The IHR Wohl Library now offers access to the digitized archive of the private papers of Sir Winston Churchill, both within the library and remotely to holders of a membership card.
The archive, which contains some 800,000 items, is an extraordinarily rich resource, not just for those interested in the life and career of Churchill, but also in broad stretches of the twentieth century.
Today (30 January) is the anniversary of Churchill’s state funeral in 1965: the day when famously even the cranes along the Thames lowered their arms in a moment, it seems, orchestrated for the film news crews. Neither the American President nor the Vice-President attended (President Johndon informed reporters from his sick bed in the White House that his doctors had forbidden him from flying). Instead, the United States was represented by Earl Warren, the US Chief Justice. Many in Britain deemed this a snob to the ‘special relationship’, with some speculating that this was a small form of payback for Churchill missing President Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945 (the archive contains a telegram from Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, who attended the funeral, ‘Mrs Roosevelt said how sincerely touched she was that our country had sent a special representative [Eden]… The Governor General and I were the only representatives who made a special journey to attend the ceremony, except for the President of the Philippines, and I think this has touched people here… I find everybody here conscious of the heavy burdens which will be on you [Churchill] in the defence of both our peoples, indeed of Western civilisation now that F.D.R. cannot take part’ CHAR 20/214/124, telegram, 14 April 1945].
Churchill, of course, continues ‘to take part’ in world affairs, albeit symbolically. Few could have missed the various minor diplomatic disturbances and artificially-generated press scandals concerning the placement of the Churchill bust in the Oval Office of the White House, including that of the current occupant. The bust is by the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), and the White House has access to two casts, one donated to President Johnson in 1965 by a group of Churchill’s wartime friends, and the other loaned from the British Government Art Collection at the British ambassador’s residence in 2001 (before the attacks of 9/11) and first displayed in the White House while their cast was repaired. At some point the Government Art Collection’s cast returned to the British embassy, while the cast acquired in 1965 continued to sit outside the Oval Office. After 20 January 2017, the Washington Post reports, it moved inside, and was then, it seems, replaced by the British embassy’s cast, since the President-elect’s team had asked for another loan.
But what of the artist? Epstein was born in the Hester Street, New York City, the son of Jewish refuges from Augustów, Poland. He studied in Paris and then, in 1905 settled in London before becoming a British citizen, and soon earned a reputation as a sculptor. Artistic fame (and perhaps notoriety) came in 1908, with his carvings on Charles Holden’s British Medical Association in the Strand in London, boldly depicting nudity and pregnancy and challenging chaste public taste of the day: the Evening Standard suggested ‘no careful father’ would let his daughter view them. (In 1935, the Rhodesian High Commission took over the building and mutilated the statues, as the National Archives notes, an ‘ugly reminder of an unfortunate episode of artistic censorship/indifference’.) In 1918, his name appears in the Archive, in a telegram from his wife, Margaret Epstein, to Lady Randolph Churchill, asking, unsuccesfully, if the prime minister could ‘do anything’ to obtain him a position in which, as the Archive catalogue notes, ‘Epstein could use his talents for propaganda purposes’.
His star rose in from the late 1920s, and in 1937 he was chosen as the spokesperson for the London Group, which urged artists to refuse to cooperate with a Nazi attempt to organise an exhibition of British art in Berlin that excluded Jewish artists. During the Second World War he received commissions from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, including likenesses of Ernet Bevin and, in 1945, Winston Churchill (this was arranged by Sir Kenneth Clark, who wrote that ‘I think he will do something good, and at any rate you will not have to go far to get to the studio’ — Churchill and Epstein were neighbours in Hyde Park Gate, London). Several casts were to be made. After some discussion, Churchill agreed to the commission, and recommended a ‘third bust to go the United States of America.’ [CHUR 1/17A-B, 16 Oct 1945].
Churchill, as the archive makes clear, was rather busy at the time , and was initially unable to make space in his diary for the sitting (‘I am about to leave for an extended visit to the United States’). The Keeper of Pictures at the Imperial War Museum pressed the issue on a couple of fronts, noting ‘if it is not completed fairly soon we shall be unable to pay for it during the present financial year and later on we shall probably not have the money for it.’ More, flatteringly, ‘we hope to re-open some of the galleries of the Museum [which had been bombed] very shortly and we are very anxious, of course, to be able to include a bust of Mr. Churchill in the exhibition.’ [CHUR 1/17A-B]. Sittings resumed, with Epstein summoned to Chartwell. The bust was exhibited in 1947. You can view one of the casts on the Imperial War Museums site (the bust remains in copyright).
Epstein died of a heart attack in 1959. A memorandum in the Archive reads, ‘You have always has friendly relations with Sir Jacob Epstein, your neighbour. Do you wish to send his widow a telegram’ [CHUR 2/522A-B, f. 171, 22 Aug 1959]. On the top of the note is a Churchillian tick, and we can assume that something was sent: on 29 August, Kathleen, Lady Epstein, replied ‘Thankyou for the kind & sympathetic messsage your sent me when my husband died. He went like any artist would like to go. We drank a glass of wine together in good spirits, sang a few songs, then he took a last look around the studio & died.’
