The woman at the plough

A buff cardboard cover, an old-fashioned flourished script, a title specifying that this is a textbook for girls – this book could raise some nostalgia. When you open the innocent-looking work, you are confronted with a photograph of three happy children in national costume, the girl with plaits and a garland in her hair, and the Prime Minister holding his arms around them, looking like a man who cares for his people.

Except, this reader for ten-year-olds was published in 1941, the man is Hitler, and he wears a uniform with a swastika.

Germany_1941_FlagFrom the view of posterity, even the anthems on the first pages of the Deutsches Lesebuch (German reader) take on a decidedly sinister tinge: Our flag flutters before us…; The day for liberty and bread is breaking…; Germany, you will stand shining, even if we perish. Within a few years, the children in the photo would be likely to be homeless and hungry, and any men in uniforms prisoners or dead – so much for ‘liberty and bread’, which are evoked again in the very last line of the book. (I know because my mother was one of these schoolchildren and my father one of these soldiers.)

The editor of this series of German textbooks for secondary schools, Wilhelm Kallbach, has bent every topic toward the ideology of the day. The cycle of the year ends with three poems: a romantic impression of Christmas by Eichendorff, a Christian prayer for the New Year by Mörike, and a praise of the fatherland to round it all off. The myths and fairy-tales are full of belligerent Goths and valiant knights, as well as goblins and princes, horses and mice – and St Peter and the Devil. The history section is full of war heroes from the First World War which had blighted the world less one generation before.

Germany_1941_SoldierInteresting in a book specifically for girls, the role models remain overwhelmingly male. The tales muster a pagan goddess – at least this is a goddess of peace! – and the war stories rally the labour at the home front in the rousing song The German woman at the plough. Some poems praise the German mother and the German wife, evidently from a male viewpoint and as a mere support of the male rule.

Well, the texts in the Edition for girls are chiefly written by men; less than 12% are by women writers or anonymous girls. Over 88% of items are authored or compiled by men (the fact that many of the fairy-tales and folksongs were orally transmitted by women is not mentioned here).

We have to imagine that a person who started secondary school in 1941 might, due to Hitler’s systematic ‘coordination policy’, never have had access to any other world view. The Deutsches Lesebuch is a fascinating testimony of history: of education used as an instrument of indoctrination instead of enlightenment.

I was thrilled to discover the same lyrics, Die deutsche Frau am Pfluge, in another teaching resource, of War poetry lessons – for World War I. A collection of 150 compositions, published 1915 and now digitised by Staatsbibliothek Berlin, demonstrates how the children have internalised the ideology: one of many correct answers to the question ‘What do our soldiers die for?’ was evidently that English soldiers fight for ‘wretched money’ but German soldiers for ‘sacred Germanness’.


This Germany of my grandparents’ and my parents’ youth is as far from the Germany I grew up in as the North Pole is from the equator; and we need to keep and study these old teaching materials to understand how societies get into war and oppression and out again.

Amongst the historical textbooks in the Newsam Library, mainly from the United Kingdom, this foreign one is a gem. Our collection of geography books and atlases from the United Kingdom consists of over 4,000 titles, so why not check out a few for their philosophy or ideology – there are bound to be some interesting maps of appropriately ‘discovered’ colonies or hierarchically arranged illustrations of ‘races’…!

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Interesting Neighbours

Over the years I have visited other libraries in Hendon, Cambridge and Reading but recently I visited the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide ( which is in Russell Square.

The Wiener Library’s present location is the culmination of the work begun by Dr Alfred Wiener (1885-1964), a German Jew, in the 1920s in Berlin. At first he was involved with the work of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith to combat anti-Semitism through writing, lobbying and speaking publically. After Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1925 Dr Wiener perceived that the greatest threat came from the Nazi Party. An archive about the Nazi’s was collected to help campaigns against their work.

In 1933 Dr Wiener fled to Amsterdam and the first archive is believed to have been destroyed. He set up the Jewish Central Information Office at the request of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish association.

After the November Pogrom of 1938 Dr Wiener prepared to bring his collection to the UK and did so in 1939. During the Second World War the Jewish Central Information Office provided information to the British Government and became known as ‘Dr Wiener’s Library’ which led to its renaming

Post-war aid was given to the prosecutors at the Nuremburg Trials and early Holocaust Survivor testimonies were collected. This work helped to shape the emerging academic study of the Holocaust.


The Library moved to its current premises in Russell Square in 2011. It was interesting learning about some of the problems of trying to adapt a listed Georgian building to meet the needs of a modern library and archive. Luckily a lift could be installed because it could be located in a newer addition to the original building. Heritage Lottery Funding has helped to open the collections to the widest possible audience.

The collection is a very eclectic one including, amongst other material, books, journals, pamphlets, tourist board brochures about tours of concentration camp sites, written and recorded testimony of peoples’ experiences of the November 1938 Pogrom and the concentration camps and even games.

