Category Archives: Archives and Modern Manuscripts

‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’ – keeping the peace at Encaenia

Encaenia hasn’t always been the solemn and serious ceremony it is now. For much of its life, it was the victim of some very bad behaviour – some of which was formally sanctioned by the University, but most of which was not. Until the Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1669, the Act (the predecessor of Encaenia) took place at St Mary’s, the University Church. By the late fifteenth century, however, this, once sober occasion had begun to turn into a much less respectable and rather outrageous event.

As well as the conferral of honorary degrees, the Act (effectively the University’s annual graduation ceremony) also contained a theatrical element absent from the modern Encaenia ceremony. It attracted travelling players and musical performers, and was livelier and more exuberant than it is now. Part of the exuberance came from a character at the event who was appointed by the University almost deliberately to lower the tone. The Terrae Filius (‘son of the earth’, meaning someone of very lowly origins) was an anonymous speaker whose role was to poke fun at the University and give a satirical speech about the honorands.

Whilst originally a solemn and serious participant in the proceedings, the Terrae Filius’s speech gradually descended over the years into downright rudeness. Although the University officially tolerated this licensed outrageousness, some of the individuals present (especially those on the receiving end of the rudeness) did not. Some speeches were so offensive that the Terrae Filius was attacked and beaten afterwards. In other years the speech gives were expelled from the University, forced to retract their speech, and even arrested on the spot and taken to Oxford’s bocardo prison.

The theatricals and the insults of the Terrae Filius appealed to many undergraduates and visitors from outside Oxford and the came to the Act in large numbers. The crowds and the general spirit of licentiousness proved a dangerous cocktail with undergraduates seeing the event as an opportunity to misbehave. They made noises which disrupted the ceremony (‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’), were rude to the honorands, and deliberately sat in the wrong seats, ie those set aside for more senior University individuals. The University started having to issue notices to undergraduates warning them of the consequences of their bad behaviour.

Notice of 1652

Notice of 5 July 1652 concerning student behaviour at the Act (from OUA/WPgamma/28/8)

The Act became such an undesirable part of the University’s calendar that by the late seventeenth century it wasn’t even held every year. It seems that the University looked for any excuse not to have to hold it. Some years there were ‘not enough honorands’; other years, it wasn’t held for fear of sparking political disturbances. The event had become so rowdy that many thought it no longer appropriate to be held in a church. As a result, the Sheldonian Theatre was built and the Act moved there in 1670.

The Act was held only three times in the first half of the eighteenth century: in 1703, 1713 and 1733. The Terrae Filius didn’t even speak at the 1713 Act, his speech apparently having been burnt. His very last appearance in 1763 was in a much reduced, and heavily-censored, role.

The 1733 Act, famous for involving the composer George Frideric Handel, was the last traditional Act to take place. It was replaced shortly afterwards by the new annual Encaenia ceremony, a much-reduced version of the Act. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Encaenia (also known as the Commemoration) was becoming an important part of the University calendar again. Unfortunately rowdy undergraduate behaviour was also becoming a regular part of Encaenia. The move to the Sheldonian had not curbed the behaviour, it had simply moved it to a new location. Student rowdiness was such a part of the tradition of the event that although the Terrae Filius had long been consigned to history, his spirit lived on.

University notice concerning students banished for disruption of Encaenia 1843 (OUA/WPgamma/26/2/18)

In June 1843, four students were banished from the University for between one and five years each for ‘grievous violation of the peace’ at the Sheldonian Theatre. The University issued numerous notices over the following decades chastising the undergraduates for their continuing bad behaviour, repeated without fail each Encaenia.

University notice concerning behaviour at Encaenia, c1840 (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/19)

The notices reminded undergraduates that they had no formal right to even be at the ceremony. Encaenia was technically a meeting of Convocation (the body of MAs and higher degree holders of the University) of which undergraduates were not members.

University notice of 24 June 1867 concerning student behaviour (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/84)

By the time Encaenia 1867 was about to take place, the University was issuing strongly-worded notices to its undergraduates about the impact of their behaviour. It was not only bringing the University into disrepute, it was even, allegedly, putting people off accepting an honorary degree from Oxford. They just couldn’t face the ‘ordeal’ of it.

