Category Archives: Activity

The first rule of Pig Club…

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive at the Bodleian Library [sc22/1c]

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, April 1918, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive [sc22/1c]

There’s just something about this delightful little three page rulebook that tickles me. Perhaps it’s the use of phrases like ‘eligible pigs’. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly serious document which details the ins and outs of the provision, insurance and inspection of pigs and potatoes (pigs and potatoes!) raised by members of the club.

It appears to have been produced by Gloucestershire County Council and was presumably part of a county-, or country-wide effort to encourage people to raise their own food during the war (also done during the second world war). Despite the central concern of food production, though, it’s a surprisingly cheering document for people concerned with animal welfare, as it’s very specific that the animals must be healthy and well-cared for, and that insurance compensation would not be paid if ‘the death or sickness of a pig is attributed to bad food, insufficient attention, or other carelessness or ill-treatment’.

One of my favourite things about the rulebook is who it belonged to: Stafford Cripps, probably best known as Britain’s ambassador to Moscow in 1940-1942 and as the austerity chancellor from 1947-1950. When this document was produced however, Cripps was not yet a political high flier. A chemistry graduate and practicing lawyer, he was both married and in ill health in 1914, which meant that he was not called up. He kept himself busy with recruitment efforts and then volunteered for a year in France as a Red Cross ambulance driver. In late 1915 he offered his chemistry expertise to the Ministry of Munitions and was posted to one of the country’s biggest munitions factories in Queensferry, near Chester. From early 1916, Cripps was running it, and it took its toll on his health. In early 1918, when this rulebook was drawn up, he was convalescing from a physical breakdown. Somehow, though, he still managed to find the time and energy to serve as honorary secretary of the Nailsworth Pig Club. The now nearly 100 year old rulebook survives in his archive at the Bodleian Library.

Incidentally, the first rule of Pig Club?:

  1. NAME.–The Society shall be called the “Nailsworth Pig Club.”

Can’t argue with that.

#WAWeek2017 – Researchers, practitioners and their use of the archived web

This year, the world of web archiving  saw a premiere: not only were the biennial RESAW conference and the IIPC conference, established in 2016, held jointly for the first time, but they also formed part of a whole week of workshops, talks and public events around web archives – Web Archiving Week 2017 (or #WAWeek2017 for the social medially inclined).

After previous conferences Reykjavik (2016) and Arhus (RESAW 2015), the big 2017 event was held in London, 14-16 June 2017, organised jointly by the School of Advanced Studies of the University of London, the IIPC and the British Library.
The programme was packed full of an eclectic variety of presentations and discussions, with topics ranging from the theory and practice of curating web archive collections or capturing whole national web domains, via technical topics such as preservation strategies, software architecture and data management, to the development of methodologies and tools for using web archives based research and case studies of their application.

Even in digital times, who doesn’t like a conference pack? Of course, the full programme is also available online. (…but which version will be easier to archive?)

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Eton College, a journey to India, and wartime Britain: Personal stories from the Opie Archive

The Archive of Iona and Peter Opie, at first glance, is an archive of professional papers, covering the folklorists’ extensive research on childlore, games and play from the 1950s through to the 1990s. Researchers looking at the history of childhood, and at even at how the ‘world of children’ was observed and documented, will no doubt find a rich resource in the children’s original papers, as well as in the Opies’ working files, their professional correspondence, and the notes for, and drafts of, the Opie publications from The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes to The People in the Playground.

What is probably less well known is the fact that the archive also includes a significant proportion of personal papers and correspondence – the personal archive of Peter Opie, covering his own childhood and teenage years, his years at Eton College, his early career as an author, his time serving in the Army, and the early years of starting a family and finding his vocation of collecting books and researching childhood folklore. These personal papers, which focus on the 1930s-1950s, include correspondence with friends and relatives, diaries and scrapbooks, personal documents, photographs and memorabilia. Another sequence comprises the raw material, notes, and drafts for Peter Opie’s early autobiographical books, short stories and other writings.

An aspiring writer: Drafts for Peter Opie’s first book ‘I Want To Be A Success’, early 1938.

