Category Archives: Learning and teaching

Oxfam archive inspires potential University of Oxford students

Nineteen year-12 students recently attended a seminar in the Weston Library’s impressive Bahari Room as part of a summer school organised by Wadham College.

The programme allows students from schools with low application/entry rates into higher education to experience university life through a four-day residential. During the visit, students attended lectures, seminars and tutorials, giving them a taste of what it is like to be an undergraduate at the University of Oxford.

The theme for this year was ‘The Politics of Immigration’ and in the seminar, students had the chance to handle a selection of material taken from the Oxfam archive. They were then asked to discuss the representation of Palestinian refugees in the archival documents dating from the 1960s. The material used was taken from the Communications section of the archive – i.e. records of Oxfam’s external communication with the public – and is just a very small example of the material available to the public in the extensive Oxfam archive (the Communications catalogue is online here).

An example of some of the material that the students were using from the Communications section of the Oxfam archive.

Though initially hesitant, we were pleased when two eager students volunteered to open up the archival boxes and find the files that were needed. After being carefully handled by our volunteers, all the files were laid out for the students to analyse in groups.

Dr. Tom Sinclair and a student unpacking an archival box.

The students then took it in turns to give examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented in the Oxfam material. One of the excellent examples that students spotted was how Oxfam was able to remain politically neutral (a constitutional necessity for charities) by not specifying why the refugees were displaced. Students also remarked that Oxfam preferred to focus on individual stories in their communications – for instance, that of a displaced teenager with aspirations to be an engineer – which the students suggested helped humanise a crisis that could be difficult for the public to comprehend.

The students studied selected material from the Oxfam archive and gave examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented.

Overall, the ‘Politics of Immigration’ seminar was a great success that gave the students a good feel for what it would be like to use the archives to complete research for a dissertation or other academic project.

Dr Tom Sinclair, who organised the summer school, said: “It was such a privilege to be in that lovely room and have such free access to the archives… I really think that a couple of the students were inspired, and I hope they’ll be future Oxford undergraduates visiting the archives again in a few years’ time.”

Bountiful Harvest: Curation, Collection and Use of Web Archives

The theme for the ARA Annual Conference 2017 is: ‘Challenge the Past, Set the Agenda’. I was fortunate enough to attend a pre-conference workshop in Manchester, ran by Lori Donovan and Maria Praetzellis from The Internet Archive, about the bountiful harvest that is web content, and the technology, tools and features that enable web archivists to overcome the challenges it presents.

Part I – Collections, Community and Challenges

Lori gave us an insight into the use cases of Archive-it partner organisations to show us the breadth of reasons why other institutions archive the web. The creation of a web collection can be for one of (or indeed, all) the following reasons:

  • To maintain institutional history
  • To document social commentary and the perspectives of users
  • To capture spontaneous events
  • To augment physical holdings
  • Responsibility: Some documents are ONLY digital. For example, if a repository upholds a role to maintain all published records, a website can be moved into the realm of publication material.

When asked about duplication amongst web archives, and whether it was a problem if two different organisations archive the same web content, Lori put forward the argument that duplication is not worrisome. The more captures of a website is good for long term preservation in general – in some cases organisations can work together on collaborative collecting if the collection scope is appropriate.

Ultimately, the priority of crawling and capturing a site is to recreate the same experience a user would have if they were to visit the live site on the day it was archived. Combining this with an appropriate archive frequency  means that change over time can also be preserved. This is hugely important: the ephemeral nature of internet content is widely attested to. Thankfully, the misconception that ‘online content will be around forever’ is being confronted. Lori put forward some examples to illustrate the point for why the archiving of websites is crucial.

In general, a typical website lasts 90-100 days before one of the following happens:

  1. The content changes
  2. The site URL moves
  3. The content disappears completely

A study was carried out on the Occupy Movement sites archived in 2012. Of 582 archived sites, only 41% were still live on the web as of April 2014. (Lori Donovan)

Furthermore, we were told about a 2014 study which concluded that 70% of scholarly articles online with text citations suffered from reference rot over time. This speaks volumes about preserving copies in order for both authentication and academic integrity.

The challenge continues…

Lori also pointed us to the NDSA 2016/2017 survey which outlines the principle concerns within web archiving currently: Social media, (70%); Video, (69%) and Interactive media and Databases, (both 62%).  Any dynamic content can be difficult to capture and curate, therefore sharing advice  and guidelines amongst leaders in the web archiving community is a key factor in determining successful practice for both current web archivists, and those of future generations.

Part II – Current and Future Agenda

Maria then talked us through some key tools and features which enable greater crawling technology, higher quality captures and the preservation of web archives for access and use:

  • Brozzler. Definitely my new favourite portmanteau (browser + crawler = brozzler!), brozzler is the newly developed crawler by The Internet Archive which is replacing the combination of heritrix and umbra crawlers. Brozzler captures http traffic as it is loaded, works with YouTube in order to improve media capture and the data will be immediately written and saved as a WARC file. Also, brozzler uses a real browser to fetch pages, which enables it to capture embedded urls and extract links.
  • WARC. A Web ARChive file format is the ISO standard for web archives. It is a concatenated file written by a crawler, with long term storage and preservation specifically in mind. However, Maria pointed out to us that WARC files are not constructed to easily enable research (more on this below.).
  • Elasticsearch. The full-text search system does not just search the html content displayed on the web pages, it searches PDF, Word and other text-based documents.
  • solr. A metadata-only search tool. Metadata can be added on Archive-it at collection, seed and document level.

Supporting researchers now and in the future

The tangible experience and use of web archives where a site can be navigated as if it was live can shed so much light on the political and social climate of its time of capture. Yet, Maria explained that the raw captured data, rather than just the replay, is obviously a rich area for potential research and, if handled correctly, is an inappropriable research tool.

As well as the use of Brozzler as a new crawling technology, Archive-it research services offer a set of derivative data-set files which are less complex than WARC and allow for data analysis and research. One of these derivative data sets is a Longitudinal Graph Analysis (LGA) dataset file which will allow the researcher to analyse the trend in links between urls over time within an entire web collection.

Maria acknowledged that there are lessons  to be learnt when supporting researchers using web archives, including technical proficiency training and reference resources. The typology of the researchers who use web archives is ever growing: social and political scientists, digital humanities disciplines, computer science and documentary and evidence based research including legal discovery.

What Lori and Maria both made clear throughout the workshop was that the development and growth of web archiving is integral to challenging the past and preserving access on a long term scale. I really appreciated an insight into how the life cycle of web archiving is a continual process, from creating a collection, through to research services, whilst simultaneously managing the workflow of curation.

When in Manchester…

Virtual Archive, Central Library, Manchester

I  couldn’t leave  Manchester without exploring the John Rylands Library and Manchester’s Central Library. In the latter, this interactive digital representation of a physical archive combined choosing a box from how a physical archive may be arranged, and then projected the digitised content onto the screen once selected. A few streets away in Deansgate I had just enough time in John Rylands to learn that the fear of beards is called Pogonophobia. Go and visit yourself to learn more!

Special collections reading room, John Rylands Library, Manchester

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!