Category Archives: Century

Higher Education Archive Programme Network Meeting on Research Data Management

On 22nd June 2018 I attended the Higher Education Archive Programme (#HEAP) network meeting on Research Data Management (RDM) at the National Archives at Kew Gardens. This allowed me to learn about some of the current thinking in research data management from colleagues and peers currently working in this area through hearing about their own personal experiences.

The day consisted of a series of talks from presenters with a variety of backgrounds (archivists, managers, PhD students) giving their experiences of RDM from their different perspectives (design/implementation of systems, use). I will aim to briefly summarise the main message from a few of them. This was followed by a question and answers session and concluded with a workshop run by John Kaye from JISC.

Having had very little exposure to RDM in my career, it was a great way for me to understand what it is and what is being done in this sector. I have undertaken quantitative research myself during my PhD and so have an understanding of how research data is created, but until my recent move into the archival profession, I rather foolishly gave little thought as to how this data is managed. Events like this help to make people aware of the challenges archivists, information professionals and researchers face.

What is HEAP?

The Higher Education Archive Programme (#HEAP) is part of The National Archives’ continuing programme of engagement and sector support with particular archival constituencies. It is a mixture of strategic and practical work encompassing activity across The National Archives and the wider sector including guidance and training, pilot projects and advocacy. They also run network meetings for anyone involved in university archives, special collections and libraries with a variety of themes.

What is Research Data Management?

Susan Worrall, from University of Birmingham, started the day by explaining to us, what is research data management and why is it of interest to archivists? Put simply, it is the organisation, structuring, storage, care and use of data generated by research. It is important to archivists as these are all common themes of digital archiving and digital preservation, therefore, it suffers from similar issues, such as:

  • Skills gap in the sector
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Funding issues
  • Training

She presented a case study using a Brain imaging experiment, which highlighted the challenges of consent and managing huge amounts of highly specialised data. There are, however, opportunities for archivists; RDM and digital archiving are two sides of the same coin, digital archivists already do a lot of the RDM processes and so have many transferable skills. Online training is also available, University of Edinburgh and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collaborated to create a course on Coursera.

A Digital Archivist’s Perspective

Jenny Mitcham, from University of York, gave us an insight into RDM from her experience as a digital archivist. She highlighted how RDM requires skills from the Library, Archival and IT sectors. Within a department, you may have all of these skills however the roles and responsibilities are not always clear, which can cause issues. She described a fantastic project called ‘Filling the Digital Preservation Gap’ which explored the potential of archivematica for RDM. It was a finalist in the 2016 Digital Preservation Awards and more information about the project can be found on the blog.

Planning, Designing and Implementing an RDM system

Laurain Williamson, from University of Leicester, spoke about how to plan and implement a research data management service. Firstly, she described the current situation within the university and what the project brief involved. Any large scale project will require a large amount of preparation and planning, however she noted that certain elements, such as considering all viable technical solutions was incredibly time consuming, however, it was essential to get the best fit for the institution. Through interviews and case study’s they analysed the thoughts and wants from a variety of stakeholders. 

Their research community wanted:

  • Expertise
  • Knowledge about copyright/publishing
  • Bespoke advice and a flexible service.

Challenges faced by the RDM team were:

  • To manage expectations (they will never be able to do everything, so they must collaborate and prioritise their resources)
  • Last minute requests from researchers
  • Liaising with researchers at an early stage of the project is vital (helping researchers think about file formats early on to aid the preservation process).

Conclusion

Whilst RDM to a layperson may seem simple at first (save it on the cloud or a hard drive) when you delve into the archival theories of correct digital preservation, this becomes an absurdly simplified view. Managing large amounts of data from such specialised experiments (producing niche file formats) requires a huge amount of knowledge, collaboration and expertise.

(CC BY 4.0) Bryant, Rebecca, Brian Lavoie, and Constance Malpas. 2018. Incentives for Building University RDM Services. The Realities of Research Data Management, Part 3. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. doi:10.25333/C3S62F.

Data produced by universities can be seen as a commodity. The increase in the scholarly norms for open science and sharing data puts higher emphasis on RDM. It is important for the institutions/individuals creating the data (if there is any potential future scholarly or financial gain) and also for scientific integrity (allowing others in the community to review and confirm the results). But not everyone will want to make it open and actually not all of it has or should be open; creating a system and workflow that accounts for both is vital.

An OCLC research report recently stated ‘It would be a mistake to imagine that there is a single, best model of RDM service capacity, or a simple roadmap to acquiring it’. As with most things in the digital sector, this is a fast moving area and new technologies and theories are continually being developed. It will be exciting to see how these will be implemented in the future.

 

Building collections on Gender Equality at the UK Web Archive

The Bodleian is one of the 6 legal deposit libraries in the UK. One of my projects this year as a graduate trainee digital archivist on the Bodleian Libraries’ Developing the Next Generation Archivist programme is to help curate special collections in the UK Web Archive. Since May I’ve been working on the Gender Equality collection. Please note, this post also appears on the British Library UK Web Archive blog.

Why are we collecting?

2018 is the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People’s Act. UK-wide memorials and celebrations of this journey, and victory of women’s suffrage, are all evident online: from events, exhibitions, commemorations and campaigns. Popular topics being discussed at the moment include the hashtags #timesup and #metoo, gender pay disparity and the recent referendum on the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland. These discussions produce a lot of ephemeral material, and without web archiving this material is at risk of moving or even disappearing. As we can see gender equality is being discussed a lot currently in the media, these discussions have been developing over years.

Through the UK Web Archive SHINE interface we can see that matching text for the phrase ‘gender equality’ increased from a result of 0.002% (24 out of 843,204) of crawled resources in 1996, to 0.044% (23,289 out of 53,146,359) in 2013.

SHINE user interface

If we search UK web content relating to gender equality we will generate so many results; for example, organisations have published their gender pay discrepancy reports online and there is much to engage with from social media accounts of both individuals and organisations relating to campaigning for gender equality. It becomes apparent that when we browse this web content gender equality means something different for so many presences online: charities, societies, employers, authorities, heritage centres and individuals such as social entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers and more.

The Fawcett Society: https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/blog/why-does-teaching-votes-for-women-matter-an-a-level-teachers-perspective

What we are collecting?

The Gender Equality special collection, that is now live on the UK Web Archive comprises material which provides a snapshot into attitudes towards gender equality in the UK. Web material is harvested under the areas of:

  • Bodily autonomy
  • Domestic abuse/Gender based violence
  • Gender equality in the workplace
  • Gender identity
  • Parenting
  • The gender pay gap
  • Women’s suffrage

100 years on from women’s suffrage the fight for gender equality continues. The collection is still undergoing curation and growing in archival records – and you can help too!

How to get involved?

If there are any UK websites that you think should be added to the Gender Equality collection then you can take up the UK Web Archive’s call for action and nominate.

 

 

Earliest evidence of Oxfam’s involvement in fair trade found in Archive

Back in 1959, Pastor Ludwig Stumpf from the Hong Kong branch of the Lutheran World Federation, was invited by Oxfam to speak at their World Refugee Year conference. With him he brought a suitcase of handicrafts made by Chinese refugees. Although the suitcase containing dolls, tea cosies and slippers, amongst other items, didn’t capture the interest of Oxfam at that time, the list of contents did make it into the archives, and has recently been catalogued.

Letter with the list of sample handicrafts in package sent ahead ready for Rev. Stumpf’s arrival in the UK [DIR/2/3/4/48]

One conference attendee whose eye the handicrafts did catch was Elizabeth Wilson of the Huddersfield Famine Relief Committee (popularly known as ‘Hudfam’), which soon began importing crafts and selling them to the public as a new fundraising initiative. The venture was successful and Oxfam followed suit, creating Oxfam Activities Ltd in 1964. The company was set up to formalise Oxfam’s engagement in trading, with all profits from Oxfam Activities being ploughed back into Oxfam.

