Collections Long read

Picture This! The University Photographic Collection

Collections Assistants Clare Baker and Karen Jacques take a look at the University Photographic Collection.

This post is by Collections Assistants Clare Baker and Karen Jacques

We have made good use of our time working at home during the lockdown to start the process of cataloguing the University Photographic Collection (UPC) by making additions to and amending the metadata from legacy spreadsheets.  The collection is broken down into three categories: UPC1 – portraits of staff, UPC2 – buildings on campus and UPC 3 – events and group portraits.

Beyer Building, c1972 UPC/2/175

The University Photography Collection is a visual history of the University, its buildings and the people who helped to shape it from its beginnings as Owens College, which opened in 1851 in Richard Cobden’s house on Quay Street, Manchester, to today’s University of Manchester, created in 2004 by the amalgamation of the Victoria University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). 

These 1000 or so, mainly monochrome, photographs depict the changing campus landscape, the buildings and the people who have worked and studied here.  The images reflect not only the renowned figures who have left their mark on the University, but also some of the unsung heroes, such as porters and support staff.  It has been fascinating to put faces to names while going through these images.  Many of them are recognizable from buildings on campus, where sites have been named after these inspirational figures.  We start our journey with an image of John Owens and the buildings named after him. He was the merchant and philanthropist whose legacy in 1846 enabled the founding of Owens College.  So our present day University owes him a great debt of thanks.

Another familiar name from campus was that of ‘Roscoe’, although the person himself was a mystery to us, but no longer! Meet Sir Henry Roscoe (1833-1915). Here we have his portrait and images of the buildings named after him.  He was Professor of Chemistry at Owens College 1857-1886, and an administrator overseeing huge changes at the University. His approach to university education was egalitarian; he was ahead of the game in seeing that research-led teaching was important and that widely sharing knowledge, to his students and to the public, was hugely beneficial.

The metadata for this collection of images conveys the breadth and range of study conducted at the University.  It also highlights the huge range of backgrounds of our academics and students, giving a view of the international nature of our campus from the earliest of days.  For example Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), known to us all from the Jacob Epstein bust in the Arts Building.  He was a philosopher and a Manchester celebrity. He grew up in Melbourne, Australia, studied philosophy in Oxford and visited Germany to learn about psychology, then a new discipline, before becoming Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manchester 1893-1925.  Ironically, Alexander is already well-known to us at Rylands as we hold his papers, noted particularly for his varied and extensive correspondence.  A detailed catalogue of the Samuel Alexander Papers is available here.

Many of the portraits are formal and posed in traditional face-on format.  However, the ones we liked the most are the ones where the subject is viewed with the implements of their ‘trade’, such as the image of Professor of A. D. MacDonald and Mr Davison (a steward) both dressed in lab coats in an ‘action’ shot.  They are standing together in a laboratory conducting an experiment. Another is of Marie Stopes, renowned advocate of birth control, seen below with her microscope and spherical flask.  Stopes was the first woman to join the scientific staff of the University of Manchester. She was appointed assistant lecturer and demonstrator in Botany in 1904. There is a blue plaque commemorating her on the Beyer Building. Both of these portraits seem to hark back to images of the medieval saints with their attributes –the images are easy to read; we know that these people are busy at work, experimenting or teaching.

Professor A.D. Macdonald and Mr Davidson, c1944.  UPC/1/126
Marie Stopes UPC/1/187

How many times have you passed these buildings or seen blue plaques and wondered who these characters were? This collection along with the University Archives help to provide a corporate memory of the University of Manchester.  They provide a fantastic source of material for those interested in the history of the University and the development of education.

Our blog today has mainly concentrated on images from UPC1.  To celebrate #LibrariesWeek, (5th – 10th October), the campaign celebrating the nation’s much-loved libraries and their vital role in the UK’s book culture, we’ve decided to use images from UPC2 in a Twitter campaign concentrating on libraries past and present that have been housed at the University of Manchester.  Why not follow us this week @UoMSpecColl for #LibrariesOnCampus  

If you wish to read more about the History of the University our colleague, Dr James Peters, Curator of University, Scientific, Technical and Medical Archives, has recently written about The University Campus 1872-1945 on our Teaching & Learning Resources pages.

0 comments on “Picture This! The University Photographic Collection

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: