The lost theses of the Cambridgeshire Collection

…and the start of some new local history workstreams. Hopefully!

Accordingly, I’ve launched a new crowdfunder to support my research. <<– Click here.

Please continue to support my historical research into Cambridge’s history, and my reporting on the local meetings where big decisions on Cambridge’s future continue to be made.

Your support enables me to cover not just essential costs of living in the face of chronic illness – both an acute mental health crisis and also a suspected heart attack that kept me in Addenbrooke’s and the Papworth over Christmas in 2017. Hence not being able to work full time – which after over seven years in the civil service, many of them in Whitehall, has not been easy to deal with.

Furthermore, depending on interest and levels of support I hope to bring forward some new projects that I’ve road-tested over the past year or so that will bring local history to new audiences. These include:

  • Commissioning young local artists, musicians and students to use their creative skills to make new content that tells a particular part of our local history
  • Sponsoring further rounds of the Cambridge Hub’s Social Innovation Programme that gets students involved in community problem-solving
  • Scanning, digitising, and publicising past publications and works from local societies, and also out-of-copyright publications that I have acquired over the years
  • Online video production and guides
  • Online Zoom presentations similar to my most recent one for the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History
  • Video discussions on new publications from local organisations and public bodies

This blogpost looks at scanning and digitising past publications, featuring the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History.

The lost theses on Cambridge’s local history

Every year the CALH publishes an annual review, containing well-researched articles on the county’s local history. The Cambridge Antiquarian Society does similar, but with a focus on archaeology and written to a more formal academic standard – and of greater length as well. For example you won’t find detailed write-ups of commissioned archaeological digs in the CALH, but you will in the CAS. Furthermore you won’t find an informal historical account of a neighbourhood in the CAS, but you will in CALH.

Above – The CALH Review No.27 for 2018.

Below: The list of theses and dissertations curated by John D. Pickles – scanned via mobile phone.

Copyright for the above rests with the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History, who have kindly given me permission to scan these.

One of my voluntary projects this summer is to scan their back catalogue which goes back to the 1950s. I have acquired a proper machine to do this with that will enable optical recognition of words and thus keyword searches that with the above images as they currently are is not possible.

What do these theses tell us?

First of all I pay tribute to the authors and researchers of them because undertaking local historical research without the benefits of modern technology is a painstaking process that only the most motivated and supported have been able to undertake. With the development of the internet and modern communication & computing technologies, we have the ability to undertake keyword searches of huge databases such as the tens of millions of pages of the British Newspaper Archive in a matter of seconds. Prior to my research into Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children, her party political work for the Cambridge Liberal Party in the run up to the 1910 General Elections had been largely forgotten. Yet compared to earlier historians, my research is comparatively recent.

The first set of theses listed by John D. Pickles for the CALH are entries from the Open Access Theses and Dissertations website accessed 2018. The second set are entries in the Cambridgeshire Collection’s database. Which can be temperamental at the best of times. In the same year in that long hot summer of 2018 I did some keywork searches on the Collection’s computers and wrote down manuscript-style the ones that interested me. But never got round to typing them up. Thankfully Mr Pickles seems to have done that.

The entries in the Cambridgeshire Collection appear to be far more local to, and of appeal to people in Cambridge interested in local history, but who are not specialists. The OATD entries seem to be aimed at a specialist academic audience.

The Cambridgeshire Collection’s theses

These in my view are some of Cambridge’s local historical treasures and ideally a number of these should be digitised and made open access to the public – because for me they are that significant locally. I could pick out a number of them – as I did back in 2018 that are of particular interest, but the top two for me are Marie Thompson’s epic on the “New Women” of Cambridge 1900-1930, published in 1996, and one unlisted which is Anne Grubb’s MA thesis titled: “A concert hall for Cambridge” (published in 1982).

I think the reason why Ms Grubb’s thesis is unlisted is because when it was published at the time, it was a piece of contemporary local political research. Today, it’s an important study into the decisions taken that ultimately led to the revamp of the Cambridge Corn Exchange in 1986.

Above – the contents page of Anne Grubb’s thesis: “A Concert Hall for Cambridge” in the Cambridgeshire Collection. (Local Class no. C.49.68).

Cllr Marie Thompson and the Women who made Modern Cambridge

Cllr Thompson (Lab – Arbury: 1986-1993) was a local councillor on Cambridge City Council. Shortly after she stood down from the council she researched and wrote: Inspiring a generation – “new woman” of Cambridge, (Dewey Class C.51)

The reason why this is important to me is because it shows that the legacy of the women that made modern Cambridge was not completely forgotten by people in our city. Furthermore, although it wasn’t until 2018 that I stumbled across Ms Thompson’s thesis, I think there’s a moral duty on me as a local historian to help re-publicise the work that she did. It’s one of the reasons why I think her thesis should be properly typeset, reprinted and republished.

Above – a copy of the front page of Ms Thompson’s thesis in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

As we have since discovered the original glass plate negatives of a number of the photographs on the front of the thesis, a refreshed publication could make use of those.

There are a number on specific buildings in Cambridge, such as the Festival Theatre. Furthermore there are also some that feel abstract but are nonetheless important – for example the ones that relate to specific industries, or those that cover particular religious movements. Easy to forget in an age when the industries are long gone and organised religion does not occupy the prominent position in public and civic life that it perhaps once did.

The Cambridgeshire Collection has since re-opened but you will need to book an appointment before turning up.

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