger; knowing my interest in all things ‘Jurassic Park’, she knew a woman who pioneered the study of dinosaur brains was always going to pique my interest. Tilly Edinger led me to Eva Ehrenberg, her cousin and a translator and writer. I came across a photograph that, for me, embodies the phrase ‘a woman in a man’s world’, featuring Eva Ehrenberg at work at her desk in an office alone, on one side of the room whilst a group of men sit around at a desk on the other side of the room. The two parties could be occupying entirely separate spaces; Eva is isolated and ignored, working alone while the men appear to be deep in discussion. A copy of this photograph is now part of the display, alongside material related to the work of Tilly Edinger.

Despite Tilly’s move to America to pursue her career, she and Eva maintained a correspondence and a friendship. This got me thinking about the importance of female friendships and how empowering they can be, and I wanted to find other examples in our collections.

It was Rose Lock who alerted me to the incredible women of the Cooperative Correspondence Club, the CCC, who, following a call for help from a lonely mother in Nursery World magazine, created a publication written by the women, for the women and only to be read by CCC members. The magazine ran from 1935-1990 starting with 24 contributors who all wrote under pseudonyms and formed close friendships over the years. The power of being given a voice cannot be underestimated, and the CCC offered women across the country a chance to have their voices heard and their opinions counted in a world where they may have otherwise been ignored or undervalued.

In keeping with the theme of female friendship and comradery, East Sussex archivist Anna Manthorpe directed me to the Women’s Institute records we hold from chapters across the county. These include reports, minutes and record books, and we also hold several scrapbooks created to celebrate key events such the Golden Jubilee. On display are some images taken from the Falmer WI scrapbook from 1965 that feature a run-down of the year’s activities, including thoughts on the impact the new university will have on the village. Community groups such as the WI provided a space for women to work beyond the male gaze and their domestic arrangements, forming friendships and contributing to their local communities.

Portrait of Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, ACC 8642/1/19

Portrait of Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, ACC 8642/1/19

Other women who feature in the display include Mrs Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, a Brighton-based writer and translator from the 19th Century. She took herself off to France and Italy to study the Old Masters and later studied marine life, becoming a leading algologist (seaweed expert). A blog about Merrifield written for International Women’s Day in 2016 by archive assistant Emma Skinner can be read here. Brighton and Hove colleague Kate Elms and archive assistant Lindsey Tydeman also provided me with the names of many great women, including politician and activist Margaret Bondfield, pioneering physician Dr Helen Boyle and women’s rights campaigner Barbara Bodichon, all of whom have local connections but have made an impact historically.

The archives at The Keep are full of fascinating, remarkable and extraordinary women; from scientific pioneers to outspoken activists, to housewives seeking friendship. We hope you will inspired to come and find out more, or perhaps to discover your own family heroine? In 2018, the female voice is being heard perhaps louder than ever before, let’s keep it up!


The Desmond Clarke Collection

11 January 2018

By Karen Watson

We were fortunate enough to have three boxes of correspondence, poems and literary documents given to the University of Sussex Special Collections by Desmond Clarke. Desmond worked in book marketing and was the sales and marketing director at Faber & Faber during the 1980s. This meant he was in charge of promoting the famous Faber poetry list under Poetry Editor Craig Raine that included Wendy Cope, Douglas Dunn and Seamus Heaney. All these names are included in the collection in various forms.

Typescript for Rain Charm for the Duchy by Ted Hughes, with handwritten note by the poet; SxMs184/1/2/8

Typescript for Rain Charm for the Duchy by Ted Hughes, with handwritten note by the poet; SxMs184/1/2/8

Desmond was also the director of the Book Marketing Council and in 1983 came up with the idea of the Best of Young British Novelists campaign. Desmond was able to persuade several bookshops, including all the branches of WH Smith and several hundred libraries, to stock and display the mostly unknown novelists’ books. The idea was cemented by the now iconic group photograph taken by Lord Snowdon. Granta magazine published a special issue that year of the authors’ work and has taken the idea forward each year. The collection has some press and publicity about this event.

There are a large number of Wendy Cope poems; some handwritten, some labelled first draft. Several have been published in Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis and others in Men and their Boring Arguments. There were outbursts of laughter reading through the poems in the office and a lot of reading aloud to colleagues during the cataloguing of this collection.

The documents by Ted Hughes include the poem ‘Rain Charm for the Duchy’, given to Desmond to get published when Hughes was first made Poet Laureate in December 1984.  The second line of the title is ‘A blessing Devout Drench for the Christening of Prince Harry’. With the recent Royal wedding announcement, the documents have renewed significance. Ted Hughes wrote words for a  song for the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1985  and this, including musical score by Howard Blake, is part of the collection.

