Category Archives: Activity

“Steps taken by the Irish government to deal with disloyalty, 11 Dec 1914”

A digitised and transcribed edition of a memo from the archive of British civil servant Francis Hopwood (Baron Southborough) is now available through the Taylor Institution Library’s Taylor Editions site. Initialled ‘MN’ by Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the Under-Secretary of Ireland from 1914-1916, the memo details the suppression of “seditious” speech in Ireland at the beginning of World War I, which included shutting down Nationalist newspapers and monitoring public speeches.

The memo formed part of a package of papers that was passed to Lord Southborough when he served as general secretary to the 1917-1918 Irish Convention. The Convention tried to find a path towards Irish self-government following the 1916 Easter Rising, however their final report, which recommended the immediate establishment of All-Ireland Home Rule, was fatally undermined by Britain’s desperate need for soldiers. In April 1918, Britain imposed conscription on Ireland and attempted to link conscription with the implementation of home rule. This move was so unpopular that public opinion swung towards full independence.

Lord Southborough’s archive is held by the Bodleian Library, and catalogued online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts. This fascinating collection documents his career as a senior civil servant at the Board of Trade, Colonial Office and the Admiralty and his involvement in numerous government commissions and royal tours. It includes correspondence from Winston Churchill, Admiral Lord Fisher, General Botha, Lord Midleton, Herbert Gladstone, and G.W. Balfour.

The digital edition of this memorandum on seditious speech is the product of a course on imaging, encoding and preservation offered to students, faculty and staff by the librarians of the Taylor Institution Library (the Taylorian), one of the Bodleian Libraries. You can find out more about the digital editions course and Digital Humanities on the Taylorian website.

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2020

Strategy briefings prepared for Margaret Thatcher, monitoring files on opposition parties, and top-level planning papers for the 1989 European Elections are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule. As in previous years, the bulk of our new releases are drawn from our collections of Conservative Research Department (CRD) files, including the papers of CRD Director Robin Harris as well as policy briefing and opposition monitoring files prepared by David Cameron during his time as a desk officer. This year we will also be releasing files from the newly-catalogued records of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, as well as additional files from the records of Conservative Central Office and the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs. This blog posts examines some of the highlights from among the newly-released files, demonstrating their use for historians and students of British political history.

1989 European Elections

Among the highlights of our releases this year are the Party’s election-planning files for the 1989 European Elections. The records of the Conservative Research Department are particularly strong on this topic, and include working papers on the development of the Party’s manifesto. The image below shows manifesto drafts from February 1989, with a covering note from Geoffrey Howe to Margaret Thatcher outlining the state of play [CPA CRD 4/30/3/23].

Image shows Draft copies of the Conservative Party manifesto for the 1989 European Elections, Feb 1989. The copy on the right is under a covering letter from Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Draft copies of the Conservative Party manifesto for the 1989 European Elections, Feb 1989. The copy on the right is under a covering letter from Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. [CPA CRD 4/30/3/23].

The election did not go well for the Conservatives, who after ten years in office lost their first national vote to the Labour Party since the 1970s. Among the files newly-available for 2020 are the papers of the Jackson Inquiry into what went wrong with the campaign, including its final report which blamed divisions within the Party over European policy for the result [CPA CCO 508/4/23/2]. These files, and others on the 1989 European Elections, should prove particularly useful for the study of the history of the Conservative Party and Europe.

Opposition Monitoring

Another particularly strong area in this year’s releases is in the party’s opposition monitoring files. Keeping tabs on the activities, policy proposals and backgrounds of politicians from other parties was one of the key responsibilities of the Conservative Research Department, and the resulting files they produced make for an invaluable source for historians of the Thatcher era.  For instance, the regular Labour Briefing series of memoranda provides us with an insight into how the Conservatives gathered intelligence on the Labour Party and sought to use it for political advantage. The papers also include references to contemporary political leaders – the memorandum shown below quotes then-backbencher Jeremy Corbyn speaking in opposition to Labour leader Neil Kinnock [CPA CRD 4/16/30].

Images shows 'Labour Briefing' memoranda produced by the Conservative Research Department, 29 Jan 1988.

‘Labour Briefing’ memoranda produced by the Conservative Research Department, 29 Jan 1988. [CPA CRD 4/16/30].