Poster advertising children’s books as part of the Helping by Selling Project [MS. Oxfam COM/1/8/353]

The buying and selling of goods imported from overseas was named the ‘Helping by Selling Project’. Helping by Selling mostly sold products that were made in workshops and training centres that Oxfam grants had helped to set up. However, while the project did serve to raise money for Oxfam’s relief and development work, it did not directly help the people who created the goods (beyond creating a market for the products).[1]

Oxfam felt that they could do more to help establish viable businesses, and further increase employment and improve the lives of those in need. They realised that simply selling goods made overseas did not guarantee an ongoing livelihood for communities.

The resolution was to cultivate a business partnership with craftspeople, and protect the vulnerability of poor producers who could be easily exploited. Therefore, in 1975, Oxfam’s fair trade scheme (Britain’s first ever) was created. The scheme was named Bridge, which ‘sums up very aptly the bridging link of trade and support between producers in developing countries and their customers in the UK and Ireland.’[2] Oxfam paid fair prices for the goods produced, as well as a dividend and the opportunity to apply for grants for improvements to workplaces. It also offered help with product development and marketing.

Poster advertising Oxfam’s Bridge project [MS. Oxfam COM/1/8/292]

In the early 2000s, Oxfam launched the Make Trade Fair campaign, advertisements for which featured celebrities such as Colin Firth and Bono being covered in coffee, sugar and other fair trade products. The memorable posters, which can be accessed in Digital Bodleian, highlighted how farmers overseas were being trapped in a poverty cycle by trade rules.

Poster of Colin Firth being showered with coffee highlighting the plight of poor farmers [MS. Oxfam COM/1/8/153/7]

Today, nearly 60 years after Oxfam’s first foray into fairly traded crafts, there is a huge variety of products on sale in the Sourced by Oxfam range from suppliers who practice fair trade in the UK and worldwide. These goods, which range from dog bowls to shampoo, are available in Oxfam shops and online and 100% of profits go to Oxfam’s work all over the world. With consumers more aware than ever about where their food and other goods come from, Fair Trade is now a household name.

Poster advertising the variety of fair trade products available [MS. Oxfam COM/1/8/151]

[1] M. Black,  A Cause for Our Times. Oxfam: the first 50 years (Oxford: Oxfam 1992) pp.166-167

[2] Rachel Wilshaw, ”Invisible Threads: Oxfam’s Bridge Programme.” Focus on Gender, vol. 2, no. 3, 1994, pp. 23–28. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4030240.

 

Now available: Full catalogue of the Archive of Iona and Peter Opie

The full catalogue of the Archive of Iona and Peter Opie is now available online.

In addition to the previously published sections on the Children’s papers and covering correspondence and the Opie working papers and material relating to the Opies’ publications, the updated catalogue now also covers the Opies’ professional correspondence, personal papers, and material related to collecting children’s books and childhood ephemera.

Fieldwork: Iona and Peter Opie in the playground

The professional correspondence series contains letters about nursery rhymes and childlore received by the Opies from the general public, as well as their correspondence with researchers, academics, authors, bookseller, collectors, cultural and heritage institutions, the media, and other contacts and enquirers. It also includes general correspondence with the Opies’ publisher, Clarendon Press, later Oxford University Press, and with professional organisations, such as the Anthropology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which Peter Opie was president of in 1962/63.
The extensive correspondence with Doreen Gullen, the Opies’ long-term research collaborator and friend, covers both professional and private topics. The series also contains the Opies’ address books, which link each correspondent to a unique reference number – those reference numbers were then used to manage and track the enormous amount of incoming information. The address books often also record background details on the Opies’ correspondents and their activities.