The Honeybee and the Thistle, a song written for the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, with words by Ted Hughes and music by Howard Blake; SxMs184/1/2/4

The Honeybee and the Thistle, a song written for the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, with words by Ted Hughes and music by Howard Blake; SxMs184/1/2/4

The collection is unusual as it contains very little written by Desmond himself. It is named after him as the donor and collector of the documents, some of which were created especially for him. The Desmond Clarke poem by Wendy Cope is a good example of this. There are cards and correspondence written to Desmond from many authors, including Vikram Seth. His relationship with poet Craig Raine is represented through some correspondence and poems; they went on to further work together on the literary journal Areté, where Desmond was a member of the advisory board.

Desmond was a hugely charismatic, warm and intelligent gentleman who I was privileged to meet when the papers were given to us. I wanted to capture some of his stories about the collection so Desmond agreed to a short interview in March 2017, and this is now part of the collection. I felt it important to capture some of the person who was so skilled in making other people and their literary creations shine.

The collection fits well with our other Special Collections; Ted Hughes and Wendy Cope are stored alongside other literary greats Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Madge and Langston Hughes, representing a large and varied collection of writers and poets, their work and lives


What did we watch on Christmas Day 1986?

15 December 2017

By Lindsey Tydeman

December 1986 editions of the Radio Times

December 1986 editions of the Radio Times, from our archive

In 1986 the research organisation Mass Observation asked its contributors to keep a Christmas Day Diary. Several hundred people responded, and sent in hour-by-hour descriptions of their day. Each respondent was given a letter and number, to preserve anonymity. They wrote about food, drink, presents, their families, their dogs, and, of course, their televisions. Although many families made the decision to ‘switch off’ on Christmas Day, for others, watching television together after the present-opening and Christmas Day dinner, was an important element of the seasonal ritual. We’re publishing just a few of their responses below to provide a flavour of Christmas viewing 31 years ago.

Viewers had four terrestrial channels to choose from – BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 – and the battle for ratings was fierce. The BBC decided to show its popular soap EastEnders in two separate parts, at 5pm and 10pm, keeping viewers on tenterhooks as the marriage of Den and Angie finally disintegrated. It drew in a record 30 million viewers.

9pm At last this is where our celebrations begin. We switch off the lights except the tree lights and put the gasfire on instead of the heating. We get out the wine and chocolates, switch Agatha Christie on the telly then watch a video of Seasons Greetings and cuddle up together – this is the best part of Christmas.

Then comes another debate – about what to watch on TV… the situation has become less calamitous since the invention of the video recorder and the decision is to relegate Miss Marple to the VCR and enjoy The Importance of Being Earnest now.. Since it is shown on Channel 4 it has the advantage of intervals for advertisements which makes it possible to prepare biscuits and cheese for all of us who have only recently sworn that we would not eat again for days.

9.35pm More conversation then more TV as we were all waiting for the day’s second episode of EastEnders at 10pm. We all agreed that the Beeb had been very crafty in cornering the market by two showings of the hit soap. My sister was most indignant when I asked her if she watched the series and flatly denied doing so. Aren’t some folks narrow minded?

A phone call for John from Henry in which he fills us in on the first part of EastEnders. We laugh – but agree to watch Part 2… we watch it with much joking and laughter.

Spent the whole evening watching TV until able to make dignified exit to bed at about 10pm. Thanking Heaven that is over again for another year.

Bloated and ready for a sit-down after clearing up and washing up, we flop down in front of the TV to watch The Queen at 3 o’clock. Most of the men folk seem to think this is ‘a bind’ and want to watch something else. But I like to hear what she has to say. I wish she could relax a bit more. This year’s speech was OK, 10 minutes is too short though!

Dinner over we settled for the Queen’s speech, ten minutes later neither of could remember what she had said! What we did remember was that we found the horses distracting and that there was a group of children round her. We both agreed that we much preferred to see her sitting at home to speak to us instead of in the royal stables or wherever it was.


We were watching Only Fools and Horses and it was truly dreadful, we all decided to turn it off. (After Christmas I read a critic’s assessment of this programme who described it as ‘brilliant’. I can’t believe that he and I were watching the same programme.)

I came in from the kitchen halfway through the Queen’s Speech and was confused by the horses in the background instead of the (usual?) sitting room. Everybody thought the speech was massively anodyne and blander than usual but watched it just the same because it was Christmas…

Ate Christmas pudding with cream and sauce in lounge in front of the TV. Watched EastEnders with great glee and everybody determined to watch second half at 10pm.

Annie is addicted to EastEnders, the new BBC ‘soap’ that is so enormously popular. So that went on at 6.35pm. I don’t usually watch it and what I saw then will not lead me to do so in future.

10.20pm Watching EastEnders on TV: glad we don’t normally watch it! (And I went to bed before 11.20 because of the diabolical programme choice on television.)

Mac and I flop on sofa and watch EastEnders. Eat chocolate and watch Only Fools and Horses which none of us found particularly funny and find I am getting more and more depressed as the evening goes on.

Second part of EastEnders. We had expected that Den would break the news of divorce to Angie and that Arthur would crack up completely but not that Pauline would discover that Den was the father of Michelle’s baby. The exit of Angie and Sharon from the pub was superb.