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Researchers,practitioners and their use of the archived web. IIPC Web Archiving Conference 15th June 2017

From the 14th – 16th of June researchers and practitioners from a global community came together for a series of talks, presentations and workshops on the subject of Web Archiving at the IIPC Web Archiving Conference. This event coincided with Web Archiving Week 2017, a week long event running from 12th – 16th June hosted by the British Library and the School of Advance Study

I was lucky enough to attend the conference  on the 15th June with a fellow trainee digital archivist and listen to some thoughtful, engaging and challenging talks.

The day started with a plenary in which John Sheridan, Digital Director of the National Archives, spoke about the work of the National Archives and the challenges and approaches to Web Archiving they have taken. The National Archives is principally the archive of the government, it allows us to see what the state saw through the state’s eyes. Archiving government websites is a crucial part of this record keeping as we move further into the digital age where records are increasingly born-digital. A number of points were made which highlighted the motivations behind web archiving at the National Archives.

  • They care about the records that government are publishing and their primary function is to preserve the records
  • Accountability for government services online or information they publish
  • Capturing both the context and content

By preserving what the government publishes online it can be held accountable, accountability is one aspect that demonstrates the inherent value of archiving the web. You can find a great blog post on accountability and digital services by Richard Pope in this link.  http://blog.memespring.co.uk/2016/11/23/oscon-2016/

The published records and content on the internet provides valuable and crucial context for the records that are unpublished, it links the backstory and the published records. This allows for a greater understanding and analysis of the information and will be vital for researchers and historians now and into the future.

Quality assurance is a high priority at the National Archives. By having a narrow focus of crawling, it has allowed for but also prompted a lot of effort to be directed into the quality of the archived material so it has a high fidelity in playback. To keep these high standards it can take weeks in order to have a really good in-depth crawl. Having a small curated collection it is an incentive to work harder on capture.

The users and their needs were also discussed as this often shapes the way the data is collected, packaged and delivered.

  • Users want to substantiate a point. They use the archived sites for citation on Facebook or Twitter for example
  • The need to cite for a writer or researcher
  • Legal – What was the government stance or law at the time of my clients case
  • Researchers needs – This was highlighted as an area where improvements can be made
  • Government itself are using the archives for information purposes
  • Government websites requesting crawls before their website closes – An example of this is the NHS website transferring to a GOV.UK site

The last part of the talk focused on the future of web archiving and how this might take shape at the National Archives. Web archiving is complex and at times chaotic. Traditional archiving standards have been placed upon it in an attempt to order the records. It was a natural evolution for information managers and archivists to use the existing knowledge, skills and standards to bring this information under control. This has resulted in difficulties in searching across web archives, describing the content and structuring the information. The nature of the internet and the way in which the information is created means that uncertainty has to inevitably be embraced. Digital Archiving could take the turn into the 2.0, the second generation and move away from the traditional standards and embrace new standards and concepts. One proposed method is the ICA Records in Context conceptual model. It proposes a multidimensional description with each ‘ thing ‘ having a unique description as opposed to the traditional unit of description (one size fits all).  Instead of a single hierarchical fonds down approach, the Records in Context model uses a  description that can be formed as a network or graph. The context of the fonds is broader, linking between other collections and records to give different perspectives and views. The records can be enriched this way and provide a fuller picture of the record/archive. The web produces content that is in a constant state of flux and a system of description that can grow and morph over time, creating new links and context would be a fruitful addition.

Visual Diagram of How the Records in Context Conceptual Model works

“This example shows some information about P.G.F. Leveau a French public notary in the 19th century including:
• data from the Archives nationales de France (ANF) (in blue); and
• data from a local archival institution, the Archives départementales du Cher (in yellow).” INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON ARCHIVES: RECORDS IN CONTEXTS A CONCEPTUAL MODEL FOR ARCHIVAL DESCRIPTION.p.93

 

Traditional Fonds Level Description

 

I really enjoyed the conference as a whole and the talk by John Sheridan. I learnt a lot about the National Archives approach to web archiving, the challenges and where the future of web archiving might go. I’m looking forward to taking this new knowledge and applying it to the web archiving work I do here at the Bodleian.

