Tag Archives: archives

The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

By Robert G W Anderson

Albert C Barnes (1874-1951), chemist and art collector

The Barnes Foundation was established in 1922 by Albert C Barnes (1872-1951), an eccentric chemist whose successful development of an anti-venereal disease drug made him a fortune. With this he acquired ethnographic art and paintings, particularly of the French impressionist and post-impressionist schools, and early modern art. He had a purpose-built gallery constructed, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, and it included highly original decoration including cubist bas-reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz. In this he displayed the ethnography alongside the fine art, understanding well how African artefacts had influenced many of the artists whose work he collected. His remarkably rich collection includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes (‘The Card Players’ is particularly well-known), 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, etc.

Barnes was constantly at war with the Philadelphia establishment whom he despised and his gallery had been deliberately constructed in an unfashionable suburb of the city, Merion, away from the centre. Control was in the hands of Lincoln University, an establishment for black students. In the 1990s, the Barnes Foundation ran into financial difficulties and, in violation of Barnes’ will, controversial plans were devised by the city to transfer the collection much closer to the centre of Philadelphia. The legal challenge against the move was ultimately unsuccessful and the collection will now move into a new, and probably largely sympathetic, building near to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum and a number of other cultural institutions lined along the Ben Franklin Parkway. It will open in May 2012. The original building will remain accessible to the extent that it will retain a horticulture programme associated with Barnes’ arboretum, and will house the Foundation’s archives.

A strongly critical, polemical, film about background to the proposed move, ‘The Art of the Steal’, was made in 2009; it is well worth watching.

Website: http://www.barnesfoundation.org
Address: The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
Telephone: (001) 215-640-0171

Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, England

By Anne-Flore Laloë

The Citadel Hill Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Hoe

The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA) is a British learned society which works in the field of the marine biological sciences. It was founded in 1884; its original objectives were to gain a better understanding of fish populations, especially in relation to fishing and fears of over-exploitation of the seas, and to study the physiology of invertebrate animals. The MBA’s first President was Thomas H. Huxley, and E. Ray Lankester acted at the Association’s Honorary Secretary. Today, the MBA’s objectives have been widened and the Association more generally seeks to “promote scientific research into all aspects of life in the sea, including the environment on which it depends, and to disseminate to the public the knowledge gained.”

The MBA opened in 1888 on Plymouth Hoe, where it is still located in the original Laboratory, though the building has been expanded and modernized. The choice of location for the MBA was very important, as one of the Laboratory’s requirements was to be able to pump sea-water. This was achieved via a well which is situated on the Hoe’s foreshore, beneath the Laboratory. From the beginning, the MBA opened its tank rooms to the public and it continued to do so until 1998, when the collection was transferred to the new National Marine Aquarium nearby.

Scientific staff at the MBA have always been at the forefront of the study of the marine environment. Alongside resident scientific staff, the MBA has always hosted and collaborated with visiting researchers. Seven Nobel laureates have conducted research there, in fields including medicine, physiology and chemistry. The MBA’s current research programme includes work on cell physiology, behavioural ecology, climate change and marine diversity. The MBA works with many national and international universities to train the next generation of marine biologists and support the marine biological community.

The MBA has published a scientific journal, the Journal of the Marine Biological Association, since 1887. In its current format, this is a peer-reviewed, international science journal covering all aspects of marine biology.

The MBA is the custodian of the collections of the National Marine Biological Library (NMBL), which was founded in 1887 to support the research work of the Association. Today, the NMBL is constituted of the MBA’s library and archive collections, and its staff provide information services to support research. The collections are one of the world’s largest in the field; they comprise an up-to-date selection of books and journals, and a sizeable historical collection which includes expedition reports from all over the world, old books (dating back to 1554), conference proceedings and the personal libraries of several past MBA researchers. The library also holds long runs of periodicals and grey literature from all over the world. The MBA Archive Collection constitutes a unique resource which documents not only the MBA’s institutional history, but also the evolution of the marine biological sciences in Great Britain and beyond. Items in the archives include personal papers and letters, documents, photographs, drawings, lantern slides and microscope slides.

