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Old News

05/07/2009

Since it’s Sunday. I’m bringing the paper’s for you. Or rather I’m taking them away. Unless you want them. They’re quite old and they’re a bit of a fire hazard. Just a load of recycling really, left behind from remounted plant specimens. A flower ‘press’ you might say.

The herbarium’s so full of things you can hardly move. The staff are issued with machetes. Anyway the plants are safely mounted much more efficiently now. So I’m offering to chuck these out. Honestly, I wish people would stop using so much packaging.

Box of Newspapers cropped

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    05/07/2009 10:11 am

    Old newspapers were recycled by Victorian Botanists to preserve and protect plant specimens. These newspapers have survived alongside the original specimens they were protecting. Could it be that these Nineteenth Century newspapers are now more interesting than the plant specimens?

    Suzanne Grieve,
    Curatorial Assistant – Botany
    The Manchester Museum

  2. Cosi (the papyrophile) permalink
    05/07/2009 6:06 pm

    GASP!
    old papers???
    My heart just jumps seeing those old pictures of victorian dresses😮
    The hoarder in me wants to read them, file & archive them…..
    Alas, I also realise that sacrifices have to be made and sometimes (often, actually) the sacrifice lies in letting go, not in trying to save (see martin prothero’s kind offer to save the water in butt).

    I’m so glad though that Dan wants to work with the skull!
    And I’d love to get an update on what he does with it🙂

    So, what to do with a pile of old papers?
    Are these only extant copies?
    Or are they just scraps of papers that we have numerous other copies archived away somewhere?

    It is a difficult process to decide what should be kept (and let’s not even get into asking how things should be exhibited!) and good that we are challenged here to think about what our criteria should be. As you can maybe tell from my posts, rarity is one criterion that springs to my mind, but there are sooo many more!

  3. Bodger permalink
    05/07/2009 6:52 pm

    Really? Are you not the slightests bit interested in sneaking a peak at what concerned the leader writers over a century ago?

    Personally, I’d want to see what, if any, parallels there were between the concerns of the day and our concerns now. I have a sneaking suspicion they may not have been so different.

    Ignorance of the past means we may well be doomed to repeat its mistakes.

    • Cosi permalink
      06/07/2009 11:02 am

      Oh I so agree that we need to learn from the past!
      It’s just a shame that most humans categorically refuse to…..

      I’m an ancient historian/archaeologist (hellenism and all that) and as such these papers are positively newfangled and modern to me😀
      but I can assure you, at their core, human concerns have not really changed. ever!
      still I would happily pour over these papers, reading (as i said in my original post, did you miss that bit or did I misunderstand your reply?)& enjoying the use of language and all the other differences and similarities equally🙂

      I really hope a good home can be found for them!
      We do have to appreciate that they are probably not complete editions, but random sheets (since they were the packaging material for plant specimens – do you keep every sheet of newspaper you have used to package things whenever you moved house?). And the museum has to make choices about what to keep – it is simply not possible to keep everything!
      To my mind, this whole process is about challenging our ideas and priorities in deciding what to keep and what to chuck…
      future generations will also learn much about us and our values by seeing our strategies of collection/conservation.

  4. Julie-Marie Strange permalink
    06/07/2009 10:24 am

    What ho! As a full-time Victorian enthusiast I should like to claim the ‘old’ newspapers. ‘Twould be a travesty to post them in a litter bin – even one that pulps and re-uses.

    Indeed, I already have a small stash of these claimed from the Herbarium some years ago. Of course, it’s quite possible that the Victorians themselves would be chucking them out to embrace the all new digitised versions now available – all in the name of progress, you know.

    Nonetheless, I can put them to several uses. In particular, I can fashion them into a collage to cover my institutional walls in yellow[ing] wallpaper. I can also use them as resources for students enrolled on Victorian stuff with me – thrift being a core Victorian value. And failing that, I can always let them accumulate in piles with all the other stacks of papers and books that litter my office floor in a bid to enhance my outward semblance as a learned person (there seeming to be a popular correlation between untidy piles of reading matter and intelligence!).

    • Suzanne Grieve permalink
      06/07/2009 9:31 pm

      Julie-Maire, you, if anyone should know, to watch out for Yellow Wallpaper!!

  5. Cosi permalink
    06/07/2009 11:03 am

    Julie-Marie gets my vote (if I’ve got one)

  6. 06/07/2009 11:25 am

    Dear Julie-Marie Strange,

    Your combination of thrift, pedagogy and conceit is truly charming. You are clearly very intelligent. And you appear to have no competition. Does anyone object to this worthy lady taking charge of the papers? Leander, Nick, British Library? Anyone else at all?

