Category Archives: Activity

Looking back and pushing forwards: 75 years of Oxfam

As an Archives Assistant spending the next twelve months helping to catalogue the Oxfam Archive, I probably shouldn’t admit how woefully ignorant I was of Oxfam before I started. I knew their shops sold cheap books and nice Christmas cards. I knew you could buy someone a goat or a toilet for Christmas, and that this goat or toilet would go to someone who lived somewhere without a sewage system or a supermarket selling pasteurized milk. But beyond this, I’d never really stopped to think who ‘Oxfam’ were and what they meant. It came as a surprise that ‘Oxfam’ wasn’t just a made-up word but came from Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, and that a charity which was born in one small city has spread its offices and infrastructure across the globe. I’ve learnt a lot in the two months since I started. But Oxfam’s 75th birthday party, held in Oxford’s town hall on Friday 6th October, taught me a lot more. 

some of the archive material used for the ‘show and tell’ sessions

 

At the Bodleian we were involved with preparations for the 75th anniversary in a low-key way, answering enquiries from Oxfam staff regarding photographs which would be used in exhibitions and slideshow presentations. Between the 4th and the 6th October there were also opportunities for Oxfam staff and volunteers to view some of the highlights of the Oxfam archive in the Bodleian, and this proved a learning experience for me as well. Through objects such as a scrapbook documenting fundraising and a damp-gnawed but still-legible gift-shop cashbook from 1948-9, I realised the importance of innovatory and motivated figures like Robert Castle and Joe Mitty, who respectively established the first permanent Oxfam shop and helped make the charity-shop phenomenon what it is today. A particularly memorable entry in the cashbook was simply ‘Dog’, which sold for 5 shillings – we presume the dog was ornamental, especially as an ‘Elephant’ was also sold at around the same time!

Oxfam’s first permanent shop on Broad Street, Oxford

 

The anniversary celebrations themselves took place on Friday 6th October in Oxford’s Town Hall. We were treated to cake and tea in the Assembly Room, and then moved into the ornate Main Hall where the Oxfam choir sung us into our seats. The full hall made me realise not only the importance of Oxfam as a UK employer, but also as a social institution which generations of people have grown up with. Many of the volunteers were elderly, but a gurgling baby at the back of the hall indicated that the Oxfamily spans all ages.

 

My job is to catalogue Oxfam’s project files, bundles of correspondence, receipts and reports which document how development work plays out on the ground. This is what Stan Thekaekara, founder-director of trade model ‘Just Change’ and one of the evening’s speakers, would call the ‘worm’s eye view’. I was much less aware of the ‘bird’s-eye view’, the need for an overarching vision and policy and the tension that can result between the bird and the worm, between the decision-makers at home and the boots on the ground. This was something discussed by the panel hosted by Duncan Green, strategic advisor at Oxfam GB. The panellists debated the need to reorient the global economic system away from exponential growth and a capitalistic zero sum game, but also the importance of listening to the communities worst-affected by this system and providing them with the knowledge that could help improve their lives.

the programme for the evening’s events

 

 

In a discussion on the future of Oxfam, Mark Goldring (Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive) suggested this focus on communities was already being embodied by Oxfam International, the worldwide confederation of Oxfam affiliates. Oxfam International Executive Director Winne Byanyima was optimistic as she announced that Oxfam International’s headquarters would shortly be moving to Nairobi, and the celebratory talks concluded with reiterations of Oxfam’s commitment to end poverty.

While the optimism and passion of the speakers was inspiring, I couldn’t help but notice the tragic irony of the fact that, twenty-five years ago, Oxfam’s 50th anniversary celebrations were overshadowed by the influx of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, and that 2017 has witnessed renewed attacks and allegations of genocide by the Myanmar authorities. Despite Oxfam’s energy and determination, I can’t help but think that, while human hatred continues to fuel governments, human suffering will not be easy to uproot.

Professor George Gow Brownlee’s lab notebooks now available

George Gow Brownlee (photograph from the Royal Society)

George Gow Brownlee (photograph from the Royal Society)

The archive of Professor George Gow Brownlee, FMedSci, FRS, is now available online. Professor Brownlee was born in 1942 and took his degree and then a PhD at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, studying under double Nobel Laureate Fred Sanger at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (in 2014 he published a biography of Sanger). He worked for the Medical Research Council in Cambridge from 1966 until 1980 and then came to Oxford as a Fellow of Lincoln College and the first E.P. Abraham Professor of Chemical Pathology at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, a chair he held until retirement in 2008.