The MBA also has a collection of scientific instruments and objects. The collection includes one of only five extant Levin-Wyman ergometers (invented at the MBA) which measure work done by muscles, and a sledge, skis poles and an ice axe used by MBA biologist E. W. Nelson on the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition (Terra Nova). These instruments and objects can often be linked to specific scientific research or MBA researchers, and to material held in the MBA Archive Collection. The history of the objects and the science which they enabled is significant within the context of the history of marine biology and biological sciences more generally.

Contact details:

The Marine Biological Association of the UK
The Laboratory
Citadel Hill
Plymouth PL1 2PB

T: 01752 633 207
W: www.mba.ac.uk
E: sec@mba.ac.uk

The NMBL is located at the same address, and its website is www.mba.ac.uk/nmbl. To contact the NMBL directly, please call 01752 633 266 or email nmbl@mba.ac.uk.

How to visit:

The MBA is primarily a membership organisation, and access to the NMBL is a benefit of membership. Alternatively, one-off access can be specially arranged through the MBA Membership Secretary (membership@mba.ac.uk). Please see here for further information: http://www.mba.ac.uk/NMBL/about_us/services.htm.

From Plymouth’s mainline station or the city centre, follow signs to Plymouth Hoe. The MBA is located on the eastern side of the Hoe, near the Royal Citadel.

Further reading:

Allen, E.J. and Harvey, H.W. (1928) “The Laboratory of The Marine Biological Association at Plymouth.” Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 15 (3): 735-752. (Available for download here: <http://sabella.mba.ac.uk/603/01/The_laboratory_of_The_Marine_Biological_Association_at_Plymouth.pdf)

Heape, W. (1887) “Description of the laboratory of the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth.” Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 1 (Old Series): 96-104. (Available for download here: http://sabella.mba.ac.uk/285/01/Description_of_the_laboratory_of_the_Marine_Biological_Association_at_Plymouth.pdf)

Southward, A.J. and Roberts, E.K. (1984)”The Marine Biological Association 1884-1984: One hundred years of marine research” Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, 116: 155-199. (This article was also published as an Occasional Publication of the MBA and is available here: http://www.mba.ac.uk/NMBL/publications/occpub/occasionalpub3.htm.)

Note: Revised article by Anne-Flore Laloe. Original article by Joan Price.

Teylers Museum, Haarlem

By Charles Tanford & Jacqueline Reynolds

Leidse Flessen, Teylers Museum Haarlem

Haarlem is in the heart of the Dutch bulb centre, and each spring the road from Haarlem to Leiden affords an incredible multi-coloured spectacle, unequalled anywhere in the world. The city itself has a history going back to the Middle Ages and counts Frans Hals and other artists among its former citizens. Its interest for our purposes lies in the Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands (founded 1778), dedicated by its founder to serve both science and the arts. Today the museum can hardly be classed as among the most distinguished institutions of its kind, but it has a certain charm and happens to be a good place to focus on two highlights in the history of science, one ancient and one very modem.

The museum’s first director, Martinus von Marum, was an indiscriminate collector, and the museum’s contents still retain their original haphazard character, including dinosaur skeletons, minerals of all kinds, old telescopes, and ancient air pumps. There is a battery of early Leyden jars and a friction generator for charging them, but little in the way of explanation to indicate how they work. One of the telescopes is a lovely wooden one, built by the Herschels in England.

One unique exhibit, typical of what an indiscriminate collector might acquire, is a skeleton of the famous Homo diluvii testis, a supposedly human witness of the biblical deluge. It illustrates one of the more bizarre episodes in the history of paleontology, promoted by an avid fossil collector, Johann Jacob Scheuchzer (1672-1733). Scheuchzer was obsessed with the search for remains of the miserable sinners who perished in Noah’s Flood and eventually actually believed that he had found human skeletons to fill the bill in a quarry on the German side of the Rhine, near Schaffhausen. The quarry men there, aware of his passion, obliged Scheuchzer with a steady supply of the skeletons over the next several years. Scheuchzer enthusiastically broadcast his discovery far and wide, with the warning “Take Heed!” as a preface to his tract. He might have applied this warning to himself, for one of his friends raised a valid objection to his sermonizing, namely that the skeletal vertebrae in his specimens lacked a canal for passage of the spinal cord and therefore could hardly be mammalian, much less human. But Scheuchzer was too full of enthusiasm to listen and at least part of the outside world agreed, for Homo diluvii testis became an accepted textbook item.