The Party’s opposition monitoring operation at the end of the 1980s is also of historical interest because of the contribution of David Cameron, who became head of CRD’s Political Section in 1989. The image below shows briefing notes prepared by Cameron on the Green Party’s annual conference following the Party’s successes in the European Elections [CPA CRD 4/16/65]. Among other papers of Cameron’s de-restricted for 2020 are briefings on energy and industrial policy, as well as documents relating to his work as secretary of the Party’s Trade & Industry Forum.

Image shows Conservative Research Department reports on the Green Party's annual conference, prepared by David Cameron, Sep 1989.

Conservative Research Department reports on the Green Party’s annual conference, prepared by David Cameron, Sep 1989. [CPA CRD 4/16/65].

Thatcher’s Image and the Poll Tax

This year’s set of releases can also give us a more general insight into the politics of the final years of the Thatcher government. The Research Department files on the 1989 Party Conference, for instance, reveal much about the Party’s messaging priorities. The image below shows a briefing note prepared for Margaret Thatcher by Brendan Bruce, the Party’s Director of Communications, setting out her strengths while warning of potential areas where the Party will have to be on the defensive [CPA CRD/4/29/8].

Images shows briefing note prepared for Margaret Thatcher by Brendan Bruce, the Party’s Director of Communications, ahead of the 1989 Conservative Party Conference.

Briefing note prepared for Margaret Thatcher by Brendan Bruce, the Party’s Director of Communications, ahead of the 1989 Conservative Party Conference, n.d. 1989. [CPA CRD 4/29/8].

While the Party may have been confident about the immediate political situation in 1989 however, the files also reveal increasing uneasiness about the introduction of the Community Charge – commonly known as the ‘poll tax’. The file below from Central Office’s Local Government Department reveals the Party’s concerns about the electoral impact of the new tax in marginal seats, warning that it will create ‘far more losers… than winners’ [CPA CCO 130/6/38]. These papers thus have the potential to give us a real understanding as to how the Party confronted the politics of the poll tax, an issue that was ultimately to bring the Thatcher era to a close.

Image shows Conservative Central Office Local Government Department file on the political impact of the Community Charge (Poll Tax), 1989.

Conservative Central Office Local Government Department file on the political impact of the Community Charge (Poll Tax), 1989. [CPA CCO 130/6/38].

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2020. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where past de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.

Because Digital Objects can Decay too: Conducting a Proof of Concept for Archivematica

Like other archives, the Bodleian Libraries has been searching for ways to optimize the conservation of our digital collections. The need to find a solution has become increasingly pressing as the Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM), our digital repository service for the management of born-digital archives and manuscripts acquired by the Special Collections, now contains roughly 13TB worth of digital objects, with much more waiting in the wings.

In order to help us manage the ingest of digital objects within our collections, the Bodleian Libraries undertook an options review as part of its DPOC project. This lead to a decision to conduct a proof of concept of Archivematica. This proof of concept included the installation of a QA and DEV environment with the help of Artefactual followed by an extensive testing period and a gap analysis.

In November 2018 we started testing the system to establish whether or not Archivematica met our acceptance criteria. We mainly focussed on three areas:

  1. Overall performance/ functionality: Is the system user friendly? Can it successfully process all the different file types and sizes that we have in our collection?
  2. Metadata: Can Archivematica extract the metadata from the Excel sheets that we have created over time? What technical metadata does Archivematica automatically extract from ingested files?
  3. File extraction and normalization: Are disk images extracted properly? Is the content of a transfers normalized to the right file type?

Whilst testing, we also reached out to and visited other organisations that had already implemented Archivematica as well, including the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, the University of Edinburgh, the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Trust.

Based on the outcomes of the tests we conducted, and the conversations we had with other institutions, we identified five gap areas:

  1. Performance: The Archivematica instance we configured for the Proof of Concept struggled with transfers over 200GB or transfers that contain over 5000+ files.
  2. Error reporting: It was often unclear what a particular error code and message meant. The error logs used by system administrators are also verbose, making it hard for them to pinpoint the error.
  3. Metadata: Here we identified two gaps. Firstly, there is the verbosity of the metadata. Because Archivematica records individual PREMIS events for each digital file, the resulting METS file becomes unwieldy, compromising the system’s performance. Secondly, we require a workflow to migrate our spreadsheet-held legacy pre-ingest capture metadata and file-level metadata into Archivematica, and to go on including this pre-ingest metadata, which will continue to be recorded in spreadsheet form for the foreseeable, in future ingests.
  4. User/ access management: Archivematica does not offer a way to manage access to collections or Archive Information Packages, and allows all users to alter the system work-flow. We are a multi-user organisation, and wish to have tighter controls on access to collections and workflow configurations.
  5. General reporting: Archivematica currently does not offer many reports to monitor progress, content and growth of collections.

