450th anniversary of the incorporation of Oxford University

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the 1571 Act of Parliament, of Elizabeth I, which formally incorporated the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Both had already existed for over three centuries but this confirmed their legal statuses as corporations.

In contrast to the colleges, the central University of Oxford has no charter of foundation. It is said to have emerged during the eleventh century when a  small group of teaching masters and their pupils set up home in hired lodgings in Oxford. Not yet the large corporate body we know now, the University was merely a group of individuals living and working in an already-established town. In 1214,  these individuals were placed under the jurisdiction of a Chancellor appointed by the Bishop of Lincoln and they quickly gained recognition as a corporate body.

Award of the Papal Legate, 1214

Award of the Papal Legate, 1214 (OUA/WPbeta/P/12/1)

First gaining in 1216 the title of ‘universitas’ (which meant, simply, any body of people have a distinct purpose and status), the University’s corporate status was further enhanced over the years by having its own statutes, officers and premises.

Until the reign of Elizabeth, the University had accrued its rights and privileges through the issue of royal charters. Each monarch keen to support the University would grant it a charter conferring yet greater powers and freedoms on it, as well as confirming those issued by their predecessors. Covering a range of areas, from law and order to street cleaning, these additional privileges were often obtained at the expense of the city authorities who saw their rights and privileges reduced as a direct result.

Relations in Oxford between the University and the city were not particularly good at the time the 1571 Act was passed. The city was still smarting over the charter of Henry VIII issued in April 1523 which had given the University many new privileges and powers over it, including effectively putting much of the city’s business under the control of the Chancellor of the University. His powers had extended over control of certain trades (eg the regulation of essential goods such as bread and ale) as well as the right to claim legal cases for the University’s own court, the Chancellor’s Court, bypassing the city’s legal processes.

Exemplification of the Act of 1571

Exemplification of the Act of 1571 for incorporating the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, 7 June 1571 (OUA/WPbeta/A/10)

The Act of 1571 paid little attention to the bad feeling between the two and was instead intent on strengthening the two universities and confirming the rights and privileges they had already acquired over the preceding centuries. In it Elizabeth confirmed the validity of all the charters, deeds and documents previously issued by her predecessors, namechecking, somewhat pointedly, the contentious charter of 1523. The two universities’ possessions and freedoms were ratified and protected, now placed on a more secure statutory footing. The Act also established the University’s official title as ‘the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford’ and gave it a common seal.

In what seems to be a small placatory move towards the city, the last paragraph declared that the Act would not ‘extend to the prejudice or hurt of the Liberties and Privileges of Right’ of the city of Oxford and town of Cambridge.

The exemplification, or copy, of the Act in the University Archives bears the seal of Elizabeth I, showing her seated and holding her regalia. Annotated over the years by University officials and administrators, it has key clauses underlined, notes in the margins and a couple of doodles.

Detail of seal of Elizabeth I, 1571

Detail of seal of Elizabeth I, 1571 (from OUA/WPbeta/A/10)

Although this Act of Parliament did not create the University, it is the highest confirmation of its corporate status. More information about the legal status and constitution of the University can be found on the main University website at  https://governance.admin.ox.ac.uk/legislation/preface-constitution-and-statute-making-powers-of-the-university

To prevent mail robberies!

A United Kingdom General Post Office printed poster on how to securely send bank notes through the post, 9 Feb 1782

General Post Office poster on how to securely send bank notes through the post, 9 Feb 1782 [click to enlarge]

A helpful 18th-century public information campaign by the General Post Office advises the unwary about how to safely send bank notes through the post.

It is recommended to all Persons, at present uninformed, who may have Occasion to send BANK NOTES by the Post, to cut them in two Parts, according to the following Specimen where it is marked with a  black Line, and send them by different Posts; first writing the Name, Date and Year at one End of the Note, and the Letter and Number at the other End; by this Means each Part will contain a sufficient Specification of the Whole, and prevent any kind of Difficulty in the Payment of it at the Bank of England…in case of the Loss of the other Part.

