Weekly Witter: The future of our heritage – under the microscope

Andrew Bush – Adviser on Paper Conservation for the National Trust finds that there is more than meets the eye down his microscope.

One of the favourite tools of my trade is a trusted digital microscope, not much bigger than a fat cigar but capable of up to 200 times magnification. It’s a very portable piece of kit, which is a good thing as I travel all over examining collections in any of the 200 or so historic properties on my patch. Although I have had it for a couple of years now, I am only just beginning to realise its wider potential use, of which more later.

A typical use for the microscope is to help me examine the condition of some of the Trust’s 1,400 portrait miniatures, many dating from the 18th century. The majority of these are painted in watercolours, with a very fine brush on wafer thin sheets of ivory. The ivory is so thin, and translucent, that it can be painted on the reverse to give subtle toning to the face as seen from the front. Sometimes a sheet of silver leaf was placed behind to give added luminosity.

As far as conservation and stability is concerned, the marriage of ivory and water based paints is not a happy one. It is the inability of the watercolour to keep a grip on the smooth surface of the ivory together with the shrinkage and expansion of this thin organic support that leads to flaking and splitting. This, along with keeping an eye out for mould growth, is the purpose of my visit…..At least I used to think that this was the purpose of my conservation assessments, things have changed.

Antoine Vestier (Avallon, Yonne 1740 – Paris 1824)  The Artist's Wife: Marie Ann Révérend, Madame Antoine Vestier.

Antoine Vestier (Avallon, Yonne 1740 – Paris 1824)
The Artist’s Wife: Marie Ann Révérend, Madame Antoine Vestier.

When I am carrying out a survey, I am usually with our collections in our showrooms and often the house will be open to visitors. If I am looking at something particularly delicate, or if distractions are to be avoided, I might be tucked away in a quiet corner, but increasingly I am working in front of the public, discussing what I am doing with anyone interested. It is this interaction with the visitors that I believe could potentially have just as much significance for the future well being of our collections, as any observations and recommendations for care or remedial treatment that I make in my reports. It is not only in raising awareness of the need for conservation, but showing that there are career opportunities in conservation. This is where my digital microscope has such a powerful role, it acts as a magnet to nearly every young visitor, and hopefully, who knows, for some of them it will be a way marker on a route to a career in conservation. Until I was at University I had absolutely no idea that a career as a conservator was possible, hopefully through the powers of microscopy others might cotton on faster than I did.

  • The Weekly Witter is a regular mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

Weekly Witter: Out of the strong came forth sweetness

Spring is a time of joy for all naturalists, leaf burst and blossom delighting all of us, not least the entomologist who has suffered a long and bleak winter with hardly a buzz or a flutter of wings. The search for the rare and spectacular is most definitely on and it’s not in praise of leaf or flower that I devote this blog. I’m celebrating a sweet and intoxicating liquor, a dark brown liquid that oozes, bubbles and even gurgles from trees. Sap-runs or flux as they are sometimes known, prove irresistible to insects and insect hunters alike.

There are many reasons why sap might spring from trees, bacterial disease, physical damage or the attentions of wood boring insects such as the chunky larvae of the goat moth which might spend five years developing on the frugal diet of solid wood. Whatever causes the sap to flow from the tree there are rich pickings for insects. Flies, beetles and wasps are all attracted to the sugary secretions. While some of the species such as red admirals and wasps are fairly ordinary, there’s a chance of finding more rare species per square inch than any other habitat I know.

The dark brown streaks on this oak trunk are a tell-tale sign of a productive sap-run.

The dark brown streaks on this oak trunk are a tell-tale sign of a productive sap-run.

The tree in the photograph was in a field at Maidenhead and Cookham Commons and is clearly in decline although the sap runs are a symptom rather than the cause. One of the first things I check for on such trees are the exit holes of the twin-spot wood-borer, a formerly rare beetle that has become much more common as a result of acute oak decline. These beetles, sometimes implicated in the spread of disease leave holes that are distinctive for being flattened on one side, much like a D. There was no sign at all of where this handsome beetle had been, indeed despite seeing hundreds of holes on scores of trees I’d never seen this species in over ten years of trying. Other species though were there in abundance.