We would like to thank regular Friday night library readers for their induldgence over a few evenings in November. Regular visitors to the library may have noticed the odd room closed for mysterious purposes, spotted our Low Countries post-doctoral fellow poring over the typography of the London Gazette from 1666, or been bemused by members of This&That Productions looking for trapdoors and other hiding spots. All this preparation was in advance of ‘Night at the Library: books of hope and fear’, part of the IHR’s contribution to the 2016 Being Human festival of the humanities (you can also read about the IHR’s other event and exhibition, ‘Beside the Seaside’ here).
The festival seeks to communicate the excitement of current humanities research, laced with the occasional dose of enjoyment. We wanted to do something in the library that explored the process of research, and perhaps introduced some new people to the richess and usefulness of the collection here. After thinking about some questions based around the collections, and making use of the library’s physical space, we very quickly realised that what we had in mind was a type of ‘Escape Room’, something that has rapidly become very popular since its origin in Japan in 2007 (and which can arguably be traced back to a series of popular TV shows in the 1980s and 90s). Ours involved a twist: we wanted to use a relatively new technology that uses small pucks to beam a geographically-specific message to a phone (or track participants around the room) via iBeacon or Eddystone protocols. Typically found at IT conferences, but also at a few cultural or heritage sites, such as Kew Gardens, it offered the chance to link the physical environment with digital resources. And with that, the ‘Book Sniffer’ was born (you probably had to be there.)
We also needed a theme. Being Human’s exploration of hope and fear quickly suggested the Great Fire of London, not least because of the 350th anniversary year, but again to pin the event down in geographical terms: the winners would be offered a night-time view of St Paul’s Cathedral from the top of the Senate House Tower. An application to Being Human was submitted, and we were fortunate enough to receive a grant, enabling us to secure the services of This&That Productions to help produce the event and develop scripts for four actors would posed the challenges to participants as they made their way through the three rooms. These included an audience with a lascivious Charles II, full of hope for his new capital city, a concerned printer to the king, trying to keep abreast of the destruction as the fires raged, and a Dutch immigrant, fearful for her son who had been arrested and accused of arson.
The challenges included the complexities of a name/place/subject index, the clues to the burning of the London Gazette‘s printing office left in its typography, operating a venerable microfilm reader, sorting early modern maps, thermochromatic love letters, and old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles. Props included real tennis balls (mistaken at the time for fire balls), and special recordings and playback machines created by the SAS sound artist in resident, Hannah Thompson.
We also had a visit from Radio 3 Free Thinking‘s Shahidha Bari and Laurence Scott, who proved to be excellent guinea pigs for the event before our 70 guests arrived for the proper event. You can hear how they fared at the end of the episode that aired on 16 Nov 2016 (about 36 minutes in).
What next? It’s possible that the event, or something like it, may return to the IHR. We will certainly look at how the puzzles and ideas might be used in library induction or training, as well as think a bit more about how escape games might relate to historical teaching, and even research, in the future. The Atlantic reported on the rise of educational escape games, Cambridge Science Museums have run several succesful games, and there is even a blog dedicated to educational library escape games. Finally, there are question about heritage and the use of the past: what are we really doing when we are playing historical escape games? Perhaps we are as much escaping the fear of the present as recreating a hopeful past. As the reading rooms return to their normal scholarly hush, we look forward to reading a book on the subject.
What is History Day? And how can it help your research?
Historical research requires a rich ecosystem of libraries, archives, associations, publishers and other organisations to flourish. Part of the process of becoming a historian, or understaking research with a historical element, is attempting to come to grips with this dense, rewarding – and sometimes confusing – network. While many online resources, such as The National Archives’ Discovery system, which provides access to over 32 million record descriptions from across the UK, or Copac, which provides a way of searching over 90 specialist research libraries, help to find the sources that might be out there, there is often no better method than speaking to a librarian or archivist, and asking them, ‘this is what I am interested in. What do you have that might be useful to me?’
History Day 2016 is the annual analogue equivalent of Discovery or Copac. On 15 November 2016, The Institute for Historical Research (IHR) and Senate House Library, with the help of the Committee of London Research Libraries in History, are bringing together over thirty libraries and archives, from the Bishopsgate Institute to the Weiner Libary. All sizes of institutions are represented, from the British Library and The National Archives, to specialist archives and libraries such as the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society. Members of their staff will be on hand to discuss their collections and your research.
You can get a flavour of some of the materials that they have in their collections in the series of blog posts, based on the Being Human theme for this year, ‘hope and fear’. The selected items include Scrofula and the Royal Touch (KCL), human physonomie (Wellcome), photograph of London’s first gay pride rally (Bishopgate Institute Library).
