Category Archives: Learning and teaching

Email Preservation: How Hard Can it Be? DPC Briefing Day

On Thursday 6th July 2017 I attended the Digital Preservation Coalition briefing day in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on email preservation titled ‘Email preservation: how hard can it be?’. It was hosted at The National archives (TNA), this was my first visit to TNA and it was fantastic. I didn’t know a great deal about email preservation prior to this and so I was really looking forward to learning about this topic.

The National Archives, Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9786613

The aim of the day was to engage in discussion about some of the current tools, technologies and thoughts on email preservation. It was orientated around the ‘Task Force on Technical Approaches to Email Preservation’ report that is currently in its draft phase. We also got to hear about interesting case studies from the British library, TNA and Preservica, each presenting their own unique experiences in relation to this topic. It was a great opportunity to learn about this area and hear from the co-chairs (Kate Murray and Christopher Prom) and the audience about their thoughts on the current situation and possible future directions.

We heard from Jonathan Pledge from British library (BL). He told us about the forensic capture expertise gained by the BL and using EnCase to capture email data from hard drives, CD’s and USB’s. We also got an insight into how they are deciding which email archive tool to use. Aid4mail fits better with their work flow however ePADD with its holistic approach was something they were considering. During their ingest they separate the emails from the attachments. They found that after the time consuming process of removing emails that would violate the data protection laws, there was very little usable content left, as often, entire threads would have to be redacted due to one message. This is not the most effective use of an archivist time and is something they are working to address.

We also heard from Anthea Seles who works with government collections at TNA. We learnt that from their research, they discovered that approximately 1TB of data in an organisations own electronic document and records management system is linked to 10TB of related data in shared drives. Her focus was on discovery and data analytics. For example, a way to increase efficiency and focus the attention of the curator on was to batch email. If an email was sent from TNA to a vast number of people, then there is a high chance that the content does not contain sensitive information. However, if it was sent to a high profile individual, then there is a higher chance that it will contain sensitive information, so the curator can focus their attention on those messages.

Hearing from Preservica was interesting as it gave an insight into the commercial side of email archiving. In their view, preservation was not an issue. For them, their attention was focused on addressing issues such as identifying duplicates/unwanted emails efficiently. Developing tools for performing whole collection email analysis and, interestingly, how to solve the problem of acquiring emails via a continuous transfer.

Emails are not going to be the main form of communication forever (the rise in the popularity of instant messaging is clear to see) however we learnt that we are still expecting growth in its use for the near future.

One of the main issues that was bought up was the potential size of future email archives and the issue that come with effective and efficient appraisal. What is large in academic terms, e.g. 100 000 emails, is not in government. The figure of over 200 million emails at the George W. Bush presidential library is a phenomenal amount and the Obama administrations is estimated at 300 million. This requires smart solutions and we learnt how the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning could help.

Continuous active learning was highlighted to improve searches. An example of searching for Miami dolphins was given. The Miami Dolphins are an American football team however someone might so be looking for information about dolphins in Miami. Initially the computer would present different search results and the user would choose which the more relevant result is, over time it will learn what it is the user is looking for in cases where searches can be ambiguous.

Another issue that was highlighted was, how do you make sure that you have searched the correct person? How do you avoid false positives? At TNA the ‘Traces Through Time’ project aimed to do that, initially with World War One records. This technology, using big data analytics can be used with email archives. There is also work on mining the email signature as a way to better determine ownership of the message.

User experience was also discussed. Emulation is an area of particular interest. The positive of this is that it recreates how the original user would have experienced the emails. However this technology is still being developed. Bit level preservation is a solution to make sure we capture and preserve the data now. This prevents loss of the archive and allows the information and value to be extracted in the future once the tools have been developed.

It was interesting to hear how policy could affect how easy it would be to acquire email archives. The new General Data Protection Regulation that will come into effect in May 2018 will mean anyone in breach of this will suffer worse penalties, up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover. This means that companies may air on the side of caution with regards to keeping personal data such as emails.