Wasps were frequent, along with their bigger cousins the hornet. These, despite their fearsome reputation are luckily kind-tempered; praiseworthy when poring over the trunk with your nose an inch away from where they feed. Sap-beetles, fungus beetles and hoverflies all flocked to the sweet sap. The rare brown tree-ant, a real southern speciality was busy, scurrying across the trunk, drinking sap and seemingly attending hoverfly larvae that were immersed in the syrupy stream. Several hoverflies are known to breed exclusively in sap runs, some of these are tiny and rather dowdy but the inflated hoverfly is a much more robust beast. This inch long fly is a dapper black and orange affair and always a pleasure to see.

The inflated hoverfly, a distinctive sap-run specialist.

The inflated hoverfly, a distinctive sap-run specialist.

Red admiral butterflies had settled onto the trunk to feed occasionally flashing their wings to startle other insects attempting to muscle in. The smell of the sap was even tempting enough to lure a purple emperor away from its sylvan kingdom. After a good twenty minutes of inspecting the insect life on this once mighty tree I thought that the emperor would be the highlight. Just as I turned to walk away, another insect alighted at the foot of the tree, the wings creating an audible buzz as it did so. Its slim shape and spangled appearance gave it away as one of my most sought after species. Agrilus pannonicus, the oak jewel beetle, the twin-spot wood-borer (so good they named it thrice), a Holy Grail that serendipity (and sap) had seen fit to allow me to meet.

oak j Oak Jewel Beetle

Oak Jewel Beetle

  • Peter Brash is a wildlife and countryside advisor for the National Trust. He specialises in animal ecology; specifically birds, insects and bats. As well as the surveying of habitats, wildlife interpretation and engagement.
  • The Weekly Witter is a new regular Monday mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

USA: Living Classrooms on Guam

The National Trust for Historic Preservation

In partnership with INTO and ICOMOS, today we are celebrating the International Day for Monuments and Sites. This year’s theme is the “Heritage of Education.” And one of the very first places in the world to greet the day is Guam, over 8,000 miles from the U.S. Capitol in the Western Pacific Ocean. Its indigenous inhabitants, the Chamorro, became U.S. citizens in 1950 though the territory has yet to achieve its self determination status.  Since the 16th Century, Guam has operated as a strategic outpost for the Spanish and United States, and, briefly, during World War II, the Japanese.

In recent years, Guam has seen a resurgence of interest in the values and belief systems of the ancient Chamorro. This cultural renaissance has resulted in a resurrection of the Chamorro language particularly among the island’s youth, and prompted renewed interest in traditional music and dance, arts and crafts, and medicinal practices.

Educators have found that teaching about the ancient Chamorro way of life can be greatly enhanced by on-site visits to the village sites that predated Western contact. However, the U.S. military owns roughly 30% of the island, much of it on the island’s north where several potential teaching areas remain. As a result, these places are virtually impossible for school groups to access given rigid base security procedures.

Hiking to Pagat

Hiking to Pagat

Enter Pågat: one of the last ancient village sites that is still publicly accessible on Guam, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Mostly owned by the Chamorro Land Trust, public access to Pågat requires a steep descent down a coastal bluff from a main highway on the island’s northeastern edge. The site includes tangible artefacts of the past life there before the Spanish forcibly removed its inhabitants in a 16th Century campaign notoriously known as reducción.

Dr. Marilyn Salas, Professor of Culture and Education at University of Guam, frequently leads groups of college students to Pågat to show them firsthand the medicinal plants, potsherds, and pillar foundations of ancient houses, known as latte stones, which have became the most recognisable symbol of the island’s pre-colonial heritage.  Regarding the significance of the site as a teaching tool, Salas exclaims:  

“Taking my students to Pågat village is the core and essence of culture and education on Guam. Teaching and learning takes place the moment we step onto the head trail.”

A central feature at Pågat is its deep limestone cave, which contains a cool pool of freshwater and requires a flashlight to enter. In addition to being a great respite from the tropical heat, one can imagine how spiritually significant the cave must have been as the only freshwater source in the area.  It was literally the lifeblood of the village that once thrived there.

