Reflections on my time as Project Assistant for the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive: 8 months of John Pendlebury and family, archaeology, travel, photographs and digitisation

Back in the summer of 2015, after a Skype interview, I was lucky enough to be appointed as the Project Assistant for the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project. I moved to Athens and the project commenced at the beginning of October. I started to learn a great deal about the Pendlebury family, archaeology and Greece.

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Postcards of Athens, [c. 1927-28], from Hilda Pendlebury’s travel scrapbook. Copyright: The British School at Athens
I spent a fascinating 8 months cataloguing the archive in detail, repackaging the archive, and working with a local digitisation office to organise the digitisation of the archive. By the time I left at the end of June the archive was fully catalogued (mostly to item-level) and the photograph albums, letters and travel logs were digitised. These 3 sections are the richest in the archive and contain a multitude of early 20th century photographs of Greece, details of many trips taken by John and Hilda Pendlebury, and family letters covering the whole of John Pendlebury’s life.  

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Travel log containing photographs and extracts from John Pendlebury’s letters to his father, from Greece 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

Many of these family letters were written during John Pendlebury’s time as a student at Winchester College (1918-1923). I am very grateful to the Wykeham patrons (supporters of Winchester College) who generously funded my work and the digitisation work which was carried out.

There is still some work to be done on completing the digitisation, inputting catalogue data onto EMu (the BSA’s cataloguing software), and linking the digital images to catalogue entries. In an ideal world I would have been able to complete all these tasks, but as the project progressed it became clear that this would not be possible. We had to prioritise tasks but also made a huge leap forward towards completion.

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to work at the British School at Athens on the John Pendlebury Family Archive. The project was really interesting and I learnt more about archaeology than I realised there was to know. I also gained valuable experience of cataloguing to item-level (which I had rarely done before) and working with EMu.

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A page from one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs, containing photographs of a house in Cambridge and of Ralph Lavers (architect) and Herbert Pendlebury (Oct 1934). Copyright: The British School at Athens

I am writing this blog post from an unusually sunny Cambridge, where I am now working as an Assistant Archivist in the Department of Manuscripts and Archives at the University Library. As those who have followed my blog or know about the life of John Pendlebury will realise, he was no stranger to Cambridge. John was a student at Pembroke College and the Faculty of Classics, and John and Hilda lived in various houses in Cambridge between dig seasons in Greece and Egypt. Most mornings I walk past the site of one of their houses (now part of Robinson College).

I hope that my connections with John Pendlebury and the British School at Athens are not completely over, but if they are I will always look back with fond memories.

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Approaching Karphi, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens
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Weeks 19-22, 29th Feb-25th Mar

During the past 4 weeks of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project I have completed cataloguing the correspondence (though I may return to this section to add more detail), and begun cataloguing photograph albums.

The cataloguing of the correspondence (section 1) was completed with less detail than I was using to describe letters previously. This is so that this section will be ready for digitisation, as explained in my previous post. These less detailed catalogue descriptions still include a title, reference code, previous reference codes, level of description, covering dates, and extent and medium, for each item. The difference between these descriptions and the more detailed ones is that I have not described the content of the letters. I hope to be able to return to this section to add more detail at a later date.

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Letters sent to John Pendlebury’s parents (Herbert and Lilian) about his education. Copyright: The British School at Athens

The letters which I have catalogued in the past 4 weeks include: letters from Hilda Pendlebury to Herbert Pendlebury (John’s father) and Mabel Dickinson (John’s step-mother) sent just after she and John were married; letters to John’s parents about his education; and letters to Hilda’s mother and sister (Dora) from Hilda and John.

After completing the section of correspondence, I moved on to cataloguing photograph albums (in section 7). These are a priority because they are a slightly unknown quantity. What I mean by that is that each photograph is to be catalogued to item level and the number of photographs varies from album to album. There is also duplication of photographic prints between albums; between albums and loose photographs; between albums and negatives; and between albums and travel logs (section 2). This duplication needs to be checked and described in the catalogue (through cross-referencing) to avoid future confusion and digitisation of duplicates.