Once we identified these gaps we had an intensive two day workshop with Artefactual to pinpoint possible solutions, which we subsequently presented to the wider Archivematica community during the Archivematica Camp in London in July 2019.

We will use all the input gathered from the proof of concept to inform our initial implementation of Archivematica, which will begin in January 2020. The project will focus on the performance and metadata gaps identified during the proof of concept, allowing us to bring Archivematica into production use 2021. We are keen to work with the Archivematica community, so do get in touch at beam@bodleian.ox.ac.uk if you’re interested in finding out more about our work.

A ‘Christmas Dainty’: fragments of festive frolics with the Edgeworths

Since our last post, the days have got shorter, colder, and wetter. Winter has arrived in Oxford, and as frosts begin to form, thoughts turn to Christmas. When we last encountered the Edgeworths in our November Blog, Maria was busy devouring an eclectic assortment of literature with her newly-rested eyes. Little seems to have changed when she writes to her beloved sister Fanny on 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Edgeworth, 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Transcription of MS. Eng. lett. c. 706, fols.16-18

Here, she recounts the ‘curious facts’ and inventions she had gleaned from the latest issue of William T. Brande’s periodical publication, Journal of Science and Arts. Much like her hero Lewis in the moral tale A Sequel to Frank (1822), Maria Edgeworth appears to have spent the long winter evenings leading up to Christmas reading and talking to her family about books.

As for many of us today, Christmas was for the Edgeworths a time for family. Writing to Henry and Sneyd Edgeworth on Christmas Day 1807, Maria lamented the absence of her two brothers from the festivities of ‘the most agreeable family […] I ever was in’. That family would have ensured their ‘merry Christmas’ had they been present (1).

We don’t know how the Edgeworths spent Christmas Day in 1819. Unlike in 1807, there are no letters known to survive from Christmas Day 1819. Perhaps, like the titular character of Maria’s earlier novel Ormond (1817), it was spent feasting on a ‘festive dainty’ of goose and turkey. But the letters in the Bodleian do give us a tantalising insight into the Edgeworths’ activities in the weeks leading up to the big day.

As we discussed in our June blog post, the Edgeworth Papers are full of literary and epistolary fragments. Despite their incomplete status, these fragmentary forms provide touching, and at times comedic, insights into the everyday lives of the extended Edgeworth family. This is particularly evident in the letter fragment by Maria to her sister Fanny dated 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16).

Letter fragment by Maria Edgeworth to her sister Fanny, 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16)

Here, Maria slips once more into the voice of the aspirant playwright heard in her plays Whim for Whim (1795) and Comic Dramas (1817), dramatizing one particularly unfortunate incident involving her seven-year-old half-brother Michael Pakenham and an unwelcome visitor to Edgeworthstown House:

Enter Pakenham ^one corner of^ handkerchief at eye
– & in great rage – those impertinent
Sheep! – What do you think Maria – Just
now I went to drive them away from
Honora’s plot & bed & the moment I
had driven ‘em off when I turned my back
one came up & set his great head against
My behind & knocked me down
I never saw such a sheep in
my life – and he ran after
me to the steps

Among the Edgeworth papers, there is an attractive line drawing of Pakenham in April 1818 attentively listening to his older brother Francis read by his sister Honora, who gave the drawing to Maria in 1836 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol.32)

The Edgeworths’ walled kitchen garden at their home in County Longford is now carefully maintained by the Edgeworth Society. Back in 1819, the young Pakenham appears to have taken it on himself to defend the honour of the flowerbed tended by his sister Honora from the attentions of one of County Longford’s more rowdy woollen residents. Despite his valiant efforts, Pakenham’s heroic quest ended in tears, a bruised ego, and a sore behind. Maria is famed for her emphasis on a moral point to her tales. Here, perhaps, the take away is simply, ‘pick on someone your own size’.

The walled garden at Edgeworthstown House. Image courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

Entertainments were commonly written and performed by large households like the Edgeworths during the festive period. Here in Oxford, we’ve been honouring this tradition of domestic entertainments by bringing one of Maria’s dramatic fragments to life. MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols.3-8 was written in c.1811, and is made up of a series of fragmentary scenes of downstairs and upstairs life as a group of young women prepare to visit the seaside resort of Brighton. Here is the first page of the manuscript and our transcription in which the conniving maid Miss Lapell plans to sweet talk the housekeeper Mrs Wright into putting in a word for her to take employment with young Lady Flora so as to ensure she joins the jaunt to Brighton.