Changes are currently being made to the National Archives Web Archiving site and it will relaunch on the 1st July this year.  Why don’t you go and check it out.

 

 

 

Web Archiving Week 2017 – “Pages for kids, by kids”

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a day of the Web Archiving Week 2017 conferences in Senate House, London along with another graduate trainee digital archivist.

A beautiful staircase in Senate House

Every session I attended throughout the day was fascinating, but Ian Milligan’s ‘Pages by kids, for kids’: unlocking childhood and youth history through the GeoCities web archive stood out for me as truly capturing part of what makes a web archive so important to society today.

Pages by kids, for kids

GeoCities, for those unfamiliar with the name, was a website founded in 1994 from which anyone could build their own free website which would become part of a ‘neighbourhood’. Each neighbourhood was themed for a particular topic, allowing topic clusters to form from created websites. GeoCities was shut down in Europe and the US in 2009, but evidence of it still exists in the Internet Archive.

Milligan’s talk focused particularly on the Enchanted Forest neighbourhood between 1996 and 1999. The Enchanted Forest was dedicated to child-friendliness and was the only age based neighbourhood, and as such had extra rules and community moderation to ensure nothing age inappropriate was present.

“The web was not just made by dot.com companies”

The above image shows what I think was one of the key points from the talk, a quote from the New York Times, March 17th 1997
“The web was not just made by dot.com companies, but that eleven-year-old boys and grandmothers are also busy putting up Web sites. Of course, the quality of these sites varies greatly, but low-cost and even free home page services are a growing part of the on-line world.”

The internet is a democracy, and to show a true record of how and why it has been used it necessarily involves people – not just businesses. By having GeoCities websites within the Internet Archive, it’s possible to access direct evidence of how people were using the internet in the late part of the 20th century, but, as Ian Milligan’s talk explained, it also allows access to direct evidence of childhood and youth culture forming on the internet.

Milligan pointed out that access to evidence of childhood and youth culture is rare, normally historical evidence comes in the form of adults remembering their time as children or from researchers studying children, but something produced by a child for other children would rarely make it into a traditional archive. Within the trove of archived GeoCities websites, however, children producing web content for children is clearly visible. From this, it is possible to examine what constituted popular activities for children on GeoCities in the late 20th century.

Milligan noted one major activity within the Enchanted Forest centred around an awards culture, wherein a popular site would award users based on several web page qualities such as no personal identifiable information, working links and loading times of less than one minute. Some users would create their own awards to present to people, for example an award for finding all the Winnie the Pooh words in a word search. His findings showed that 15% of Enchanted Forest websites had a dedicated awards page.

A darker side of a child-centric portion of the web was also revealed in the Geokidz club. On the surface, the Geokidz Club appeared to be an unofficial online clubhouse where children could share poetry and book reviews, they could chat and take HTML lessons – but these activities came at the price of a survey which contained questions about the lifestyles of the child’s parents (the type of information would appeal to advertisers). This formed part of one of the first internet privacy court cases due to the data being obtained from children and sold on without proper informed consent.

It was among my favourite talks of the day, and showed how much richer our understanding of the recent past can be using web archives, as well as the benefit to researchers of the history of youth and childhood.
It felt particularly relevant to me, as someone who spent her teen years on the internet watching, and being involved in, youth culture happening online in the 2000s to know that online youth culture, which can feel very ephemeral, can be saved for future research in web archives.

A wall hanging in Senate House (made of sisal)

In truth, any talk I attended would have made an interesting topic for this blog – the entire day was filled with informative speakers, interesting presentations and monumental, hair-like wall hangings. But I felt Ian Milligan’s talk gave such a positive example of how the internet, and particularly web archives, can give a voice to those whose experiences might be lost otherwise.