Highway robbery–your money or your life!–was a very real and present danger in 1782, so this was useful advice.

Bank notes, which were issued in denominations up to a staggering £1000, were a much more discreet and sensible way to carry or send money than hauling around bags of golden guineas, and interestingly, it seems that the growing circulation of notes was one of the reasons for the decline in highway robbery in England in the 19th century, because paper currency was more traceable than coins. And it tickles me to think that it’s possible that enough people started using this secure, two-step technique to send their money through the post that it was no longer worth the effort to hold up a mail coach.

Also notable? This poster only concerns Bank of England notes. The Bank of England did not have a monopoly on issuing paper currency in England and Wales in the 18th century (or for a surprisingly long time afterwards), but this reminder that the Bank would make good on half a note might have encouraged people to use their notes rather than a provincial bank’s.

Another thing it’s interesting to see is the use of the placeholder names John Doe and the now less well-known Richard Roe. To a British reader these might sound very American, but those names have actually been used in English law since the middle ages, and John Doe still is, in some instances, even though we don’t use it to name unidentified bodies!

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

Geography in the Long Vacation

The Long Vacation in August has, since the 1880s, been used by University departments to hold summer schools and vacation courses in Oxford while the undergraduates are away. The School of Geography (established in 1899 as a joint venture between the University and the Royal Geographical Society) began holding its own biennial summer vacation courses in 1902.

Geography at that time was very much perceived as a masculine subject – men of high social status exploring far-flung places, climbing mountains in their shirt-sleeves. The students of the School of Geography at the turn of the century, however, were much more diverse than this. Women made up a large number of the School’s students.

Although women were still not able to become members of the University at this time, they could study for a number of diploma courses which were introduced in the early 1900s. These were usually in subjects not offered to undergraduates as part of the BA course: subjects such as public health, anthropology and geography. Women often outnumbered the men in geography diploma classes which began in 1900, although some parts of the subject, such as surveying, remained male-dominated. The women students were also often a little older than their male counterparts and from a wider range of social classes, many of them schoolteachers.

1904 vacation course details

Details of the 1904 vacation course (from OUA/GE/4A)

The summer vacation courses were designed chiefly for schoolteachers. Held to coincide with the school holidays, they were open to anyone. Those attending spent a couple of weeks in Oxford during August for a special course of lectures and practical work in geography. The courses included field trips (for surveying and map drawing) as well as excursions to local places of geographical interest.

Photograph of 1910 field trip

Vacation course field trip, nd (1910) (from OUA/GE/5A)

Women not only attended the summer vacation course in significant numbers – of the 196 students on the 1912 course, 119 were women – they were also heavily involved in its administration. The 1912 course was organised by Nora MacMunn, Demonstrator in Geography and only the second woman to be appointed to an academic teaching position in the University. She was aided by Fanny Herbertson, wife of the Director of the School, AJ Herbertson, a writer and unofficial Geography staff member for many years.

Photograph of 1924 vacation course

Staff and students at the 1924 vacation course (OUA/GE/5B/1)

Geography eventually became part of the BA course in 1932. From that date it became possible to obtain honours in geography as part of the undergraduate curriculum. As a result, however, both the diploma and the vacation courses were abolished – the new geography Final Honour School needed increased staff time to teach it. The number of women studying geography declined as it became a more masculine subject once again – dominated by men looking to move into the civil service or armed forces – and its connections to schoolteaching declined.

A group of women scholars from the School of Geography has been researching the often forgotten history of women geographers in Oxford including their role in the vacation courses. Links to their work, from which some of the information here has been sourced, are available at:

Centenary Event recording ‘A thing inexpedient and immodest’: women in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography now available online | News | School of Geography and the Environment | University of Oxford

‘Must it be a Man?’ Women’s contribution to the University of Oxford | University of Oxford Podcasts – Audio and Video Lectures

Series 2: Nora MacMunn (1875 – 1967) – Women in Oxford’s History Podcast (wordpress.com)

Royal velvet

Vivid purple and gold artificial flower made from Queen Elizabeth's 1937 coronation robe by the Girls of the John Groom's Crippleage

Artificial flower made from Queen Elizabeth’s 1937 coronation robe [click to enlarge]

This gorgeous purple lily with downward-curling petals and a golden stem is one of two pieces of royal fabric in the archive of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), along with a swatch from a dress of Princess – later Queen – Alexandra. The artificial flower was made in 1937 from the velvet coronation robe of Queen Elizabeth and presented to Verena, Countess of Clarendon, who attended the coronation.