A fragmentary draft of an unidentified play, c.1811 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r).

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r

Thanks to the inspired dramatic treatment of director Ellen Brewster, and a wonderful cast of student actors (Jemima Hubberstey, Olivia Krauze and Eugenie Nevin), Maria’s untitled and incomplete scenes were performed under the title Brighton Ambitious for a group of Edgeworth scholars from around the world as part of a workshop held at the University of Oxford this month. Maria had little success as a professional dramatist, and never realised her ambition of having a play staged professionally. But the vibrancy of her wit can been seen in this short fragment, of which we only wish we had more. The performance was filmed, and we hope to share this sparkling example of Maria’s dramatic talent online with you soon.

Almost as exciting as the run up to Christmas for our project team has been the preparation and recent opening of our exhibition in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Library. ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ focuses on the family’s lives at home and abroad, as well as Maria’s literary fame. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open 9am-5pm daily until 26th January 2020.

This will be followed on Wednesday February 5th 2020 by the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture at the Weston Lecture Theatre, Bodleian Library, Oxford. This year, Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir (Faculty of English, Cork University) will open up the topic of Maria Edgeworth’s engagement with the dramatic and the theatre. Her lecture is entitled ‘Trap doors in private houses: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth’. The event is free and open to the public. Do please join us for the lecture and drinks thereafter in the Rector’s Drawing Room of Exeter College, Oxford, where the distinguished Edgeworth scholar, Professor Marilyn Butler, herself served as Rector from 1993 to 2004.

As we begin to look forward to the next stages of our project, we wish you all a Merry Christmas, and look forward to sharing more stories from the Edgeworth Papers with you in the New Year.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull


Footnotes

1. Frances Beaufort Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth: With a Selection from Her Letters (London, 1867), 3 volumes, volume I, p.205.

Gingerbread from the Radolphus Ayres “Cook Oxford” Recipe Book, 29th August 1721 – Reference MS. Don. e. 89

As someone who has always enjoyed baking and has a love of all things historical, finding old recipe books is one of the most exciting things about working in archives. I love when cooking shows explore what people of the past would have eaten, and the different ingredients they would have used to create what we now consider modern classics. Working on the retro-conversion of the Bodleian Libraries New Summary Catalogue since September (you can read about our project here) has allowed me to discover a fair few recipe books, with some of the treats far more enticing than others… After some deliberation, I chose this 18th century recipe for gingerbread – a tried and tested festive favourite. I wanted my colleagues to actually taste it and thought it might be slightly more appetising than the vast range of pickles, a 14th century recipe for the plague, or mince pies that were made with veal hearts and tongues (that one I vetoed pretty quickly myself). Gingerbread seemed like a safe option, and I also thought dried ginger might perhaps be easier to source than “dragon warter” – weirdly Tesco didn’t have any in stock when I asked.

So here’s what I had to work with:

Before attempting this slightly vague bake (and figuring out how/if I was going to dip the cake in a mixture of “boyling watter and ale”), I decided to do a bit of research into the history of gingerbread. When did this delicious treat make its way into our lives? The important stuff.

So, ginger root was first cultivated in China, where they used it for “medicinal and magical” purposes. Ginger is still used today in medicine to help things like travel sickness – something anticipated by John Baret in his Alvearie or triple dictionaire of 1573-80, and Henry VIII even thought it might help build up resistance to the plague in the 16th century. In Roman times, the spice was known as “zingiber” from the Sanskrit “sringavera” and was used for cooking and medicinal purposes as it travelled in from the Silk Road from the 2nd century AD. Caravans came from China full of silk, ginger and cinnamon to a meeting point in central Asia where the Romans would be able to barter for these luxury items. They loved ginger so much that a pound of the spice was worth the same as a sheep!