Professor Brownlee’s research interests were in molecular biology and he and his group made significant discoveries in sequencing RNA and DNA during the early days of that field of research. In 1977, his group discovered the existence of pseudogenes – abnormal, mutated genes – which are now known to be ubiquitous in the genome of all organisms. After 1980, Brownlee became more involved in applied medical problems, and managed to isolate the clotting factor IX gene (also known as Christmas factor), which is present in people with haemophilia B. This led to improved treatment for people with the disease. He went on to work on gene regulation in influenza. In 1999 he and Ervin Fodor, whose contributions feature heavily in this archive, were able to isolate recombinant influenza virus, which led to improved vaccines for children.

These lab notebooks, which span most of Professor Brownlee’s career, form a rich scientific record that interestingly covers failed experiments as well as the experiments that led to major discoveries. And as a bonus, the catalogue is based on Professor Brownlee’s own descriptions of the notebooks, so it offers a level of detail that couldn’t be replicated by anybody else. The archive is likely to be of interest to scientists in the field as well as medical historians.

British Ambassador to Georgia visits Wardrop collection

On Monday 25th October the Justin McKenzie Smith, the British Ambassador to Georgia, visited Oxford University’s  Georgian Studies Programme and the Bodleian’s Wardrop Collection. During his time at the library he was shown some of the new materials added to the collection in May and learned more about plans for 2018, which include Nikoloz Aleksidze’s forthcoming book with Bodleian Library Publishing, Georgia: a cultural journey through the Wardrop Collection.

PASIG 2017: Smartphones within the changing landscape of digital preservation

I recently volunteered at the PASIG 2017 Conference in Oxford, it was a great experience to learn more about the archives sector. Many of the talks at the conference focused on the current trends and influences affecting the trajectory of the industry.

A presentation that covered some of these trends in detail was a talk by Somaya Langley from Cambridge University Library (Polonsky Digital Preservation Project), her talk was featured in the ‘Future of DP theory and practice’ session. ‘Realistic digital preservation in the near future: How do we get from A to Z when B already seems too far away?’. Somaya’s presentation considered how we preserve the digital content we receive from donors on smartphones, with her focus being on iOS.

Langley, Somaya (2017): Realistic digital preservation in the near future: How to get from A to Z when B seems too far away?. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.5418685.v1 Retrieved: 08:22, Sep 22, 2017 (GMT)

Somaya’s presentation discussed how in the field of digital preservation ingest suites have  long been used to dealing with CDs, DVDs, Floppys and HDDs. However, are not sufficiently prepared for ingesting smartphones or tablets, and the various issues that are associated with these devices. We must realise that smartphones potentially hold a wealth of information for archives:

‘With the design of the Apple Operation System (iOS) and the large amount of storage space available, records of emails, text messages, browsing history, chat, map searching, and more are all being kept’.

(Forensic Analysis on iOS Devices,  Tim Proffitt, 2012. https://uk.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/forensics/forensic-analysis-ios-devices-34092 )

Why iOS? What about Android?

The UK market for the iPhone (unlike the rest of Europe) shows a much closer split: iOS November 2016 Sales 48.3% versus Android 49.6% market share in the UK. This  is contrasted against the global market share that Apple have of 12.1% in Q3 of 2016.

Whatever side of the fence you stand on it is clear that smartphones in digital curation, be they Android or iOS, will both play an important role in our collections. The skills required to extract content differs across platforms, we as digital archivists will have to learn both methods of extraction and leave our consumer preferences at the door.

So how do we get the data off the iPhone?

iOS has long been known as a ‘locked-down’ operating system, and Apple have always had an anti-tinkering stance with many of their products. Therefore it should come as no surprise that locating files on an iPhone is not very straightforward.

As Somaya pointed out in her talk, after spending six hours in the Apple Shop ‘Genius Bar’ she was no closer to understanding from Apple employees what the best course of action would be to locate backups of notes from a ‘bricked’ iPhone. Therefore she used her own method of retrieving the notes, using iExplorer to search through the backups from the iPhone.

She noted however that due to limitations of iOS it was very challenging to locate these files, in some cases it even required command line to access the location for storage backups as they were hidden by default in OSX (MacOS the main operating system used by Apple Computers).