Like last year, History Day includes a number of talks and debates on the nature of history and the process of historical research, starting with a discussion on the varieties of public history, chaired by the IHR Director, Prof. Lawrence Goldman, with contributions from Dr Alix Green and Dr Suzannah Lipscomb. Later in the day, the relative merits of libraries and archives will be debated, and there are panels on digital history and business archives. History Lab and History Lab Plus will be on hand to help put graduates and Early Career Researchers in touch with one another, and to offer a sofa and a cup of coffee. We are also pleased to welcome the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a number of historical organisations and a selection of historical print and digital publishers.
Bishopsgate Institute Library
Black Cultural Archives
Business Archives Council
Caird Library and Archive, National Maritime Museum
Dana Research Centre and Library, Science Museum
Geological Society Library
German Historical Institute Library
Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery
History Lab Plus
Institute of Historical Research
King’s College London Library Services
Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre
Library of the Society of Friends
Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society
London Metropolitan Archives
LSE library services and The Women’s Library @ LSE
The National Archives
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Queen Mary University of London Archives
Royal Astronomical Society Library & Archives
The Royal Society, Collections
Royal United Services Institute, Library of Military History
Senate House Library
Society of Antiquaries Library and Collections
School of Oriental and African Studies Library
TUC Library collections at London Metropolitan University
UCL Library Services
Following the IHR refurbishment, the Wohl Library now benefits from a number of bespoke display and exhibition cases which will be used to highlight the breadth of the collections and the range of work undertaken at the Institute.
Recognising the potential importance of exhibitions and public engagement for Early Career Researchers (ECRs), the library team has announced an annual competition for History Lab Plus members, offering the winner the opportunity to curate an exhibition within the IHR. Working with the library team, you will gain experience in exhibition curation, design and conservation, as well as showcasing your subject. It offers the opportunity for ECRs to display their research in new and innovative ways to the diverse range of historians who visit the IHR. No prior exhibition experience is required, and you will work alongside IHR library staff in producing the exhibition.
The winning exhibition will make creative use of the IHR’s holdings and explore a historical topic, theme or area of research in an engaging and scholarly way. It will also be aware of the range of audience that the IHR services, which includes professional historians but also the general public. There are five cases available, suggesting an exhibition list of 20-25 items. The exhibition can also include facsimiles of materials held elsewhere, and can include display boards within the cases (the IHR library will arrange the printing of these). The winning exhibition can be complemented by an online version of the exhibition hosted on the IHR website, and should also have outreach or launch event as part of the exhibition programme (for example a workshop, lecture or curator’s tour).
Professor Lord Stern of Brentford at the EUI – 16 October 2015. Image: European University Institute from Italy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Research Excellence Framework Review, an independent review of university research funding undertaken by Lord Nicholas Stern, was published by the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation on 28 July 2016. It will now move to a further stage of consultation in late 2016, with the results published in 2017.
The entire Higher Education sector is under review, not just academic historians, but as part of our work supporting the profession, the IHR Library has started to collect relevant material and websites relating to the Review for those interested in understanding some of the implications of the proposals.
The text of the Review is available via Gov.uk. The call for evidence drew over 300 responses from across the sector; these are summarised here.
The consultation document is here; HEFCE blog updates on the responses are here.
The Times Higher Education Supplement provides an overview noting that ‘all research-active academics should be entered for the next research excellence framework, and the work of academics who have moved should be claimed by the institution where it was carried out’, but that the number of submissions would vary as a ‘function of staff numbers’. It suggests non-portability of outputs would take ‘the heat out of the traditional pre-REF “transfer market”. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/stern-review-submit-all-researchers-next-ref (limited paywall). There is also a live blog.
An initial analysis of ‘portability’ from the view of a ‘Fantasy REF manager’ by Adam Goldberg, ‘The Stern Review – Publications, Portability, and Panic’, Cash for Questions: social science research funding, policy, and development blog http://socialscienceresearchfunding.co.uk/?p=936 [28 July 2016].
This week, we discovered that Winston Churchill has made the move from paper into polymer, with the announcement from the Bank of England that the next version of the five-pound note featuring the former Prime Minister will be manufactured from transparent plastic film. His papers, which are kept at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, have, of course, already made the transition from paper into microfilm, and now digital. Some 800,000 documents can now be searched via this resource, including the letter containing revelation (to this librarian) that in 1891 the young Churchill exchanged his bike, believed to be worth a fiver, for Dodo, a fine-bred British bull dog.
The IHR Library is currently running a 30-day trial of the digital resource. The papers can be accessed via any of the Library computers via http://www.churchillarchive.com/. We would be interested in knowing what you think about the resource, and whether it would be useful for your research. Please contact email@example.com or Tweet to us at @IHR_Library.
Until 30 April, readers in the IHR library will be able to access a trial version of Bridgeman Education, an online database of over 1.5 million images cleared for educational use. It’s not necessarily the sort of resource that we usually look at for the online collections, but we are aware of how difficult it can be to search for historical visual materials, either for research or for use in teaching, talks, theses and other educational contexts. This may be one solution to that need. And even if not, it’s certainly interesting to look at (for a topical search, try [Easter Cards]).