Ginger supplies dried up after the fall of the Roman Empire when trade routes crumbled but the spice was then reintroduced freely across Western Europe. This was supposedly with returning crusaders, or through the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century – there is quite a bit of ambiguity here. The Germans, Austrians and Hungarians were the first to develop honey and spice flour based doughs, adding candied fruits and nuts, and in France they used a simple spice recipe called “Pain d’espice”. In Medieval England, gingerbread simply meant “preserved ginger”, with the spice being used to cover up the taste of preserved meats in the winter. By Elizabeth I’s reign, between 1533 and 1603, gingerbread was eaten by wealthy aristocrats. The queen is even credited with inventing gingerbread men by asking for the biscuits to be decorated as important members of her court for a celebration.  By the 17th century, gingerbread was being sold at fairs and for special occasions in England but it was nothing like the gingerbread we love now. Valerie Barrett explains how it was “made from stale bread, honey, pepper, aniseed, with saffron or liquorice for colouring, and ginger… mashed together, moulded or shaped and dried until hard and brittle”. Doesn’t exactly sound appetising! Treacle was introduced later in the 17th century and the recipes began to change into the biscuits and cake we know today.

Gingerbread recipes travelled to America with the first English settlers, where they swapped the sugar for golden syrup. There are many variations of gingerbread, from the decorated gingerbread men and houses (popularised after Hansel and Gretal was published in 1812), to Yorkshire Parkin or American Hot gingerbread. If you want to explore the multitude of recipes I would definitely recommend The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett, The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf and The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (all available to read at the Bodleian Libraries, references below). Although gingerbread is now made mostly at home or bought in supermarkets, it remains a part of the European Christmas tradition.

Now that I have explored gingerbread and its roots (however ambiguous), I can unveil my 18th century creation:

Although most of the ingredients were easy to acquire, I had to settle for candied mixed peel instead of simply orange peel after checking 4 different supermarkets. I also didn’t complete the last step. Unfortunately dipping the cake in ale and water made the bake soggy and un-transportable… not ideal when I needed opinions from my colleagues! The recipe itself was questionable, with the mixture not actually coming together at all until I added some warm water, though I put this down to the ingredients probably being slightly different and also the recipe being quite vague.* Either way, it got into the oven and made the house smell like caraway and coriander seeds for quite a few days!

My colleagues all agreed this was “interesting”, something I definitely agreed with. Many thought it was almost savoury in flavour and was quite dry and dense, though most enjoyed it enough to eat a whole piece and some even went back for seconds! My favourite reviews have to be “first time I’ve been unable to finish a baked good, 1/10” and “pleasingly festive, surprisingly spicy, 6/10”.

Overall rating: 6.3/10

If you want to explore the original Radolphus Ayres cookbook, you can find and request it here on the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts website. Look out for some more interesting things found in the Summary Catalogue conversion project in the New Year, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

References

The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett (The Apple Press, London, 1992)

The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf (Charles Letts and Co ltd, London, 1991)

The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (Ebury Press, London, 1984)

John Mariani’s American Classics: Gingerbread” in Restaurant hospitality, October 1998, 82:10, pg. 86

PBS Food “The History of Gingerbread” by Tori Avery, 20 Dec 2013, URL: https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/

The Guardian “A Brief History of the Gingerbread House” by Antonia Wilson, 22 Dec 2018, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/dec/22/a-brief-history-of-the-gingerbread-house

* I found out at a later date that the recipe book was published in 2006, Ralph Ayres Cookery Book edited by Jane Jakeman (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2006), and this would’ve made the recipe conversion a lot easier!

New catalogues: Papers of A.J. Ayer and Papers of Ruth Pitter (or: Everything is connected)

At first sight, they don’t have much in common: A.J. Ayer (1910-1989),  a philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism and close association with humanist ideas who  enjoyed socialising at clubs in London and New York, and at college dinners in Oxford, and Ruth Pitter (1897-1992), a poet deeply rooted in natural mysticism and spirituality, who preferred a much more reclusive life in a Buckinghamshire village.

However,  Ayer and Pitter have a connection, not only through the fact that their respective papers both share an archival home in the Bodleian’s special collections.

Both were regular contributors to the BBC talk show The Brains Trust in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and they actually met and talked, at least once, as this letter from the papers of Ruth Pitter confirms:

‘Fan mail’ received by Ruth Pitter after her appearance on The Brains Trust of 28 May 1957, with retrospective comment by Pitter.  MS. 7154/3.

The ‘other prof’ whose name Ruth Pitter could not remember when annotating her correspondence in the 1970s must have been Julian Huxley, an evolutionary biologist and zoologist (John Betjeman, the poet, writer and broadcaster, completed the Brains Trust panel for that episode of the programme).