Many tools do exist for the purpose of extracting information from iPhones, the four main methods outlined in the The SANS Institute White Paper on Forensic Analysis on iOS Devices by Tim Proffitt:

  1. Acquisition via iTunes Backups (requires original PC last used to sync the iPhone)
  2. Acquiring Backup Data with iPhone Analyzer (free java-based computer program, issues exist when dealing with encrypted backups)
  3. Acquisition via Logical Methods: (uses a synchronisation method built into iOS to recover data, e.g: programs like iPhone Explorer)
  4. Acquisition via Physical Methods (obtaining a bit-by-bit copy, e.g: Lantern 2 forensics suite)

Encryption is a challenge for retrieving data off the iPhone, especially since iTunes includes an encryption of backups feature when syncing. Proffitt suggests using a password cracker or jail-breaking as solutions to this issue, however, these solutions might not be fully compatible with our archive situations.

Another issue with smartphone digital preservation is platform and version locking. Just because the above methods work for data extraction at the moment it is very possible that future versions of iOS could make then defunct, requiring software developers to consistently update their programs or look for new approaches.

Langley, Somaya (2017): Realistic digital preservation in the near future: How to get from A to Z when B seems too far away?. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.5418685.v1 Retrieved: 08:22, Sep 22, 2017 (GMT)

Final thoughts

One final consideration that can be raised from Somaya’s talk is that of privacy. As with the arrival of computers into our archives, phones will pose similar moral questions for archivists:

Do we ascribe different values to information stored on smartphones?
Do we consider the material stored on phones more personal than data stored on our computers?

As mentioned previously, our phones store everything from emails, geo-tagged photos, phone call information, and now with the growing popularity of smart wearable-technology, health data (including user heart-rate, daily activity, weight etc.) We as digital archivists will be dealing with very sensitive personal information and need to be prepared to understand the responsibility to safeguard it appropriately.

There is no doubt that soon enough we in the archive field will be receiving more and more smartphones and tablets into our archives from donors. Hopefully talks like Somaya’s will start the ball rolling towards the creation of better standards and approaches to smartphone digital curation.

PASIG 2017: “Sharing my loss to protect your data” University of the Balearic Islands

 

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the PASIG 2017 (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) conference, held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where over the course of three days the  digital preservation community connected to share, experiences, tools, successes and mishaps.

The story of one such mishap came from Eduardo del Valle, Head of the Digitization and Open Access Unit at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), in his presentation titled Sharing my loss to protect your data: A story of unexpected data loss and how to do real preservation”. In 2013 the digitisation and digital preservation workflow pictured below was set up by the IT team at UIB.

2013 Digitisation and Digital Preservation Workflow (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

Del Valle was told this was a reliable system, with fast retrieval. However, he found this was not the case, with slow retrieval and the only means of organisation consisting of an excel spreadsheet used to contain the storage locations of the data.

In order to assess their situation they used the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, a tiered set of recommendations on how organisations should build their digital preservation activities, developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) in 2012. The guidelines are organised into five functional areas that lie at the centre of digital preservation:

  1. Storage and geographic location
  2. File fixity and data integrity
  3. Information security
  4. Metadata
  5. File formats

These five areas then have four columns (Levels 1-4) which set tiered recommendations of action, from Level 1 being the least an organisation should do, to Level 4 being the most an organisation can do. You can read the original paper on the NDSA Levels here.

The slide below shows the extent to which the University met the NDSA Levels. They found there was an urgent need for improvement.

NDSA Levels of Preservation UIB compliance (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Eduardo del Valle

In 2014 the IT team decided to implement a new back up system. While the installation and configuration of the new backup system (B) was completed, the old system (A) remained operative.

On the 14th and 15th November 2014, a backup was created for the digital material generated during the digitisation of 9 rare books from the 14th century in the Tape Backup System (A) and notably, two confirmation emails were received, verifying the success of the backup.  By October 2015, all digital data had been migrated from System (A) to the new System (B), spanning UIB projects from 2008-2014.

However, on 4th November 2014, a loss of data was detected…

The files corresponding to the 9 digitised rare books were lost. This loss was detected a year after the initial back up of the 9 books in System A, and therefore the contract for technical assistance had finished. This meant there was no possibility of obtaining financial compensation, if the loss was due to a hardware or software problem.  The loss of these files, unofficially dubbed “the X-files”, meant the loss of three months of work and it’s corresponding economic loss. Furthermore, the rare books were in poor condition, and to digitise them again could cause serious damage. Despite a number of theories, the University is yet to receive an explanation for the loss of data.