Starting in 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the U.S., in cooperation with We Are Guahan, and the Guam Preservation Trust successfully led an effort to keep Pågat open to the public and free from the nuisance of a complex of firing ranges. The U.S. military had proposed the training facilities on a nearby bluff which sparked outrage in the community.  Prompted by a court ruling in 2012 in favor of heritage advocates, the military has now pledged to do additional studies, putting the threats to the site on a temporary, and, hopefully, permanent hold.

I had the chance to visit Pågat several times with Joe Quinata, Chief Preservation Officer with the Guam Preservation Trust. Joe promotes heritage education on Guam in classic Chamorro style – with a joyous spirit and infectious enthusiasm for teaching others.  Though western archaeologists have confined the site’s significance to its tangible remains, Joe explains that the site’s significance is much broader, taking into account the traditional cultural practices that take place along the eastern coast of the island. Fishing, hunting, and most importantly medicinal practices occur seasonally in the area. On the hike he points out medicinal plants, significant breadfruit and banyan trees, and remind travellers that respect for the whole cultural environment which supported the survival of the site’s people is necessary to true preservation.

As is quite common in preservation advocacy, the efforts to “Save Pågat” have resulted in even greater attention to the site’s unique qualities and consciousness for the betterment of Guam’s heritage. It has proven that the protection of tangible places is necessarily intertwined with protecting the intangible – the values that embody the culture we put forward in the present.

USA: Lincoln and Self-Education

The National Trust for Historic Preservation

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Late one evening in the fall of 1864, President Lincoln received some unexpected visitors to his summer residence at Soldiers’ Home. George Borrett was visiting the United States from England, and wanted an audience with the President. Despite the late hour, Borrett and his escorts managed to talk their way into an audience with “the highest in the land,” and after waiting a few minutes Lincoln appeared with his “hair ruffled, eyes very sleepy and feet enveloped in carpet slippers.” Despite this “abrupt introduction” Borrett recorded that Lincoln spoke at length about his boyhood in Kentucky, and the Englishman detected a “quiet pride” in Lincoln’s voice as he talked about “his rise from the bottom of the ladder.” The scene is amusing in hindsight: a bedraggled president roused from his bedroom to meet with unknown visitors late in the evening. However, Borrett’s account also underscores Lincoln’s firmly held belief in what historians have labeled the “right to rise,” or the right to benefit from one’s hard work. Despite Lincoln’s lack of formal education, or perhaps because of it, Lincoln always insisted that it would play a critical role in facilitating other individual’s betterment of their own lives. Yet Lincoln also directly connected education to the citizenry’s appreciation of the American Union; it “was the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in,” because an educated people could “read the histories of his own and other countries” and thus “duly appreciate the value of our free institutions.” As a result, education could help people understand what the Union meant, and ultimately, why it would be worth fighting to preserve.

While Lincoln’s formal education amounted to little more than one year, what might be termed his self-education continued unabated throughout his life. Undoubtedly the most critical part of Lincoln’s self-education process was his love of reading, and perhaps the President’s favorite author was Shakespeare. Tales of political intrigue, deception, and bloody civil wars provided Lincoln with a framework for understanding his own struggles, with a means of conveying that understanding to the Northern public. For example, in June of 1864, as the President was preparing to spend what would be his final summer at Soldiers’ Home, he told an audience in Philadelphia that “this war has carried mourning to almost every home, until it almost be said that ‘the heavens are hung in black.’” In Shakespearean theater, the curtains were hung in black to inform the audience that a tragedy was about to be performed. Right around the same time Lincoln was declaring that ‘the heavens are hung in black’ the area apportioned for Civil War soldier burials at Soldier’s Home National Cemetery was filled to capacity, and a new cemetery opened across the Potomac at Arlington. Thus, Lincoln was using a reference gleaned from his own self-education to convey to the Northern public that he understood the depth of their frustration and despair at the seemingly unending bloodshed.