It deserves a better picture (sorry about that) but you can see just how vivid and deeply coloured the purple velvet still is, as are the petals’ golden undersides, the gold thread-wrapped stem and the five tubular stamens at its centre. Although a tiny gold bauble “anther” is still delicately glued in place at the tip of one stamen, it looks like it might have lost four others, and if so, perhaps that’s because it was actually worn by the Countess enough times to damage it slightly. But for an artificial flower (and fabric!) made so long ago, it’s in remarkable condition, thanks to the fabric spending the last 84 years safely hidden and protected from light, damp and insects in its small presentation box.

For me, though, the most interesting thing is the label which tells us who made it: the Girls of The John Groom’s Crippleage.

Who were they?

Continue reading

Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Organisation Department

We are pleased to announce the launch of our revised and expanded catalogue of Conservative Central Office Organisation Department material, with an array of new material now available to readers for the first time. The catalogue contains papers of the Conservative Party’s Organisation Department and its successors from 1911-2000, including papers of the Director of Organisation, campaigning and elections materials spanning from the 1940s to late 1980s, reviews of the Party organisation, training files for agents, and files from the component sections of the Department. Amongst the newly added material is correspondence of politicians as far back as the 1930s, including Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and Rab Butler, as well as publicity and campaigning materials, and monitoring of other political parties. Since this catalogue is so expansive, covering material from all aspects of the work of the Organisation Department and spanning almost a century, this blog will highlight just a handful of interesting areas, demonstrating the catalogue’s significant value for historians of British politics and anyone with an interest in the Conservative Party.

Publicity and Campaigning, 1946-1989

A first highlight of the revised catalogue is the substantial amount of publicity and campaigning material, created by the Party during General Elections, By-Elections, and European Elections through the mid to late twentieth century. These files, within the ‘Campaigning and Elections’ series of the catalogue, give a great insight into both the behind the scenes creation of these campaigning materials, including early drafts and correspondence, and the final printed and published leaflets, posters, and pamphlets. Included within these files are artwork designs and leaflets created by Ronald Bell, who worked throughout the 1980s to organise and create national artwork used both between and during election campaigns. This image gives an example of such material, comprising correspondence sent to Bell in the late 1980s outlining the need for publicity promoting the benefits of the Community Charge to Asian families, and a translated leaflet created by Bell to achieve this. This file includes many examples of his artwork, as well as numerous drafts and early ideas for leaflets.

Correspondence and a draft leaflet relating to the Community Charge and the Asian Community, 1988 – CPA CCO 500/61/10

European Campaigning and Elections, 1957-1989

One of the largest areas of new material within the Organisation Department catalogue is European Campaigning and Elections. In addition to publicity files similar to those outlined above, such as posters, leaflets, and correspondence, this sub-series includes files on conferences, visits to the European Parliament, and press conferences. A particularly interesting event covered within this material is the 1975 referendum which asked whether or not the UK should remain a member of the European Communities. Over 67% of voters voted to remain, potentially swayed by posters such as these, campaigning for voters to choose to ‘Keep Britain in Europe’.

Keep Britain in Europe Posters, 1975 – CPA CCO 500/31/33

General Election Reviews, 1950-1970

General Election reviews were carried out by the Organisation Department following each General Election and reviewed every aspect of the Party’s campaign and organisation. This catalogue contains these reviews from 1950 to 1970, providing thorough analyses of campaigns and the organisational efficiency of the Party – potentially a very useful resource for historians interested in these Elections. This example from 1966 highlights the types of factors assessed in these reviews, from morale of workers to the following of election law.