The digitised 14th century rare book from UIB collection (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

To combat issues like this, and to enforce best practice in their digital preservation efforts, the University acquired Libsafe, a digital preservation solution offered by Libnova. Libsafe is OAIS and ISO 14.721:2012 compliant, and encompasses advanced metadata management with a built-in ISAD(g) filter, with the possibility to import any custom metadata schema. Furthermore, Libsafe offers fast delivery, format control, storage of two copies in disparate locations, and a built-in catalogue. With the implementation of a standards compliant workflow, the UIB proceeded to meet all four levels of the 5 areas of the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.

The ISO 14.721:2012 Space Data and Information Transfer Systems – Open Archival Information System – Reference Model (OAIS)  provides a framework for implementing the archival concepts needed for long-term digital preservation and access, and for describing and comparing architectures and operations of existing and future archives, as well as describing roles, processes and methods for long-term preservation.

The use of these standards facilitates the easy access, discovery and sharing of digital material, as well as their long-term preservation. Del Valle’s story of data loss reminds us of the importance of implementing standards-based practices in our own institutions, to minimise risk and maximise interoperability and access, in order to undertake true digital preservation.

 

With thanks to Eduardo del Valle, University of the Balearic Islands.

PASIG2017: Preserving Memory

 

The Oxford University Natural History Museum (photo by Roxana Popistasu, twitter)

This year’s PASIG conference, (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) bought together an eclectic mix of individuals from around the world to discuss the very exciting and constantly evolving topic of digital preservation. Held at the Oxford University Natural History Museum, the conference aimed to connect practitioners from a variety of industries with a view to promoting conversation surrounding various digital preservation experiences, designs and best practices. The presentations given comprised a series of lightning talks, speeches and demos on a variety of themes including: the importance of standards, sustainability and copyright within digital preservation.

UNHCR: Archiving on the Edge

UNHCR Fieldworkers digitally preserving refugee records (photo by Natalie Harrower, twitter)

I was particularly moved by a talk given on the third day by Patricia Sleeman, an Archivist working for the UNHCR, a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

Entitled “Keep your Eyes on the Information” Sleeman’s poignant and thought-provoking presentation discussed the challenges and difficulties faced when undertaking digital preservation in countries devastated by the violence and conflicts of war. Whilst recognising that digital preservation doesn’t immediately save lives in the way that food, water and aid can, Sleeman identified the place of digital preservation as having significant importance in the effort to retain, record and preserve the memory, identity and voice of a people which would otherwise be lost through the destruction and devastation of displacement, war and violence.

About the Archive

Sleeman and her team seek to capture a wide range of digital media including: you tube, websites and social media, each forming a precious snapshot of history, an antidote to the violent acts of mnemnocide- or the destruction of memory.

The digital preservation being undertaken is still in its early stages with focus being given to the creation of good quality captures and metadata. It is hoped in time however that detailed policies and formats will be developed to aid Sleeman in her digital preservation work.

One of the core challenges of this project has been handling highly sensitive material including refugee case files. The preservation of such delicate material has required Sleeman and her team to act slowly and with integrity, respecting the content of information at each stage.

For more information on the UNHCR  please click here.

 

Now available: Catalogue of the Archive of Sir James Gowans

The Archive of the immunologist Sir James Gowans  (b.1924) is now available (online catalogue).

James Learmonth ‘Jim’ Gowans, after obtaining his medical degree from King’s College Hospital in 1947, came to Oxford on a Medical Research Council Studentship to work under Howard Florey, and was awarded a DPhil in 1953.

During the 1950s he did pioneering work on the life cycle of the lymphocyte, establishing that the small lymphocyte continuously recirculated from the blood to the lymph and back again, and that this cell was at the centre of immunological responses.
In 1962 he became Henry Dale Research Professor of the Royal Society at the Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, and from 1963 he was also Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cellular Immunology Research Unit at the Dunn School.

In 1977 Gowans left his research career to become the Secretary of the Medical Research Council and during 10 years in office oversaw, or was involved with, a number of major projects and initiatives, notably the establishment of Celltech as a company to develop biotechnology research into commercial opportunities, folic acid trials to prevent the development of neural tube defects, the Rothschild proposals for the reorganisation of medical research funding in the UK, the setup of the Voluntary Licensing Authority for Human in-vitro Fertilization and Embryology, and MRC AIDS Directed Programme.
From 1989-1993 Gowans was the Secretary-General of the Human Frontier Science Program, Strasbourg.

