‘Access’ by Jan Hauters

We often take access to digital resources for granted. In this post, Jan Hauters, an online doctoral researcher who is also a poet, expresses his sense of joy, excitement and wonder at the vast digital library that is now available to him at UCL.

Image (C) animasuri’22

Access. From the moment I enrolled, I felt a virtual, metaphysical door opening. I have access now.

While most present-day digital libraries are void of Pascal’s pressure and the Earth’s electromagnetic weight as gravitation, the rite of access did feel as if a brass door; heavy and creaking –with gothic ornaments and gargoyles guarding its liminality– opened its sensual, visceral inners.

There was nothing digital nor cold about my virgin experience of UCL’s online library access. Nor was it flat, as a single yet textured page. Not as a platonic non-space of an algorithm nor string of encoded narratives.

My entrance into UCL’s online library felt 4D: space in multi-directional dynamics; multidimensional movement.

My first online entrance felt as if sitting smack in the middle of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, performing Beethoven’s 9th in the world-famous acoustics of 301 Massachusetts Avenue’s Symphony Hall: very specific, very located; very resonating.

Access to a resounding space, reverberating back at me with more than I could ever echo. There it was: the monolithic entrance, a bone-throw away into vast digital spaces of promised online learning.

Space is acoustics; acoustics reads the space; reading is sound; sound is logic; logic is words. Words are humane dialog in the spaces of our probability of becoming. That is the online library and I am smack in the middle of it; silently so with the others who are reading here ever-unknown of each of our avatared presence.

as if” is abundantly spread across this writing of mine. It is, triggered by the imagery found in Foucault and in the writings that hint lusciously of his Heterotopia. Although these thoughts and feelings are there, this is while this digital library, via UCL, is not a mere analogy nor reference to me. It is tangible and yet also otherworldly.

My username and password felt as if poetic lore. These two secretive strings were answering a riddle that had eloped away from me for years; ever since I moved to the country I live in now: a geographic space without a library space for my taste. Even its internet has special doors that most of its citizens shall not pass.

The internet is hiding libraries. My formal, official internet is hiding even more.

These spaces were not unknown unknowns to me. They were more like an orphaned book without its space to be read by the public (i.e. by me). I know it’s there somewhere. It’s simply very much compulsively guarded. I shall not pass, until now.

I have access, now, let the expectation and anxiety begin.

For the past few decades, I have had very little granted access to these spaces. While, due to such perceived information-access-drought, other means of access was eagerly or innovatively ventured. This I feel, as the “The library as Heterotopia…” suggests, is not merely as that English home with its elite library for sipping words and brandy. Elitism and snobbery are a few optional dimensions in this “mixed joint experience.”

The door giving access, or rather doors, I am hinting at, felt as if they were those granite passageways that needed a well-wintered well-tempered witch-wizard and her staff to touch the mountain’s steep face with some choreographed movement for it to appear to the mere mortal’s eyes.

Almost magically this access is. The access comes with a hint of conspiracy for the neurotic attributes in my thinking: that one large gate gave way to numerous other doors across the internet and into publishing houses; opening and spreading out across the networks of bytes and neurons alike, as if butter melting on a hot breakfast pan. This internet is nothing like the internet of my past.

Richness, almost as tangible as the bees-waxed wooden stool I sat on as a child, while browsing through my parental library: that kind of multi-sensorial access; however imagined you might think this all is.

Books, papers, references and more. Chaos due to abundance; order in discipline, and eye-blinders keeping my gaze straight ahead… I have a goal to obtain… Or should I play left, and here, right, or there enter that cobbled alley? Oh yes, let’s venture off. Let’s flaneur. Let’s play, ever so shortly and then: get to work.

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It’s Sir Percy’s birthday!

Today we celebrate the anniversary of Sir T. Percy Nunn’s birthday for he was born on 28th December 1870 – the year in which the 1870 Education Act which promised a national education system was passed. Thomas Percy Nunn was a vice-principal at the London Day Training College (LDTC) (together with Margaret Punnett who was the other vice-principal). Nunn was at the LDTC (which became the Institute of Education, IOE, in 1932) from 1903 until his retirement in 1936. He became the first director in 1932 when the IOE moved away from being a teacher training college managed by the London County Council to being part of the University of London.

Nunn, T. Percy. Education, Its Data and First Principles. London: Edward Arnold, 1920
Nunn, T. Percy. 教育 原理 [Jiao Yu Yuan Li or Education Principles]. Translated by Cheng Xu Wang and Duan Ying Zhao. 3rd ed., revised and in part rewritten. Beijing: Renmin Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1992.

It is impossible to write about Nunn’s contributions to education in a short blog post for there were many. One can safely say he, together with John Adams, the first principal, ensured that educational psychology was embedded firmly into teacher training. Nunn came to be regarded as ‘one of its most powerful minds and British educational psychology’s most original and stimulating exponents’(Hamley 1945:1). According to Professor J. W. Tibble, Nunn was a pioneer of ‘new methods’ which focused on the individuality of the child – or child-centred education – which he continued to advocate throughout his lifetime (1961:58). Together with Adams, he embraced psychology for practical purposes, hoping, ‘it would provide guidelines for successful teaching and insights into the mental processes of their pupils’ (Wooldridge 1994:63).