Which questions the Brains Trust discussed in May 1957 we do not know, but any queries about religion, divinity, spirituality, nature and evolution, morals and family values would have sparked a lively debate between Pitter who, inspired by C.S. Lewis’s religious broadcasts and writings, had joined the Anglican Church in the 1940s, on one side, and Ayer and Huxley, both staunch rationalists and secular humanists, on the other.

Ruth Pitter donated her extensive correspondence with C.S. Lewis to the Bodleian Library, and around the same time started sorting and extensively annotating her own papers with view to bequeathing them to the Bodleian. The archive comprises literary papers and other material relating to Ruth Pitter’s career as a poet (c.1903-1983 and some posthumous material), as well as personal correspondence with an emphasis on literary and social letters (1911-c.1988) and personal and financial papers (1897-1988), including material relating to Pitter’s decorative painting business Deane & Forester. Also included are photographs (c.1884-1981), prints, drawings, engravings and watercolours (c.1900-1989), audio recordings of interviews with, and songs and poems by, Ruth Pitter (1981-1987 and n.d.), and material relating to Ruth Pitter which was collected by her friend Mary Thomas (1897-1998).

A.J. Ayer’s papers arrived at the Bodleian in 2004, donated by his son Nick. The material comprises personal and professional correspondence and papers, as well as papers – mainly manuscript and typescript versions – relating to A.J. Ayer’s books, essays, lectures, articles and other (published) works. While the material spans Ayer’s academic and professional life from c.1930 to 1989 and includes some posthumous material, there is an emphasis on material from the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s.

For both collections, online catalogues are now available: Papers of A.J. Ayer and the Papers of Ruth Pitter.

Continue reading

The Natasha Spender archive is now available

Programme for a piano recital by Natasha Litvin (later Spender) in 1944, from MS. 6647/54The archive of Natasha Spender, concert pianist, academic, and wife of the poet Stephen Spender, is now available.

Natasha Spender, Lady Spender, née Litvin (or Evans), was born on 18 April 1919, the illegitimate daughter of Ray Litvin and Edwin Evans, who was a well-respected (but married) Times music critic.

Ray Litvin (d. 1977) was from a family of Lithuanian Jewish refugees and grew up in Glasgow. She became an actress and was by 1915 a regular with Lilian Baylis’s Old Vic theatre company but in 1926 her career was crushed when she caught typhoid fever and became profoundly deaf.

Young Natasha, who had been fostered out during her early years, went on to spend her holidays with the wealthy and very musical family of George Booth (son of the social reformer Charles Booth) and his wife Margaret at their home Funtington House in West Sussex. A gifted pianist, Natasha trained at the Royal College of Music and following graduation, studied with the musician and composer Clifford Curzon and the pianist Franz Osborn before starting her professional career. During the war, she gave concerts for ENSA and in 1943 she, along with the actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft and the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, founded the Apollo Society which presented poetry with a musical accompaniment. She appeared often on television and radio including as the soloist in the very first concert televised by the BBC. She also gave recitals in the UK and abroad, including a concert for former prisoners in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In the 1960s Natasha made a move into academia after earning a degree in psychology and from 1970 to 1984 she taught music psychology and visual perception at the Royal College of Art. She later contributed to the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Natasha met the poet Stephen Spender in 1940 at a lunch party hosted by Horizon, a literary journal that Stephen was co-editing at the time. They married in 1941. For decades, the Spenders were central figures in the London (and international) literary scene, with Stephen Spender’s career as a writer, professor, lecturer, editor and delegate taking them all over the world, with long periods in America.

In the 1950s, Natasha became friends with the terminally alcoholic, noir author Raymond Chandler, who fell in love with her. The exact nature of their relationship became an ongoing source of speculation among his biographers. This, along with controversies over unauthorized biographies and interpretations of Stephen Spender’s life led to Natasha fighting hard for the rights of biographical subjects and particularly for her husband’s reputation. Following Stephen Spender’s death in 1995, Natasha founded the Stephen Spender Memorial Trust, which continues to promote poetry in translation, and she collaborated first with John Sutherland on an official biography of her husband (published in 2004) and then with Lara Feigel on an updated edition of Spender’s journals (published in 2012). Natasha also published articles about friends and associates, including Dame Edith Sitwell and Raymond Chandler, and her archive includes an unfinished memoir covering the early years of her life and marriage. She died on 21 October 2010 at the age of 91.

The papers will be of interest to readers researching the history of early twentieth century theatre and performance, the academic field of visual perception, and the literary circle of Stephen Spender.