Lincoln's Cottage

Lincoln’s Cottage

As I sit here writing this post on the 148th anniversary of Lincoln’s death, I am reminded not just of the cost of the Civil War, but of the destruction that Lincoln faced everyday while staying at Soldiers’ Home. It is precisely this legacy of perseverance in the face of overwhelming obstacles that visitors to President Lincoln’s Cottage connect with—the human Lincoln, the man and president who could never escape the war—even at his beloved summer retreat.

India: Culture and education in rural areas

The Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) is focussed on restoration and development of heritage in rural areas. Rural areas are the back bone of Indian culture, which in turn, is recognised as one of the most vibrant cultures in the world.

A good proportion of India’s population lives in the rural areas; which means that the agriculture remains the prominent employer and remains the main source of livelihood and economic activity.

Admittedly, technology is rapidly changing our life styles, and one has to factor in the impact of this change on rural India as well.

Although, the windfalls of applying appropriate technology in the rural areas, especially in agriculture and allied fields, are heartening, total dependence on modernisation is not desirable and has to be avoided. This can be achieved right from the formative years of children, when they have just begun acquiring knowledge.

Culture, Education and Development

It is commonly believed, in development circles, that social and cultural development in rural India has been slow. But on the other side, it has the positive view, which non submission to modernisation has actually preserved our heritage, culture, identity and held us together in rural India.

The trust “ITRHD” is pursuing a culture-sensitive approach to development, and in the process felt the need to better understand cultural diversity and how it affects/ marks on the process of development. Many festivals, fairs, melas denoting the rich cultural heritage of the area fall in cyclic and sequential manner and boost the business of the area. The cyclic and cascading effect of the above process is the reason behind the development and prosperity of many a culture rich civilisation.

2013-04-15

Artwork in Chacha Nehru Primary School

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan said, “ The aim of education is not the acquisition of information, although important, or acquisition of technical skills, though essential in modern society, but the development of that bent of mind, that attitude of reason, that spirit of democracy which will make us responsible citizens.”

Indeed, a sensitive and comprehensive education system would help to shape the younger generation into ethically correct and socially conscious youth /adults.

Culture and education cannot be separated but are complementary to each other and interface at various junctions. Both are interwoven in various ways. While culture impacts the quality and purpose of education, whereas education brings a sense of pride in our culture which is manifested in all stages of individual growth.

Primary education is where it all starts and the child begins to respect the importance of a value based life as she/he sees things and events happening, and the behaviour of others, around. The trust has adopted a unique model in imparting elementary/primary education so the youth is focussed on preservation of culture and heritage.

ITRHD has set up a primary school “Chacha Nehru Primary School” in village Hariharpur, a village famous for its classical music tradition which is 400 years old. Harihar pur is a village in District Azamgarh, up in North East India. The school which started in Feb 2013 has 64 registered and enrolled children in the age group of 4-6 years. Priority has been given to poor and marginalised girls.

The school is run by female teachers belonging to the same village, who have been formally trained as primary school teachers. The majority of them are daughters-in-law, so the resource remains in the village even after marriage!

The school offers mid day meal which is a very balanced, freshly cooked meal, where most of the provisions are donated by the villagers.

The happy atmosphere and nutritious food are the biggest attractions for the children and they are too keen to attend the school. The children are often present on the school premises much before the school start time!!

The school building (currently on hired premises) is being constructed, again on land donated by villagers, partly funded by British Council and mainly through corporate CSR funds and donations.

The school is a unique example of community, NGO and international agency participation in development through all its stages of coming up- designing, planning, construction, conceptualisation and implementation.

Japan: Conserving our Cottage on Mt Rokko

Amenity 2000 Association

Amenity 2000 Association owns a lovely cottage as our property on Mt Rokko just near the city of Kobe. It was built in 1934 designed by an American architect, W.M.Vories, and we named it “Vories Rokko Cottage.” It is a cottage, but the house was built with high-quality materials by superb carpenters. It is no wonder the cottage is now registered as a national cultural treasure. The house is designed for the Kodera family (the first owner) to stay in summer days. Vories used a lot of technique so that the family could live healthy, relaxed and comfortable.