Summary of General Election Reports, 1966 – CPA CCO 500/24/213

Correspondence, 1937-1967

A particular highlight of the new additions to this catalogue is the correspondence of various politicians between 1937 and 1967. These include letters on an assortment of topics, from Conservative Party policy and prospective Conservative candidates for Parliament, to Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s public image and The Convention on the Political Rights of Women. Also included are a handful of letters written by Sir Winston Churchill, mostly during his years as Leader of the Opposition from 1945-1951 and written to Lord Woolton, Chairman of the Conservative Party. The example below illustrates Churchill’s irritation at the lack of canvassing in the lead-up to the 1951 West Houghton by-election, which the Labour candidate won by over 60%, giving an insight into Churchill’s involvement and interest in these elections and his opposition to the ‘essence of defeatism’ described in his letter. Another letter written by Churchill, also within this file, shows his consideration of a proposal in 1946 to create ‘The Union Party’, comprising Unionists from across the political parties, as a ‘united Party against Socialism’, providing another insight into his thoughts and plans during this time.

Letter from Sir Winston Churchill to Lord Woolton concerning the West Houghton by-election and Gallup Poll results, June 1961 – CPA CCO 500/65/1/4

Political Parties (Monitoring), 1947-1983

A final area of the catalogue which has been widely expanded is the monitoring of other political parties, including the Labour Party, Liberal Party, SDP, and Communist and Far-Left Parties. These files largely consist of reports on the activities of these parties, copies of their leaflets and other campaigning materials, and newspaper articles concerning their actions and policies. This example of a report on SDP activities from the 1980s demonstrates the type of work carried out by the Organisation Department to monitor their opponents, including information on key figures within the SDP, rallies and major public meetings organised by the Party, and a list of defectors from the Conservative Party to the SDP.

Report on SDP activities since approximately 1st July 1981 – CPA CCO 500/25/12/1

All the material featured in this blog post is now available, see Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Organisation Department | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk) for the fully-searchable list of items within this catalogue.

Alan Tyson, ‘the Sherlock Holmes of the music world’

Born in Glasgow and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford and the University College Hospital Medical School, London, Alan Tyson (1926-2000) held Research and Senior Research Fellowships at All Souls College, Oxford from 1952 to his retirement in 1994. He was a distinguished musicologist and a world authority on music manuscripts of the Viennese Classical composers, especially Mozart and Beethoven. His other musicological interests included authenticity, music printing, and music publishing. Initially, however, his career evolved around medicine and psychoanalysis.


1. Alan Tyson collecting his Honorary Degree from the University of St Andrews, Scotland.


2. Alan Tyson in a more relaxed context.

It is not certain what prompted him to devote the rest of his life to musicology, especially as he did not undergo a formal music education. Some suggest it was his passion for collecting, especially music, that made him change his mind.  Maybe he was curious how (well) the early and subsequent editions reflected the intentions of the composers? As he was not able to speak to Mozart or Beethoven as he would to his patients, he once explained, he turned to the composers’ autographs as his primary sources of information. While his earlier career helped him to determine the composers’ creative processes to some extent, it was his own meticulous methods when working with music manuscripts that brought the desired results. His pioneering work on watermarks, for example, enabled him to date (or re-date) many compositions. Tyson even invented his own term for the classification of watermarks resembling crescent moons, selenometry, a term which he advised should not be taken ‘wholly seriously’ (please see images 3 and 4).  He considered watermarks (together with the types of paper that contained them) so significant that he spent over 15 years working on an inventory of all watermarks in Mozart autographs. The watermarks catalogue was published in 1992 as part of the much-respected Neue Mozart-Ausgabe collected edition.


3. Explanation of the term selenometry in A. Tyson’s ‘Mozart: studies of the autograph scores’ (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).


4. Tracing of watermarks in a Mozart autograph with noted selenometry.


5. Watermark from Beethoven’s autograph clearly visible thanks to beta-radiography, an imaging technique innovative at the time of Tyson’s research.