Jenny Joseph archive is now available

Jenny Joseph standing in a lane Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, 2009 © Georgie Brocklehurst

Jenny Joseph in Minchinhampton, 2009 © Georgie Brocklehurst

The catalogue of the archive of the British poet Jenny Joseph is now available online.

Jenny Joseph (1932-2018) is best known for her much-loved poem ‘Warning’ with its famous opening lines:

 

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

It was 1961 and Joseph was still in her 20s when she wrote ‘Warning’ for the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time. It was first published in The Listener magazine in early 1962 and then revised for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem wasn’t an immediate hit but it built up steam through the 1980s in the UK and abroad (particularly in the US), becoming much anthologised, reprinted and re-used, featuring in everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on such a life of its own that the archive includes an unauthorised poster attributing the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 it was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired a social movement: the Red Hat Society, a group for women over 50. (You can find recordings of Jenny reading ‘Warning’ and other poems at the Poetry Archive and on YouTube).

Jenny Joseph was born in Birmingham and raised in Buckinghamshire. She won a scholarship to St Hilda’s College in Oxford to study English, and graduated in 1953. She trained as a secretary and then as a reporter, starting at the Bedfordshire Times and moving to the Oxford Mail. She sailed to South Africa in December 1957 and worked as a secretary and as a reviewer for the leftist newspaper New Age. In February 1959 she had just started teaching at Central Indian High School in Johannesburg when she was expelled from the country for reasons stated as ‘economic grounds or on account of standard or habits of life’ – likely connected to her anti-apartheid views and associations. She returned to London and thereafter lived mainly in London and in Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire.

She married pub landlord Charles Coles in 1961 and had three children while continuing to write, teach English as a foreign language, and lecture in language and literature for the Workers Education Association and West London College.

Jenny Joseph’s poetry was first published and broadcast on radio in the early 1950s on programmes like Thought For The Day and Poetry Please. Her first poetry collection, The Unlooked-for Season, was published in 1960 by Scorpion Press (in 1962 it received a Gregory award for poets under 30). She did a great deal of work for children – writing six children’s reading books in the 1960s, teaching workshops in schools, and in 2000 publishing All the Things I See – Selected Poems for Children. Her last poetry collection Nothing like Love (a collection of love poems) was published in 2009. In 1995 Joseph won the Forward Prize for her poem ‘In Honour of Love’ and her experimental fiction work Persephone (1986) won the 1986 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.

The archive is particularly strong on business correspondence, with a section dedicated to her most popular poem, ‘Warning’ that includes not only agency correspondence and fan letters but artefacts (from cartoons to quilts) that were inspired by the poem.

Cataloguing was generously funded by Jenny Joseph’s friend Joanna Rose, and by Joseph’s family.

The Archives and Records of Humanitarian Organisations

On 20th November the Bodleian Libraries hosted a workshop on ‘The Archives and Records of Humanitarian Organisations: Challenges and Opportunities’. The event was attended by archivists, curators and academics working within the field of humanitarian archives and I was pleased to be invited along to learn more about their work and write a blogpost about some of my observations.

The first talk was given by Chrissie Webb, Project Archivist at the Bodleian Libraries, who discussed her work on the archive of the international charity, Oxfam. The archive was donated to the Bodleian in 2012 and constitutes an enormous collection of over 10,000 boxes of material. Chrissie explained that the archive mostly consists of written documents, but also contains objects and ephemera, audio recordings and digital materials. Cataloguing the archive took several years and was funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust, as the materials are of great interest to those studying the history of health and public policy, humanitarianism and the voluntary sector. Chrissie touched on a number of issues in her talk, particularly highlighting the challenges of appraising and arranging a collection of such size in sufficient detail. As a trainee the principles of arrangement are still quite new to me, so the idea of working on a collection so big is extremely daunting! The work required robust workflows and proved useful as a case study for development of the Bodleian Libraries appraisal guidelines for future collections. Chrissie also highlighted that the Oxfam catalogue was published on a rolling basis to allow the Libraries to promote the collection and prevent an end-of-project information dump of epic proportions. If you’re curious to learn more, the Oxfam archive can be explored via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts: https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

The second talk was about the Save the Children Fund archive and was given by Matthew Goodwin, Project Archivist at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham. The Save the Children Fund archive shares some immediate similarities with the Oxfam archive: it was acquired by the University of Birmingham at around the same time (2011) and is being catalogued thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust. The archive covers the activities of the charity in the 20th and early 21st Century and while it is smaller than the Oxfam archive, it still spans over 2000 boxes of material. Matthew noted some interesting trends that he came across in the archive, such as the charity’s move away from campaign material that included intense images of child poverty and towards more positive images that highlighted the charity’s life-saving work. This is a trend that is noticeable across the sector, as many humanitarian organisations have chosen to pivot their publicity materials in this way in recent years.