The problem of undergraduates’ bad behaviours at Encaenia was finally solved in the 1870s. The Curators of the Sheldonian Theatre were established in 1872, a direct result of the Encaenia disturbances. A new body set up to take responsibility of the Sheldonian, one of its first acts was to tackle the issue of crowd control at Encaenia. Until that time, entry to the Sheldonian had not been restricted in any way and any member of the University, undergraduate or otherwise, could turn up. In 1872 the Curators decided to admit undergraduates to Encaenia by ticket only. In 1878 they went even further, deciding on 30 May that year that undergraduates would no longer be allowed at Encaenia. Removing undergraduates from the ceremony entirely finally enabled the University to bring Encaenia back under control and into the realms of respectability.

For more information about the chequered history of the Terrae Filius, see the article by Bromley Smith and Douglas Ehninger ‘The Terrafilial disputations at Oxford’ at  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00335635009381578

The Acts of 1713 and 1733 are discussed by H Diack Johnstone in his article ‘Handel at Oxford in 1733’ available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3138069?seq=1 and in his chapter ‘Music and Drama at the Oxford Act of 1713’ in Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain (ed Susan Wollenberg, 2017).

Further information about the Encaenia ceremony today can be found on the University’s website at https://www.ox.ac.uk/news-and-events/The-University-Year/Encaenia

 

Can web archives tell stories?

Archives tell stories. A series of induction sessions with archivists have brought me, a web archivist, to a new understanding of what archives are and what archivists do.

Archivists enable stories to be told — stories about people, organisations, society and much more. Archival materials bring them back to life. The very making of a collection — how its contents have been selected, preserved and made available to the public, and how some have not – constitute stories in themselves.

But can web archives tell stories? Web archives differ from conventional archives, where archival material comes into custody as a collection with a relatively clear boundary, within which archivists carry out appraisal, selection and cataloguing work. The boundaries for web archives, by comparison, have been both blurred and expanded.

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Oral History collections at the Bodleian Libraries

You may or may not know that as well as the physical tangible treasures in our Special Collections, Archives and Modern Manuscripts are also home to born-digital archives which are stored, processed and managed through our digital repository, Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM). In the past few years, the Bodleian Libraries have accessioned and processed a number of oral history collections, which are rich resources of spoken memory.

What kinds of oral histories do the Bodleian Libraries hold in Special Collections?

The development of medical history both locally and nationally is reflected in the holdings of Sir William Dunn School of Pathology oral histories and Recollecting Oxford Medicine: Oral Histories. Recollecting Oxford Medicine is a project funded and facilitated by Oxford Medical Alumni and generous private donors. The archive of their oral histories augments our current physical holdings on Oxford medics and medicine, by setting out to question and listen to a large range of interviewees across various departments, divisions and disciplines whose work also spanned different periods from the Second World War until the current day. Recollecting Oxford Medicine makes for a fascinating account of the development and changes of the Oxford Medical School and the Oxford Hospitals from the memories of those at the forefront.

Series of publicly accessible ROM interview recordings, hosted on University of Oxford Podcasts.

List of some of the ROM interviews available as podcast episodes through the Recollecting Oxford Medicine series. Episodes currently number 51.

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, oral history projects have consciously sought fill gaps in collective history by interviewing subjects and collecting testimonies from those who may have been excluded from participation. Oxford Women in Computing: an Oral History project is one example of this practice and a recurring theme in the oral history interviews is gender splits in computing which interviewees perceived and experienced. These oral history interviews, conducted by Georgina Ferry, capture the stories and memories of pioneering women at the forefront of computing and its teaching, and in research and service provision at Oxford from the 1950s-1990s. The series of publicly accessible interviews can be found here. 