Initiating conversation: let’s talk about web content (part 2)

Colin Harris, Superintendent of Special Collections reading rooms. Chosen site: cyndislist.com

‘I am a founding member of Oxfordshire Family History Society and I’ve long been interested in family history. As a phenomena it surged in popularity in the 1970’s. In about 1973 there was great curiosity (in OFHS) in Bicester as everyone was interested in the popular group, The Osmonds (who originated from Bicester!). Every county has a family history society and I would say it’s they who have done the lion’s share of the work. All of their work and indexing…it’s all grist to the mill in terms of recording names and events.

So the website I would like to have access to in 10 years’ time is cyndislist.com, which is one of the world’s largest databases for genealogy. In fact it’s been going for over 21 years already. This was launched on the 4th March 1996. The family history people have been right there from the very beginning, it’s been growing solidly since then; it’s fantastic. It covers 200 categories of subjects, it has links to 332,000 other websites, and it’s the starting point for any genealogical research. The ‘Cyndi’ is Cyndi Howell, an author in genealogy.

Almost every day the site is launching content that might be interesting in some particular subject. So just going back within the last couple of weeks: an article on Telling the Orphan’s story; Archive lab on how to preserve old negatives; The key to family reunion success and DNA: testing at a family reunion! Projects even go beyond individuals…they explore a Yellowstone wolf family. There is virtually nothing that is untouched. Anything with a name to it has potential for exploration.

To be honest, I haven’t been able to do any family history research since 1980, but I am hoping to do some later on this year (when I retire). All these years that have passed has meant that so much is available to be accessed over the internet

Actually I’d love to see genealogy and family history workers and volunteers getting more recognition for the fantastic amount of industrious and tech savvy work they do. Family history is something for people from all walks of life. Our history, your history, my history is something very personal. As I say, 21 years and going strong; I’d love to see the site going stronger still in 10 years’ time.’


 

Pip Willcox, Head of the Centre for Digital Scholarship and Senior Researcher at Oxford e-Research. Chosen site: twitter.com

Twitter is an amazing tool that society has used to show the best of what humanity is at the moment…we share ideas, we share friendship, fun and joy, we communicate with others around the world, people help each other. But, it shows the worst of what humans can do. The news we see is just the tip of the iceberg – the levels of abuse that users, particularly minority groups, receive is appalling. Twitter is a fantastic place to meet people who think very differently from us, people who come from different backgrounds, have had different experiences, who live far from us, or close by but we might not otherwise have met. It is so rich, so full of potential, and some of what we do with it is amazing, yet some of what we do with it is appalling.

The question for the archive is “which Twitter?” There is the general feed, what you see if you don’t sign in. Then there are our individual feeds, where we curate our own filter bubbles, customizing what we see through our accounts. You can create a feed around a hashtag, an event, or slice it by time or location. All of these approaches will affect the version of Twitter we archive and leave for the future to discover.

These filter bubbles are not new: we have always lived in them, even if we haven’t called them that before. Last year there was an experiment where a series of couples who held diametrically opposing views switched Twitter accounts and I found that, and their thoughtful response to it fascinating.

Projects like Cultures of Knowledge, for example, which is based at the History Faculty here at the University of Oxford, traces early modern correspondence. This resource lets you search for who was writing to whom, when, where, and the subjects they were discussing. It’s an enormously rich, people-centred view of the history of ideas and relationships across time and space, and of course it points readers on in interesting directions, to engage closely with the texts themselves. This is possible because the letters were archived and catalogued over the years, over the centuries by experts.

How are we going to trace the conversations of the late 20th and the early 21st centuries? The speed at which ideas flow is faster than ever and their breadth is global. What will future historians make of our age?

I’m interested from a future history as well as a community point of view. The way we are using Twitter has already changed and tracking its use, reach, and power seems to me well worth recording to help us understand it now, and to help explain an aspect of our lives to future societies. For me, Twitter makes the world more familiar, and anything that draws us together as a global community, that reinforces our understanding that we share one planet, that what we have in common vastly outweighs what divides us, and that helps us find ways to communicate is a good and a necessary thing.’