This post flags one of Nunn’s most influential book, Education: Its Data and First Principles which was published in 1920. It established his authority as an educationalist (and an educational psychologist) and influenced generations of educators as it became a core text in many teacher training colleges. Education was as part of ‘The Modern Educator’s Library’ series. Education represents a move away from the theological basis that had dominated education and teacher training to one that was based on the emerging field of educational psychology. The first edition was reprinted thirteen times between 1920 and 1930 and translated into Hebrew in 1923 – most probably by one of Nunn’s students. In 1930, Nunn published a revised second edition of the book which also resulted in many more impressions; and a final, third revised and part rewritten edition, was published posthumously in 1945. This third edition was also reprinted several times up to 1962, and translated into Arabic in 1946, German in 1949, Italian in 1953 (reprinted in 1968) and in Chinese in 1964. More recently, educationalists appear to have resurrected the book for there have been further reprints (in 1992, 2005, 2012 and 2013). This attests to its continuing popularity and perhaps its ongoing influence.

The IOE Library’s Special Collections has several editions of Nunn’s book. A study of the differences between these editions would highlight how Nunn’s educational philosophy changed over a quarter of a century in relation to social and political changes before the Second World War.

You can read more about Percy Nunn in the UCL Press open access book, The UL Institute of Education: From Training College to Global Institution by Richard Aldrich and Tom Woodin.

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The Christmas Box

The tradition of having a Christmas tree goes back to the early 1800s when Queen Charlotte (queen to George III) set up the tradition of having a candle-lit tree, with presents and ribbons hanging on the branches inside the palace at Windsor. Soon after this, the idea of the Christmas box which children could open on Christmas Eve started. The two soon became familiar rituals in the homes of many well-to-do families.

One book in the Baines Collection held in the UCL Institute of Education’s Special Collections is a delightful little annual that brings this concept into print. It is entitled The Christmas Box and was published in 1829. The book measures 16.2 cm x 10.2 cm in size. Books for children like this were typically small and designed to fit into a child’s hands. A Christmas Box has some lovely woodcut prints and books such as this one gives us information about book design and also what children from upper- and middle-class families read.

‘The Battle of Frogs and Mice’ (Baines 70)

A Christmas Box is a collection of stories edited by T. Crofton Croker. It includes short stories, verses, plays and articles and even a brief history of the Napoleonic wars. Two that stand out for me are the ‘Battle of Frogs and Mice,’ which is a short animal epic ascribed to Homer, and ‘The Three Caskets’, used in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The collection also comprises a couple of firsts. It includes the first appearance of a Norwegian folktale ‘The History of Asim and Asgard’ and the first publication of Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘The Bonnets of Bonny Dundee’ (Hahn, 2015, p. 127). In addition, there are the stories by the educator and prolific author, Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849). She is probably best known for her well-known education treatise Practical Education (2nd edition, 1801) which is also in the IOE’s Special Collections. The book concludes with a collection of carols and a message for the reader, which seems an appropriate one to share with you as we get ready for the holidays.

“And now, little dears, we have only to wish you all good wishes,

and to thank you for your patience in perusing our small present.

May you all spend your Christmas holidays pleasantly, with every enjoyment and entertainment,

and be ready, when we meet again, to glance over our pages with the same good humour and glee as we trust you have done.

And so GOOD BYE.”

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year from All of Us!

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Black History Month 2021: Black Women

Black History Month is an annual event which takes place in Britain every October. The theme this year is ‘Proud to Be’ and to celebrate the event, we have invited Dr. Elizabeth Williams to guest author this post. Dr Williams is the author of The Politics of Race in Britain and South Africa: Black British Solidarity and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle (2017) and her edited book Nelson Mandela: Pulling the Branch from a Tree! The Impact of His Legacy on Black Britain and Race in Britain (2022) is going to be published in 2022. Elizabeth is also a librarian at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Top row, left to right: Dianne Abbott, Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou and Miriam Makeba; Second row, left to right: Nanny, Bernardine Evaristo, Harriet Tubman and Jackie Kay

When you see a Black woman, what image does it conjure up in your minds eye? Be honest now, I would hazard a guess, admittedly dependent on who you are, but in general it is an image more pitiful than celebratory…well unless you are thinking of a pop-culture figure, but even with those transcendent figures their ethnicity or race is rather glossed over and rendered a non-fact. That’s how the media chooses to side-step uncomfortable truths and chooses to mass market an appeal for max profits. So Beyonce’s lyrics to “Formation” clearly referencing The “Black Power Movement” jarred and shocked her White fan base (See SNL’s hilarious ‘The Day Beyonce Turned Black’ The Day Beyoncé Turned Black- SNL – YouTube) and her “Brown-Skinned Girl” signalled that perhaps she had a racialised context that she cared about after-all, not just the melodious pop tunes that appealed to a fan base who did not understand the heritage that made her who she is.