Whilst the email protocols are well standardised, allowing emails to be sent from one client to another (e.g. AOL account from early 1990’s to Gmail of now) the acquisition of them are not. When archivists get hold of email archives, they are left with the remnants of whatever the email client/user has done to it. This means metadata may have been added or removed and formats can vary. This adds a further level of complexity to the whole process

The day was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a fantastic way to learn about archiving emails. As emails are now one of the main methods of communication, for government, large organisations and personal use, it is important that we develop the tools, techniques and policies for email preservation. To answer the question ‘how hard can it be?’ I’d say very. Emails are not simple objects of text, they are highly complex entities comprising of attachments, links and embedded content. The solution will be complex but there is a great community of researchers, individuals, libraries and commercial entities working on solving this problem. I look forward to hearing the update in January 2018 when the task force is due to meet again.

Study day of Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea

Recent months have brought an unprecedented interest in Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea – a development that we welcome at the Bodleian. Study of this material has reached a new level, with further palaeographical and codicological knowledge, as well as a growing appreciation of art history. Studying, displaying, and digitising a variety of our little-known codices and scrolls with modern means help us better understand and disseminate our findings to new audiences.
With this in mind, on Saturday, the 17th of June we welcomed a small group of Ethiopians and Eritreans at the Bodleian to view a selection of Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The material, which was studied and discussed with great excitement, included a magic scroll with miniatures of angels and demons, an illuminated seventeenth-century prayer book, fragments of a medieval gospel with evangelists’ portraits, a hagiographic work with copious illustrations to the text, an important textual variant of the Book of Enoch and the epic work Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings).
The experience of the day was that of beautiful exchange of ideas, as well as building bridges within and between communities. We look forward to future developments!

Engaged in discussion from left to right: Dereje Debella, Judith McKenzie, Girma Getahun, Yemane Asfedai, Gillian Evison, Madeline Slaven and Rahel Fronda. Photo credit: Mai Musié.

Studying a magic scroll, from left to right: Yemane Asfedai, Girma Getahun, Dereje Debella, Madeline Slaven and Rahel Fronda. Photo credit: Gillian Evison.

Studying a textual variant of the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, from left to right: Rahel Fronda, Dereje Debella, Girma Getahun, Yemane Asfedai, Gillian Evison and Madeline Slaven. Photo credit: Miranda Williams.

Bodleian Treasures: Early Ethiopian Bible Illumination

On Saturday, the 8th of April a group of bibliophiles from the Anglo-Ethiopian Society visited the Weston Library. Their trip from London to Oxford was intended as a study day, attending lectures and a photo exhibition on the illuminated Gospels from the Abba Garima Monastery. During the academic programme, Dr Judith McKenzie spoke about the themes of Garima illumination, while Professor Francis Watson gave a lecture on canon tables. The first part of the day took place at the Ioannou centre and was organised by Judith McKenzie, Miranda Williams, and Foteini Spingou, with photographs by Michael Gervers.
In the afternoon, a small display of Bodleian Ethiopian treasures was ready for the group in the Blackwell Hall. The two fifteenth century biblical codices on display were given to the library by Dr Bent Juel-Jensen in 2006. These exceptional codices come with a wealth of painted miniatures, representing biblical figures from the patriarchs to evangelists. MS. Aeth. c. 14, comprising the Four Gospels in Ge’ez script is thought to come from the Gojjam province in north-western part of Ethiopia. There are four colour miniatures of the Evangelists, one before each Gospel. These were made by Nicolo Brancaleone, a Venetian artist active in Ethiopia.

The other mid-fifteenth century illuminated manuscript, MS. Aeth. d. 19 includes Psalms, hymns of the Old Testament, Song of Songs and Praises of Mary.


The display at the Bodleian was received with great interest and there definitely was a sense of enthusiasm for promoting the collection also in the future. Many thanks to the colleagues in the Oriental collections, as well as Exhibitions department for their support. It was a great pleasure to meet the many members of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society and we look forward to welcoming all back in the future!

Bug busting heroes

On the 14th of March, I went with a small group of grad students and research scientists from the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology to Windale Primary School in Oxford to teach three groups of 9 to 10 year olds as part of Windale’s Science Week. The event was part of the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Pencillin in People’ project which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the development of penicillin at the Dunn School with a programme that also includes archival cataloguing, exhibitions and oral history.

