Photo credit: Chetham's library

Photo credit: Chetham’s library

I’ve spent a big chunk of this month knee-deep in data and maps, preparing a paper entitled: “An Overview of Historical GIS and its Potential Uses in Book Trade History” for a conference of Book Trade Historians held at Chetham’s Library in Manchester. GIS, by the way, is Geographic Information Systems – basically, using computers to map stuff, á la Google Maps and the like.

Although I’m not a specialist in Book Trade History, I do have some experience, having worked on cataloguing and special collections projects at the University Library, but the main reason I was invited was to give a wide-ranging and creative introduction to GIS technology to the gathered historians, many of whom are interested in the new digital potentials for their research.

I worked on 4 different datasets which I had either been given or sourced myself related to the field to generate some nice colourful maps and animations, as well as some examples of online presentations and linking mapping technologies to web-based content as well. It all seemed to be quite well received, and I had lots of interesting conversations after the paper about ongoing and prospective projects which had a lot of potential for future involvement of GIS analysis. In all, it was well worth doing and as well as another conference paper to add to the CV, will hopefully lead to future collaborations, contacts, and research projects.

It also gave me the opportunity to visit Chetham’s Library for the first time in a number of years. I last was here during my M.A. in History at Manchester, as part of a course on the History of the Book, where we visited local special collections to learn first-hand about the history of book production from original documents, mainly at the John Rylands Library (another of Manchester’s world famous and historically-significant public access libraries – part of the University of Manchester), some of them created over a thousand years ago.

Photo credit: Our Manchester

Chetham’s, right in the centre of the city, near to Victoria Station, was founded in 1653, and is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, with entry free of charge (although a £3 donation is suggested). Its collection is one of the most important in the country, but even if you aren’t a researcher, it is well worth a visit to look around the buildings, which date back to the fifteenth century, with gorgeous wooden panelling, gargoyles, and medieval stone walls, as well as the ‘full Hogwarts’ of the library itself, complete with unmistakable old book smell. It was one of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s favourite places to study in Manchester (they still have the desk that Marx used to work at).

After a busy few weeks and the conference paper, I was able to treat myself to a holiday down in Cornwall, with plenty of clifftop walks, open water swimming, cliff jumping, beach games, dropped ice creams, sand in awkward crevices, and the obligatory sunburnt English feet.

This month, I have been mostly drinking: St Austell Tribute, in the sporadic Cornish sunshine.


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