Alongside his posts at the Medical Research Council and the Human Frontier Science Program, and after his retirement, Gowans was a consultant and advisor, non-executive director or trustee for a number of companies, organisations and charities, including the World Health Organization Programme on AIDS, 3i – Investment in Industries, the Tavistock Trust, the Charing Cross Sunley Research Centre, Synaptica, EICOS – European Initiative for Communicators of Science, St. Christopher’s Hospice, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation.
Amongst many awards he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1963, and knighted in 1982.

The archive mainly comprises professional and scientific correspondence, and related papers such as briefing papers and reports, relating to all stages of Gowans’s career, as well as general (personal) correspondence, papers relating to awards, honours and memberships, conferences and visits, publications, and selected photographs.

The material was catalogued with the generous support of Sir James Gowans.

PASIG 2017: Reflections on ‘Digital Preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals’

Along with my colleagues, I was incredibly grateful to be at Oxford PASIG 2017, hosted at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History from 11-13 September.

A presentation given by Angeline Takawira,  was affirmation indeed as to why advocacy for digital preservation is crucial worldwide.  Angeline gave us an insight into the aims and challenges of digital preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UN MICT).

The Mechanism

Angeline explained that the purpose of the UN MICT is to continue the mandated and essential actions that  have been carried out temporarily by two International Criminal Tribunals: Rwanda (ICTR) from 1993 until 2015 and Yugoslavia (ICTY) since 1994, which will be closing at the end of this year. UN MICT was established in 2010 by the UN Security Council, and is therefore a relatively new organisation. However, like its two predecessors, it is temporary.

We were told about the highly significant and mandated functions of MICT:

  1. To protect and support victims, witnesses and all others affected by war crimes
  2. To enforce sentences and other judicial work
  3. To preserve and manage the archives of the international tribunals.

You can find out more about the important work of the UN MICT here.

Digital Preservation at UN MICT

The Mechanism is made up of two branches: The Hague, Netherlands and Arusha, Tanzania, so the single digital repository is maintained across two continents. Currently the digital records of each of these are a hybrid of both digitised and born-digital material with example files including emails, GIS datasets, websites and CAD files. However, the audio-visual files take up 90% in volume of the digital archives combined.

It is so apparent that UN MICT’s  preservation goals are aligned to their aims as an organisation as a whole; authenticity is imperative for all of their records.  Angeline asserted that their digital preservation goals were to be trustworthy, accessible and useable and ‘demonstrably authentic’ – that is, identical to the digital original in all essential aspects. The digital archive is made up of:

  • Judicial case records – such as court decisions, judgements, court transcripts
  • Records relating to the judicial process – for example detentions of the accused and the protection of witnesses
  • Administrative records of the tribunals as an organisation (and also the Mechanism as an organisation).

Through a range of actions, the development of the digital preservation programme is achieving these aims. Angeline cited the introductions of workflows and compliance with standards, as well as the records being transferred to the repository with an unbroken chain of custody with stringent access controls and fixity checks to ensure no corruption. Furthermore, work continues on defining procedures around migration plans, as the Mechanism wishes to retain an experience of authenticity – which understandably needs a focus on file format characteristics.

Challenges

PASIG definitely taught me that authentic and usable digital preservation is always a trialling undertaking, but the challenges faced when digitally preserving the UN MICT are particularly unique due to its sensitive content and technicalities. For one, the fact that it is a temporary organisation is at odds with the long term endeavour of making these tribunal records accessible for the future and ensuring their protection. A repository transfer as a next step would need extremely critical consideration. Also, the retention schedule of different data is a factor for discussion – so that the UN MICT can fulfil its requirements of deletion in a transparent way.

One of the largest challenges to the future of digital preservation for similar organisations and initiatives, there is limited financial sustainability, resources and staff in order to sustain the long term commitment that digital preservation of records like this really command.

Use

There is no doubt that the digital archive of the UN MICT would be of fundamental significance to an international user community of the global media, legal professionals, academics, researchers and all education in general.  Combine these user groups with the broad range of stakeholders in preserving the Mechanism: the international courts, the security council who gave the mandated the work, there are many to whom this cause, and the information it preserves, will be vital to.  I have visited 4 countries of former Yugoslavia and the digital records of the MICT are surely equally  as compulsory to preserve and learn from as the  physical and tangible evidence of conflict. The need for advocacy of digital preservation is pertinent, and the UN MICT are doing urgent work.

Children’s Papers: Series 1 catalogue of Opie Archive now available

The cataloguing of the first series of the Opie Archive, which comprises children’s papers, as well as related correspondence from school teachers, has now been completed. The catalogue is available to search online here.