Oral Histories and Archives

Processing oral history collections which are kindly donated or transferred gives the opportunity to train and utilise new skills urgently needed to preserve the authenticity and significant components of, and manage, the born-digital records of these projects. These include learning to use editing software to edit mp3 derivatives of master wav. audio recordings as a means to comply with UK data protection legislation when creating public access versions of recordings.  Part of the work flow of managing and making these oral histories available has also included mapping metadata such as indexed names and subjects between BEAM documentation to our cataloguing system Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts, to the back end of the publication portal for University of Oxford podcasts, where the publicly accessible oral history recordings are currently hosted.

Oral Histories are recognised as multi-faceted and valuable educational and research tools. These oral histories held in Special Collections are for everyone; whether a subject specialist, a multidisciplinary, an inquisitive Oxford resident or university member… or just anyone curious who fancies learning about something new! University of Oxford podcasts can be accessed for free anywhere online on the web in the links given above, and also through Apple podcasts.

Watch this space for updates on any new acquisitions or newly catalogued oral history projects.

 

 

 

 

The academic papers of Abdul Raufu Mustapha

Abdul Raufu Mustapha (1954-2017), born in Aba, in what is now Abia State in south-eastern Nigeria, was appointed University Lecturer in African Politics at Oxford University in 1996, becoming the university’s first Black African University Lecturer. In 2014 he was appointed Associate Professor of African Politics. His academic papers were donated to the Bodleian Libraries by his widow, Dr. Kate Meagher, in 2018 and 2020 and catalogued recently with the generous support of the Oxford Department of International Development, St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and Dr. Mustapha’s family.

Mustapha’s research interests related to religion and politics in Nigeria, the politics of rural societies, the politics of democratization, and identity politics in Africa. His papers contain substantial research materials relating to fieldwork examining the political consequences of rural inequalities, conducted at Rogo Village, Kano State, Nigeria, for his D.Phil. thesis, ‘Peasant Differentiation and Politics in Rural Kano: 1900-1987’ (St. Peter’s College, Oxford, 1990). This fieldwork was followed up in the 1990s by further research using questionnaires for household heads and interviews focusing on topics such as land holding, assets, income, expenditure,  corn production, village life and politics. There are also materials relating to other research projects and articles by him.

Rogo questionnaire

Questionnaire for household heads, Rogo, Feb 1998. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 15476/4

In later years, Mustapha studied the issues posed by radical Islamist sects in northern Nigeria, creating a transnational Nigeria Research Network of scholars to study Muslim identities, Islamic movements and Muslim-Christian relations. This culminated in the publication of a research trilogy on Islam and religious conflict in northern Nigeria, comprising Mustapha, A.R. ed., Sects and Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria (Boydell & Brewer, 2014); Mustapha, A.R. and Ehrhardt, D. eds., Creed & Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations and Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria (Boydell & Brewer, 2018); and Mustapha, A.R. and Meagher, K. eds., Overcoming Boko Haram: Faith, Society and Islamic Radicalization in Northern Nigeria (Boydell & Brewer, 2020).

During his time in Oxford, Mustapha worked to support students from Africa and was the patron of the student-run Oxford University Africa Society. He served as an Associate Editor for the journal, Oxford Development Studies. Within Nigeria, he was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Kano-based development Research and Projects Centre, and of the editorial board of the Premium Times newspaper. Internationally, he was a member of editorial advisory groups for the journals, Review of African Political Economy, and Africa. He participated in the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, where he served in many capacities. He wrote reports for the Working Group on Ethnic Minorities, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and the project on ‘Ethnic Structure and Public Sector Governance’ for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva.

 

The happiest day of your life (#ArchivesAreYou)

A bride in wedding dress and veil posing for the camera holding a corgi dog, c. 1960s

Bride + corgi, c. 1960s, ©Bodleian Libraries

Helen Muspratt (1907-2001) was a skilled experimental and documentary photographer of the 1930s who produced haunting photographs of pre-war Russia and Ukraine as well as the Welsh valleys in the depths of the Great Depression. For most of her life, however, she was a hardworking studio photographer. From her studio on Cornmarket Street in Oxford she staged lively portraits of everyone who crossed the threshold, from playful toddlers to students celebrating degree days. And she was also a skilled wedding photographer, a job which consumed many Saturdays. Our collection of her wedding photographs spans the 1940s to the 1970s and showcases ordinary people, usually unnamed, in a beautiful array of wedding fashions.