In the rest world we are used to seeing Black women (and other women of colour) as our institutional cleaning staff, the cluster of students within particular subject disciplines (totally absent from others), as professional staffers, but there are yawning gaps and sparse representation at senior levels. In public life; political, financial, CEO-cliques, the upper echelons of health care, media, the judiciary even working across the Royal households and charities at senior level, it is truly painful particularly when you travel to the USA and see the sheer brilliance of representation across the board unlike the UK, Europe, and parts of the English-speaking world. In the British HE system we all know that the absence or near absence of Black women across the executive and senior executive is totally “normalised” irrespective of the EDI agenda which quite frankly has benefited every other “protected characteristic” and White women on the whole. As for significant representation on decision-making funding bodies, as research-leads, early career researchers, as departmental HoDs, it remains an intractable state of affairs.

Of course, the voices of Black women that work in HE testify loud and clear for those that really want to hear; so many testimonies of the micro-aggressions from colleagues and students alike. Made to feel out of place, a “space invader” to coin sociologist Nirmal Puwar’s term. Or conversely treated as exceptional, one minute lauded but the next encouraged to “stay in your lane.” Always having to justify oneself in a way that demonstrates value. Not encouraged to be innovative, or a “thought-leader” breaking new ground, as White peers would be-with the knock-on effect of a rapid rise. The odd heralded appointment then quick departure a little while longer with no accountability. Overlooked for promotion or actively discouraged to go for promotion. Or promotion when it comes taking twice as long than for White peers. The micro-management or overburdened with higher expectation to perform when compared to White peers. The subtly of being undermined, patronised, and gaslighted. Sound familiar to some? Again, I guess it depends on who you are and to whom you have bothered to ask those difficult questions of. It has all been chronicled time and time again. HE is a reflective microcosm of the larger society, and it ain’t changing anytime soon, if COVID working stories of BAME HE academics and professionals are anything to go by.1

However, this is the time to talk, the Black Lives Matter phenomenon has opened debate in the UK as elsewhere. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign is calling for accountability not only in representation of the figures of the past, but who it is that narrates the histories going forward. The “Ain’t I A Woman” conference platforms scholars who are researching the rounded and multi-faceted elements of Black women; mothers, grandmothers, adventurers, innovators, business people, teachers, activists and more in new and innovative ways. As part of Goldsmiths’ Library’s Black History Month series three Black British historians invite you to gather and join the palaver of scholars and notable women who together will present a nuanced view; past, present and future. As our celebrated Maya declared powerfully:

“They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

Extract Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise.

Author: Dr. Elizabeth Williams


  1. See, Ahmed, S, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life(Duke University Press, 2012), Bopal, K, White privilege: The myth of a post-racial society (Policy Press, 2018), D. Gabriel, Transforming the Ivory Tower: Models for gender equality and social justice (Trentham Books, 2020), Gabriel, D. et al Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of women of colour surviving and thriving in British academia (Trentham Book, 2017), Mirza, H. et al, Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), Puwar, N. Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place (Berg, 2004).

Image credits which were designed for the conference ‘Ain’t I a Woman?” : “The Black Woman” in Historical and Contemporary Context’, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2021, organised by Dr Elizabeth Williams-Goldsmiths Uni of London,  Dr. Juanita Cox ,-IHR and  Dr. Angelina Osborne.

Olive Morris, ‘STREET ART OF OLIVE MORRIS by BREEZE YOKO,’ by StockCarPete used under CC BY 2.0 / original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Audre Lorde by Elsa Dorfman, used under CC BY-SA 3.0  / original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Professor Wangari Maathai by Oregon State University used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Dido Elizabeth Belle by howard_morland used under CC BY 2.0 / original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Diane Abbott by Chris McAndrew used under CC BY 3.0 / original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Sojourner Truth by js used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / original image cropped and changed to: red, yellow and black.

Maya Angelou by York College ISLP used under CC BY 2.0 / original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Miriam Makeba, ‘MIRIAM MAKEBA PATA PATA 12” LP VINYL’ by vinylmeister used under CC BY-NC 2.0 / text removed, original image changed to: red, yellow and black.

Queen Nanny of the Windward Maroons by David Drissel used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / original image cropped and changed to: red, yellow and black.

10 Bernardine Evaristo by Acthom123 used under CC BY-SA 4.0 / original image cropped and changed to: red, yellow and black.

11 Harriet Tubman by National Park Service used under CC BY-NC 2.0 / original image cropped and changed to: red, yellow and black.

12 Jackie Kay, ‘Paisley Book Festival – Jackie Kay 02’ by byronv2 used under CC BY-NC 2.0 / original image cropped and changed to: red, yellow and black.

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Fascinating facts from our DERA repository

Amongst 12-year old children in Scotland, over 70% of boys want to continue their education after their GCSE’s – so do over 80% of girls.