Alexander Fleming's petri dish of Staph and Penicillium mould

Alexander Fleming’s petri dish of Staph (the white dots) and Penicillium mould (the big blob). Can you spot what’s happened?

This was the second of two identical events, the first hosted in the Dunn School Library on the 22nd of February for children from Pegasus Primary School in Oxford. The theme of the day was ‘Penicillin – From Mould to Medicine’, and the children circulated between three workstations, spending 20 minutes apiece exploring bacteria in a “Meet the Bacteria” session and then being introduced to the “Bug Busting Heroes” Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley and then, to finish, a session on “Making a Medicine” and the production of the penicillin drug.

They were asked to peer into a microscope to see a flea in the flesh; to see if they could spot what Alexander Fleming noticed in his famous petri dish of Staphyloccocus and magical mould; and to experience penicillin in action by bursting a “bacteria” balloon. They learned all sorts of new things (an embarrassing amount of it new to me too) including scientific terminology like bacterium and micro-organism and DNA; the variety of shapes bacteria take; and the amazing things these Oxford scientists achieved with salvaged equipment like bedpans and biscuit tins. They also learned what antibiotics do and what antibiotics don’t do, which is ever more important in a world of antibiotic-resistant bugs.

The plan for the day was to teach the children about this particular, awe-inspiring historical moment, a world-changing medical breakthrough that happened right here in their city – but we also wanted to inspire them with the wonder of discovery and, ultimately, to encourage them in the direction of science. Time will tell!

ARA Film Archives Training Day

Yesterday I attended the ARA Film Archives Training day in the Wessex Film and Sound Archive in Winchester. The four talks over the course of the day were an excellent introduction to some of the uses of film archives as well as the issues associated with them.

The Wessex Film and Sound Archive is based in the Hampshire Record Office

Moving Collections: the impact of archive films in museum displays

Sarah Wyatt of the National Motor Museum gave a fascinating talk on the use of archive film and video footage in museum displays. She discussed a number of benefits in the use of videos- including acting as a restorative from “museum fatigue” (that familiar sensation of being mentally and physically exhausted after wandering around a museum for too long), helping to bring displays to life and showing the motion of moving objects too delicate to be regularly operated.
One unexpectedly interesting takeaway from her talk was the revelation that videos in museums are not at all a recent idea. The Imperial War Museum used to enhance their displays with mutoscopes in the 1920s and 1930s!

Bringing Our History To Life: promoting the use of archive film in cross curricular learning

Zoe Viney of the Wessex Film and Sound archive followed, with a talk on the use of archive film in teaching, and the resource packs for schools they are currently trialling (and how it can be relevant beyond just history lessons). The positive effects she discussed included giving a greater insight into the past, supporting investigation and enquiry skills and creating a sense of greater empathy when the children view the footage and realise it is showing actual people, rather than an abstract idea of “the past.” Its use became especially clear when she set an exercise to link a very short film clip showing the return of a stolen ship to possible teaching opportunities. Each group managed to provide a wealth of possibilities, from geography lessons based around ship routes and learning ocean names, to English lessons based around children writing applications to join the new ship crew. Any school children who get the opportunity to use the Wessex Film and Sound Archive resource packs will be very lucky.

Providing A Regional Screen Archive Service: preservation, digitisation, and access.

After a short break (including tea and biscuits, of course) Dr Frank Gray began his talk centred mostly on how the Screen Archive South East functions, as well as showing some amazing examples of archive film from their collections. A personal highlight was noticing that their workflow for digitising film followed a very similar structure to ours for digitising cassette tapes – it’s exciting to see the similarities in practice between different media.
But the true highlight of his talk came in the examples of digitised film from their collections, and especially the Kinemacolor film shown in its original colours. Kinemacolor was a film format developed in Brighton during the early 20th century which used alternating red and green filters in projectors produce colour when viewed. Unfortunately those projectors are now lost, so there had been no way to view Kinemacolor film as it was intended to be seen until a way to digitally reconstruct the colour was established recently. Information about the Screen Archive South East’s past exhibitions of Kinemacolor can be found here.