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Pages from “Album Mycenae” containing a diagram of the Treasury of Atreus or Tomb of Agememnon, notes, and photographs of features of the tholos tomb. Copyright: British School at Athens

The first photograph album I catalogued is labelled “Album Mycenae: The Tholos Tombs of Mycenae & elsewhere with The Citadel of Mycenae & its Environs.” This contains plans, notes and photographs and represents John Pendlebury’s work documenting and understanding archaeological sites during his studentship at the British School at Athens (1927-1928).

The volume also contains some, seemingly unrelated, loose photographs of Knossos and a temple in Egypt. Some of these photographs took some time, a bit of detective work, and picking the brains of an archaeologist who knows the subject matter, to be able to catalogue them. It is really very helpful to be surrounded by specialists who know what a specific site looks like or what a type of pottery is called.

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Loose photographs of Knossos found slotted inside “Album Mycenae”. Copyright: The British School at Athens

I have also started cataloguing a photograph album of Greece compiled by Hilda in 1927-1928. I’ve already noted a lot of duplication of photographs which are in John’s travel logs for the same period. This makes a lot of sense as John, Hilda, and other students or members of the British School at Athens, travelled in Greece together during these years and often shared photographs.

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Students of the British School at Athens travelling in Greece: Bob Dixon, Hilda White (later Pendlebury) and John Pendlebury (photograph by Margaret Rodger), [24 Nov 1927]. Copyright: The British School at Athens
Next, I will continue cataloguing photograph albums (there are 7 of these) and then move on to family photographs and bundles of loose photographs. I am hoping to overcome some of the challenges presented by the loose photos (most of which are unlabelled) by cataloguing these after the other photographs. Some may be duplicate prints, or I may be able to identify them more easily as I’ll be more familiar with the subject matter.

Weeks 15 & 16, 25th-29th Jan & 8th-12th Feb

During the past 2 weeks of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project (with a week-long break in the middle) I have finished cataloguing John’s travel logs, and seen a different perspective on things by cataloguing Hilda’s travel log (there is just one in the archive).

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Pages from one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs, containing photographs of Kodok (Fashoda) in South Sudan and Abu Simbel in Egypt (March 1938). Copyright: The British School at Athens

The last of John’s travel logs was very interesting, and includes some fantastic photographs. It covers a trip to archaeological sites in Iraq (including an Oriental Institute of Chicago excavation at Tell Asmar, and Babylon), Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in 1933; a 2nd trip to Palestine (with Hilda this time) in 1935; a journey from England to Egypt in November 1933 which included stops at Gibraltar and Pompeii; and a trip (which John took alone) to Sudan, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan and Egypt (where he met up with Hilda) in 1938. The volume also includes the less exotic locations of the Lake District (Oct 1933) and Hadrian’s Wall (Aug 1937), and photographs of a house in Cambridge that the Pendlebury’s must have been considering renting.

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“Dumping” at the excavation at Khafaje [Khafajah], Iraq, (Feb 1933). Copyright: The British School at Athens
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A page from one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs, containing photographs of a house in Cambridge and of Ralph Lavers (architect) and Herbert Pendlebury (Oct 1934). Copyright: The British School at Athens

John’s travel log contains a photograph of a Nairn Car in Ramadi, Iraq. I did a little research about these to find out why John may have photographed it. It turns out that the Nairn Transport Company ran a service taking passengers between Beirut and Baghdad from 1923 to 1956, and that the Middle East Centre Archive at St Antony’s College in Oxford has the company’s archive.

