Saturday, July 26, 2008

The World in Scrapbooks

[first posted on 26 July at 10pm BST, updated on 27 July at 2pm BST]

A small selection of scrapbooks

Today I've been poring over a collection of 40-50 scrapbooks that Fuengsin Trafford, my mother, made over the course of three decades from the 1950s to the '80s. My father (Anthony Trafford) informed me that she had started creating these in Thailand, probably during her teenage years; and that after she arrived in the UK in 1963 and subsequently settled here, she had her collection shipped over, though not until the family had moved to Hagley in the '70s. He was able to help her keep building the collection by bringing home old magazines from work.

The scrapbooks are composed from newspaper and magazine articles published mainly in the '50s through to the '80s. The publications are mainly in English and French with some German and Thai - large glossy publications including London Illustrated, Picture Post, Paris Match, Jours de France, Life, Look, Bunte, Neue Illustreirte, Quick and the Bangkok Post. Most of the books are hard bound, nearer A3 than A4 in size, and containing 100-200 pages, so they are really quite substantial. They are generally well preserved, my mother having used rice glue for the adhesive, which has stood the test of time remarkably well.

I'm wondering what should be done with them and would welcome suggestions! There's a lot of educational value in these that I would like to share.

The topics are very wide-ranging, covering many world events, figures and other items of historical and cultural significance - reflecting a Thai lady's considerable interest in world affairs as perceived in the West. Here are some themes, many of them covered by entire books:

  • Royal Families - including articles from 1952 and 1953, shortly after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, and also other members of the House of Windsor; many other royal households, mainly European, but some others including the H.M. King Bhumipol of Thailand and the Shah of Iran
  • US Presidents including Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B Johnson
  • Winston Churchill (2 books alone)
  • Charles De Gaulle
  • China - it's history from 19C onwards until Mao
  • Vietnam - a whole book devoted to this, covering an extended period
  • Russia - under the tsars and communism
  • Rhodesia - especially Ian Smith
  • India/Pakistan and Kashmir
  • Space exploration - starting with the race to put the first man in space from the '50s onwards
  • Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II
  • Some other religious reflections and phenomena, including lives of the saints
  • Art and artists, especially impressionist and Picasso
  • Film stars and fashion icons
  • The Beatles (but few other pop musicians
  • UK politics, especially Harold Wilson and Edward Heath
  • UK current affairs - the first nuclear power stations, motorways, completion of the Severn bridge etc
  • Anthropology - including articles in English and French on the Swiss Family Robinson!

The books are impressive, covering many situations in considerable depth, so I expect they would be of academic interest, but should the collection be split up or kept intact?

My mother related that she had been inspired by a close friend in Thailand, whom she regarded as an 'Aunt' - a lady who collected scrapbooks in the '30s and amassed 800 of them! They were subsequently donated to a library. Perhaps a library would be the best place for this collection?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A New Chapter

I'm going to be a full time student again!

A small stack of books for religious studies

In October I shall start a Master of Studies (M.St.) in the Study of Religions at Oxford University. If you take a look at the few paragraphs describing the course (or the Course Regulations pamphlet) you will see that it's very broad in its scope, treating the subject from many different subject disciplines. I intend over the coming months to use this space to blog ideas, thoughts, impressions, experiences, etc. In fact it's going to be a good opportunity to see if I can investigate further various queries I had in one of my first official blog postings in which I was wondering how IT could support the processes of going from a simple idea to formal publication - such as a book (or see archived copy).

It's a significant change for me. As I type I am still working full time in the Learning Technologies Group at the University Computing Services. I've been there a little over 8 years developing and supporting e-learning systems. So why the change?

There are several reasons that together have convinced me that it's a natural choice and the right one:

  • First, I enjoy research and although I have tried very hard to sustain an element of this in my present job (most notably in the RAMBLE project and various thoughts on the Educause blog), in practice my day-to-day responsibilities have not allowed me much scope for this.
  • I have long had a keen interest in spirituality and religion, having been brought up in two traditions (Buddhist and Christian).
  • By working at the University for a long time and running a central system, I have come to support large numbers of academic staff and students, yet I never felt fully part of the 'collegiate University' because I never had a College association.
  • Furthermore, since leaving school I've had a lingering yearning to study at Oxbridge, feeling there was a bit missing (in the Sixth Form I applied instead to 'red brick' universities for my undergraduates studies and subsequently undertook research at non-Oxbridge institutions).
  • The M.St. course is particularly interesting to me because of its emphasis on world religions, especially on those from the East. It also has an interdisciplinary feel, which suits me.
  • I know one or two academics involved on the teaching side and students who have taken the course. Hearing about the course from them confirms my positive impressions.
  • I should be able to acquire new knowledge and skills that will enable me to help religious communities.
  • Most of my work at OUCS has concerned VLEs ever since my job interview! However, my enthusiasm has gradually dwindled and I felt it was time to move on. I have tried pursuing other avenues, most notably in mobile computing, but it's not been/developed enough to persuade me to stay put, though I shall still be retaining an interest in m-learning as a student. :-)

I shall be based at St. Cross college, which I chose largely because of the reasons on their Web site - I like the fact that it is friendly (which certainly seems to be the case from my dealings with some members during my time at OUCS :-), graduate-only, international in composition and interdisciplinary in nature, plus the fact that it is located quite centrally.

I don't know how it will go and where it will lead (though I have a few ideas), but as it is just a one year course, I probably have the option to return to the kind of work I've been doing. For those contemplating a similar transition, I should say that it's not something that has come about instantly, but rather it has been a gradual process. I've been particularly glad that colleagues have been supportive on hearing about my plans - whilst still hoping that I can keep in touch in case of the occasional technical VLE query, mobile consultancy etc!

I have a lot of reading and writing ahead...