The personal papers feature correspondence with family and friends, diaries and notebooks, memorabilia, writings and other biographical material, mainly relating to Peter Opie. This material was transferred to the Bodleian Library in various tranches in the 1990s, when Iona Opie was sorting through her late husband’s papers, selecting and annotating material for a future Opie Archive. Although it covers most of Peter Opie’s life from his childhood in the 1920s through to his death in February 1982, there is a strong focus on his young adulthood and his early career in the late 1930s and in the 1940s, reflected in particular in his correspondence, scrapbooks and notes, as well as in the papers relating to his early autobiographical publications such as his first book I Want to be a Success (1939).

The collected material series brings together historic childhood and children’s book ephemera, collected by the Opies, and papers about their book collecting activities. Whilst some of this material was found with the Opie Archive, other sections were transferred from the Opie Collection of Children’s Literature at the Bodleian Library. These include manuscript books, historic notebooks and diaries by children or with references to childhood, drawings and illustrations, printed ephemera and merchandise relating to children’s books, as well as exercise books and other school ephemera from the 17th to the 20th century.
The Opies’ book accession diaries, covering their book collecting activities from the 1940s to the 1980s, are part of this series, and so is a large collection of antiquarian booksellers’ catalogues, dating from the 1910s to the 1990s. Not least, there is some material which the Opies took over from other children’s book collectors, such as the working papers and collection lists of their friend Roland Knaster who died in 1979.

Boxes in the Opie Archive: Before…

 

…and after sorting, careful repackaging, labelling and barcoding.

Overall, the Opie Archive now contains 362 boxes – MSS. Opie 1-362, the result of 18 months of surveying, researching, arranging, sorting, flattening, paperclip removing, repackaging, labelling, barcoding and cataloguing.

More than 24,000 leaves of children’s papers and covering correspondence were individually numbered (‘foliated’) in preparation for the future digitisation of the material.
Simultaneously, the collection became (in-)famous with our Conservation colleagues for containing many exotic and challenging-for-safe-storage items, such as Indian panther bones, a 1920s Eton schoolboy cap, friendship pins, grass samples, and 1970s crisp packets.

Inspired by the descriptions of children’s rhymes and games in Opie working files, we, the cataloguers on this project, regularly lapsed into reminiscences about our own playground rhymes, games and crazes in the 1980s and 1990s (who else remembers French Skipping or Pogs?), and occasionally even broke out into bouts of clapping games, with lively ensuing debates about how the correct version of each song should go – “Em Pom Pee” or “Em Bam Bee”, that is the question!

Requests by readers to access the material had to be juggled with a tight cataloguing schedule – and many boxes were moved back and forth between the archives work areas and the Weston Library reading rooms. It was encouraging to see how much the Opie Papers were already in use, and the many questions researchers ask us about the content and structure of the archive then helped to inform our cataloguing strategy.

Midway through our cataloguing project, in October 2017, we received the news that Iona Opie had passed away, at the age of 94. Although saddened and disappointed to have lost the chance to meet her in person, we nevertheless felt privileged to have got to know her through her correspondence and working papers. We particularly admired her tremendous ability to organise, and distil meaning from, the immense volume of data gathered by her and her husband, while simultaneously building warm and long-lasting relationships with a vast network of correspondents.

In his 1969-73 accession diary (now MS. Opie 316), Peter Opie notes that “the age of the computer is coming”, foreseeing that this may one day facilitate a more thorough organisation of the vast amount of material he and Iona amassed over the years, and ponders the use future researchers might make of their collection, once it has been thoroughly sorted and catalogued:

“And although Iona […] and I will never be able to make use of all the material we have assembled, nor can see even to what use it may be put, I am beginning to think we can be confident that, provided it survives, it will be appreciated by somebody some day.”

The completion of the cataloguing project feels like a good step forward to fulfil Peter Opie’s ‘prophecy’, and we are happy (and indeed a little proud) to have a played a small role in the Opies’ big endeavour. Now it is over to you, the readers, to explore the wonderful resource Iona and Peter Opie created for the research of children’s traditions, nursery rhymes, children’s literature, games and play – and to the put it to innovative and creative uses.