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Nairn Car at Ramadi, Iraq (Feb 1933), in one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs. Copyright: The British School at Athens

Hilda Pendlebury’s travel log takes the form of a scrapbook containing a handwritten account, postcards and photographs. The handwritten account is of a trip to Italy (which is undated but judging by the content must have been between 1922 and 1925) which Hilda went on before she met John, and it seems that she travelled from the United Kingdom with a group of archaeologists to see sites around Rome, Naples and Florence. Following the account of her travels to Italy, the scrapbook does not contain any more handwritten accounts but does contain further (mainly unlabeled) photographs and postcards of Cambridge, Melrose Abbey in Edinburgh, Whitby, Venice, Athens, Rhodes and Crete, as well as photographs of John and Hilda’s wedding.

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Part of handwritten account of a trip to Italy, by Hilda Pendlebury, illustrated with postcards and a photograph. [c. 1922-25]. Copyright: The British School at Athens
The photographs of Crete in Hilda’s travel log were unlabeled and hard to identify for the untrained (in archaeology) eye. Luckily I was able to cross reference these photographs with photograph albums of Crete within the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. The photographs in Hilda’s scrapbook turned out to be duplicated in the photograph albums, where they were labeled.

As well as finishing off cataloguing the travel logs I have begun entering catalogue data into EMu (the BSA’s cataloguing software) which I discussed in week 5. I am getting to grips with the software which is a little different from systems that I have used before, and it feels good to have begun getting some of the data into its final form. Entering the data into EMu is a good opportunity to double check my catalogue entries, and to add information or correct things where details have become apparent through familarisation with the archive.

Next week I will continue entering data into EMu and continue cataloguing records of John and Hilda’s travels. Now I have pretty much finished the travel logs, the next section is comprised of accounts of John and Hilda’s travels written much later by Hilda (probably in preparation for a publication).

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Postcards of Athens, [c. 1927-28], from Hilda Pendlebury’s travel scrapbook. Copyright: The British School at Athens

Week 12, 4th – 8th Jan

This week I have had a break from cataloguing letters, and started cataloguing travel logs within the John Pendlebury Family Papers. Cataloguing the letters has been taking a long time as they are so detailed and there are so many of them (1125 in total). We decided it would be best for me to move on to another section for a while so that I can get some of the material ready for digitisation quicker, but also because the letters and travel logs relate to each other.

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Travel log containing photographs and extracts from John Pendlebury’s letters to his father, from Greece 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

The travel logs that I am cataloguing now are from the same period as letters that I have already catalogued. They are helping me to add extra detail to the descriptions of the letters, and I am adding cross references into the descriptions for the letters and the travel logs. This should be helpful for future researchers.

At the beginning of the week the BSA Archivist and I discussed how to best structure the descriptions of the travel logs. The travel logs are notebooks with itineraries, descriptions and a lot of small photographs stuck inside. Each photograph is to be catalogued to item level and there will also be a higher level description of the volume. We thought about how things will be numbered in the digitisation process to make sure that everything has a unique reference number, and that the reference numbers for the digital images and physical items match up. We had to consider that double page spreads will be captured in the digitisation process, and whilst these are not to have their own catalogue description they will be numbered.

The travel logs in the John Pendlebury Family Papers are a series of 6 volumes. The first volume was compiled by Herbert Pendlebury (John’s father), whilst the others were compiled by John.

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First page of travel log of John Pendlebury’s trip to Greece with Mr Cullen, 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

For the first travel log Herbert wrote out extracts of John’s letters sent home from Greece in 1923, and photographs have been added to the volume (presumably after John’s return). John had travelled to see archaeological sites with James Cullen (a young Classics master) during the Easter holidays of his final year at Winchester College. The travel log not only documents the pair’s tour of archaeological sites in Greece, but also their journey through Europe.

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Photographs of James Cullen and John Pendlebury with locals in [Livadeia], Central Greece, 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens
The travel logs are a fascinating and detailed record of John and Hilda’s travels in Greece and Sicily, and also John’s trips to Iraq, Syria and Palestine (in 1935) and East Africa (in 1938). I have found it very interesting to see John, Hilda and their travelling companions’ photographs of sites that I recognise in Athens and Corinth.

