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March 25, 2010

History Division News
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» Re-reading the Past

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Saving Cardiff's Rare Books Collection

For decades, Cardiff Council Library hid a treasure – a collection of 18,000 rare books purchased and donated in the nineteenth century for the benefit of the people of the city. During the twentieth century, the books were almost forgotten – the catalogue which had recorded their existence destroyed; the hoard presumed to be an insignificant, lesser copy of greater collections elsewhere.

In fact, like any rare books, the Cardiff Council holdings were truly distinctive. Industrialised printing, developed in the nineteenth century, produces identical copies. Print with moveable type, used in European book production from the mid-fifteenth century, created books as part of a slower and more flexible process. Binding and colouring vary from one exemplar to the next , and even the text itself can vary within one print run, as the manufacturers modified text in response to political events and censors' reactions. Readers frequently added their own notes in ink, even to lavish and costly books: this was seen as a way of adding value to the material. Every item in a rare books collection is a unique artefact, offering new information about the past.

There's more still to the Cardiff collection. After it was announced in 2007 that the books were to be auctioned off, scholars protested and began a long overdue investigation of the collection. Among recorded holdings, they found 175 incunabula – the most treasured of rare books, printed before 1500: estimates for the number of incunabula editions worldwide are only 28,000. They found rare seventeenth-century editions of Shakespeare's works, with copious handwritten notes from early readers. Other highlights include scarce civil war tracts, atlases and herbariums, Welsh-language material and art-house prints. We have much more to learn about this collection: statistically, it's highly probable that it contains titles unknown anywhere else in the world. There's no doubt that its contents can help to update and revise our grasp of past events. But its mere existence is significant for Cardiff's history: the donors and purchasers of these books firmly believed that the city needed a truly world-class library, and that the books they collected would be appreciated first and foremost by the general public.

For this reason, the Cardiff Heritage Friends group campaigned for the books to be kept in Cardiff and made available to its people as the donors intended. We were delighted to learn, earlier this month, that the collection will now be preserved for the city thanks to a shared initiative between Cardiff Council, Cardiff University, the Welsh Assembly Government, and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). For more on the books and the campaign, see the Cardiff Heritage Friends website.

October 28, 2009

History Division News
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» Story of Wales and Slavery

<image title="J.H. Stobwasser, Gracebay Plantation, Antigua, British West Indies, c. 1830" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/28/crop.jpg" alt="plantation illustration" />

Bittersweet: Sugar, Tea and Slavery at the National Assembly

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How are our lives connected to the world of Atlantic slavery? One clue may lie in the things we eat and drink. For example, the well-sugared cup of tea first become part of the British way of life in the eighteenth century and the ‘cuppa’ has never gone away. Therein lies a story...

Find out more by visiting a new exhibition at the National Assembly of Wales in Cardiff that traces the connections between Wales and slavery. Bittersweet: Sugar, Tea and Slavery – A Story of Wales & Slavery looks at the problem through the history of food and gardens, by tracing the connections between Caribbean slavery and our diet, especially the institution of afternoon tea.

The exhibition, which marks Black History Month, is the work of the charity Gateway Gardens Trust, which has organised a Heritage Lottery Funded series of visits to gardens in Wales established by slave traders, plantation owners or abolitionists. The exhibition at the Senedd marks the culmination of the project.

I should declare an interest. I was the historical consultant to the Bittersweet project and a book I’ve written that explores some of the issues raised by the project – and much else besides – will be published next year by the University of Wales Press: Slave Wales: the Welsh and Atlantic slavery.

Chris Evans

June 18, 2009

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» Glamorgan Historians work with Welsh Museums

<image class="left" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/6/18/museums.jpg" alt="Photographs, Museum Storehouse and Cardiff City Centre">

Two of Glamorgan's historians, Dr Jonathan Durrant and Dr Andy Croll, are working with Welsh museums as part of the Strategic Insight Programme (SIP). The programme enables staff in universities to build relationships with external partners.

Jonathan Durrant has been working with The National Museum of Wales at St Fagan's on the interpretation of space in its early modern buildings, particularly Hendre'r-ywydd Uchaf and the merchants' house from Haverfordwest which is currently being re-erected there. This secondment will lead to a workshop drawing together the expertise of historians, museum professionals, archaeologists, re-enactors and architects.

Andy Croll is working with museum experts who are setting up the 'Cardiff Story', a new museum dedicated to presenting the city's history. The museum is to be based in the Old Library in the Hayes - the former home of Cardiff Municipal Museum which closed its doors in 1922. Since that time, Cardiff has been without a civic museum dealing with the city's own history. The 'Cardiff Story' will fill that gap when it opens in the summer of 2010. Dr Croll has been joined on the museum's Academic Panel by two other Glamorgan historians - Professors Chris Evans and Gareth Williams.

History students will also benefit from the experience gained by Jonathan and Andy. Second-year students already visit St Fagan's while learning about different approaches to history. With these new collaboration, there are opportunities for student placements with the two museums and exciting courses in Public History can be developed that build on the insights gleaned in both Cardiff and St. Fagan's.