    I am troubled by one thing however. What vintage of old newspaper would cease to be of interest to you? How long exactly is the space between breaking news and history? And how many piles of reading matter is it between looking intelligent and just being trapped?

    Once I am freed from my cell I would very much like to come and see your wallpaper, which I imagine to be very much like the Wombles’.

  7. Leander permalink
    06/07/2009 4:47 pm

    I certainly don’t object to this worthy lady taking charge of the newspapers. I suppose my only slight reservation would be that she’s already had some and maybe it would be nice if more than one person could claim them. However, this isn’t really a concern as there are plenty of newspapers in the herbarium for plenty of people.

    Julie-Marie says ‘twould be a travesty to post them in a litter bin’. Well I have to admit, and I feel half-ashamed about this, that that is exactly what we used to do. And, to be honest, we didn’t really think twice about it. That is, until a former student of Julie-Marie’s, Suzanne, came to work here and said something along the lines of ‘What on earth are you doing?’ Since then we’ve been putting the newspapers in piles after the specimens they contained have been remounted and incorporated into the herbarium’s taxonomic sequence.

    We threw away the newspapers because we were making the decision that the botany collection was about plants, particularly about the naming of plants and the study of the distribution of the plants around the world. There was also an element of social history to the botanical specimens with respect to the collectors of those plants. Through a person’s specimens you can build up a history of their life, where they lived, where they went on holiday, who their friends were, who they collected & swapped specimens with. The newspapers were never part of the story of the plants and the botanists.

    However the newspapers, when you look at them, are really great and endlessly fascinating. There are adverts for electric hairbrushes to combat baldness and adverts for wet nurses in publications such as ‘The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper’. There is advice on not worrying if you are dull in the ‘British Boy – in sport and in earnest, at home, at school, and abroad’.

    I think it would be possible to argue that the newspapers are as much a part of the specimen as the plant itself. However, we have never considered it to be so and I’m going to be bold (which is not like me at all) and say that you have to draw the line somewhere. There are archives for newspapers and publications such as these and the herbarium is an archive for plants, not newspapers. I feel sure that these publications exist in archives elsewhere so I say we should not keep them. They should go, but preferably to a good home (rather than a litter bin).

    This is the kind of conversation we tend to have over a cup of tea in the herbarium (as well as talking about TV programmes, shopping etc.) and it’s great to widen the conversation out to more people.

    • Suzanne Grieve permalink
      07/07/2009 12:42 am

      Yes, I agree with Leander, these newspapers do not belong in the Herbarium – they need to go somewhere where they will be more appreciated.

      As Cosi has pointed out, these are not complete papers but random sheets. Some are from quite mainstream papers like the Times or the Manchester Guardian but then there are pages from more specialist publications (think of the Victorian equivalent of the kind of publications they use on Have I Got News For You) and quite a few foreign newspapers as well. This randomness I think is their beauty. Yes, there are many archives of newspapers, lots have now been photographed and made available on online databases, searchable by keywords, phrases and dates. This makes the work of the Historical researcher so much easier and faster, modern technology takes them to the relevant articles and information in seconds. But how many of you have read a paper or magazine and had your eye caught by a interesting article that you were not looking for nor expecting? I know many of you will have flicked through an unfamiliar magazine while sat in a waiting room and become absorbed in a interesting article (how annoying is it when your turn is called and you haven’t finished reading). These old newspaper pages are a ‘lucky dip’ into the Victorian world, a chance encounter with the past.

      I would like to support Julie-Marie’s claim to the papers so that she can share them with her Victorian Studies students. Maybe an article, a classified ad or a news story will catch someone’s eye, inspire them and lead them down a hitherto never considered path in their historical research.

  8. Louise permalink
    06/07/2009 7:00 pm

    hmmm, what papers are they, I wonder… Some old Manchester Guardians, local or national? I bet there’s loads of material for a feminist appraisal of journalism, Suzanne.

  9. Leander permalink
    07/10/2009 12:00 pm

    The Collections Development Panel, along with the director and the artist, discussed the newspapers at a meeting on 3rd September

    The blog responses and discussions were summarised as:
    “These are an example of the arbitrary nature of some forms of collecting. Their retention had never been a conscious decision. If someone was researching this period, there are many archives of complete newspapers to consult rather than random individual pages. Julie Marie Strange expressed interest in receiving them.”

    The group suggest that the newspapers are passed on to Julie Marie Strange.

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