Category Archives: Learning and teaching

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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1916 Live: documents recounting Ireland’s Easter Rising published in real time

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 - MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 – MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35 – Click to enlarge

Guest post by Naomi O’Leary

The small pink slip is a snapshot of a world about to be upended. Jotted in cursive is a message from the Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, telephoned to all stations. It reports the movements of a suspicious vehicle, at that moment parked at the headquarters of Irish radical nationalist activity, Liberty Hall. The note is time-stamped 10:50am, the 24th of April, 1916. It is one of hundreds that will be published on social media this month, telling the story of the Easter Rising in real-time exactly one century on.

Outwardly, the streets of Dublin were quiet on that bank holiday Monday. But behind the doors of Liberty Hall, feverish preparations were underway. Men and women had gathered with rifles, rations, ammunition, and a stack of hastily-printed posters declaring an independent Irish republic.

Within days, British artillery guns would be raining shells on Dublin city. A chain of events was about to be set in motion that would presage the fall of the British Empire. The writer of the telephone note sat in Dublin Castle, the centre of British power in Ireland for centuries. She could not have imagined that within six years, the stronghold would be handed over to an Irish government, in a scene that would be repeated around the world in the coming decades as former colonies broke free.

The following telephone messages, each time-stamped to the minute, capture the cascade of events. At 11:20am: “Fifty volunteers have now travelled by tram car 167 going in direction of the city”. At 11:50, an anonymous report: “The volunteers are turning everyone out of St Stephen’s Green Park”. By 12:20, the world had changed. The Superintendent of the G Division, which tracked political crime, telephoned to the representative of the British Monarchy in Ireland, Lord Lieutenant Wimborne: “The Sinn Fein volunteers have attacked the Castle and have possession of the G.P.O.”

I came across these hundreds of telephone messages in the personal papers of Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the top civil servant in Dublin Castle that spring of 1916. Jotted down in the thick of events, sometimes in frantic handwriting, they such give a vivid account of the six day rebellion I felt my pulse beat faster.

Their brevity and immediacy reminded me of my own reporting of live events as a journalist, particularly of protests that threatened to spill out of control.

With the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and the help of volunteer transcribers, I have put together a project to mark the centenary of the rebellion by publishing each update on social media at the time it was logged, exactly one hundred years later. A short version of the updates will go out on Twitter from @1916live, while full documents will be published simultaneously at www.1916live.com.

The reason the documents survive as a collection is precisely because they give such a rich account of the rebellion. As the most senior figure in Dublin Castle, Nathan resigned after the revolt and was called to explain how it had happened to a Royal Commission of Inquiry in London. He gathered up his correspondence along with the telephone and telegraph records of Dublin Castle, and arranged them into chronological order into a collection that was later bound in leather. It was one among hundreds of boxes of his papers given to the Bodleian Library after his death. The documents in it span the course of the rising, concluding with the rebels’ surrender on April 29th.

This project will allow anyone in the world to experience this key moment in history as it unfolded through a unique primary resource. Publishing the telephone notes on Twitter seems particularly appropriate, as they are the records of a new system of technology from the time that allowed for real-time communication, which ultimately gave British authorities a key advantage in their response to the rebellion. The material will remain online afterwards as a freely accessible resource for the future.

For any questions or suggestions, please contact 1916live@gmail.com

Catching butterflies

Archival Uncertainties: International Conference on Literary Archives at the British Library – 4 April 2016

This one-day conference focused on digital humanities, with papers from a spectrum of interested parties including academics working on digitisation projects, authors, translators, archivists and curators. I attended three panels on the day and the unifying theme was a contrary message of dispersal and amalgamation (and butterflies).

The first thing that has been dispersed or discarded is any idea of a literary canon. As plenary speaker and archivist Catherine Hobbs pointed out, scholarship now focuses less on established set texts and more on themes like “environmental literature”. Over the past few decades, in response to this, archives have collected more non-traditionally canonical literary papers but, Catherine reminded us, as archivists we can’t stop paying attention to the ways that literature continues to change. We need to keep tabs on what is going on in the literary world in order to document it, and this will include tackling new forms of experimental, avant-garde and self-published writing.

Caterpillar: Schwalbenschwanz (Raupe)

Caterpillars and collection development [By Eric Steinert – photo taken by Eric Steinert at Paussac, France, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=338409]

As Catherine noted, it used to be easy to find the avant-garde – pretty much whoever was hanging out on the Left Bank – but now it’s up to archivists to not only collect this material, but to track it down in the first place, and not to default to the temptingly easy path of collecting only the papers of that tiny sliver of authors considered publishable by mainstream publishers.