It was not until 1825 that the record was set straight: France’s Georges Cuvier came to Haarlem to examine the specimen there, and pronounced it to be the remains of a large salamander. It was then noted that all the specimens that Scheuchzer had obtained from the obliging German quarry men contained only the top half of the skeletons-the bottom half, which would have included a long tail, was invariably missing. The visitor will also note that the tailless skeletons are not much more than half a meter long, and it is not easy to understand today how anyone could ever have imagined them to be the remains of human beings, even without the problem of the spinal cord canal. (The skeleton is in Showcase 29 on the main floor. Several samples are provided, together with a Swiss stamp that pictures an uncut giant salamander skeleton, complete with tail.)

In a more recent period, Hendrick Antoon Lorentz was curator of the Teylers Museum for 16 years, a curious choice, given that he was a theoretical physicist. It appears that his teaching duties at the University of Leiden were becoming increasingly burdensome to him (he had been there for 30 years) and the curatorship was made available to him in 1912 to give him more time for his research. (Should we have invited a comment from a typically harried director of a present-day museum?) There is a portrait of Lorentz just by the entrance to the old Teyler library in the museum. His books and notes are kept here and are available for scholars who might need them.

Met Office, Exeter, England

By Joan Price

Panorama of the new UKMO building in Exeter, taken 8 February 2005

The British Meteorological Office was originally set up under Robert Fitzroy, ex-captain of HMS Beagle, as a service to mariners. After a disastrous storm in 1859 he established a network of fifteen coastal stations which gave warnings of approaching storms, and this eventually led to the daily shipping forecast. Developments in electric telegraphy and the expansion of the observational network meant that regular weather forecasts could be provided for the general public. Their most crucial forecast was that for D-Day. Weather forecasts still play a vital role in the success of military operations and provide essential information for the RAF and so the Met Office is an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence. More recently it has started to give warnings about weather conditions which may affect people’s health and uses Doppler radar to warn of the likelihood of floods. In 2003 the Met Office moved from Bracknell to Exeter, where the Hadley Centre is devoted to climate prediction and research. A network of official climate stations 40km apart continues to provide daily observations.

The Met Office headquarters contain a library, open to everyone, and a display of meteorological equipment. Half a mile away, the National Meteorological Archive shares premises with the Devon Record Office. It holds a number of rare books on meteorology on behalf of the Royal Meteorological Society. These include a 1282 manuscript of Albert Magnus’ book De Negotio Naturali, a sixteenth century copy of Aristotle’s Meteorologica, some of Robert Boyle’s published work and Daniel Defoe’s description of the Great Storm of 1703. Their archive includes many private weather diaries made by enthusiastic amateurs, dating back to 1730 as well as descriptions and illustrations of extreme weather conditions, including ball lightning.

The main entrance to the Exeter Met Office

They have numerous weather logs made by both merchant and naval ships all over the world. These include Beaufort’s first use of the wind scale now bearing his name, and some from historic voyages to the Antarctic. They hold a great many climate returns and registers of meteorological observations as well as autographic records for approximately 1,000 sites dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. They also have a selection of historic images featuring old equipment, observers and observation sites. The archive can be used by academics and members of the public but it is advisable to book in advance and read fact sheet 12 on their website (see below).

Directions: Their headquarters are close to Junction 29 of the M5 as it passes Exeter. Come off the motorway and drive in the direction of the City Centre. Almost immediately you will soon see directions to turn right at a set of traffic lights. To visit the archives turn left at the same traffic lights in the direction of Sowton Industrial Estate. Take the first turning right into Kestrel Way and keep turning right until you reach Great Moor House. Exeter St David’s mainline train station is on the opposite side of the city and although the journey can be done by taking two buses, it will take more than half an hour.