While over 50% of graduates declare a great deal of interest in politics, less than 20% of those without any qualifications do.

In the referendum on leaving the European Union, 70% of citizens over 75 and 81% of those aged 65-74 turned out, but only 48% of those under 25 years of age.

Fascinating facts, which you may have read in the papers or heard on the radio during the past years. How can you verify them, date them, quote them, or research the issues some more? Read more on Newsam News.

I assume you go online and try to find something that looks serious, perhaps a report from a government department or a study from a think tank. I suggest you look for such papers in our electronic repository DERA (Digital Education Resource Archive).


But why, if they are also available at the source? The answer is that they may not be there any more in the future, or that their location may change on the original website. Bodies also change name, merge, or are dissolved, taking their webpages and publications with them.


More and more government or research papers have never been printed. So where is the authoritative copy to refer to? This is where our digital archive comes in.

If you quote from DERA, the document will stay the same, and and access will be preserved permanently. The document will open directly, or a page offering you a pdf will come up.

You will be able to set up your citation easily because we have prepared the relevant information on authors and publishers for you. Our record will also include information about the copyright, often with links to the conditions of re-use.

(You will find an example at the bottom of this blogpost. You will also see that some images have been blacked out because they are copyright protected.)

You can search and browse DERA directly at https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/; there are an advanced search function and a long list of organisations. Our LibGuides have a page explaining how to customise the library catalogue or a search engine to find sources from the repository.

Good luck in hunting for facts and figures, policy analyses and policy proposals, comparative studies and case studies. The Digital Education Resource Archive is always at your fingertips… and do not forget that librarians are always there to help you!

Sources of Graphs:

https://dera.ioe.ac.uk//33762/ : Life at age 12 : initial findings from the Growing Up in Scotland study. (2019)

https://dera.ioe.ac.uk//24684/ : The effect of higher education on graduates’ attitudes : secondary analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey. (2015) [ BIS research paper ; 200 ]

https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/32186/ : Political disengagement in the UK: who is disengaged? (2018) [House of Commons Library Briefing Paper ; CBP-7501, 14 September 2018]

Cover page image copyright: Whitehall, London students protest against fees and cuts by Chris Beckett. https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisjohnbeckett/5205974811/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisjohnbeckett/ Licensed under CC BY 2.0 / image cropped. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

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If childhood is an invention, how did children once grow up?

‘Education’ stands for blackboards and computers, school benches and sculleries, china dolls or rag dolls, pies and puddings and a roast goose or bowls of pallid porridge. At the Institute of Education, beyond schooling, studying, and training, ‘Education’ encompasses bringing up children and growing up.

Book cover with girl with large collar and spectacles reading a newspaper.When I look at history and sociology of childhood, our literature makes me wish I were a scholar instead of a librarian! The first page I opened in a random historical overview sucked me in, back to a time when young boys went through one or two initiations: changing from an infant’s gown to breeches and graduating from those to long trousers.

Further on, you learn how the shift from larger households to nuclear family was reflected in new forms of celebration, like children’s birthdays and Christmas. In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, well-off families provided their offspring with more and more toys and books, particularly during the festive season.

Book cover with impressionist painting of five yound children on the beach.In Childhood in modern Europe (2018) – available as a printed or electronic book – Colin Heywood develops a debate of the concept of childhood and youth in the past centuries: Did those clear cuts between the stages of life exist, or were there gradual transitions and grey zones? Did most people really marry very early, girls usually in their teens, or was there a protracted tension between maturity for relationships and lack of opportunity?

With our books, you can wander through time, starting with Childhood in classical Athens or other titles at the Institute of Archaeology and the Main Library and ending up in the 21st century with Designing modern childhoods or Children and young people’s cultural worlds.

Book cover, black, with ancient Chinese drawing of adults and children.If you want to turn your mind to other parts of the world, our Comparative Education Collection might be just right: I found debates on stereotypes and hubris, exclusion and oppression; I found accounts of childhood in Germany and Ireland, Japan and China, Southern Africa and Australia, and there must be many more books and, of course, articles.

For autobiographical and fictional accounts of childhood and youth in previous generations, turn to our Education in Literature Collection; you will pass it on your way to the staircase in the middle of the Newsam Library.

If you want to do search for literature, you can start on the Library catalogue, UCL Explore. It covers plenty of online articles, too. You can move on to databases through the link at the top of the catalogue or gather search tips on our dedicated webpage and go from there.

I have compiled a few search terms for history of childhood for you:

  • To find reports on childhood, try both the term ‘childhood’ and the term ‘children’; this is essential to find all titles or subject terms or keywords.
  • To find ‘social history’ of childhood, also try ‘children – history’ and ‘children – social conditions’ (you need not type the dashes).
  • For family relations, employ the asterisk for family/families and parents/parent etc.: ‘famil*’/’parent*’.
  • In addition to ‘teenager*’, look for ‘adolescent*’, ‘youth’, ‘young adult*’, and remember that teenagers also fall under ‘children’.
  • There are ready-made search categories for ‘children in literature’, ‘children in art’ and ‘children in motion pictures’!