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What I learned in London…at the DPTP Digital Preservation Workshop!

A few months ago I applied for a scholarship through the DPC Leadership Programme to attend the DPTP 14-16 March course for those working in digital preservation: The Practice of Digital Preservation.

It was a three-day intermediate course for practitioners who wished to broaden their working knowledge and it covered a wide range of tools and information relating to digital preservation and how to apply them practically to their day-to-day work.

The course was hosted in one of the meeting rooms in the Senate House Library of the University of London, a massive Art Deco building in Bloomsbury (I know because I managed to get a bit lost between breaks!).

Senate House, University of London

The course was three full days of workshops that mixed lectures with group exercises and the occasional break. Amazingly this is the last year they’re doing it as a three day course and they’re going to compress it all into a single day next time (though everything they covered was useful, I don’t know what you’d cut to shorten it—lunch maybe?).

Each day had a different theme.

The first was on approaches to digital preservation. This was an overview of various policy frameworks and standards. The most well-known and accepted being OAIS.

No Google, not OASIS!

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Oasis, Oman. Taken by Hendrik Dacquin aka loufi and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

After a brief wrestle with Google’s ‘suggestions’ let’s look at this OAIS Model and admire its weirdly green toned but elegant workflow. If you click through to Wikimedia Commons it even has annotations for the acronyms.

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After introducing us to various frameworks, the day mostly focused on the ingest and storage aspect of digital preservation. It covered the 3 main approaches (bit-level preservation, emulation and migration) in-depth and discussed the pros and cons of each.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a method and depending on what your main constraint is: money, time or expertise, different approaches will be more suitable for different organisations and collections. Bit-level preservation is the most basic thing you can do. You are mostly hoping that if you ingest the material exactly as it comes, some future archivist (perhaps with pots of money!) will come along and emulate or migrate it in a way that is far beyond what your poor cash strapped institution can handle.

Emulation is when you create or acquire an environment (not the original one that your digital object was created or housed in) to run your digital object in that attempts to recreate its original look and feel.

Migration which probably works best with contemporary or semi-contemporary objects is used to transfer the object into a format that is more future-proof than its current one. This is an option that needs to be considered in the context of the technical constraints and options available. But perhaps you’re not sure what technical constraints you need to consider? Fear not!

These technical constraints were covered in the second day! This day was on ingestion and it covered file formats, useful tools and several metadata schemas. I’ve probably exhausted you with my very thorough explanation of the first day’s content (also I’d like to leave a bit of mystery for you) so I will just say that there are a lot of file formats and what makes them appealing to the end user can often be the same thing that makes a digital preservationist (ME) tear her hair out.

Thus those interested in preserving digital content have had to  develop (or beg and borrow!) a variety of tools to read, copy, preserve, capture metadata and what have you. They have also spent a lot of time thinking about (and disagreeing over) what to do with these materials and information. From these discussions have emerged various schemata to make these digital objects more…tractable and orderly (haha). They have various fun acronyms (METS, PREMIS, need I go on?) and each has its own proponents but I think everyone is in agreement that metadata is a good thing and XML is even better because it makes that metadata readable by your average human as well as your average computer! A very important thing when you’re wondering what the hell you ingested two months ago that was helpfully name bobsfile1.rtf or something equally descriptive.

The final day was on different strategies for tackling the preservation of more complex born-digital objects such as emails and databases (protip: it’s hard!) and providing access to said objects. This led to a roundup of different and interesting ways institutions are using digital content to engage readers.

There’s a lot of exciting work in this field, such as Stanford University’s ePADD Discovery:

ePADD

Which allows you to explore the email archives of a collection in a user-friendly (albeit slow) interface. It also has links to the more traditional finding aids and catalogue records that you’d expect of an archive.

Or the Wellcome Library’s digital player developed by DigiratiMendel

Which lets you view digital and digitised content in a single integrated system. This includes, cover-to-cover books, as pictured above, archives, artwork, videos, audio files and more!

Everyone should check it out, it’s pretty cool and freely available for others to use. There were many others that I haven’t covered but these really stood out.

It was an intense but interesting three days and I enjoyed sharing my experiences with the other archivists and research data managers who came to attend this workshop. I think it was a good mix of theory and practical knowledge and will certainly help me in the future. Also I have to say Ed Pinsent and Steph Taylor did a great job!