The Wiener Library supports the work of the UCL IOE Centre for Holocaust Education   There are picture books, novels and non-fiction books in our Curriculum Resource Collections about the Holocaust and other examples of genocide. In the Main Education Collection there are books about the teaching of the Holocaust. ( For example Teaching the Holocaust : practical approaches for ages 11-18 .Gray, Michael )

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My tailor-made Erasmus visit to Cologne

Last year, I took my courage and embarked abroad on my own tailor-made Erasmus study visit to Cologne. Only did I have to tailor it myself. Yet this turned out to be the biggest learning outcome.

Library of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne with mediaeval mural of knights in armour

Library of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne with mediaeval mural of knights in armour

Erasmus is organised and funded by the European Union and quite well known for students and academic staff; there is also a programme for ‘Outgoing professional staff mobility programme’.

My field of work is cataloguing in an academic library; I needed to define my interests, present my idea to my line manager and Head of Department, and find a partner institution from our list. There are currently over 70 higher education institutions, from 24 EU countries plus Switzerland. The IOE has agreements with 12 colleges in Germany alone; our contact in Cologne is now the University of Cologne.

I was welcomed by the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, but ended up rushing around between six or eight libraries… exhausted and elated. Some places had agreements with the IOE, others participate in Erasmus but have other partners, yet others were just open for professional exchange.

The Three Magi, patron saints of Cologne: mediaeval image digitised at University of Cologne and sold as a Christmas postcard (Photograph:
The Three Magi, patron saints of Cologne: mediaeval image digitised at University of Cologne and sold as a Christmas postcard

So I learnt a lot about indexing books, digitising images, arranging collaboration… but I also learnt how to organise a study programme, how to deliver reports using different media, and how to communicate fluently in a foreign language.

Well, in this case, it was my native language, but I still had to learn the professional terminology. Also, if you fancy going to Germany in an exchange, you will find enough colleagues with an excellent command of English, really rather disconcerting…

Everyone will benefit in a different way from a specialised Erasmus trip: Some will gain insights into procedures and workflows; others will make international contacts or set up actual collaboration; others will be motivated to develop their professional or linguistic competence – or motivate the colleagues abroad in turn! They will also promote London and the UCL Institute of Education.

Art and Museum Library (KMB), with a close-up view of Cologne Cathedral
Art and Museum Library (KMB), with a close-up view of Cologne Cathedral

I believe that an individually tailored Erasmus week, although the preparation and reporting back will take another two weeks or so out of your busy schedule, is a fruitful investment for any university professional at any stage in their career, and therefore for their departments.

You will receive the flight ticket and be reimbursed for any expenses (the food in Germany is really rather seductive). Just approach people – all colleagues abroad were very welcoming and obliging. I did not want to impose upon any individuals or institutions and crammed much too much into my week. My top tips would be:

  • Be very well-organised and ask your chosen partner institution for support in setting up contacts and a work plan.
  • Be very specific in your requests so that you get a chance to talk to precisely the right people about precisely the right issues.
  • Leave some time in between your dates: for emerging opportunities, for commuting and breaks, for socializing and culture… and for enjoying the city itself.



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Folktales in Curriculum Resources – can you have too many?

Folktales on display

The Curriculum Resources collection contains over 1200 books of folk and fairy tales in a section of their own, arranged mainly by country of origin.

The countries represented in the Folktales section range from Australia to Zimbabwe and Armenia to Zambia. There are books of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology and collections by theme such ‘The Sea’ or ‘Princesses’. There are also traditional tales for older and adult readers such as Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Old and Young and Jack Zipes’ edited collection of feminist fairy tales Don’t bet on the Prince. These resources sit alongside hundreds of enticing picture books which showcase the work of both traditional illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Errol Le Cain and Charles Keeping and some of our best known contemporary book illustrators, including Anthony Browne, Shirley Hughes, Jane Ray and Charlotte Voake.

Initially a visitor might wonder ‘why have so many folktales in the collection?’ The answer is that they are the gift that keeps on giving. They represent a rich seam of absorbing and often – but not always – familiar plots, perfect for adaptation, reinterpretation and even subversion that can be put to multiple uses in the classroom. For evidence of the enduring appeal of these stories consider Disney’s animated film Frozen, inspired by Hans Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and the same author’s The Tinderbox used to chilling effect in the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Awards short-listed Tinder by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts.

The use of traditional tales to address gender issues is another example of the generous nature of these stories. Our collection includes, for example, Sally Pomme Clayton’s Amazons! Women Warriors of the World and Robert Leeson’s Smart Girls and Smart Girls Forever. (Smart Girls ‘rescue brothers, lovers, husbands. They fight their way into – and out of – outlaw bands. They become rulers of distant cities and even outwit the Devil himself’. Check out Smart Girls Forever, illustrated by Axel Scheffler at Folktales 398.2 LEE if you would like to know more…)

Folk and fairy tales have long been a field of academic study in themselves and our library includes writing in this area by, for example, Marina Warner and Jack Zipes. However our collections also highlight the roles folk and fairy tales can play in the classroom: in literacy and storytelling, drama improvisation and critical thinking, language teaching and more.

Most of all these are powerful stories, often told with humour and frequently beautifully illustrated. They can show young readers both rewardingly familiar plots and unimaginably different worlds, real and fantastic. Can you have too many? Not in my book!