 


 

Will Shire, Library Assistant, Philosophy and Theology Faculty Library. Chosen site: wikipedia.org

‘It’s one of the sites I use the most…it has all of human knowledge. I think it’s a cool idea that anyone can edit it – unlike a normal book it’s updated constantly. I feel it’s derided almost too much by people who automatically think it’s not trustworthy…but I like the fact that it is a range of people coming together to edit and amend this resource. As a kid I bothered my mum all the time with constant questioning of ‘Why is this like this, why does it do that. Nowadays if you have a question about anything you can visit wikipedia.org. It would be really interesting to take a snapshot of one article every month or week in order to see how much it changes through user editing.

 Also, I studied languages and it is extremely useful for learning new vocabulary as the links at the side of the article can take you to the content in other available languages. You can quite easily look at different words or use it as a starter to take you to different articles in other languages that aren’t English.’


 

 

 

 

Why archive the web?

Here at the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive (BLWA), the archiving process starts with a nomination – either by our web curators or by you, the public. The nominated URLs the BLWA team then select for archiving are those specifically identified as being of lasting value and significance for preservation.

Not only are the sites chosen from a preservation standpoint – we are also continually seeking to build up the scope and content of our 7 collections within the BLWA: University of Oxford; University of Oxford colleges; University of Oxford museums, libraries and archives; social sciences; arts and humanities; international and science, medicine and technology. Exactly like the use of a physical collection, the sites belonging to the web collection will be used for research, fact checking, discovery and collaboration. There can be no denying that the web is the platform on which so much of contemporary society occurs. In the future then, and indeed now, web archives are providing an insight into our history.

Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives – http://www.aamarchives.org/

The AAMA site is part of our international collection in the BLWA. Within this collection we have captured the aamarchives.org 7 times since 24th November 2015. This online platform is vital for digital access to further research, cross-cultural relationships and efforts towards understanding the history of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement 1959 – 1994. This capture has preserved the navigation and functionality of the site and links still resolve; for example the user community can still browse the archive, learn about campaigns and download resources. The date and time is clearly displayed in the banner at the top.

BLWA’s first capture of the online AAMA

This website can also be used and explored in conjunction with our related physical holdings. Here at the Bodleian Special Collections we have an amazing depth and range of physical material in the Anti-Apartheid Movement archive and our Commonwealth and African studies collections. You can browse the catalogue for this here.

This archived capture is fully functional, like a live site.

This is a tangible example of how digital preservation enhances and complements physical material and ensures records can reach a wider audience. How exciting it is that a researcher can consult manuscript or archived material, alongside captures of websites from the past in order to gain more of an insight and have a wider scope of substance to survey!

Web content like the aamarchives.org/ is not as stable as you might presume. A repository of web based collections enables future discovery of internet sites that are perhaps taken for granted due to the nature of our technological society; everything is just a tap or a click away. In fact, much of the material we interact with today is only available online. The truth is that web content is ephemeral: there is a very real threat that it can rapidly change and disappear altogether. Therefore web archiving initiatives are vital to preserve these valuable resources for good. Through these captures, provenance, arrangement and content have been preserved; and arguably most importantly of all – access.

Both individual collections and the web archive as a whole can be searched for a specific site, or browsed at leisure.

Growth of open access and web based initiatives mean that there is an ever increasing network of digital libraries on a global scale. There is no doubt that the practice of web archiving is a significant contribution towards ensuring knowledge for all. Access to the Internet enabling access to an ever growing knowledge depository is central to the integrity of educational and professional research, web archiving and on a larger scale, digital preservation.

Browse our collections in Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive

Get involved and help preserve our history! Nominate a site to archive

Initiating conversation: let’s talk about web content (part 1)

To initiate conversation about preserving web content and to encourage people to think about why archiving the web is so important, I asked staff at the Bodleian Libraries to imagine the following: If you could choose just one website to have guaranteed access to in 10 years’ time what would it be – and why? Keep reading to discover staff answers and perspectives…

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, Bodleian Libraries. Chosen site: bodleian.ox.ac.uk

‘Obviously as somebody who is leading this institution, seeing its history reflected in the institutional website is so significant. If you go back to the archived captures of bodleian.ox.ac.uk that are accessible now through the Internet Archive it’s incredible not only to see evolution of the HTML site itself and the look and feel of it but just to see how it reflects the changes in the organisation since the 1990’s when the first Bodleian website was set up…which was actually the first library in the UK to have a website.