If you need to share impressions of former times with children, have a look at our Curriculum Resources Collection; it goes far beyond textbooks, abounding with picture books, non-fiction and fiction.

As regards the education systems in former times and different places, we have much more again to offer you. Unlike most libraries, we keep many older academic books as well as our old textbooks and collect more historical textbooks and exam papers so that you can follow the contents and ways of teaching throughout time, especially history and geography. Many old materials are in library stores, so you will have to find them first on the catalogue.

Any questions, consult the IOE LibGuides or of course a librarian: we are here to help you!

Library trolley with books on history of childhood in Europe, China, etc.

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Facets of Dickens’ world at the Newsam Library

Two current exhibitions on Charles Dickens, reviewed on this blog, draw you into children’s worlds in the 19th century.

Book cover with painting of four young children in fine clothes playing with toy bricks.You imagine, perhaps, reading or being read to from an illustrated volume of stories on a cosy armchair, by the glow of the fireplace or the bright light of the newest lamps… or else crawling down mine shafts or climbing up chimneys in relentless shifts, blackened by the coal or soot around you, invariably hungry.

If you want to find out more about Dickens or the history of childhood in general, you are in the right place at UCL Libraries. You are particularly well positioned for both at the Newsam Library, UCL Institute of Education, with its focus on the history of education, comparative education, and resources for children and teachers.

First of all, you will find some of Dickens’ works at the IOE and more at the UCL Main Library. You can choose between the original texts and abridged versions, illustrated editions and graphic novels, film adaptations and audio-books. Consult the catalogue to locate your items of interest on the shelves of the Curriculum Resources Collection.

Book cover with colourful drawing of Victorian house, furniture, toys, etc.

If you look for ideas on how to study and teach texts by Dickens, the Newsam Library stocks adaptations, study guides to the literary texts, and non-fiction for readers of all ages.

• Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street.

If you need to tell children about their peers in Victorian times, about homes and cities, schools and factories, horse-carts and railways, toys and games, food and feasts, you are sure to find lovely material.

Charles Dickens Museum!

Book cover with comic-style illustration of candle-lit hall in mansion.

For Great expectations, the IOE has got two abridged and illustrated versions and several study guides. But that’s not where it stops.

One edition intrigues with a graphic novel and audio-book; the text is adapted for a lower vocabulary and has a glossary.

Another title around this coming-of-age novel combines a dramatisation and a study guide in audio format.

UCL Main Library has, of course, the original text, while UCL Special Collections boasts a copy of 1891 once owned by George Orwell.


Decorative book cover with silhouettes of people and ghosts.Bright red book cover withschoolboy playing Scrooge, barefoot in nightcap.For Dickens’ world-famous story A Christmas carol, see the delightful blogpost What the Dickens! by Beverley Hinton. She covers the background and many manifestations, both in print and on stage and screen.

For more advice on researching the history and sociology of childhood, consult a librarian – and watch this space!

'Great expectations' and 'Hard times' in various formats plus study guides.Selection of children's books and textbooks relating to Charles Dickens.Library trolley with books on history of childhood in Europe, China, etc.

A signature of Charles Dickens, energetic, in one stroke, underlined many times.Exhibition dates:

Picture credits:

Drawing of three spinning tops.

  • Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street. Credit, Siobhan Doran; photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Spinning tops: From ‘Children’s games throughout the year’ (1949) by Leslie Daiken.
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The ‘gloomy sky’ and the ‘ruddy glow’ of Dickens’ London

Dickens calendar for 1908, with paintings of woman in bonnet and man in top hat and Dickens. “It was a Sunday evening in London, gloomy, close and stale… Nothing to see but streets, streets, streets. Nothing to breathe but streets, streets, streets.” A  ‘Dickensian’ world has become a figure of speech, evoking grim workhouses and haunted graveyards, frosty snowy streets and cosy fire-lit homes.

Two special exhibitions in London will give you vivid insights into the life of the author — born on February 7th, 1812 — and his characters.

Senate House Library has mustered illustrated editions of Dickens’ works together with images of real locations that inspired him.

He had experienced factory work and debtors’ prison as a child and systematically researched squalid slums fostering crime and prostitution or schools notorious for child abuse.

Two children bent over their work in the factory.

Many portraits seem just lifted out of his stories.

Ragged barefoot street children lounge about, amongst them a boy wearing a bowler hat and smoking a pipe, evidently a future gangster boss. Young children are seen squeezing into dark and dangerous mine shafts. An item in a charity report is titled “An orphan, naked and starving, hidden in a coal-hole”.

There are Government reports on child labour in workhouses, early pieces of investigative journalism, and documents from charities, including nearby Foundling hospital and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. In a video, a descendant of Dickens explains his dedication to relieving the lot of paupers.

When you see those revolting pictures of real and fictitious characters – including Dickens himself in a biography (above) – you appreciate the grotesque nature of his figures and settings more. Most of us cannot begin to imagine the horrors of daily life for countless people only five or six generations ago.