Svenja Kunze & Sarah Thiel


The Opie cataloguing project was generously funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Wellcome Trust Research Bursaries scheme funds individuals working on
small and medium-scale research projects that focus on library or archive collections
supported by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant – such as the Opie Archive.

Please visit the Wellcome Trust website for further information.


With local consent: aid in Guatemala

In the middle of the day on Sunday 3 June 2018, Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego erupted. The 3,763 metre high stratovolcano, situated 27 miles southwest of Guatemala City, belched a column of ash some 33,000 feet into the sky and spat torrents of molten rock down its south side.[1];[2] Pyroclastic flows, generated when the ash column collapsed in on itself, engulfed the communities of El Rodeo and San Miguel Los Lotes; local residents were unable to implement emergency procedures because of the speed of the volcanic activity.[3] Almost 200 people have been recorded missing thus far, with at least 110 dead.[4] An estimated 1.7 million Guatemalans have been affected by the eruption, with 12,000 people evacuated and 3,000 in temporary shelters.[5]

 

Oxfam is on the scene. On 5th June it was ‘evaluating the situation on the ground in close coordination with the Guatemalan government’ and intended to ‘begin distributing water filters and hygiene kits to the affected areas’.[6] Two days later Ana María Méndez, Oxfam in Guatemala Country Director, expressed concern that ‘rescue efforts are being severely hampered by the lack of adequate equipment, poor visibility and roads closed due to the ash, lava flows and mudslides. A planned humanitarian assessment had to be postponed due to perilous conditions’.[7]

 

Volcán de Fuego is one of the most active volcanos in Latin America, but the current emergency constitutes the volcano’s worst eruption in a century. Its last major eruption was in 1974, when no deaths were officially recorded.[8] However, Guatemala endured its fair share of natural disasters during the course of the twentieth century, and over the years Oxfam has been involved in providing relief and rehabilitation to those affected.

 

Two years after the 1974 Fuego eruption Guatemala experienced a catastrophic 7.4 magnitude earthquake. Centred on the Motagua Fault, 99 miles north-east of Guatemala City and near the town of Los Amates, the earthquake ripped across the country. 23,000 people were killed, largely due to the collapse of residential buildings, and 76,000 were injured.[9] 19% of the country’s population was rendered homeless.[10]

Map showing the location of Volcán de Fuego in relation to Los Amates, near the epicentre of the 1976 earthquake. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The Oxfam project file ‘GUA 028’ documents Oxfam’s response to the 1976 earthquake. It operated alongside numerous other humanitarian agencies, including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), The Evangelical Alliance Relief (TEAR) Fund and the United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation (UNDRO). The project file details the genuine efforts of relief agencies like Oxfam to alleviate the suffering inflicted by natural disasters, but also suggests some of the inevitable pitfalls associated with foreign agencies intervening in complex and unfamiliar societies.

A particularly revealing document within the project file is one produced by CRS. ‘Guatemala Earthquake – Evaluation of Guatemala Supported Food/Cash Community Development Programme’ evaluates the success of food- and cash-for-work schemes implemented in the areas around Tecpán, Santo Domingo Xenacoj, Chichicastenango and Patzún. The schemes involved community groups working on road projects, housing and school construction, and water system installation. 13,836 work-days were fed into 15 projects with a total of 1,673 workers involved, but the socio-cultural makeup of the targeted communities meant the schemes were not as effective as they might have been.[11]

 

For instance, villagers of Xenimajuju in Tecpán were initially unwilling to work for cash: ‘they either viewed it as a leftist conspiracy, or a ruse by foreigners to gain influence and take over their lands… they had had poor experiences when organizations had offered them aid, which generally never was given.’ In Tzanimacabaj and Chuguexa there were complaints that road projects had resulted in individuals losing land on road margins as the through-ways were expanded. There were additional fears that the new roads would encourage exploitative activities by loggers. Of 29 workers presented with an evaluative questionnaire by CRS, ‘almost everyone felt that cash would have a negative effect on the traditional system of voluntary community labour, and also create drastic negative changes… as people begin to rely more on outside assistance’. CRS acknowledged that the ‘programme was not very successful’.[12] Despite the best of intentions, an external agency had failed to understand the complex socio-cultural makeup of the communities it was trying to help.

