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.

The John Rylands Library Special Collections 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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The Devil Man Springs to Life

Image of a pair of glasses on a book

The Roving Reader Files

 

Come with me on a journey of discovery into the bowels of the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library on Deansgate! Armed with our AIU Centre roadmap of race relations insights, let’s astonish ourselves amongst the wealth of treasures just lying there waiting to be discovered!

Feast your eyes on the image below. You, I and some intrepid Heritage Imaging adventurers are the first people to clap eyes on the contents of this amazing lantern slide for possibly eighty years or more… And you saw it here first  –  thanks to another of those incredibly kind archivists.

Lantern slide photograph of a group of African men, one of whom is dressed in a ceremonial outfit made from leopard skin and feathers

Copyright of the University of Manchester

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