The material in the first 13 boxes spans most of the 1950s, during which time, Iona and Peter Opie were working on their book, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, which was published towards the end of 1959. They began by placing an advert in the Times Educational Supplement, seeking teachers willing to assist in their research. Those who responded, soon put the Opies in touch with further colleagues in other schools, until they had recruited a wide network of enthusiastic teachers across the country. In order to keep track of their dizzying number of correspondents, the Opies kept meticulous notes in a series of small address books, in which each contact was assigned a reference code. The material in the first 13 boxes is, therefore, arranged in order of the reference codes of those contacts who had sent in each batch of papers. The subsequent 20 boxes, following the publication of The Lore and Language, date mostly from 1960 onwards. From this point, the material is instead arranged alphabetically, by the area the material had come from – from Aberdeen to York.

The Opie address books, which hold the key to all their many correspondents

The papers, often accompanied by colourful illustrations, list the children’s favourite counting out and skipping rhymes, describe games such as ball games, chasing games and marbles, explain slang terms and expressions currently in use, recount the latest playground fads and crazes, and outline various traditions, superstitions and other playground lore that have been passed down to them. Some of the games described would make modern-day readers flinch, such as the popular game “Knifey”, which involves throwing a pocket knife to stick in the ground near the opponent’s leg. The children’s papers are usually prefaced by a note from their teacher, often apologising for spelling mistakes in their pupils’ work, and sometimes recalling their own childhood songs and games. The teachers’ insights are often particularly interesting, such as when one teacher observes that the few English-language songs and rhymes known to the children in their predominantly Welsh-speaking school in Ruthin, north Wales, appear to be the legacy left by children from Liverpool, who had been evacuated there during the war.

The series also includes a sub-section of material received from sources other than schools, such as from fellow researchers working in the same field as the Opies, or a collection of local rhymes and songs from across Scotland, gathered by the editors of the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. This section also includes ten boxes of children’s essays submitted to the Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition, passed on to the Opies by Camberwell’s Chief Librarian. These competition entries provide a fascinating glimpse into the children’s thoughts and lives. The essays are very clearly rooted in their time, which is apparent not only through the 1950s and ’60s hairstyles and fashions, discernible in some of the charming, childish illustrations, but also in the children’s responses to essay topics such as “What I want to be when I leave school”, in which all the girls aspire to be nurses, dressmakers and typists, while their male counterparts seek to become firemen, policemen and train drivers. Other interesting responses were elicited by the 1955 essay title “A visit to the moon” – some children setting their stories firmly in the realm of fantasy, imagining being transported to the moon by fairies or goblins, while others wrote of rocket ships, but set their stories in the far distant year 3000, little imagining that the moon landing could become a reality in just over a decade’s time.

Shiny, new, archive boxes, all labelled up and barcoded!

To begin with, the bundles of papers were mostly still packaged in the same old, brown envelopes in which they had been stored by the Opies. Part of our task, in order to preserve the material long-term, was to remove all the harmful fasteners that could cause damage to the papers over time, such as rusty paperclips, pins and staples, as well as brittle, dried-up elastic bands. The papers could then be repackaged into standard, acid-free archive folders and boxes. In those instances where whole batches of papers had been folded or rolled up within their envelopes, the process of unfurling and flattening them to lie safely and neatly in their archive folders, was rather time-consuming.

Some of the rusty fasteners, removed from the Opie schools material

Our final task was foliation – which means physically numbering all the individual leaves (or “folios”) in each box, in pencil, so that the original order of the pages will never become muddled. The foliation process demanded sustained concentration, as it was all too easy to either miscount or accidently skip a page, especially given that the leaves in each bundle were all different sizes. Once such an error is discovered, all the subsequent numbers in the sequence are then, of course, likewise out of sync – a highly frustrating occurrence which we sought to avoid! In total, we numbered over 24 and a half thousand leaves across 46 boxes.

The Opie cataloguing project is generously funded by the Wellcome Trust. While the catalogue of this first series has now been completed, please note that work on the remaining Opie Archive is still ongoing, and sequences of the Opie Archive will continue to become temporarily unavailable whilst preservation, cataloguing and digitisation work is being carried out. We will try to accommodate urgent researchers’ requests for access wherever possible, however, if you need to consult material from the Opie Archive before June 2018, please do ensure that you contact us with as much advance notice as possible, so that we can advise on the availability of the material in question and make any necessary arrangements.

Supported by the Wellcome Trust

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.”