A particularly interesting discussion evolved around the challenges presented by archives that contain graphic or distressing material and how this effects the archivists cataloguing the collections and the readers who access them. Several attendees noted that their work with collections from humanitarian and aid organisations had presented this issue. Possible solutions discussed included inserting warning notices inside boxes containing especially graphic material to warn users in advance of their contents and seating those using these materials in separate parts of the reading room to prevent other readers from accidentally viewing them. The archival community has shown an increased awareness of these challenges in recent years and in 2017 the Archives and Records Association (ARA) released guidance for professionals working with potentially disturbing materials. Their documents explore the current research around ‘vicarious’ or secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, as well as offering practical techniques for staff and detailing how to access support. Their guidance can be found here: https://www.archives.org.uk/what-we-do/emotional-support-guides.html

Regrettably I wasn’t able to attend the afternoon workshop sessions which discussed the Red Cross Archive and Museum and how the collections of humanitarian organisations factor into the work of NGOs. Hopefully as my traineeship develops I will get a chance to revisit these collections and learn more!

A new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts

The summer of 2019 saw the beginning of an exciting and much anticipated new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts into machine-readable format, ready for greater online accessibility through the newly launched Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts website.

What is the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts?


The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record (1915)

The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts is key to accessing our collections. The ten volumes were compiled to list all of the Western manuscripts held by the Library, as a summary of the collection (they are aptly named), and a finding aid for researchers and readers. The first seven volumes, edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record, provide an overview of manuscripts acquired before 1915. The last three volumes, edited by Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, were published in 1991 and describe acquisitions made between 1916 and 1975.

Together, the volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts describes approximately 56,000 shelfmarks (physical places within our archival storage), and thus a substantial part of our vast and eclectic collection. The material ranges from manuscripts acquired singly such as an Album of genealogical tables of ruling families of Europe and the Middle East from classical times to the 20th century, to large archives such as the archive of John Locke (full catalogue coming soon).

If you want to learn more about the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and the acquisition of material at the Bodleian Libraries, alongside our interesting history, we highly recommend William Dunn Macray’s Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A.D. 1598-A.D. 1867, which you can read online here. William Dunn Macray worked here at the Bodleian during the nineteenth century.

How can you discover what’s in the Summary Catalogue now?

The volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts are accessible in paper format in the Weston library and have also been digitised to be accessible remotely. Digitised scans, in PDF form, are available via SOLO: the first seven volumes are accessible here, and the last three volumes there.  The first few Summary Catalogue descriptions that we’ve converted since the project began in September have been published in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. You can find details of what’s been published so far on our New Additions page.

Meet the team:

We are two archivists working exclusively on the project: Alice Whichelow and Pauline Soum-Paris. Our colleague Kelly Burchmore also devotes some of her time to the project.

Alice Whichelow – Hi! I qualified as an archivist in September 2019, gaining my qualification in Archives and Records Management from University College London. As a history enthusiast, getting to explore some of the lesser known treasures of the Bodleian Libraries’ collection is great, and getting to share them is even better!

Pauline Soum-Paris – After completing my Master of Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool, I became a qualified archivist in September 2019. With interests in languages, history and religions, I can only see the collection held by the Bodleian Libraries as a goldmine and I am looking forward to sharing a few of the gems I come across every day!

Kelly Burchmore – As a project archivist who qualified in Digital Curation in March 2019, I work mostly on modern collections. Therefore, through the conversion process I enjoy learning about the physical characteristics of more traditional archive material; it’s interesting to read about the binding of the manuscripts, and see the meticulous methods by which they were catalogued. It’s great to work with Alice and Pauline to share the value of this project, and indeed, the collections and items themselves.

What you can expect from us:

The conversion of these Summary Catalogue descriptions into machine-readable form for online discovery is now well-underway, and new descriptions will be added regularly to Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts over the course of 2020 and 2021. We will be using this blog to keep you updated on what we find, sharing blog posts about items and collections from the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts which have sparked our interests. Likewise, if you have used the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and have suggestions regarding items that fascinated you, do let us know in the comments. So, keep an eye out and enjoy!