‘The Two Clowns’, a 1906 Kinemacolor film by George Albert Smith, from http://screenarchive.brighton.ac.uk/portfolio/capturing-colour/

Vinegar Syndrome in Film Collections

Sarah Wyatt delivered the final talk, a short informative talk on vinegar syndrome, a condition that affects acetate film and, if left untreated and in the wrong conditions, will entirely degrade it. The titular smell is the most familiar symptom, caused by a release of acetic acid that causes irreparable damage at just 3 – 5 parts per million! Even more worryingly, the familiar smell is generally an advanced stage symptom and the syndrome cannot be reversed – just halted if proper precautions are taken. Earlier symptoms can include cracking, shrinking, warping, buckling, flaking and white powder deposits. It was very enlightening, and showed just how important proper storage is.

The back of Hampshire Record Office

By the end of the training day I had a new appreciation for film archives. I hadn’t before realised just how versatile they are, or how many uses beyond the traditional documentary footage or news clips footage there are.

Thai Manuscript Conservation Association Workshop at the Bodleian

On 14th and 15th December staff from Bodleian Special Collections and Digital Library Systems and Services welcomed representatives from the Manuscript Conservation Association of Thailand. Delegates included Mr. Boonlert Sananon, President of the MCA, Mr. Boonlue Burarnsan, Vice President of the MCA, and Mrs. Phatchanun Bunnag, Registrar of the MCA.

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During the first day of the workshop delegates discussed the latest developments in TEI /XML cataloguing standards for Thai manuscripts at the Centre for Digital Scholarship. On the morning of second day of the workshop the delegates visited the Conservation workshop. This was followed by a lecture by given Mr Saneh Mahapol, from the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of palm leaf books in Thailand.

The workshop ended with delegates helping the library to identify and make basic TEI descriptions of uncatalogued Thai manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection.

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2016 Conservative Party Conference

The 2016 Conservative Party Conference was held at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre (2-5 October) and, as in previous years, the Conservative Party Archive was there.

Jeremy McIlwaine (Conservative Party Archivist) and myself left behind the quiet confines of the Bodleian Library where the collection is housed and took a very small number of items from the Archive ‘on tour’.

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Donation of Georgian Books for the Wardrop Collection

Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who organised the recent Oxford University colloquium Medieval Georgian Heritage in Turkey, has been instrumental in securing a significant donation of Georgian books to help extend the collection of reference materials available to scholars working with the Wardrop collection.

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The colloquium featured an impressive display of publications on the manuscripts, heritage and culture of Georgia, which had been donated by the Korneli Kekelidze National Centre of Manuscripts, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and Buba Kudava of Artanuji Publishing. These donations have now come to the Bodleian, which has one of the finest collections of Kartvelain material outside of Georgia built on the nucleus of books, manuscripts and archives donated by the Wardrops.

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The Wardrop Collection was formed by Sir Oliver Wardrop, who was the United Kingdom’s first Chief Commissioner of Transcaucasus in Georgia, 1919-21 and his sister Marjory, who, after teaching herself Georgian, was the first person to make an English prose translation of the Georgian National epic, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.  After Marjory’s early death in 1909, the Marjory Wardrop Fund was founded for the encouragement of Georgian studies and from 1910, through this fund, the Bodleian became the beneficiary of all Marjory Wardrop’s papers, books and manuscripts. They were supplemented by further donations from Sir Oliver until his death in 1948. The library has continued to build on this foundation ever since.

Over the coming months, Dr. Aleksidze will be writing a series of guest blogs which will highlight items from the collection and in the autumn he will commence a series of lectures at the Weston Library focusing on the extraordinary legacy of the Wardrops.

 

 

 

 

 

What is an archivist?

A couple of weeks ago Emily and I asked a class of year 6 pupils this question as part of a careers session organised by the Oxford for Oxford project. “Is it like a receptionist?”, “do you fix big things?” and “is it like an architect?” were some of the answers we received. We soon realised we were going to have a hard time explaining what an archivist was.