 

The Kingsland Mercury and The Lost Kingdom

One of the undoubted literary gems of the Bodleian Library is Jane Austen’s collection of juvenilia. Self-titled Volume the First, it contains sixteen of Jane’s earliest works including stories and verses, some of which were first written when Jane was as young as eleven or twelve.(1) While Volume the First reminds us that every author began somewhere, it also reminds us of how early or juvenile work can be treasured and preserved by its creators and their families alike, sometimes well beyond the lifetimes of the original intended audience. However, not all of the literary manuscripts at the Bodleian Library were created by world famous names and examples of juvenilia, shown here by two recent acquisitions, are no exception.

The Kingsland Mercury

Around 1854, two children identified as S. Horn and Edward Woodall, living in the Mardol Head neighbourhood in central Shrewsbury, decided to set up their own miniature periodical which they called The Kingsland Mercury. Written by hand on tiny pieces of folded paper and sewn together, four editions and three ‘free’ supplements dating between March and October 1854 have survived in surprisingly pristine condition (with, alas, a few missing pages). The main topic of conversation and commentary was the Crimean War but The Kingsland Mercury also included local and ‘comic’ news alongside stories, poetry, riddles, and letters to the editor, all mirroring the grown up newspapers of the day.

A small handwritten mock up of a newspaperThe Kingsland Mercury Supplement, 9 April 1854, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 18763

One of the letters to the editor gives us a clue that this tiny homemade newspaper was founded sometime before the first surviving issue from March 1854 and also had a far wider circulation than just its immediate creators. The letter writer complained that:

…really the time which some of the Subscribers of the Kingsland Mercury keep that paper is almost intolerable. Instead of reading it at the first opportunity they have, they keep it in their pockets sometimes for a day or more. Now this is too bad, & it shews that they don’t care… when those whose names are last on the list get it.

It is also likely that there were other contributors to the paper beyond the named editors due to requests from the editors for ‘original pieces on any interesting subject’ and also the occasional change in handwriting.(2)

The emphasis on the Crimean War demonstrates an awareness by the child-editors of a world beyond their own immediate environs. This awareness is also demonstrated by the inclusion of an anti-slavery poem by Edward Woodall entitled ‘The negro’s wrongs’ strongly criticising the ongoing practice of slavery in the United States, emphasising the conscious denial of education by the slave owners alongside the physical brutality they practised. Such inclusions hint at the beliefs and understanding of the adult society in which the children were brought up.(3)

The Lost Kingdom

The second example of juvenilia also demonstrates an awareness of a wider, diverse world with multiple histories. The Lost Kingdom, a ‘mocked-up’ historical adventure novel set around the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, was created by C.M. Carter at St Margarets in West Runton, Norfolk (Carter gives the location more specifically as ‘the Den’). The 422 page handwritten novel, which includes several full-page watercolour illustrations, was completed on 25th June 1922. The novel was then hand-bound with black thread between two paste board covers with bright watercolour paintings on the top cover and spine.

The illustrated cover of a child's mock up of a novelFront cover of The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The action-packed narrative is an epic Indiana Jones-style adventure, reflecting the contemporary derring-do of Boys’ Own type publications and adventure fiction written by authors such as John Buchan. In The Lost Kingdom, the ‘hero’ of the story, Mr Bernard Morgan (a widower and one of the early New World settlers who lived in ‘what was to become New York’) is summoned by a letter from a friend to come to the aid of the Incas under the threat of Spanish colonisation.

Much of the story is centred around the adventures of his daughter Stella, conveniently being looked after by a family in Peru at the start of the tale, who is later joined by her two brothers during their school holidays. Whilst the gender of the author remains unknown, the use of a prominent female character alongside the Morgans’ attempt to help the indigenous population against colonising forces seem remarkable for something of this date (even if their representation is somewhat muddled to modern eyes).