Tyson was also fascinated by composers’ sketches. As early as 1964 he gave two BBC interviews (one radio and one television) on the sketchbooks used by Beethoven throughout his life. There are 11 archival boxes of notes spanning some 20 years on the subject and twice as much correspondence discussing the topic. The work and discussions culminated in 1985 with a publication (co-written with Douglas Johnson and Robert Winter) of The Beethoven sketchbooks: history, reconstruction, inventory.  This is just one of many significant publications with Tyson as author, co-author, or editor.

It was important to Tyson to examine as many original sources as possible, not only because he was a thorough researcher (earning him the designation ‘Sherlock Holmes of the music world’), but also because he wanted his work to be as comprehensive as possible. He got to know which institutions and which private collections held the autographs, and visited them one by one. He also had a good rapport with auction houses, who were happy to pass on his requests for viewing or information about (sometimes anonymous!) purchases just made. Additionally, Tyson was in demand when it came to authenticating ‘recently discovered’ manuscripts, which likewise expanded his ‘portfolio’. In one of his letters he expressed his amazement and delight that his research into Viennese composers would take him as far as New Zealand and Japan, where he would find further autographs. I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tyson personally when he visited the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków, Poland. Anecdotally, he declined an offer of lunch and suggested a dinner after the Library closed as, he said, ‘when you are holding a Mozart manuscript, you do not feel like doing anything else but study it!’

Tyson continued to collect throughout his life eventually amassing an important collection of some 70 manuscripts and 2,200 early (sometime extremely rare) editions of music. In addition, his personal library comprised some 350 books representing both, source and up-to-date research material. Tyson used the items from his private collection to compare with those in libraries and elsewhere, which led him to a deep (and often authoritative) understanding of the history of the musical texts.

Tyson very generously bequeathed his archive to the British and Bodleian Libraries. In 2002 over 1000 items of printed music in the Bodleian’s portion of his collection were catalogued by one Margaret Czepiel. It was therefore thrilling for me to deal with the collection of Tyson’s working papers years later. Here, just as he had observed the creative processes of the composers he studied, I was able to see Tyson’s own working methods. An example can be seen in the images (6 and 7) where he annotated his earlier notes with additional, dated comments, no doubt following subsequent visits to the respective repositories and discussions with fellow researchers. In fact, the sheer volume of correspondence (26 boxes of just mail, with further exchanges among the 43 boxes of notes) is telling; he valued the views of his colleagues highly. It is clear that he thrived on these intellectually stimulating epistolary (and over-the-phone) debates.


6. Notes on music manuscripts at the Morgan Library, New York, 1978-1981.


7. Notes on music manuscripts at the Moran Library, New York, 1983-1988.

The Tyson archive, now catalogued online, also contains a great number of reproductions of music manuscripts, both autographs and copies.  Many of them, however, offer no clues as to the identity of the works or indeed the composers. Unfortunately, the scope of this music-cataloguing project did not allow for identifying the vast quantities of photocopies, photographs, and microfilms of the various manuscripts. It would take a significant amount of detective work to identify and match the reproductions with their originals. We would welcome any offers of help in this respect if anyone would be up for the challenge!

Margaret Czepiel

Archivist

Jenny Joseph poetry notebooks digitised

Digitised copy of 'Warning', from Jenny Joseph's poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Digitised copy of ‘Warning’, from Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Five of Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41have been digitised and you can now see every page on Digital.Bodleian.

The notebooks are a rich distillation of 60 years of Jenny Joseph’s writing career, starting in 1949, just before she came to the University of Oxford to study English. The third notebook (page 3) includes a draft of her most well-known poem, ‘Warning‘ – When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me – two famous first lines which you can see corrected in this draft.

She wrote the poem in 1961 and first published it in the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time, and then in the magazine The Listener in 1962. She revised it further for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem was a slow burner which surged in popularity in the 1980s, particularly in America, and it was widely anthologised and re-used for everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on a life of its own, even losing its author at times – the Jenny Joseph archive includes a poster that attributes the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 ‘Warning’ was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired new social groups like the Red Hat Society, a club for women over 50. You can find recordings of Jenny Joseph reading ‘Warning’ on YouTube, and readings of four other poems at the Poetry Archive.

 

Secret ciphers

Deciphered diplomatic code in a letter to Thomas Villiers, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, 12 Aug 1746

Deciphered diplomatic code in a letter to Thomas Villiers, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, 12 Aug 1746 [click to enlarge]

An 18th-century British diplomatic cipher is revealed in a 1746 letter to Thomas Villiers.

Decades after this letter was sent, Villiers revived an extinct title and became the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation) but in August 1746 he was the Hon. Thomas Villiers, second son of the Earl of Jersey, and working in Berlin as Britain’s envoy to the court of Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia, following a succession of diplomatic positions with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Electorate of Saxony and the Archduchy of Austria.

Frederick the Great liked Villiers enough to, many years later, give him a special grant to use the Prussian eagle on the Villiers family coat of arms but Horace Walpole, the writer, historian, and Whig politician thought that Frederick liked Villiers mainly because Frederick was wary of genuinely capable men: ‘[Villiers] has,’ Walpole wrote, ‘been very much gazetted, and had his letters to the king of Prussia printed, but he is a very silly fellow’ (Walpole, Corr., 20.17).

Whatever Thomas Villiers’ qualities as a diplomat, this coded letter shows something of his everyday work and the importance of confidentiality in the diplomatic service. They were right to be cautious. The ‘My Lord Sandwich’ the letter refers to, who is currently in Breda in the Netherlands, is the 4th Earl of Sandwich (the very man the sandwich is named after) who, at the Congress of Breda, apparently employed the British secret service to intercept and read French secret correspondence. This move helped Britain to diplomatically outmanoeuvre the French at the Congress, which were the peace talks to end the ruinous War of Austrian Succession.

This letter to Villiers is most interesting because it shows not just a number-based cipher, but the deciphered plain text. And although the letter itself doesn’t reveal any thrilling state secrets, it does show the essential exchange of keys so that sender and receiver can read the code.

And that, unfortunately, is about the limit of my understanding of cryptography. If there are any cryptographers reading, feel free to drop into the comments!

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A pottle of strawberries (on this day in 1842)

Two evocative lists from the Clarendon archive show the impressive range of foods that a Victorian country estate was capable of producing.

The Grove, an estate in Hertfordshire on the outskirts of Watford, was the country seat of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) for about 170 years after it was purchased by the 1st earl Thomas Villiers in 1753.

A list of fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

Two lists addressed to the Countess of Clarendon itemise the vegetables, fruit, game, poultry, fish, wood, eggs, butter and bakery items ‘Sent from the Grove the 22nd day of July 1842′, presumably to the Clarendons’ London house. It includes heads of artichokes, pecks of french beans, dozens of carrots, bushels of peas, sticks of rhubarb, baskets of salad and bunches of sorrell, and, since the printed list was not sufficient, there are handwritten additions itemising pecks of black cherries, pottles of mushrooms and strawberries, and a box of cut flowers, amongst other wonderful things.

A list of provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

The list of non-vegetable items sent that day looks sparse by comparison but it’s still a staggering amount of food: 1 fawn, 1 leaveret (hare), 12 eggs, 5lb of butter, 5 loaves of bread and 36 fagotts of wood. It’s notable that this is only the list for one day. There is another printed list of fruit and vegetables sent on the 19th of July 1842 with very similar amounts of food. The household was catering on a grand scale.

I was reasonably familiar with pecks and bushels and heads, but curious what a ‘pottle’ amounted to. The Oxford English Dictionary came to my rescue, as it often does. A pottle was, when used to measure liquids and dry goods like corn, equal to half a gallon (approximately 2.3 litres). But when used for strawberries it is, enigmatically, just a small basket of conical shape, designed to protect soft foods in transit.

And what might they have done with their strawberries? This recipe for strawberry salad, by the celebrity French chef Alexis Soyer, published in his useful work of affordable, plain cookery A Shilling Cookery for the People (1845), might not have been fancy enough for the countess, but it does at least make good use of a pottle of ripe strawberries, should you also have a gill of brandy handy.

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

Conference Report: IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2021

This year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference was held online from 15-16th June 2021, bringing together professionals from around the world to share their experiences of preserving the Web as a research tool for future generations. In this blog post, Simon Mackley reports back on some of the highlights from the conference.  

How can we best preserve the World Wide Web for future researchers, and how can we best provide access to our collections? These were the questions that were at the forefront of this year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference, which was hosted virtually by the National Library of Luxembourg. Web archiving is a subject of particular interest to me: as one of the Bodleian Library’s Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, I spend a lot of my time working on our own Web collections as part of the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive. It was great therefore to have the chance to attend part of this virtual conference and hear for myself about new developments in the sector.

One thing that really struck me from the conference was the huge diversity in approaches to preserving the Web. On the one hand, many of the papers concerned large-scale efforts by national legal deposit institutions. For instance, Ivo Branco, Ricardo Basílio, and Daniel Gomes gave a very interesting presentation on the creation of the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections collection at the Portuguese Web Archive. This was a highly ambitious project, with the aim of crawling not just the Portuguese Web domain but also capturing a snapshot of elections coverage across 24 different European languages through the use of an automated search engine and a range of web crawler technologies (see their blog for more details). The World Wide Web is perhaps the ultimate example of an international information resource, so it is brilliant to see web archiving initiatives take a similarly international approach.

At the other end of the scale, Hélène Brousseau gave a fascinating paper on community-based web archiving at Artexte library and research centre, Canada. Within the arts community, websites often function as digital publications analogous to traditional exhibition catalogues. Brousseau emphasised the need for manual web archiving rather than automated crawling as a means of capturing the full content and functionality of these digital publications, and at Artexete this has been achieved by training website creators to self-archive their own websites using Conifer. Given that in many cases web archivists often have minimal or even no contact with website creators, it was fascinating to hear of an approach that places creators at the very heart of the process.

It was also really interesting to hear about the innovative new ways that web archives were engaging with researchers using their collections, particularly in the use of new ‘Labs’-style approaches. Marie Carlin and Dorothée Benhamou-Suesser for instance reported on the new services being planned for researchers at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Data Lab, including a crawl-on-demand service and the provision of web archive datasets. New methodologies are always being developed within the Digital Humanities, and so it is vitally important that web archives are able to meet the evolving needs of researchers.

Like all good conferences, the papers and discussions did not solely focus on the successes of the past year, but also explored the continued challenges of web archiving and how they can be addressed. Web archiving is often a resource-intensive activity, which can prove a significant challenge for collecting institutions. This was a major point of discussion in the panel session on web archiving the coronavirus pandemic, as institutions had to balance the urgency of quickly capturing web content during a fast-evolving crisis against the need to manage resources for the longer-term, as it became apparent that the pandemic would last months rather than weeks. It was clear from the speakers that no two institutions had approached documenting the pandemic in quite the same way, but nonetheless some very useful general lessons were drawn from the experiences, particularly about the need to clearly define collection scope and goals at the start of any collecting project dealing with rapidly changing events.

The question of access presents an even greater challenge. We ultimately work to preserve the Web so that researchers can make use of it, but as a sector we face significant barriers in delivering this goal. The larger legal deposit collections, for instance, can often only be consulted in the physical reading rooms of their collecting libraries. In his opening address to the conference, Claude D. Conter of the National Library of Luxembourg addressed this problem head-on, calling for copyright reform in order to meet reader expectations of access.

Yet although these challenges may be significant, I have no doubt from the range of new and innovative approaches showcased at this conference that the web archiving sector will be able to overcome them. I am delighted to have had the chance to attend the conference, and I cannot wait to see how some of the projects presented continue to develop in the years to come.

Simon Mackley