Emily and Rachael

We had three groups of about 10 students each, all keen to break up their routine and guess what these strangers do all day. They may have been slightly disappointed that we weren’t astronauts, but soon got over it. We discussed how important archives were to researchers because they preserve the evidence of the past in primary sources and accounts.

Admittedly we were slightly thrown when a pupil asked us what we thought about the controversy around Shakespeare’s authorship, but this was a great lead into showing the need to preserve primary documents. We talked about what we can still learn from them and how history is constantly being written and rewritten.

A boy in the first group asked us if we looked after things like video games and this gave us a great excuse to start talking about digital archiving and how it’s not all about really old stuff. This got them thinking about what will happen to everything they see online in the future.

We showed them what we use to package archival material and explained how the boxes, brass clips, and folders protect paper from deterioration. We also talked a bit about storing other things like websites, emails and Facebook.

After the talk we had time for an activity investigating some documents from our collection. We showed them a cipher and key from a letter intercepted during the Civil War to demonstrate how you can learn about history first hand using primary sources. This particular cipher was decoded by John Wallis (1616-1703), chief cryptographer for Parliament in the Civil War. Impressed with his own work, he donated the manuscript for posterity to the Bodleian- effectively a national library at the time with holdings of many large and important collections.

cipher

We had created a message using this cipher and the pupils were tasked with decoding it.

secret message

Would you like to give it a go?

The later groups heard about the cipher activity and assumed we were cryptographers; an unforeseen difficulty was persuading the groups to keep the secret message secret!

Although at the end of the day the top career choice was probably doctor or engineer, we think they enjoyed our talk and at least now they know an archivist isn’t a receptionist!

The session was organised by Dr Anna Caughey from the Oxford for Oxford project. You can find out more at http://www.ox.ac.uk/oxford-for-oxford We enjoyed talking to the pupils and hope they’ll be able to visit the Shakespeare exhibition here at the Weston Library to put their theories to the test!

Monkey spines and Ringworm cultures, or: With a little help from the experts

Mabel FitzGerald today is best known for her work on the physiology of breathing, specifically for her ‘Observations on the changes in the breathing and the blood at various high altitudes’, published in 1913 and 1914. But her research interests were much broader: she researched and published on bacteriology, including ‘The induction of sporulation in the bacilli belonging to the Aerogenes capsulatus group’ (1911), and combined anatomy and physiology in her work on ‘Origin of the Hydrochloric Acid in the Gastric Tubules’ (1910). Previously, she had worked with Gustav Mann in Oxford on histology, contributing to his publication on tissue response at vaccination sites (1899), and collaborated with Georges Dreyer at the Copenhagen State Serum Institute on finding methods to differentiate between B. typhosus and B. coli in bacteria cultures (1902).

Macaca sinica. By Carlos Delgado - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wild Macaque monkey (Macaca sinica) in Sri Lanka, as photographed bCarlos Delgado – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34667538

Her own first big research project, however, took her into the world of what today would be called neurophysiology. From 1899, FitzGerald investigated the interrelationship of the grey matter (cell bodies) and white matter (nerve fibres) in the spinal cord of the Macaque monkey. She made hundreds of detailed to-scale drawings of cross-sections of the monkey spinal cord as seen under the microscope, and meticulously measured and compared the size and distribution of grey and white matter areas.

Gustav Mann, under whom FitzGerald was working at the Oxford Physiology Department, later wrote in testimonial for her: “I was so much struck by her great thoroughness  that I proposed to her the difficult task of investigating the inter-relationship of the grey and the white matter of the spinal cord of the monkey. In this research she has been engaged for five years. She spent the first three years with work having reference to the minute structure of the grey matter and made a large series of accurate microscopical drawings. The last two years she has devoted to the special investigation of the relative and absolute increase and decrease of the different tracts and of the grey matter.”

The results of FitzGerald’s research were communicated to the Royal Society by FitzGerald’s mentor – and Professor of Physiology – Francis Gotch (women were not admitted to the society at that time), but later published under her own name as ‘An Investigation into the Structure of the Lumbo-sacral-coccygeal Cord of the Macaque Monkey (Macacus sinicus)’ (1906).

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