Illustration of ‘The Gorge of Death’: ‘Poor Stella was sent shooting from the back of the llama and hurtled into the fear-full dephs [sic] below…’, from The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The way the story keeps going throughout the 400 or so pages is also remarkable, demonstrating the author’s dedication to the work. Subtle changes in the handwriting suggest Carter had a little help now and then: a more in-depth inspection of the item might tell us how much of a collaborative effort it was – was it a collaboration between friends or siblings, or perhaps something which drew on a mutually imagined ongoing adventure?

The main story ends on page 402 with the return of the Morgans to the United States. This is followed by several more pages with commentary on the First World War (The Great War as it was then called) and a poem on ‘The Fall of Peru’ – an interesting and somewhat unexplained juxtaposition, perhaps an effort on the part of the author to make some sense of both the contemporary world and its history.

These items of juvenilia offer an interesting mix of fact and fiction presented through young eyes in a medium that was both familiar and grown-up. In each case, while we are lucky to actually have their names and locations, we know a lot less about the authors than we do about Jane Austen. What links them and the Austen juvenilia together however is a determination to put pen to paper – to amuse as well as educate, and to share stories.

-Rachael Marsay

 


Footnotes

  1. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. e. 7. The volume is available to view on Digital Bodleian and more information can be found on the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts website.
  2. On 3rd April 1854, the paper noted a change in editors with J. Woodall taking over from S. Horn – perhaps a moving on or a falling out.
  3. It is likely that the Woodall family were clothiers: in an 1851 directory, a John Woodall is listed as a woollen draper and clothier in Mardol Head. Samuel Bagshaw, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Shropshire (Sheffield, 1851).

Oxford University: Stories from the Archives

This month sees the publication of a brand new book, Oxford University: Stories from the Archives. This is the first book about the University Archives to be published in 50 years and is an illustrated collection of stories about the University of Oxford as told by its own records.

The University Archives was established in 1634. Based in the tower of the Old Bodleian Library, it is the institutional archive of Oxford University and looks after its historic administrative records. It provides a service making those records available to all who need them, by they University administrators here in Oxford or historians from across the world.

The book is designed to be a readable and entertaining introduction to these records. It consists of fifty-two chapters, each showcasing an item from the Archives to tell a story about the University’s history. Arranged chronologically, these span 800 years and include documents, photographs, plans and drawings, models and objects. Each tells its own story, giving a unique perspective on the University’s history and presenting it in a way rarely seen before.

Copy of an illuminated charter of Edward III, 1375, written into the Chancellor’s book, (OUA/NEP/supra/Reg A, fol 13r)

Some of these items are impressive artefacts in their own right, such as the early charters and statute books of the University; others are relatively modest documents which tell a much more interesting story than their appearance may first suggest.

The stories told cover a range of issues and subjects. Some show how the University reacted to the changing world around it, to major national and international events such as war (both civil and global) and its relations with governments and monarchs. They show it having to change in the face of external, often unwanted, pressures such as the coming of the railways in the 1840s, and the rise of student protest in the 1960s.

Matriculation form of Christian Cole

Matriculation form of Christian Cole, 1873 (from OUA/UR/1/1/5)

Other documents illustrate how the University instigated change. The opening up of membership of the University to members of all religions, and none, in 1871, and the admission of women in 1920 were key developments in increasing inclusion and diversity amongst the student population. Beyond Oxford, the book looks at the University’s initiatives in widening access to higher education through its adult education programmes in the north of England in the early twentieth century, and in West Africa in the 1940s.

Closer to home, the book looks at the effect of the University on Oxford city and its people; from its sometimes difficult relations with the city in the past, to co-operation and reconciliation in the twentieth century. Badly-behaved students appear, as do the University Proctors, upholding the discipline and the ‘morals’ of the University over many centuries. The idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of the University are also not forgotten. The book tells the stories of the University’s MPs, its very own Police force, and some of its ceremonial traditions.

Green lamps issued by the Proctors for affixing to undergraduates’ cars c1926-1960s (OUA/PR 1/21/7/1-3)

There are stories about the University’s buildings and institutions such as the construction of the University Museum of Natural History, and the failed proposal to build a futuristic Pitt Rivers Museum in North Oxford in the 1960s. The chapters on the Bodleian Library’s stories look at its foundation and early years, including the admission of the very first overseas reader in 1603, as well as the more recent transformation of the New Bodleian into the Weston Library.