We can see the changes to the way the Bodleian Libraries reflect their public persona through the web but also the website is a useful proxy for how the organisation itself has changed: the organisational structure, the administrative arrangements, the policies and strategies, how the web is a reflection of those changes over the past 20 years is really interesting. And in 10 years’ time it would be over 30 years and there will be another decade of evolution, growth, change…the web is a very convenient place to see that at a glance. We obviously archive a large number of institutional and administrative records in paper and digital form but it’s a huge amount to wade through, whereas the web provides a very convenient lens to view our organisational past through. I can’t think of another way, so conveniently, to chart our history, our progress, our challenges and even some of the mistakes that we’ve made as an organisation over that time.

Our organisation as a whole changed dramatically in the year 2000 when we stopped being just the historic Bodleian Library and we were integrated with the departmental faculty libraries. We then changed our name to University of Oxford Library services, then back to the Bodleian. Through the website you can actually see that extraordinary change. It’s such a convenient way of getting a grip on our history’.


Lukasz Kowalski, Bodleian Library Reader Services, Weston Library. Chosen site: stackexchange.com

‘I was thinking “what’s the website with the most information in it?”. My initial thought was Wikipedia.org. But I could easily live without it if I had to, as probably most knowledge contained in it is available in print. My next thought was stackexchange.com. It facilitates an exchange of knowledge and collective problem-solving on a large scale, otherwise unattainable via printed media. It’s supported by a large community of users, including experts in their fields. Together with its sister sites, it covers virtually any discipline and questions that can be asked and answered. Stackexchange is a web of knowledge, but different from Wikipedia. Rather than being organised knowledge it is more organised thinking.

My background is in Physics and I have used this site to further my understanding of concepts which did not have clear explanations in textbooks, or when I wanted to check that my thinking about a solution to a given problem was on the same page as others.

I think it goes back to what, I guess, the internet was about in the first place: the exchange of knowledge and ideas, and such is the character of this site. It’s great to rely on good teachers if one has access to them – but it is wonderful that people from across the world can gain a deeper understanding of concepts and exchange ideas by connecting more readily with those who have the expertise.’


 

Sophie Quantrell, Library Assistant, Philosophy and Theology Faculty Library. Chosen site: youtube.com

‘I was thinking about youtube.com as a resource mainly because it’s so versatile. It can be used to display images, sound…I’ve seen some people use it for musical scores – putting musical scores alongside the sound and that sort of thing. I think it is a site that can be used almost for any purpose – so you’ve got the social aspect of it with the comments and the interaction as well as the instructional aspect. I learn sign language when I am not busy with other things [gestures around her at the library] so to be able to see and learn it through videos it is great…it’s much more difficult to tell what the signs are if all you’ve got are drawings on a piece of paper!

It can link to videos on so many different topics, like instructional TED talks. There are so many good quality resources online that get overlooked with all the cat videos. It also crosses cultural boundaries…you can upload and view videos in whatever language you want. You could post a video from Australia and someone could be watching it in Kazakhstan!’


Iram Safdar, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, Weston Library. Chosen site: wikipedia.org

Wikipedia has been the main source for my knowledge since I was a kid. It’s also provided me with countless hours of entertainment by following the breadcrumb trail of links and seeing where you end up! All sorts of hilarity ensues when you find a rogue edit by someone…I like that it is an open source resource.

Similarly, it shows you what society thinks about things and reveals how we view stuff…which I think in a broader sense is quite interesting.’