Further information

Website: Met Office – National Meteorological Archive

Met Office Factsheet: 12. National Meteorological Archive [pdf, 3Mb].
Description: In April 1914, at a meeting of the Meteorological Committee, the Met Office, then called The Meteorological Office, accepted responsibility of custodian of appropriate Public Records. To this day the archive remains part of the Met Office.

Address: FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

Archive address: Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Exeter EX2 7NL, UK

Devon Record Office, England

By Nicole-Kerstin Baur

Front of Great Moor House, home of the Devon Record Office
Front of Great Moor House, home of the Devon Record Office

Bringing History to Life at the Devon Record Office

Whether you want to uncover your family’s history, find information about a place or institution or you are researching a particular historical subject related to Devon, the Devon Record Office (DRO) will provide you with relevant paper documents and electronic guides. The DRO also holds a considerable number of documents related to the sciences of health and weather.

Searchroom of the DRO
Searchroom of the DRO

The Devon Record Office, as the record-keeping department of Devon County Council, was founded in 1952 and incorporates the Exeter City Record Office, which had been collecting records from all areas of Devon since 1946, when it took over from the Exeter City Library, where records had been collected from the early 20th century. The Devon Record Office now collects and preserves all types of historical records relating to the county of Devon, the city of Exeter, and East, Mid and South Devon, including Torbay. These include the records of the parishes, and of innumerable individuals, families, estates, businesses, societies, chapels and schools. It is also the diocesan record office for the Diocese of Exeter. Public records including those of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (from 1743), the West of England Eye Infirmary (from 1808), and the County Gaol (from 1821) are also available to searchers. All documents are kept in specially constructed strongrooms, and public access is provided in the main searchroom.

The DRO provides a wide range of electronic search facilities, including 29 microfiche readers and eight microfilm readers. Additional searchroom computer facilities provide access to specific online archives and library catalogues, including the office’s own online catalogue. The searchroom is open to the public five days a week from 10:00 am to 06:00 pm, and parking is available.

Strongroom of the DRO
Strongroom of the DRO

Have you ever wondered what weather reporters mean when they say it has been the wettest, or driest, or warmest month since records began? Those records are also housed in a separate part of the DRO: the National Meteorological Archive (NMA). The NMA holds the official British daily weather reports from when they began in 1869, although earlier, personal and local records – from land and sea-voyages – are also included in the collection. In conjunction with the Royal Meteorological Society, the NMA also contains historic writings on the weather including those of Aristotle and the early-modern century natural philosophers Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle.

The NMA is open to all but you must make an appointment first.

Further information

Address: Devon Record Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter, Devon EX2 7NL
Tel: +44 (0)1392 384253
Fax: +44 (0)1392 384256
Website: www.devon.gov.uk/record_office
Email: devrec@devon.gov.uk

National Meteorological Archive website: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library/archive

Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, England

By Joan Price

Out of date

This article has been superseded by a more up-to-date version at http://www.bshs.org.uk/travel-guide/marine-biological-association-plymouth-england

The Citadel Hill Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Hoe

The Marine Biological Association is one of the oldest learned institutions west of Bristol. Its laboratories are tucked away in a corner of the Royal Citadel on the eastern end of Plymouth Hoe. Founded in 1884, the MBA is one of the UK’s leading research institutes. Its building has spectacular views of Plymouth Sound and shares many features with the even more illustrious laboratory in Naples. The association was set up to study living marine live, both out of scientific interest and to learn about habits and population of fished fish. Much of the latter work has gone to other laboratories. Their aquarium is now part of the nearby National Marine Aquarium, which is a big visitor attraction. In addition to their own work, the laboratories always attract visiting research workers, including 13 Nobel Prize winners and 170 Fellows of the Royal Society. Some of these come from other disciplines, particularly physiology. From its inception, the association has always been forward thinking: providing Easter courses for university students, offering members one week’s laboratory space per annum free, and employing some early women scientists. In 1967 their work was focussed on the Torrey Canyon oil spill. They have monitored pollution and plankton for many years and have always had a research vessel.