Some famous faces appear in the book such as Albert Einstein and Oscar Wilde. But there are also the stories of people you might not have expected to find in a history of Oxford University. The book includes some very personal, human stories which we can relate to today.

It’s hoped that the book will bring all of these stories, many of which are relatively unknown, to a wider audience and that even those who already know the University well will find something new and interesting here.

Cover image of Oxford University: Stories from the Archives

Oxford University: Stories from the Archives is published by Bodleian Library Publishing and can be ordered through their website at Oxford University: Stories from the Archives – Bodleian Libraries (bodleianshop.co.uk)

Oxford University and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln

By the late nineteenth century, Oxford University had developed strong links with the United States of America going back many years. It had conferred honorary degrees on US ambassadors and ministers, including a Doctorate of Civil Law in 1762 for Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers and signatory to the Declaration of Independence. Other figures in the history of the US had studied here: William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and Charles Chauncy, President of Harvard from 1654 to 1672, were both students at the University in the 1600s.

So when news reached Oxford of the assassination on 15 April 1865 of the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the University felt the need to respond.

Abraham Lincoln, c1863

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, 1863 (source: “Alexander Gardner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Courtesy of The Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522529/”)

In the days following the assassination, the Chancellor of the University, the Earl of Derby, wrote to Hebdomadal Council, the University’s executive body, proposing an address of condolence be sent to the US. Hebdomadal Council approved the idea at its meeting of 3 May and the text of the address, in the form of a letter, was drafted. As it was to be sent under the corporate seal of the University, the letter had first to be approved by Convocation (the body of MAs and higher degree holders of the University). Before its next meeting on 5 May, copies of the letter were made available to members of Convocation so that they could read what was proposed to be sent.

Hebdomadal order, 1865

Printed notice of the meeting of Convocation to be held on Friday 5 May 1865 (from OUA/HC 1/7/3)

The University’s letter itself does not survive in the University Archives, but the text of the letter was copied into the register of Convocation as part of the record of its proceedings. The text of the letter read:

“We the Chancellor Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford request your Excellency to convey to the Government and People of the United States of America the assurance of our sincere condolence on the occasion of the appalling calamity which has recently befallen your country.

It is not the practice of this University to notice in its corporate capacity events which do not directly affect the well being of our own country. But at this singular and lamentable crisis we are conscious of the full force of those recollections of the past which must at all times lead the British nation to regard with a community of interest the fortunes and destinies of a friendly and a kindred people. In accordance with these sentiments it is the anxious desire of the University to express to your Excellency the abhorrence with which we together with the whole civilized world regard the assassination of the President of the United States.

We would also at the same time express in common with all ranks of our countrymen our earnest hope that by the orderings of a merciful Providence the American people may speedily enjoy the restoration of internal peace and national prosperity.”

Letter to US ambassador, 1865

Text of letter to the US ambassador from the Register of Convocation, 5 May 1865 (OUA/NEP/subtus/Reg Bu, pp364-5)

Whilst formal addresses by the University were much used at this time as a means of conveying messages from the University as a corporate body, most often to send congratulations or condolences to the current monarch and Royal Family, or to other universities around the world, this expression of sympathy with another nation was unusual. As stated in the letter, the University didn’t generally comment on, or even formally ‘notice’ events which didn’t affect it or the UK directly. But it felt strongly enough about this ‘singular and lamentable crisis’ to step outside of its own conventions.

Convocation approved the text, the University’s seal was attached and the letter was sent. A response from the American ambassador was received and read to Convocation some days later on 11 May but unfortunately the text of that letter does not survive here.

The University’s close relationship with the US has continued and today its citizens are one of the largest groups of international students, academic staff and alumni at the University. Honorary degrees have been conferred on many US citizens including Abraham Lincoln’s successors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; and a University centre for American studies, the Rothermere American Institute exists to promote the study of the culture, history and politics of the United States.

For more information about the University’s links today with the US, see its website at United States of America | University of Oxford .

