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History of Statistics Section meeting: Exploring the UCL archives

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Sections and local group meeting reports

This was the second meeting in the Section’s series on major archives. It was held at the University College London Institute of Education on 22 January, 2018 and the speakers were Rebecca Sims, Colin Penman and Katy Makin, UCL Special Collections Librarians.

The talks were preceded and followed by an exhibition of objects from the Francis Galton, JBS Haldane and Karl and Egon Pearson collections. The objects were a small sample from very large collections, especially Karl Pearson who has one of the largest collections at UCL that contains 250 boxes and includes more than 25,000 letters. Naturally there were documents from filing cabinets and gadgets from the laboratory but there was also Galton’s wallet, Egon Pearson’s childhood play books and a children’s book written by Haldane. Wandering around the exhibition gave us a chance to talk informally to people who really know these archives.

The formal part of the meeting consisted of three nicely balanced talks. Rebecca Sims, head of archives, gave a perspective on archiving at UCL which is a major centre for archives.

Colin Penman, head of records, sketched the history of statistics at UCL from the founding of the institution to the Second World War reminding us that statistics there did not start with Karl Pearson. He made special mention of the Newmarch lectures with which the RSS was associated — William Newmarch was a former President. Penman also emphasised the critical role that the Darwinian zoologist, WFR Weldon played in Karl Pearson’s statistical thinking.

The archivist Katy Makin spoke about the material in the ‘statistical’ collections and the personalities of those remains they are. She also spoke about the work of Lionel Penrose, the successor to Fisher and Karl Pearson in the chair of eugenics. A question and answer session followed. The meeting was very informative and the efforts of the librarians much appreciated.


History of Statistics Section

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