Their library is probably the most complete in this country in its coverage of marine biology and oceanography. As well as academic journals and special collections, it also contains the personal libraries of several eminent members. Visiting research workers have donated bound reprints of their work. As a result their earliest book in the library dates from 1554, they have a complete set of Nature and their records of the British Association go back to 1864. They have many bound volumes of many expedition reports, including some to the Antarctic and others covering the marine biology of specific areas of the world. They also hold considerable quantities of ‘grey’ papers, which have not been published.

The NMBL also has a large amount of archival material which is on a database and has been catalogued in three sections:

  • Institutional papers of the MBA and the Plymouth Laboratory
  • Personal and scientific documents of 50 staff and researchers with close links
  • The correspondence of E.T.Browne from 1892-1937- for its intrinsic interest and to test the ability of the database.

Their material includes watercolours, early and aerial photographs, coloured glass slides and charts. Most interest is in their early fish records and their long term monitoring.

Directions: Please contact the librarian before a visit if you are not already a member. Membership of the MBA cost from £30 /annum. A pedestrian walkway leads from Plymouth’s mainline station to the Hoe. If travelling by road, follow signs to the City Centre until you see signs for Plymouth Hoe. Drive up past the Citadel and the entrance road is on the left just as you see the sea.

Further information

Website: National Marine Biological Library (NMBL)

Address: The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, PLYMOUTH PL1 2PB United Kingdom

Exeter Cathedral, England

By Isabelle Charmantier

Exeter Cathedral, Devon, England, 21 April 2011

The building of Exeter Cathedral started in 1050, when Bishop Leofric moved his see from Crediton, seven miles to the North-West of Exeter, to the city of Exeter. At the same time, Leofric founded the Cathedral Library and furnished it with books. As such, it contains such treasures as the Exeter Book, also known as the Codex Exoniensis, a tenth-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and the Exon Domesday book, a composite land and tax register associated with the Domesday Survey of 1086, covering much of Southwest England. Both of these works are normally on display in the library.

Interestingly for historians of science, and in particular for historians of medicine, the Cathedral Library comprises numerous scientific and medical works, due to various donations throughout the centuries. At the beginning of the 18th century, the prebendaries Robert Burscough (1651-1709) and Humfrey Smith (1655?-1709) bequeathed their libraries to the Cathedral Library. It also holds a large section of the library once housed in the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) Hospital, founded in 1741, and today still the most important hospital in Exeter. The collection, which was transferred back to the Cathedral Library in 1948, mainly comprises books from the rich personal library of the local physician Thomas Glass (1709-1786) who in his will left ‘to the Dean & Chapter of the Cathedral Church at Exeter all my medical printed Books on condition they will assign them a place in their Library…& permit any Physician being an inhabitant of the City of Exeter to have recourse to them at proper times in the Library.’ Finally, the medical and scientific holdings of the Library were greatly enhanced with an indefinite loan of early books from the RD&E Hospital in 1964.

Statue of Richard Hooker on Exeter Cathedral Close.

The scope of the collection is wide: it includes straightforward medicine and science topics, but also numerous peripheral subjects, such as astrology and alchemy, phrenology, agriculture, navigation, and wine-making amongst others. This makes the Cathedral Library a research resource of great interest for any historian of science and medicine.

The Cathedral Library closed its doors to scholars and the public on 17 December 2010, and will be closed throughout 2011, as it is undergoing an upgrade of its premises. The Library and the Archives will be located in one building in the West Wing of the Bishop’s Palace, providing in part improved access to documents and records and improved reading areas. During the closure, exhibition panels will be in the Cathedral in order to introduce the visitor to the Library collections.

For more information:


Peter W. Thomas, Medicine and Science at Exeter Cathedral Library. A short-title catalogue of printed books, 1483-1900, with a list of 10th- to 19th-century manuscripts. (Exeter, 2003).

LJ Lloyd and Audrey Erskin, The Library and Archives of Exeter Cathedral’ (Exeter, 2009).