In Ambleside, Cumbria, a fifteen minute walk beyond the shores of Windermere and the ruins of the Roman fort Galava, across the road from Springfield, the first location of Charlotte Mason’s House of Education (1892-1894),
and just down the hill from Scale How, the second and final location of the House of Education, later The Charlotte Mason College,
rests the eleven year old building which is home to the Armitt Library and Museum.
In the basement of the Armitt building, beside the precious Beatrix Potter Collection of original fungi water colours, in a secure store room, resides the Charlotte Mason Collection.
With its low-ceiling, plain concrete floor, exposed duct work, ordinary metal shelving, nondescript cardboard boxes and heavy metal door, the secure store archive offers meager welcome and little indication of the treasure it contains.
Yet over the years several inquirers have become intimately acquainted with this physical collection and powerfully animated by the potential it holds for more deeply probing and richly unfolding Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. Dr. John Thorley and Margaret Coombs of England, Dr. Carroll Smith, Dr. Jack Beckman and Lisa Cadora of the USA, and Deani Van Pelt of Canada together applied for and were granted funds by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada towards the digitization of the contents of this archive. With the additional support of the Armitt Library and Museum, Redeemer University College, Gardner-Webb University, Covenant College and the University of Cumbria, the digitization of the Charlotte Mason Collection began in earnest in May 2009. In October of 2010 the vast majority of this collection will be available in a virtual, on-line collection hosted and owned by Redeemer University College.
Prioritizing the Collection for Digitization
From the outset, because of the size of the collection and the finite resources available for the project, it was anticipated that not all of the contents could be digitized within the time allotted. Thus the entire contents of the collection were reviewed several times during the course of the project to create what came to be affectionately known as first, second and third priority documents.
First priority documents were generally defined as items produced prior to Mason’s death in 1923, with special attention paid to a wide variety of correspondence written to or by Mason, and all of Mason’s own documents such as diaries and calendars. It included items of the Parents’ Union School, PNEU and House of Education produced during Mason’s lifetime such as minute books, curricula, examinations, records, conference syllabi, circulars, and pictures of special gatherings. It included newspaper clippings and correspondence with the media, drafts of short articles by Mason all of which met the criterion of having been produced during Mason’s lifetime. The first priority items were selected to be completed in the first weeks of digitizing.
Second priority items were established to be in some ways similar to first priority but for various reasons somewhat less pressing in urgency. They were still generally produced during Mason’s lifetime but were not digitized until several months into the project. Although these also included some diaries and correspondence of Mason, the list included items such as a teapot presented to Mason in 1913 at the coming of age of the college, records and tickets for her annual mineral baths in Germany, Mason’s hymn book and prayer book, journals of colleagues who visited her, Mason’s various notes on geography and grammar, drafts of articles, some of the books Mason owned, a thesis booklet called “Guide to Charlotte Masonry”, college trustee correspondence, legal correspondence, correspondence between others about Mason, PNEU curricula from 1921-1949 and 1964-1968, PNEU posters and certificates, and photos of CMC Guide Cadets until 1968.
Among other items, the third priority documents include the large handwritten and typewritten original draft manuscripts of Mason’s educational volumes, PNEU and College records and publications, items from after Mason’s death, and the first volumes of both the Parents’ Review and L’Humile Pianta. These have been digitized over the winter and are scheduled to be complete in late June and early July of 2010.
During the spring and summer of 2009 a number of volunteer digitization teams worked at the Armitt for one, two or three weeks at a time. Dr. Beckman, education professor at Covenant College, Jennifer Spencer, doctoral student at Gardner-Webb University, Marlene Power, Archival Librarian of Redeemer University College, Dr. Carroll Smith, dean of the school of education at Gardner-Webb, and I each spent a number of weeks at digitizing in 2009. Other volunteers who faithfully and energetically worked in the Armitt for a week or more included Gladys Schaefer, Hannah Schaefer, Ruth Schaefer, Andrea Van Pelt, Meghan Van Pelt, Joanne Neven, and Barbara Beckman. Throughout it all Clara Li-Dunn of the Armitt was hired to train each new team as they arrived, and to carry on several days per week with digitizing through the fall and into the spring of 2010. Although we worked at some modest preservation of the documents as we handled them, such as removal of metal clips, Dr. John Thorley spent much time in more focused preservation work, inserting the most fragile into appropriate sleeves and folders.
Behind the scenes, technology people bought appropriate equipment, created systems for storage, submission, retrieval and processing of the images in Canada. At Redeemer, images were bundled and search codes and labels added to each. By October 2010 the images will not only be securely stored in various locations, they will be available for searching by a wide variety of subject headings.
Release of the Collection
The Charlotte Mason Digital Collection will be released on October 6, 2010 at Redeemer University College at a Charlotte Mason Education Symposium. During the following two days at the Charlotte Mason Education Conference the digital collection will be introduced in guided seminar small group settings. The Conference is intended for participants to have access to the collection on the web with instruction and discussion by Marlene Power, the lead archivist on the project, and with others involved in the digitization project since its inception. It will be an intimate event with a let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-probe-the-collection-together attitude. It is meant to stimulate conversation and research and writing collaborations. Leading international Charlotte Mason scholars will be present. For more information and to register please visit: www.redeemer.ca/edsymposium. Autumn is a beautiful time to be in this part of Canada and we look forward to hosting many international friends and colleagues.
Video of the digitization project
Early in the project an eight minute video segment was produced about the digitization. It can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKyDOLPmFTA
Later in the summer of 2009, this beautiful three minute clip was prepared by Gladys Schaefer following her time at the Armitt: http://www.youtube.com/user/gladysschaefer
Invitation to participate
Transcriptions. Although the high resolution of the digital images has resulted in the CMDC containing quality images only, much of the handwriting remains difficult to read. Thus many documents are in need of transcription. If you would like to work together with a team of transcribers to create a code book, for example, of Mason’s handwriting, and would like to participate in transcribing her letters, diaries, lesson observation notebooks and various other priority documents, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Carroll Smith at email@example.com. This work can be done from home, but would also be enjoyable in small teams physically working together in one space.
Digitization. We have opportunity for several teams to work at the Armitt in the summer of 2010 and 2011 to complete the digitization project. If you are able to self-fund your travel and accommodation expenses, we will arrange for the training and opportunity to work at the Armitt with this rare collection. Commitments must be for one week or more. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to further discuss this possibility.
International study. In May 2012 an international, cross-university course of study on Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and practice will be held in Ambleside with some time spent exploring the physical Charlotte Mason Collection at the Armitt. You are invited to join us in creating the plans for this first-ever opportunity. Please contact Gladys Schaefer at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss this further.
The digitization of the Charlotte Mason Collection has been a rewarding experience for all those of us involved and we look forward to hearing from you about your discoveries once you begin searching and probing it for its hidden jewels.
© Dr. Deani Van Pelt, 2010
Dr. Deani A. Neven Van Pelt is Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Redeemer University College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.