Folktales x 4

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An American Classic

A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959) is regarded as an American Classic. The two main protagonists Phineas (Finny) and Gene Forrester are pupils at Devon, a New England Prep School. Gene is a quiet, introverted boy who, because he is from the South, finds it difficult to fit in at the school. He is chosen as a friend by the charming, athletic, good-looking, charismatic and good natured Finny who is from Boston. They are attending a Summer School in 1942 and Gene becomes caught up with Finny’s exuberant activities such as jumping from a high branch into the river. Gene realises that whilst Finny excels at sports and can seemingly talk himself out of any situation, he struggles with his written work. Being good at games and the superior (through hard work) scholar leads Gene to strive to be a top student.

However his innate lack of self- confidence leads Gene to believe that Finny is deliberately including him in activities to distract him from his studies. Gene’s ambiguity about his feelings towards Finny leads him to make a spur of the moment bad decision and he causes Finny to fall from the tree and badly break his leg. Finny’s core goodness enables the boys’ friendship to survive this tragedy because he comes to realise that Gene did not act maliciously.

separate peace

The action takes place against the background of the Second World War. At 16 Gene and Finny are still too young to enlist but the teachers at the school have begun to prepare the older boys for the realities of war. There is increased emphasis on physical fitness and recruiters frequently visit the school. The uncertain future adds to the usual pressures of being an adolescent.

We first meet Gene as an adult when he returns to Devon and his current feelings are entangled with his memories of his teenaged self. Because he is the sole narrator it is difficult to know if the character of Finny is an accurate one. This leads to intriguing questions which are never completely answered.  The reader must judge for themselves about the validity of  events as reported by Gene.

This was John Knowles (1926-2001) first and arguably best novel and is apparently based on his own experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire.

The novels The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Sixth Form by Tom Dolby, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Old School by Tobias Wolf and the DVDs The Emperor’s Club Mona Lisa Smile  and Dead Poets Society all have an American Prep School setting.

A Separate Peace was  added to the’ Education in Literature Collection’ on the recommendation of a former member of staff. Any suggestions for books or DVDs will be considered for inclusion.


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Recently I took a look at which were the most borrowed DVDs in the ‘Education in Literature Collection’. The above is a chart of the results. There are more frequently borrowed DVDs such as The History Boys, To Sir, with love and Mean Girls. Those titles were added to the collection at the request of a tutor and could be regarded as ‘course work’ rather than leisure viewing. The  DVDs featured in the pie chart are ones which I chose to purchased for inclusion in the‘Education in Literature Collection’.

It is interesting that six of the top ten are foreign language films. Three (Monsieur Lazhar, In the house and Au revoir les enfants) are in French, The wave=Die welle is in German, Twenty-four eyes= Nijushi no hitomi is in Japanese and Like stars on earth= Taare zameen par is in Hindi. The Emperor’s Club is an American Film and the remaining three (If, It’s great to be young and Hunky Dory) are British films.

The popularity of foreign language films is a reflection of the diversity of the students and staff at UCL IOE. Perhaps it also shows an adventurous spirit amongst viewers.



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Poetry in Motion

‘High Flight’ was one of the poems read during the UCL IOE Library’s ‘Reading Aloud’ event in celebration of World Book Day on 23rd April 2015. This poem, by John Gillespie Magee Jr. (1922-1941), is an evocation of the joy of flight. The poet was influenced by his experiences as a Spitfire pilot during the Second World War. He died in a mid-air collision at the age of nineteen.

Magee, the eldest of four brothers, was born in Shanghai, China where his parents worked as Anglican Missionaries. In 1931 he moved to England with his mother to continue his education. It was at Rugby School, which he attended from 1935-1939, that he developed his skill at poetry. It is perhaps apt that he won the School Poetry Prize in 1938 with a sonnet about the poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915). Brooke had also attended Rugby and won the School Poetry Prize 34 years before Magee.

In 1939 he visited the United States where his father was now working. After the outbreak of the Second World War prevented him from returning to England he finished his education at the Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut. Despite winning a scholarship to Yale University, Magee enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force in October 1940.

After training in Canada he was sent to the UK where he was assigned to No 412 (Fighter) Squadron RCAF. Magee became a qualified Spitfire pilot. After his death Magee was buried in Scopwick, Lincolnshire.

Magee wrote ‘High Flight ’on the back of a letter he sent to his parents. His father was the curate of Saint John’s Episcopalian Church in Washington D.C. and reprinted the poem in church publications. The poem became more widely known through the efforts of Archibald McLeish then the Librarian of Congress. McLeish included ‘High Flight’ in an exhibition of poems called ‘Faith and Freedom’ at the Library of Congress in February 1942.

High Flight is popular with many aviators and astronauts. It is the official poem of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force.

In the Library’s Curriculum Resources Collection is the book High Flight written by Linda Granfield (1950- ) and illustrated by Michael Martchenko (1942- ). It is perhaps fitting that this lovely book, about the life of John Gillespie Magee Jr. and how he came to write ‘High Flight’, is the work of two people who also moved to Canada from elsewhere. Granfield from the USA and Martchenko from France.

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