The show Childhood in Dickensian London focuses on young heroes and heroines who are deprived of means and support but strong of will and character. A number of them reverse roles by taking care of relatives at a tender age.

We also learn that 19th-century popular culture was not so different from ours.

• Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street.

When Dickens he wanted to throw a limelight onto child labour and poverty, he chose a novella over a pamphlet – the result was his cult story A Christmas carol. Stories published in instalments kept the audience in suspense and stirred empathy, just like our television series do; when a character died, there was collective grief.

In order to get even closer to the celebrated author and his world, you you need not venture any further than Doughty Street, just beyond Brunswick Square and Coram Fields. Behind one of those facades of dark bricks, neat but rather plain and narrow, you may see chandeliers blink and red velvet curtains shine, from a splendid family home spreads over five floors.

The Charles Dickens Museum surrounds you with its massive sideboards and silverware, oriental rugs and framed pictures, four-poster beds and washstands of the young household (with the first three of ten children). There is even an absurdly elegant suit and some precious jewellery – the man surely had written himself out of abject poverty.

Charles Dickens' study at 48 Doughty Street.

In the study, you marvel at by bookcases up to the ceiling and sense some of the inspiration at a desk like this, although it struck me that the room has no window. Dickens accomplished much of his toil by dark at any rate: he would go on long walks through London deep in the night to gather ideas and exercise his quill by candlelight or lamplight.

Servants' quarters, attic, at 48 Doughty StreetThere is an instructive video on the still very deficient lighting technologies of the time: reading was a privilege because books, obviously, were a privilege, but so was light, and so was time… Most people simply spent most waking hours, or at least most daylight hours, working. Even some at Dickens’ home: just step down into the kitchen and scullery.

You can even still get a whiff of the Victorian Christmas the writer is most famous for, even though the house is not decked for Christmas with evergreens nor the table graced by a roast turkey any more: right until Easter, the exhibition on Dickens and the business of Christmas presents original manuscripts and fine editions of Dickens’ countless stories for the occasion. The show maps out the overlap of the publishing industry and the festive time just as they both expanded considerably in the nineteenth century.

Charles Dickens' dining room at 48 Doughty Street.You will also observe some more of the idyllic side of Victorian life, with piles of delicious dishes (and the recipes compiled by Dickens’ wife Catherine), with games and dances and performances for children and adults and all of them together. A copy of the very first Christmas card has come to you from America!

Pile of tiny books with golden ornaments on the spines.


In my next blogposts, I shall give you tips on how to find literature about Charles Dickens and about the history of childhood in general at UCL Libraries. Until then, settle down at the bookcase set up in Senate House Library for you, ask a librarian or consult our catalogue and LibGuides – and enjoy these two exhibitions and the one about children’s play which I reviewed here before!


Exhibition dates:



Decorative book cover with silhouettes of people and ghosts. Book cover with comic-style illustration of candle-lit hall in mansion. Book cover with painting of four young children in fine clothes playing with toy bricks. Book cover with colourful drawing of Victorian house, furniture, toys, etc.

Some relevant books at the Newsam Library, UCL Institute of Education.

Picture credits:

  • Dickens calendar for 1908 at ‘Beautiful books’. Photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Dickens at the blacking factory. From a biography by John Forster. Memorial edition, 1911. Copyright Senate House Library.
  • Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street. Credit, Siobhan Doran; photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Study. Credit, Newangle; photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Servants’ quarters, attic. Credit, Siobhan Doran; photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Dining room. Credit, Siobhan Doran; photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Tiny books at ‘Beautiful books’. Photography copyright, Dickens Museum.
  • Wooden toys at ‘Play well’. Reprinted from Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman, collection Elyse and Lawrence B. Benenson.
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How wooden bricks can build a world : the Play Well exhibition at the Wellcome Gallery

Simple wooden toys: bricks with holes and sticks to connect them.Little wooden cubes and balls, plain and smooth, tiny wooden squares and triangles, painted in primary colours, all elevated to the status of exhibits in glass cases. Contemporary art perhaps? Much better.

The next case shows a wooden model of the iconic modernist home, Fallingwater, by Frank Lloyd Wright, with his claim that the toy bricks in preschool had influenced his creations. Then there is an old-fashioned, threadbare, teddy-bear with some red wool on his stomach: the boy who had opened the body and sewn it up again became a veterinarian doctor.

We are in the Wellcome Collection in London, on the Euston Road, in a free exhibition on children’s play throughout the past few generations. Be prepared to break out into inarticulate exclamations of delight when you spot ‘your’ antiquated Lego bricks or hideous Barbie dolls. Mostly it is photographs and films, though, a sociological analysis of play and its various uses in education.

The voices of children are given ample room in interviews and documentaries. There is also a play area, although adults seem reluctant to use it, and there are, in fact, works of modern art. Some of them are shown exposed to little boys who take them apart and kick the parts around with a great din, but also undertake to stick them together to new sculptures, or is that playthings?

