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The Language of Catalogue Descriptions

This week I (Hannah) met with Jessica Smith, Archivist for the Christian Brethren Archive held at the University of Manchester Library. This collection contains, amongst other things, a large number of lantern slides of the Brethren’s missionary work in India, China and Africa during the early 20th Century. All of which are now digitised and available via the University’s open access image database.

Our conversation quickly got onto the challenges of archiving material from colonial times; how to do it in a way that is accurate, useful for research purposes, but also culturally sensitive.

Here is Jessica’s recent blog post about this topic – very interesting food for thought.

Rylands Blog

The Heritage Imaging Team has recently completed a project to digitise 901 lantern slides held in the Christian Brethren Archive. As mentioned in a previous blog post, in the case of many of these slides, we had very little contextual information, or information relating to their provenance.

The creation of a catalogue for visual material without much knowledge of origin or content presents certain challenges and concerns.

If you are unable to identify the origin of the image, and the scene it depicts, the cataloguer may be reduced to simply describing what they can see, and thus descriptions like ‘Man under tree holding stick’ are born. As there were several cataloguers involved with this project, there are further concerns in terms of the standardisation of language, as one person may decide to to describe the same moving body of water as a river, and another as a stream.

There…

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By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library. www.racearchive.manchester.ac.uk.

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