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Travel log containing photographs of sites in Athens, 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

So far I have catalogued the first travel log from 1923, and partially catalogued “Greece 1927-28 Vol. I”. Next week I will continue cataloguing the travel logs.

Week 9, 30th Nov-4th Dec

Folder of letters from John at Winchester College
A file of letters sent to Lilian and Herbert Pendlebury from John Pendlebury whilst he was at Winchester College. Copyright: The British School at Athens

Whilst completing the catalogue descriptions of John’s letters to his parents from Winchester College I discovered more about the terminology that I was puzzling over last week. This terminology is called ‘notions’. There have been official books of the terms published, and John refers to spending time learning them in his letters. The number of notions in use has declined over time, but there is still a current booklet which pupils of the College can purchase and a glossary of some of the terms on Winchester College’s website.

I also discovered that Winchester College Football is a distinct game from football, and that both are played at the College (and were played by John). Depending on the context and terminology used it is usually possible to determine which sport John was discussing in his letters. He was a very sporting pupil and as well as playing  both types of football he took part in activities including competitive rifle shooting, cricket, fives, athletics (hurdles and high-jump) and the Steeplechase race.

After finishing the first draft of the descriptions of John’s letters to his parents from Winchester, I checked through the descriptions again making additions and adjustments. I found I was able to make more sense of some of the letters once I had learnt more about the Winchester College environment and context that John was writing in.

I have now moved on to cataloguing John’s letters to his father which were written whilst he was based here, at the British School at Athens, from 1927-28. John arrived in November 1927 with a studentship and a task to trace all archaeological finds of Egyptian origin in Greece up to 664 BC. His letters to his father reveal first impressions of the British School and his fellow residents, including his future wife Hilda White.

…Miss White who alone of the lot strikes one as being at all human, she reminds me of Vera rather. The rest are definitely sub-human.” (20 Nov 1927)

“I only wish everyone wouldn’t be so obviously learned to the eyebrows. It makes me feel like such an impostor being here at all.” (20 Nov 1927)

The British School residents wasted no time in organising expeditions to other parts of Greece. The letters I have been cataloguing are full of descriptions of trips to Thessaly, the Argolid and Crete – which has prompted regular searches on Google maps!

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A map of John’s trip around Eastern Crete with Hilda White, Vivien Whitfield and Margaret Rodger (from the British School at Athens) in 1928. From a letter to Herbert Pendlebury. Copyright: The British School at Athens

John’s letters from Greece are written solely to his father. His mother, Lilian Pendlebury, had died of heart failure in September 1921 when she was only 50 and John was just 16. The archive does not tell us much of John’s reaction to this tragedy as there is a gap in the surviving correspondence between March 1921 and November 1927.

The only material within the John Pendlebury Family Papers dating from the mid-1920s are a few letters sent to Herbert about John from Winchester College and Pembroke College, a travel log of John’s travels in Greece in 1923, some school notebooks containing essays, and a hand-drawn plan of Tanagra (from John’s travels in 1923). I am not yet certain whether the letters from the schools to Herbert contain much about John’s reaction to the death of his mother, but this will become clear once they are catalogued.

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Herbert Pendlebury, photograph in the John Pendlebury Family Papers. Copyright: The British School at Athens

So why is there a gap in the letters? Perhaps John ceased writing, or (as I believe to be more likely) the letters have been lost. He certainly did write to Herbert from Greece in 1923, as those letters were transcribed by Herbert into the 1923 travel log. Herbert moved to Malvern to live with his new wife, Mabel Dickinson (“Dickie”), in 1925. So perhaps the letters were lost in the move.

This week I will continue cataloguing John’s letters sent to his father from Greece in 1927-28, and then hopefully move on to his letters from London (when preparing for his marriage to Hilda White in 1928), Greece (during his honeymoon) and Egypt (1928-29).

 

Week 6, 9th – 13th November

This week I have been continuing to catalogue letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury using the template in Microsoft Word (explained in the previous blog post).