Children playing with wrecked cars between bleak brick houses.

There are entire playgrounds created by children: either with materials on grounds given to them for the purpose, or out of junk in disused urban spaces. Neither would be acceptable with today’s health and safety regulations: kids disembowelled cars, lit fires, and erected a famous wonky tower. A rather shocking snapshot has children dancing on graves and skipping over headstones; yet the fact which should shock us more is their restriction to a cemetery as their only green outdoors space.

The show follows the shifting focus from outdoors to indoors play, ending with the first computer games and with teenagers who have never been to the park down the road. The research into kids’ unsupervised movement from six miles three generations ago to literally the end of the road today looks particularly impressive on the satellite map of a suburban area – miles of fields and woods, still there at the edge of a city, but untrodden now by youngsters’ soles.

A large graph on the wall proves that children still appreciate physical activities; but instead of rough and tumble play and free roaming, they participate in sports, organised and supervised, as I assume. Digital and other types of quiet play have evidently increased, while pretend play has dropped enormously. This must be as worrying as the decline of exercise. Some more objects in showcases, some of them found objects, remind us that a young mind can transform everything into something else – the simpler the thing, I reckon, the richer the possibilities!

“Let’s plan my dream wedding”  versus “Vengeance is mine”. Dolls, 1990’s.

Debates on gender stereotypes in toys and games are due in this context, and the Wellcome obliges with a hilarious report on the Barbie Liberation Organization. I will not spoil your amusement at their subversive sabotage of those grotesquely exaggerated male and female dolls! It took place one generation ago – yet attitudes have moved backward as well as forward, as the adjacent display of Lego kits in sugary pink and turquoise demonstrates. If you like, look at my previous blogposts on historical gender-specific play and reading.

Hulk with diabetes device, Black Barbie with discoloured skine, playmobil figure in wheelchair.

A Barbie model with discoloured skin and a Hulk with diabetes knocked me out but should not have – I read about a diverse and inclusive society every single day, especially in London, so children’s books and games and toys should reflect it. Moreover, we get a glimpse of play centres for refugees, popping up in the nowhere of camps but adhering to detailed plans.

Some child psychologists and educationalists have put play into the centre of their approaches. The work of Friedrich Fröbel, for instance, features in this exhibition, starting with the lovely boxes of simple blocks and pegs, rings and strings. The Reggio Emilia schools, founded after the war by citizens not experts, fill one wall of the gallery.

Simple fabric toys: colourful knitted balls with loops.

If you want to learn more about these psychological and educational theories, a number of nearby University College London libraries are a good place to start.

The Newsam Library at the UCL Institute of Education holds plenty of literature on Lowenfeld and Winnicott, Fröbel and Reggio Emilia, and other teaching systems, like those of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. The IOE Archives and Special Collections are full of treasures of child psychology, and obviously, education.

Book cover, bright yellow, playful.Current research into play is likewise covered by the Newsam Library; so are concrete suggestions for early years teachers and parents, since the IOE started out as a teacher training college and proudly continues as such.

The book published by the Wellcome Collection in conjunction with the exhibition, Michael Rosen’s book of play, has just hit our shelves, full of ideas for children of all ages. You can also buy it at the Wellcome shop next to the gallery right away.

Book coverAlso just in is a beautiful volume about Reggio Emilia preschools, combining philosophy of education with philosophy of architecture and richly illustrated with photographs. A metaproject for an environment for young children proposes “diversified, stimulating, and welcoming” school buildings and grounds, “a serene, amiable, livable place”. I assume we all wish we could have enjoyed that.

Play is serious, Rosen claims, developing creativity and resilience… If only we could find the time. Or make the time. Switch the screens off. Or switch our minds off. You have got a world in your head. Plenty of worlds.

Simple red toy block in the shape of a bridge.Play Well runs at the Wellcome Collection until 8 March 2020. Entrance free. Do not forget to visit the Wellcome Library also!


Simple green toy block in the shape of a vault.

Michael Rosen’s book of play : why play really matters, and 101 ways to get more of it in your life. London : Wellcome Collection, 2019.

Picture credits:

Yellow or light green Lego brick.Wooden toys; fabric toys: reprinted from Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman, collection Elyse and Lawrence B. Benenson.

Yellow or light green Lego brick.

Children in abandoned cars, Manchester, 1968 or 1969: photograph by Shirley Baker. ©2019 Nan Levy for The Estate of Shirley Baker.

Yellow or light green Lego brick.

Barbie Doll and G.I. Joe; Action Man, Barbie Doll, Playmobil figure: photographs by Thomas Farnet. ©2019 Wellcome Collection.

Toy block, red and Toy block, green: by An-d [CC BY-SA 3.0]. Yellow or light green Lego brick.Lego brick, light green: by Stilfehler [CC BY-SA 3.0]

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Spotlight on the NUT donation: two papers on domestic science education.

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. In February 2018 we created a LibGuide and also published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources. The focus of this blog is two early twentieth century documents about domestic science education for girls and housewives.