We, Amenity 2000 Association, held Working Holidays in this cottage twice, in 2010 and 2012. In 2010 some staffs of the national trust organizations in England, Taiwan, and South Korea joined us. They, together with young students in Japan, worked painting the window frames and making the foundation of the outdoor tea ceremony place. Besides, they enjoyed their holiday, visiting a hot spring, walking around on Mt. Rokko, watching the grandeur night scene of Kobe.

Working Holidays in 2010

Working Holidays in 2010

For the Working Holidays in 2012 we invited 6 students in Fukushima who were victims of the Great Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. It was one of our Supporting Earthquake Victims Program. The students near Kobe also joined, and they worked together to paint the outside walls with the Japanese traditional paint Bengara. They also enjoyed walking in Mt Rokko, in the town of Kobe, watching musical shows. It was a good experience for the students in Kobe to talk with the Earthquake victim students, for they were not born or were only little babies when Kobe suffered from the Great Earthquake in 1995.

Working Holidays in 2012. The students are painting the wall with Bengara (Japanese traditional paint)

Working Holidays in 2012. The students are painting the wall with Bengara (Japanese traditional paint)

In 2013 we started a new program, “Trust Youth Center.” It is a kind of educational system to bring up young people to be able members of our association. In our Amenity 2000 Association, it is an urgent matter to get the young generation who can take a big part in our activities. We hope the young members get much experience through planning and executing our programs. We hope these young people will not only be our able members but also be able members of the community with a vision and know-how about the preserving natural and historical environment who bring forth the creation of culture.

This summer, in 2013, we are planning to hold the third Working Holidays at Vories Rokko Cottage. This time we plan to call the foreigner students who stay in Japan to study to join us. The young members of the Trust Youth Center will be the main staffs in this program. We are happy that our property can be a place for the young people to get nice and valuable experience.

A curate’s egg of a curriculum?

There’s been a fair amount of coverage and comment recently on the Government’s consultation on the National Curriculum. Andy Beer, the National Trust’s Head of Visitor Experience and Learning, provides an overview of the questions we are asking ourselves as we draw up the National Trust’s response to the Government’s proposals:

The proposed new National Curriculum is an interesting reminder of the diverse interests of the National Trust. Just about every subject area touches on some aspect of our work. Coastal change, nature education, fostering a love of history, climate change, citizenship and identity are all things that bear closely upon our purposes as a charity.

So, how do we respond? Firstly, that it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. There are some good things, but also some areas that cause us, and others, some concern. We are compiling a response by talking to our staff, volunteers and partners, but in doing so here are some of the questions that we are asking ourselves:

The consultation document asks us whether we agree that “we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content of the programmes of study” and this seems an entirely laudable aim. However, if that is the ambition then why does the history curriculum not look like the geography curriculum? The latter is a broad framework, which appears to have been well received, whereas the former appears a prescriptive list of tasks, perhaps best accompanied by an atlas shaded in pink.

This leads us to a second question in relation to a history curriculum, for which the answer is self evident: “can we engender an understanding of chronology (a good thing) without teaching things in rigid chronological order?” The delight felt by the National Trust’s archaeologists that prehistory is now included in the curriculum has been somewhat tempered by the understanding that it appears to only figure between the ages of 5 and 5 and half. I sense we are underestimating the ability of children to organise information and, in doing so, might we squander the chance to fire them up about history?

Nature education is also an area we feel passionate about. The science curriculum places strong emphasis on the importance of first hand experience (something we would strongly support) and is also littered with the phrase “pupils should use their local environment throughout the year” and an increased emphasis on some basic skills of taxonomy potentially providing opportunities for learning about plants and animals. Is that sufficient?

Climate change is another thematic area of study that is not explicitly mentioned. Interestingly this forms part of a wider pattern of a move away from cross disciplinary areas of study. The curriculum looks as though it is split into separate silos, which is unhelpful given that most of the problems these children will face when mature cut across subject boundaries. That said, it will be very hard to teach “weather and climate” and the interaction of “human and physical processes on landscapes” without reference to it. However, it is a curious inconsistency that students will be required to know about the Heptarchy (I had to look it up) and Wycliffe’s Bible, but that knowledge of climate change is only optional.

Find out more about the government’s consultation on the National Curriculum.