The TV diet is unexpectedly good; first a programme about Aaron Copland’s music, which interests me, then a splendid Miss Marple whodunit, followed by the last 2 acts of The Importance of Being Earnest, with Wendy Hiller doing a restrained Miss Marple.

4.40 The film now appears to be Annie, a show I’ve never seen and as I’m not really watching I’m not getting a full idea of the story. Was anybody, I wonder? Why was it on?

Television was switched on to the Christmas Day concert from Amsterdam (BBC2), mostly to ‘warm’ the set well before the Queen’s Speech as it is 12 years old and temperamental.

I put the television on. Mine is just a small black and white portable set which I rent for £3.90 a month. Mother has her own colour set at home. A James Bond film starring Sean Connery was on called Never Say Never Again. Although I hadn’t seen it, I couldn’t be bothered to get involved in a film. EastEnders, a popular soap, was on BBC. We decided not to watch TV.

After watching the BBC News it is decided we all retire to bed, after a drink of warm milk. Educating Rita, a film my wife and daughter wished to see, is put on the video recorder for watching at a later date.

During the past year, I found myself, increasingly, watching more and more rubbish on the television. It seemed to be that, because it was there, I watched it. My television licence expired yesterday and so I did not renew it. I asked the shop from whom I rented the set, to take it back, so now I am in a minority. In my new guise, I settled down and listened to a murder play on the radio until 9.30pm. It isn’t as easy to listen as it is to watch and, although I don’t particularly miss the programmes on the television, I miss Teletext.

Images from the Radio Times are taken from the Christopher Griffin-Beale Radio Times Collection, which can be consulted at The Keep.



Meet the staff: Karen Watson, University of Sussex archivist

18 November 2017

University of Sussex Special Collections are pretty exciting, and I feel lucky to be their first archivist. They are a wonderful primary resource for anyone studying history, sociology, English or American studies and it’s part of my job to share their possibilities with tutors and their students. People have heard of the well-known collections, such as Mass Observation, which is so important it has its own team of archivists, and the Virginia and Leonard Woolf archives. But these high profile collections are only the tip of the iceberg. We also hold over 80 archival, manuscript and rare book collections, mainly focusing on 20th and 21st-century social, political and literary history.

‘The rare books are particularly beautiful; each of these collections is a history in itself, telling the story of the collector and what led him or her to the books they chose – perhaps the subject matter, author or their beautiful bindings. All these are unique primary sources a ten-minute walk away from the main university buildings!

‘I hold a degree in American Studies and qualified as an archivist in 2010 but I’ve only recently got a professional archivist job. It’s good to be using my qualification in this role as there are always cataloguing tasks. However, the majority of my time is spent teaching and talking; teaching undergraduate and MA students how to access and use the Special Collections, and talking to lecturers and researchers about the resource. It’s a drip, drip, drip approach…!

Karen at work with a group of students at The Keep

Karen at work with a group of students at The Keep

‘We’re trying to expand the knowledge and use of the Special Collections all the time as there are so many disciplines where they could be used. Recently, for example, I ran a photography seminar for art history students using Special Collections and the archives of the Brighton and Hove Camera Club, which is an East Sussex Record Office collection. This really shows the benefits of being at The Keep. At these introductory sessions, we show the short video we made recently about the store itself, and all the shelving and boxes behind the scenes. This helps to demystify the whole process of engaging with primary sources, as well as helping to familiarise people with The Keep building itself. I love showing people around and seeing their eyes widen when I open the door to the first storeroom.

‘Today, I’ve got a Library Assistant from the University of Malta shadowing me, joining me in a tutors’ meeting and then a staff meeting. She’s finding out how we run the Special Collections and also how our staffing structure fits into that of the University Library as a whole. As the Keep building isn’t on campus, it’s important for Special Collections staff to be represented at library events and in library groups. Today I’ve been in contact with with a former Vice-Chancellor who is going to contribute to one of our largest and most interesting collections, the institutional archive of the University of Sussex itself. Actually, former Sussex students regularly offer us their personal academic collections and we are very pleased to accept them if they complement the research needs of the University or its development as an institution.

‘I like people. That’s the attraction of the job – and sometimes one of its challenges! It’s so rewarding to be able to give visitors access to our collections and I sometimes forget just how unique our archives are. I’ve seen an individual become quite emotional on first reading the hand-written diaries and reports about life during the Second World War from the Mass Observation Archive, for example, or the original letters of Virginia Woolf. Researchers don’t usually engage on such an emotional level with their work, but one can’t fail to be moved by documents that are of such an immediate and personal nature.

‘But I also love reading about the University in the 1960s and 70s, and its development as a new institution. Perhaps not surprisingly, staff members were concerned by the issues which preoccupy them today, namely the provision and cost of food in the staff canteen. And I had to smile when I saw the 1971 invitation to the University’s Open Day. It stated that there would be a rail replacement bus service from Brighton to Falmer. That’s continuity!’

Interview by Lindsey Tydeman