The first one “Training for Girls in Domestic Subjects”, is a paper read by Miss S.Dix at the NUT Hull Conference, 1912. Selina Dix (1859-1942) made a major contribution over thirty-five years to the welfare and education of girls and women in Hillfields, Coventry. Amongst other roles she was the first woman president of the Warwickshire County Teachers Association and a member of the executive of the National Union of Teachers.

Miss Dix’s opening statement that the value of an occupation should be determined rather by the manner of accomplishment than by its nature leads to a discussion about the nature and value of domestic tasks.

Miss Dix argued that Housework involves long, uncertain hours, small or no pay, and requires patience and endurance. It is often seen as an inferior occupation that does not require skill or intelligence to perform well. This lack of appreciation can lead to people being content to employ a badly trained general servant because not having to do menial tasks themselves is seen as ‘an addition to the dignity of their station in life.’ Girls at primary school may be unwilling to do their share of the menial tasks involved in domestic science lessons. Their mothers may assert ‘my daughter does not wash dishes at home, and I object to her doing so at the cookery class’.

However Miss Dix goes on to discuss that the knowledge and skills needed to provide a happy and health home life in as thrifty (both monetary and in terms of usage of time) manner as possible should be regarded as an admirable goal. Ideally those daughters who remain at home should earn recognition for the skill and effort they put into providing a comfortable base for their family members who earn a wage outside the home. Unfortunately complaints when things go wrong are often the only recognition given. Running a household must be seen as an attractive alternative to earning a wage in the increasing number of jobs available to women.

Miss Dix stated that girls at primary school need to be taught the skills they may not have the opportunity to learn from observing or helping their own mothers. Even if they find themselves in the future position of being able to employ their own servant it is always a good idea to know how that servant should be performing their work.

However practical classes should not be started at too early an age (nine was mentioned) because girls may not be able to lift full size saucepans, spell the names of utensils used or write well enough to quickly take notes in class. Also there is a danger of snippets of domestic science classes being taught which could lead to repetition, boredom and a growing dislike of domestic science subjects.

Instead it was suggested that at thirteen girls start a year, usually the last of formal education, devoted to domestic subjects. For six months classes in cookery, laundry and housecraft should be continuously taught in properly sized and equipped rooms. The final six months should include lessons in needlework (especially making and repairing clothes and bed linen), in household budgets and accounts, theoretical lessons in baby care, physical exercise (especially swimming) and in reading good literature. It is proposed that these lessons should be given in specially constructed and staffed centres which would alleviate interruptions to lower classes in schools. The nation as a whole would benefit from reduced infant mortality and healthier and happier households.

Twenty- six years later, in 1938, another NUT document was published, ‘Educating the Housewife’ by Miss K.M. Halpin. (An Address delivered to the Meeting of Domestic Science Teachers at the Margate Conference of the N.U. T.). Once again the idea was to promote the value of domestic science education although for women this time rather than school girls. Miss Halpin was the then Organising Secretary of the Women’s Gas Council which was a national organisation with 44 branches and over 9,000 members. Any woman who used gas in her home or was interested in home management could join a branch. Subjects discussed at regular meetings included interior decoration, hygiene, child welfare and dietetics.

Miss Halpin stated that it was not until the 1914-1918 World War that many women were able to make practical use of the better opportunities for education that had occurred. As a worker in an office, in a factory or in a shop women were used to being taught the job. Running a home is also a skilled occupation but many women did not have the opportunity to learn the necessary skills at home or at school.

In 1935 the Sixth International Congress of Scientific Management was held in England with, for the first time, a Home Section. Thirteen different countries contributed papers to the discussion on ‘How far can Scientific Management contribute to the raising of the Standard of Life’. The Australian Housewives’ Association, the National Norwegian Housewife’s Association and in America, the U.S.A. Bureau of Home Economics are examples of organisations of housewives. In 1935 the Women’s Gas Council came into being for the express purpose of uniting the housewives who use gas in their homes, to organise a common platform on which the architects, manufacturers and the housewives can meet and together help to solve the problem of how to introduce the same efficiency and ease into running of a house as is to be found elsewhere.

The Women’s Gas Council produced education films, four of which are discussed by Miss Halpin. The first was about the kitchen, sometimes described as ‘the nerve centre of the home’. The second film was about some simple methods of cooking which reflected the Council’s desire to get better cooking into British homes. The council organised cookery classes for engaged girls, business girls, unemployed women and the wives of unemployed men. The third film was about ‘Smoke abatement’, and was concerned with how to reduce the amount of air pollution caused by smoke and soot from coal fires. The subject of the last film was Kensal House built by the Gas Light and Coke Company “as a demonstration of the effect on working class life, and of the cost to landlord and tenant, of installing a “model” gas and coke fuel system” through its subsidiary the Capital Housing Association. It housed 380 slum dwellers from the over-crowded areas of North Kensington.

These two documents are illustrative of what a fascinating resource the donation of items from the NUT has proven to be. If you would like to find out more about these items, or any others in the collection, do get in touch.


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