Admission of the Proctors

Every year, on the Wednesday of the 9th week of Hilary Term, the University admits its new Proctors and Assessor to office. These are senior officers of the University, responsible for scrutiny and discipline, whose role is to oversee student matters and uphold the University’s statutes and policies. The two Proctors (a Senior Proctor and a Junior Proctor) and the Assessor are selected from the fellows of three colleges (one for each) on a rota basis and each officer holds their position full-time for 12 months.

The role of the Proctor is ancient. First referred to in 1248, the two Proctors were the principal officers of the University, along with the Chancellor. They were responsible for discipline and order, both in terms of academic studies and conduct. At first the Proctors were chosen from among the fellows of colleges, one Proctor for each of the two ‘nations’ into which the University was divided at that time. The Senior Proctor was chosen by the ‘southerners’ and the Junior Proctor by the ‘northerners’. The procedure for their election was complex until 1574 when they began to be elected annually by Convocation (the body of MAs of the University at that time). This lasted until the early seventeenth century when, following a number of rigged elections and some chaotic and pretty violent meetings of Convocation, a new way of selecting the Proctors had to be devised.

Illuminated transcript of the Proctorial cycle, 31 December 1628 (OUA/Long Box 21/2)

The Proctorial cycle, instituted in 1628 at the initiative of King Charles I and the Chancellor of the University, William Laud, established the basis of the current system of selecting the Proctors from each college in turn. Drawn up by two mathematicians, the prearranged order (at that time spanning 23 years) was designed to avoid the conflict of recent years and ensure that the larger colleges didn’t dominate the process (although they did have more frequent turns).

The new cycle came into effect in 1629 and ten full cycles had been completed by the time a new cycle was introduced in 1859. Later amendments have since been made to the cycle to incorporate new colleges and halls; and from 1960 the women’s colleges were permitted to elect a Representative, now known as the Assessor. The Assessor was formally incorporated into the Proctorial cycle in 1978.

The incoming Proctors and Assessor are admitted to office each March at a ceremony held, in recent years, in the Sheldonian Theatre. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 ceremony took place without an audience, and the 2021 ceremony was held online. This year’s admission ceremony, on Wednesday 16 March, is the first to be held in person and in full for three years.

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

As part of the ceremony, the incoming Proctors place their hands on two ancient volumes of University statutes while they swear their oaths of office. These are copies of the 1636  Laudian Statutes held in the University Archives. The Laudian Statutes, so named because their compilation took place under the Chancellorship of William Laud, represented a watershed moment in the history of the University: it was the first time that all the University’s statutes and regulations had been brought together and recorded in one place. They remained at the heart of University governance for several centuries.

The copies of the statutes used in the ceremony were specially made  in 1636 for the Senior and Junior Proctors.  They were to be their personal copies, handed down from Proctor to Proctor as the most important tool for their job. They have recently been handsomely recovered in leather wrappers, fit for their ceremonial role. The statutes are personally escorted to and from the ceremony each year by staff of the University Archives.

The statutes are of course no longer current, but along with a bunch of historic keys which is handed to the Proctors during the ceremony, they are symbols of the ancient but continuing power which the Proctors hold within the University.

 

Invasion of Ukraine: web archiving volunteers needed

The Bodleian Libraries Web Archive (BLWA) needs your help to document what is happening in Ukraine and the surrounding region. Much of the information about Ukraine being added to the web right now will be ephemeral, and especially information from individuals about their experiences, and those of the people around them. Action is needed to ensure we preserve some of these contemporary insights for future reflection. We hope to archive a range of different content, including social media, and to start forming a resource which can join with other collections being developed elsewhere to:

  • capture the experiences of people affected by the invasion, both within and outside of Ukraine
  • reflect the different ways the crisis is being described and discussed, including misinformation and propaganda
  • record the response to the crisis

To play our part, we need help from individuals with relevant cultural knowledge and language skills who can select websites for archiving. We are particularly interested in Ukrainian and Russian websites, and those from other countries in the region, though any suggestions are welcome.

Please nominate websites via: https://www2.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/beam/webarchive/nominate