Keep an eye out for part 2 and more staff insights coming up on the Archives and Modern Manuscripts blog imminently…

 

The 1923 General Election

 

Junior Imperial League Gazette

Junior Imperial League Gazette, Dec 1923, p.7 [PUB 199/2]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised many when she announced her intention to call a UK general election to be held this Thursday, 8 June 2017. The ‘snap’ election came as a shock not least because, as she acknowledged in her announcement, since becoming Prime Minister she had made it clear that she did not anticipate any election before the next scheduled general election in 2020. A combination of Westminster ‘game playing’, which might weaken her government’s hand in Brexit preparations and negotiations, and the fact that talks would otherwise reach a critical stage in the run up to the next scheduled election, led Mrs May to conclude that it was in the national interest to hold an election after all and by so doing remove possible uncertainty or instability with regard to the country’s future. So the electorate is being asked to provide Mrs May and her Conservative government with a direct mandate to settle the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, leaving it “free to chart its own way in the world” (regaining control of our money, laws, and borders with the opportunity to strike our own trade deals). Surely few can have missed the campaign mantra ‘strong and stable leadership’ versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ (Labour propped up by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Parties).

So, as we look forward to the results of this week’s ‘snap’ general election it might be interesting to look back to a previous ‘snap’ election, specifically the general election called by Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

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Buying books on witchcraft in 17th-century London

Letter from bookseller Edward Millington, November 1673

Letter from bookseller Edward Millington, November 1673 (click to enlarge)

The Bodleian Library has acquired an extremely rare autograph letter by the 17th-century English bookseller and auctioneer Edward Millington. The letter, dated 29 November 1673, is only the second known item of correspondence in Millington’s hand and represents a significant addition to evidence of book trade in this period, not least because Millington’s correspondent is both a researcher of witchcraft and a woman. The addressee is  “the Lady Gerhard at Mr Sanders a woollen draper in York Streete near Covent Garden” ;  most probably Lady Jane Gerard, née Digby, baroness of Bromley. At the time the letter was written Lady Gerard had already lost her first husband, Charles Gerard, 4th baron Gerard of Bromley (d.1667) and was yet to marry her second,  Sir Edward Hungerford (1632-1711). Lady Gerard’s discovery of a ‘healing spring’ at Willowbridge in Staffordshire would be recorded in 1676 by her chaplain Samuel Gilbert in a pamphlet entitled ‘Fons sanitatis’ (London, 1676). She died in 1703.

The present letter reveals Lady Gerard to have had a serious interest in writings on witchcraft; tantalisingly, it seems to have been part of a longer correspondence with Millington, the rest of which is now lost. In it he recalls having promised Lady Gerard “an exact account of all the English authors of witchcraft both for and against,”  and mentions a previous “parcell of books” sold to her. Millington himself was well placed to advise on such a topic; in 1669, he had published John Wagstaffe’s ‘The question of witchcraft debated’ out of the print shop he ran at the sign of the Pelican on Duck Lane, Little Britain. By the time of this letter he had moved to his later premises, at the sign of the Bible, but was yet to make his name as an auctioneer; a career that would see him described by Thomas Herne as “certainly the best Auctioneer in the World, being a man of Great Wit and Fluency of Speech… [though] very impudent and saucy” [DNB].

Three early modern books on witches and witchcraft

Books on witches and witchcraft, as recommended by Edward Millington

By 1673 Millington was evidently active in the second-hand book trade; the purpose of this letter to Lady Gerard is to provide a list of further books he was able to supply, with prices. These include “Dr Dees Relation of his actions with spirits,” probably ‘A true & faithful relation of what passed for many yeers between Dr. John Dee […] and some spirits’ (London, 1659); “Ady’s Candle in the Darkness,” i.e. Thomas Ady’s ‘A candle in the dark: or, A treatise concerning the nature of witches & witchcraft’, first published London 1655, and “Lavater Of Walking Ghosts,” which must be an English translation of Ludwig Lavater’s  ‘De spectris, lemuribus et magnis atque insolitis fragoribus’, such as the one published in 1596 as ‘Of ghostes and spirites, walking by night, and of straunge noyses, crackes, and sundrie forewarnings, which commonly happen before the death of men…’. Copies of all three of the books recommended by Millington are available to researchers at the Bodleian – soon they will be able to consult them alongside Millington’s letter of recommendation.

–Jo Maddocks and Mike Webb