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Letter sent home by John, Christmas 1940 Copyright: British School at Athens

Whilst reading the letters, which is necessary when cataloguing to item-level, I have been learning more about John and Hilda Pendlebury and people that they knew. The more I read, the more light is shed onto the characters that appear in the collection.

The letter that John sent home for Christmas in December 1940 reveals something of his attitude towards authority. ..

I am making a grand collection of tickings off – usually beginning “In future you should NOT repeat NOT”. As far as I can see the authorities are not unlike Greek grannies and are apt to stand roofs scolding people.

The amount of time it takes to catalogue each letter is extremely variable depending on how easy it is to understand the content of the letter, and how easy it is to read. Below is an example of a letter which took me a little while to decipher. It is from Hilda’s mother and mainly describes her illness, discusses David and Joan [John and Hilda’s children] and gives news of other extended family members.

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Side 2 of a letter to Hilda Pendlebury from her mother Copyright: British School at Athens

Next week I will continue cataloguing correspondence sent to Hilda Pendlebury, then make a start on cataloguing correspondence sent to John’s parents.

Week 5, 2nd-6th November 2015

This week I have mostly been cataloguing the correspondence section of the John Pendlebury Family Papers. I have completed the draft catalogue of a section of letters sent to John Pendlebury (including many thanking him for a copy of his book, ‘The Archaeology of Crete’), and have begun cataloguing a section of letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury.

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Original file of letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury in The John Pendlebury Family Papers

I am initially cataloguing using Microsoft Word. This is because although I now have access to the cataloguing system that will be used for the project (KE EMu), we have not had a chance to perfect the set-up for archives cataloguing. The John Pendlebury Family Papers will be the first archives collection at the British School to be directly catalogued into the program.

KE EMu has already been used at the British School to catalogue museum collections and part of the archaeological sherds collection. It has also been used to enter legacy data from the archives, including the catalogue of the Byzantine Research Fund collection. KE EMu is the basis of ‘Museums and Archives Online: digital repositories of the BSA Collection’ (http://mao.bsa.ac.uk/), and the plan is to present the digitised John Pendlebury Family Papers using this platform.

Beginning the cataloguing in Word rather than KE EMu may be advantageous because it has made me think about the data fields needed, rather than being restrained by what the program initially offers.

Before starting cataloguing I drafted a template of the basic data elements that would be needed for most descriptions. To do this I looked at ISAD(G) and some past catalogues that I have produced. I added a ‘previous reference’ field (even though that does not appear in ISAD(G)) because in my experience this can be very helpful. The John Pendlebury Family Papers have accession numbers stamped onto them, as well as up to 2 more previous references. If someone wants to follow up a reference from their past use of the Pendlebury papers or from someone else’s past use, these previous references will be invaluable.

Here is the basic template for individual catalogue entries:

Title:

Reference Code:

Previous reference:

Level of description:

Covering dates:

Extent and medium:

Content and context:

The highlight of this week’s cataloguing has been John’s letters to Hilda. Typed copies of two letters sent from Crete in 1935 paint amusing (if sometimes a little harsh) pictures of his companions.

“The Squire got back looking like nothing on earth! He wore a white (?) suit which he was too modest to take off when sharing a terrace with Mercy. It was also not improved by a vertical tail spin he went into near Erganos which tore the trousers and revealed the good long winter woollies below. His hat was the floppy canvas white one you have at your prep school and the vision I have of him with his trousers rolled up to his knees and his boots around his neck walking up the main street of Arvi from where he had been paddling I will never forget. With all this he insisted on shaving (most inadequately) every morning. But on the other hand he was always up and about early“.

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A letter sent to Hilda during John’s train journey to Chalkidiki in 1928, signed “Jehan”. This is a reference to Jehane St Pol, a character in John’s favourite book ‘The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and Nay’ by Hewlett (1900). Copyright: The British School at Athens

Next week I will continue cataloguing the section of letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury.