All posts by simonmackley

Update from Miten Mistry, former Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

Photograph of Miten at the Being Human exhibition at Wellcome Collection, 2019.

Miten at the Being Human exhibition at Wellcome Collection, 2019.
Image by Steven Pocock, Wellcome Collection.

The traineeship at the Bodleian Libraries was a great experience and helped me on my way to pursuing a career in archives. Post traineeship, after applying for several jobs, I secured a position at the Wellcome Collection as a cataloguing archivist for the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) archive. I thought this role would be limited to only cataloguing activities, however the size, complexity and variety of Wellcome Collection has allowed me to do a lot more.

The day to day cataloguing of the IPA archive has involved all aspects of archival processing with the addition of dealing with the expected and unexpected issues that arise with the logistical challenge of a large collection. Part of my role involves regular desk duty in the Rare Materials room, the Library Enquiry desk and answering email enquires. I have also been able to undertake acquisition work with our collections development team and get involved with digital archiving with regards to processes and workflows.

I would recommend the traineeship as it exposes you to all aspects of working in a large archive. There are similarities and differences between the Bodleian Libraries and the Wellcome Collection, however the skills I gained from the traineeship have been invaluable in helping me adapt to working in a new archive and environment.

Miten Mistry, Sep 2019

Update from Rachael Gardner, former Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2015-2017

Photograph of Rachael in the palm house at Kew, 2019

Rachael in the palm house at Kew, 2019

Following my traineeship, I began work as a Project Cataloguer working on the Georgian Papers Programme at the Royal Archives, which is a large-scale digitisation, cataloguing and research project making all the Royal Archives’ Georgian material freely accessible online. Here I catalogued papers of George IV to item level, supported researchers, and gained experience of digitisation workflows. This built on the cataloguing and palaeography experience I had developed at the Bodleian.

I then moved to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where I am currently in the middle of a two-year project cataloguing the Miscellaneous Reports Collection, a large collection of nineteenth and twentieth century material relating to global and colonial networks of economic botany. I am responsible for the cataloguing of this complex collection, which includes correspondence, printed reports, newspaper cuttings, photographs, illustrations, and even plant specimens. My role has included implementing new cataloguing and indexing protocols, using linked data to index botanical names, managing volunteers, and promoting the collection to researchers and the public through exhibitions, group visits, social media, talks, and academic events.

I really enjoyed my traineeship and am grateful for the brilliant opportunity it gave me to gain skills in a wide variety of archive work, which has given me a useful grounding for my career so far.

Rachel Gardner, Oct 2019

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2019

Speaking notes prepared for Margaret Thatcher, annotated drafts of William Hague’s election leaflets, and briefing papers written by David Cameron as a young researcher are all among files newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2019. This year, our releases are drawn primarily from the records of the Conservative Research Department (CRD): these comprise the department’s subject files and working papers, its briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, and the papers and correspondence of CRD desk officers. In addition to our regular scheduled de-restrictions, the Conservative Party Archive is pleased to announce that the papers of Robin Harris, the Director of the Conservative Research Department from 1985-1989, will also be made available for consultation for the first time. This blog will briefly look at some of the items to be found in each of these main series, demonstrating the value of these collections to researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of modern British history.

Conservative Research Department Files, 1988

Among the newly-released records are a number of files on the ever-thorny question of Europe, including the minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee, the Party’s coordinating group for the 1989 elections to the European Parliament. These files provide a fascinating insight into the challenges the Party faced in trying to balance the record of its MEPs with the increasing Euroscepticism of British Conservatism: a September 1988 report on the Party’s private polling on Europe, for instance, warned that nearly a third of Conservative general election voters were opposed to EEC membership and would not turn out to support the Party in the European Elections [CPA CRD 4/30/3/1]. The Conservative Party Archive has, separately, also recently acquired the records of the Conservative delegation to the European Parliament in this period, and will be seeking to make these available for consultation later in 2019.

Minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee – CPA CRD 4/30/3/1.

Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1988

This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, typically prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an excellent snapshot of the Party’s thinking, tactics, and rhetorical strategy on the key issues of the day. Subjects covered by the briefings include some of the most prominent policies of the Thatcher government, including the introduction of the Community Charge (Poll Tax) and the privatisation of state-owned utilities.

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment and Local Government file, covering the Community Charge, Section 28, and Acid Rain – CPA CRD/B/11/7.

This series notably includes briefing papers prepared by David Cameron during his time in CRD, covering topics on environmental, energy and industrial policy. In 1989 Cameron became the Head of the Political Section, a post he held in the department until 1992, and we expect to be able to de-restrict more of his papers from this period in the years ahead.

Two CRD briefings on Energy Privatisation written by David Cameron – CPA CRD/B/10/8.

Conservative Research Department Letter Books, 1988

The papers and letter books of the Research Department desk officers are a unique resource for those studying the history of Conservatism. Among those files newly de-restricted for 2019 are the letter books of CRD Desk Officer Richard Marsh. Specialising in environmental policy and local government, Marsh’s papers include extensive material on the Poll Tax, and are likely to be of high value to researchers of the subject. Marsh’s papers also include a draft copy of William Hague’s election leaflet from the 1989 by-election, complete with revealing annotations – a pledge to bring in harsher sentences for criminals, for instance, is struck out and replaced with a vaguer commitment to take ‘vigorous action in the fight against crime’ [CPA CRD/L/4/40/2].

Annotated drafts of an election leaflet for William Hague, the Party’s candidate in the 1989 Richmond By-election – CPA CRD/L/4/40/2.

Papers of Robin Harris, Research Department Director, 1985-1988

Finally, the records of CRD Director Robin Harris provide a rich insight into the Conservative Party during the 1980s. For instance, Harris’ letter book for August and September 1987 shows how the Research Department went about preparing material for Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference, with draft sections of the speech and working memoranda included in the file [CRD/D/10/2/25].

Robin Harris file on Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Party Conference speech, including draft speech sections – CPA CRD/D/10/2/25.

Harris’ papers also show how the Party responded at times of political crisis. During the Westland Affair, when Thatcher’s premiership was briefly seen to be threatened, the Party received numerous letters from the public calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Harris’ memo books from the time show how Conservative Central Office managed the situation, drafting template responses defending the government’s conduct [CRD/D/10/1/11]. The papers should prove to be a valuable resource for historians of the period, and we expect to be able to make further de-restrictions in this series under the thirty-year rule in January 2020.

Robin Harris memoranda on the Party’s response to the Westland Affair – CPA CRD/D/10/1/11.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2019. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.

“What the hell are you doing?” The Lewisham North By-Election, 1957

Next week the voters of Lewisham East will go to the polls to elect a new member of parliament. Using the collections of the Conservative Party Archive, this blog post looks back at the last parliamentary by-election in the borough, held in 1957.

On 16 Feb 1957 a letter arrived at Conservative Central Office on the subject of the Lewisham North by-election, held two days previously. Addressed to the “Party Manager”, it read simply:- “Dear Sir, What the hell are you doing?”. [CCO 1/12/25/3]

Scanned image of a letter sent to Conservative Central Office, reading "Dear Sir, North Lewisham Bye-Election (and no doubt others) - What the hell are you doing?"

A letter recieved by Conservative Central Office following the party’s defeat in the Lewisham North by-election. [CCO 1/12/25/3]

The letter was just one of many critical messages sent in by Conservative supporters around the country following the by-election, which had seen the party lose the seat to Labour on a swing of 5.5%. The vote had been the Tories’ first electoral test since Harold Macmillan had replaced Anthony Eden as Prime Minister – and it appeared that the change in leadership had failed to improve the party’s fortunes.

The by-election was triggered by the death of Sir Austin Hudson, the Conservative member for the seat since 1950. Although present-day Lewisham is seen as a Labour stronghold, in the 1950s the Conservatives had a strong record in the area, and with a new leader in Downing Street the government could be expected to have a fair chance of retaining the seat on a platform of tax cuts and improved living standards. In his election address the party’s candidate, Norman Farmer, urged voters to give a “vote of confidence to the new Conservative government”, and echoed Macmillan’s pledge that “Britain has been great, is great and will stay great.” [PUB 229/1/12]

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The Conservative Campaign was soon blown off course however, as Labour went on the attack over the government’s controversial Rent Bill, which dismantled much of the post-war rent control system. The Labour candidate Niall MacDermot used his election address to warn that tenants will be left “at the mercy of the landlord” under the Tory plans. [PUB 229/1/12] The line of attack appears to have worked:- a memorandum by the party’s Chief Organisation Officer on 8 Feb 1957 notes that “The main lines of opposition attack appears to be the ‘Rent Bill’. We are likely to lose Conservative support on the issue… I am not very hopeful of holding the seat”. [CCO 1/12/25/2]

Scanned image showing the first page of a report on the Conservative Party's prospects in the Lewisham North by-election, 1957.

Conservative Party report on the campaign situation in Lewisham, dated 8 Feb 1957. [CCO 1/12/25/2]

Another issue that haunted the Conservatives was the legacy of the Suez Crisis, which had brought down Eden’s premiership. Not only did Labour continue to attack the Conservatives’ handling of the episode, but in Lewisham North the party also faced a challenge from the right-wing League of Empire Loyalists, an imperialist pressure group that supported independent candidate Lesley Greene. Greene, who was also the organising secretary of the League, used her election address to denounce the government for the loss of British influence over Suez: “All but one of the Cabinet Ministers responsible for this sickening humiliation are still members of the Government. Where is their national pride?” [PUB 229/1/12] The Conservatives sought to counter such charges by appealing to voters’ patriotism: “Don’t Listen to Nasser’s Advice’ urged one of Farmer’s leaflets, claiming that the Egyptian leader wanted to see the Conservatives defeated. [CCO 1/12/25/2] The party failed to defuse the issue however, and the Conservatives were forced onto the defensive throughout the campaign.

Scanned image of a Conservative election leaflet with slogan "Don't Listen to Nasser's Advice".

Election leaflet in support of the Conservative candidate Norman Farmer. [CCO 1/12/25/2]

Unsurprisingly, Conservative post-mortem reports on the by-election defeat identified Labour’s campaign against the Rent Bill and the fallout from Suez as major reasons for the defeat. However, the party’s campaigners also identified more practical reasons for the failure to hold the seat:- Labour for instance were accused of deploying an illegal number of cars to ferry their voters to the polling stations (the use of private motor transport in elections was strictly regulated in the post-war period), while one Conservative canvasser berated the party for “knocking-up” their supporters too late in the day, as “it is difficult to get women to vote in the evenings as they have their husbands’ dinners to prepare”. [CCO 1/12/25/3] Reports such as these offer a fascinating insight into the very different nature of election campaigns in the 1950s.

The Conservative defeat in North Lewisham was ultimately short-lived: the party regained the seat in Macmillan’s 1959 general election victory, and subsequently held it until 1966. Even so, the contest gives us a snapshot of British politics at a time of great upheaval and change. Whoever wins in Lewisham East next Thursday, it might well be that historians of the future will similarly look at the records of the campaign in order to understand our own politics and times.

This blog is based on the Conservative Party Archive’s correspondence series and collection of historical election addresses. The archive as whole contains the official papers of the Conservative Party’s parliamentary, professional and voluntary wings, spanning from 1867 through to the present day. Visit our website for more information on our holdings and to view our full online catalogues.

New Conservative Party Archive releases under the 30 year rule

Top-level strategy papers that detail the Thatcher government’s efforts to secure a third term are among papers newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2018. The previously-restricted documents, now made available for the first time under the 30 year rule, form part of an extensive series of party papers from the election year of 1987, including drafts of the Conservative manifesto, detailed plans of campaign activities, and election briefings prepared by the Conservative Research Department. This piece briefly examines two such documents from one of the newly-released files [CRD 4/30/7/25], private briefings prepared for the Prime Minister’s election planning meetings in December 1986 and April 1987, to illustrate the research potential of these newly-available collections.

Although the 1987 election ultimately resulted in a second landslide for Thatcher’s Conservatives, the party was far from certain of such an outcome. ‘We believe that the electorate will be in a more questioning mood than in 1983 in the aftermath of the Falklands’, the December 1986 report cautioned, stressing the need for the party to develop and communicate clear plans for the future rather than simply seeking re-election on the basis of past achievements. The changing nature of the electoral map prompted particular concern. Although the Conservatives had opened up a narrow polling lead, the report identified a ‘sharp North-South disparity’, which posed a serious risk to the Conservative position: while the party’s national polling suggested a parliamentary majority of 20, this ‘disappeared entirely and left us in a minority of 2’ when regional variations were taken into account. In an echo of the party’s present-day challenges, the report additionally flagged up the dangers of the growing age-gap in the party’s support: ‘the under 45 group, and particularly first time voters, are still a cause of considerable concern.’

The Conservative Party’s electoral position was complicated by the growing North-South political divide. [CRD 4/30/7/25].

The prospect of a lost majority was still taken seriously on the eve of the election campaign, as the papers prepared for a top-level meeting at Downing Street on 16 April 1987 reveal. Although Party Chairman Norman Tebbit’s paper on general strategy began with the cautious observation that the government were favoured to win ‘with a smaller but working majority’, he warned that ‘the prospect of a hung parliament is attractive to the press and will be promoted by those hostile to us’. To counter this, he urged, the party needed to polarise the issues as far as possible, presenting a Conservative majority as the only alternative to weak or extreme government: ‘Our aim should be to make the supreme issue whether there will be a continuation of Conservative Government or through a “hung” Parliament a Labour administration with Alliance or other minority party support.’

Strategies aside, the party’s election plans also give a fascinating insight into how the party sought to understand and reshape its image going into the election. Discussing the party’s loss of support during the middle of 1986, the CCO Campaign Plans document warned of a ‘a growing perceived conflict between the two important themes of “Calvinism” or “individual responsibility” on the one hand, and “caring” on the other […] reflected in serious concerns about unemployment, health care, education and pensions’. Yet the strategy paper also reveals a resistance to any significant change in course: the proposal to organise the Prime Minister’s campaign tours around the theme of ‘regeneration’ is pointedly removed from the draft document in favour of a more individualistic emphasis on ‘believing [in] people’ and ‘personal property’. Similarly on Thatcher’s own image, the paper goes out of its way to reject suggestions that she adopt a ‘soft’ image, instead recommending a campaign focused upon her strengths: ‘leadership, strength and experience.’

Early plans emphasised that the Prime Minister campaign on the idea of ‘Regeneration’, but as the notes in the margin show others favoured a more ideological campaign theme. [CRD 4/30/7/25].

These papers will provide an essential resource for scholars of the 1987 general election and the politics of the Thatcher era, complementing the Conservative Party Archive’s existing collections of published material from the campaign. The Bodleian has also additionally taken receipt of a large donation of previously undocumented files from this period, so it is hoped that the CPA will be able to continue to expand its collections on the 1987 general election in years to come.

Among the new releases is the first draft of the 1987 Manifesto [CRD/4/30/7/29], shown here next to the final version [PUB 157/4].

The material examined in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2018. In addition to papers on the 1987 general election, the list of newly-released papers also includes material on the introduction of the poll tax, the party’s private polling and opinion research, and a wide range of briefings produced by the Conservative Research Department. For a full list of derestricted items, see the CPA website.

What’s it like to be a trainee? Miten Mistry, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

Before starting this traineeship I had very little knowledge or experience of the archives and heritage sector. I have a science background and completed my PhD in Pre-clinical dentistry in 2016. As soon as I saw this role advertised I became immediately intrigued. After reading about the archives sector and what this role entailed I knew that this was the job for me; the more I found out about it the more I wanted to do it. I thought having little experience of archiving and this sector would make it difficult for me to get into at this later stage of my career as everyone else I spoke to seemed to have done a lot more! I undertook some short work experience at the Bodleian Library and also volunteered at De Montfort University Archives and after that it was clear in my mind that this was definitely what I wanted to do as it was so enjoyable and the satisfaction you get from your work is immense.

Learning about archiving from the Bodleian library has been a fantastic experience so far and I don’t feel that the lack of prior experience has hindered me in anyway. Having six other trainees starting at the same time has been a really nice experience as we all have different backgrounds and interests and we have been able to learn from and support each another. There is so much going on within the library and everyone is incredibly friendly and willing to help so it fosters a great working and learning atmosphere. This has allowed me to settle into the role and increase my understanding about all things archive related incredibly quickly.

After the initial training, it was great to be able to get hands on with my own projects as I knew that I was making an immediate contribution from a very early stage which was incredibly satisfying. As a trainee, currently I spend my time between Web archiving, XML work on re-coding catalogues from EAD.1 to EAD.2, collection management, working in the reading rooms and part time distance learning. This variety is fantastic as it is developing my skills in a broad range of areas and has allowed me to see how a library and archive of the Bodleian’s size and stature operates.

It is a lot of work and you have to manage your time well however we receive great support and knowing that this is a truly unique and valuable experience that will give us a solid platform to build a career within the archiving profession makes it worth it.

I’m really looking forward to developing my skills and experience as a digital archivist over the coming years at one of the best libraries in the world. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working in the place that I do, doing the work that I do and learning from colleagues that have great experience, passion and pride for their work.

Miten Mistry, May 2017

What’s it like to be a trainee? Kelly Burchmore, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

I feel incredibly lucky to be taking part in a traineeship here that combines both full time work and funded distance learning with Aberystwyth University. There is no time as trainee digital archivists when we are not busy- but I love this and thrive on it! Special collections staff are so supportive, and we all have a personal tutor at Aberystwyth, too.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History from Royal Holloway University of London. During my degree I undertook some work experience in the United States at a National Historic site in Kansas, engaging with materials and culture linked to the site and its history. I was so engaged with the work there, but knew little about working towards a career in archives until I returned home and began to research.

Not having a STEM background, I have surprised myself at how much I enjoy the technology related aspects of the traineeship such as assisting in an XML conversion project which will contribute to improved access for all of our users. I have also massively appreciated mastering web-archiving related terminology and functions; in my first month I have learnt so much about the entire process of the BLWA from nomination of a site through to quality assuring its ‘crawls’. In the months to come I am excited to raise awareness of the web archiving here at the Bodleian and the wider importance of preserving sites.

No two consecutive days are the same as a trainee, and the varied experience means I am building up a rounded skill set. It’s difficult to choose an aspect I enjoy the most, but currently I would say it is assisting with enquiries. I love gaining insights into the collections from more experienced staff members, visiting the stacks and working to find an item that a reader specifically needs for their research. The scope and extent of the Bodleian’s collections are so exciting and it is a joy to work with them.

Kelly Burchmore, May 2017

What’s it like to be a trainee? Ashleigh Fowler, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2016-2018

I started this traineeship just over a month after graduating with a BA in English. I knew from my first year as an undergraduate that I wanted to pursue a career in archiving, and beginning this traineeship has already pushed me so much further towards my goal than I ever would have expected to be at this point.

During my time as an undergrad I had a placement in the Special Collections department at the University of Nottingham which gave me a great first insight into archiving, but this traineeship is providing me with skills that will be invaluable when I’m qualified. I had no experience with digital archiving when I started, only ever paper, but I’m finding it a fascinating aspect of archiving to be involved in. I’m especially enjoying web-archiving, which is something I never expected I would be working on before this traineeship but has become one of my favourite regular tasks. The work is so varied that I definitely feel as though I’m building a rounded and relevant skill-set. One day I might be working on a literary archive, the next I might be working with floppy disks or working in the reading room – it really is very varied.

The Aberystwyth study supports the day to day work, by providing more background and theoretical basis into what I’m doing on the job. It is hard work studying for a post-graduate diploma and working full-time, but as the work and study complement each other well and both are enjoyable it really doesn’t feel as exhausting as it sounds.

I attended an Archives and Records Association literary archives training event recently, and I’m looking forward to future opportunities to attend similar events with the chance to gain outside training and to meet others who are working in archives to see how their experience differs to that of working for the Bodleian. The training sessions with the library trainees are also useful to see how the Bodleian Libraries and College Libraries function in a wider sense, so you can get a feel for where your role fits into the Bodleian as whole… and for a chance to see the BSF in Swindon (and its 153 miles of shelving!)

Ashleigh Fowler, Nov 2016

What’s it like to be a trainee? Rachael Gardner, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2015-2017

I was new to Oxford and to archives when I started the traineeship. I studied French and History, then went to teach English in France before returning to the UK to pursue a career in archives. After volunteering in a local museum, where I was introduced to the challenges of managing digital material, I embarked on the digital archives traineeship.

The traineeship is ideal as it combines an emphasis on digital archives with more traditional skills, which means that the training is very rounded. Studying for the postgraduate diploma from Aberystwyth University helps with this too, introducing you to a comprehensive range of theoretical and practical topics. Working full time and undertaking the Archives Administration course in two years does mean that the pace is intensive, but the support from colleagues and the fact that what you are studying is directly applicable and relevant to your work, means that the process is really engaging.

I am really enjoying the variety of work: I can be working on the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive; appraising and cataloguing project files for the Oxfam archive; using different databases and programs; and attending training and conferences on topics such as preserving social media. Working in the reading rooms you also gain valuable experience of how the collections are used. I’m looking forward to cataloguing my own collections, capturing digital material and undertaking a development project with a software engineer. There are lots of opportunities to get involved, for example with the UK Web Archive, led by the British Library. For the first year of the scheme you also attend training sessions for the Graduate Library Trainees programme on topics such as manual handling, e-resources, supporting disabled readers, and digitisation projects.

Being a digital archivist trainee is very rewarding. It is a great place to work, with fantastic colleagues, and I’m looking forward to the next two years and becoming a qualified archivist.

Rachael Gardner, Dec 2015

What’s it like to be a trainee? Emily Chen, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2014-2016

As a Digital Archivist trainee, you get the best of both worlds. Not only is the programme tailored to equip anyone new to archives with the skillset you need to get a professional qualification in Archive Administration (with an emphasis on the digital curation aspect of it), but you also get to participate in the wider graduate trainee programme that the Bodleian Libraries offers.

I have a STEM background with an MSc in Ethnobotany and research experience. One of the things that really drew me to this traineeship was that I saw first hand all the data and papers generated by research groups and labs that are now born-digital. These are materials that future researchers will want to use whether to replicate experiments or to build on previous research; yet very little thought has gone into their long term preservation.

This traineeship gives me a wide range of practical experience in traditional and digital curation roles while also supporting me as I work towards a professional qualification with Aberystwyth University. Some of the things I’ve done include; working with the British Library on archiving the web, cataloguing hybrid collections, going to conferences and workshops on current issues in digital archives, and much more.

That doesn’t mean that the more traditional aspects of archives are neglected though, and because this traineeship was developed with Aberystwyth’s distance-learning course in mind, often the two dovetail neatly. While it takes a good deal of time management to juggle the two, I prefer the accelerated pace because what you learn stays fresh in your mind and you can quickly see its application in your day to day work.

I am really enjoying the experience and look forward to what the next year brings.

Emily Chen, Oct 2014