A visit report by Ian Davis on behalf of TEAR Fund echoed the need for relief work to comply with local structures and values in Guatemala. He was told that ‘many visiting experts… made wild generalisations’ about indigenous Indian housing, assuming that because they were modest adobe constructions they must be ‘the product of poverty’. However, in such communities additional wealth was simply more likely to be invested elsewhere, for example in land purchase. Even the houses of affluent Indians remained relatively modest. Davis concluded that ‘modifications to the house pattern which may well be necessary for structural reasons [i.e., to improve earthquake resistance] will have to be made with local consent, rather than for local people’.[13]

Oxfam did attempt to address some of these issues in its response to the 1976 earthquake. While Oxfam was in some sense a ‘foreign’ agency in Guatemala, by 1976 it had an office in the country and staff who lived as well as worked there. It had previously been involved in an integrated development scheme in the Chimaltenango municipality of San Martin Jilotepeque, where in collaboration with the American agency World Neighbors it promoted a ‘barefoot’ approach to development, training local people  to run the scheme themselves. Project staff gradually became completely indigenous. While the earthquake claimed the lives of 3,000 people in San Martin, the network of promoters and cooperatives built up over the years formed the basis for post-earthquake reconstruction.[14]

As of 31st January 1977 Oxfam had received £768,480 in donations for the Guatemalan relief effort, including £60,365 donated by the general public. Much of this was invested in shelter and housing provision: ‘lamina’ corrugated roofing was widely distributed, and Oxfam produced 50,000 ‘comic-book style’ manuals on low-cost, earthquake-resistant construction techniques.[15] Oxfam did and continues to channel its funding into local partner organisations in an attempt to prevent local communities becoming passive recipients of development work. Hopefully this policy will mean that, in the present crisis, reconstruction and rehabilitation work will be conducted with local people, rather than for them. The desire to alleviate suffering in far-flung places is an admirable instinct; we need only ensure our efforts are well-executed, in addition to well-meaning.

 

[1] ‘Guatemala’s Fuego volcano: How the tragedy unfolded’, 5/06/2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-44369461, accessed 07/06/2018.

[2] ‘Guatemala volcano: Almost 200 missing and 75 dead’, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-44378775, 06/06/2018, accessed 07/06/2018.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ‘Fresh lava flows from Guatemala’s Mount Fuego as death toll rises to 110’, 10/06/2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/guatemala-volcano-fresh-lava-flow-evacuations-a8391886.html, accessed 11/06/2018.

[5] ‘Guatemala volcano: Emergency agency ‘failed to heed warnings’’, 07/06/2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-44393085, accessed 07/06/2018.

[6] ‘Oxfam in Guatemala is assessing its humanitarian response to “Volcano of Fire” eruption’, 05/06/2018, https://www.oxfamamerica.org/press/oxfam-in-guatemala-is-assessing-its-humanitarian-response-to-volcano-of-fire-eruption/, accessed 07/06/2018.

[7] ‘Over 12,000 people evacuated due to continued volcanic activity in Guatemala, Oxfam provides humanitarian aid’, 07/06/2018, https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2018-06-07/over-12000-people-evacuated-due-continued-volcanic-activity, accessed 07/06/2018.

[8]  ‘Guatemala’s Fuego volcano: How the tragedy unfolded’, 5/06/2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-44369461, accessed 07/06/2018.

[9] ‘1976 Guatemala earthquake’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Guatemala_earthquake, accessed 07/06/2018.

[10] ‘Global Earthquake Model – Earthquake Consequences Database’, https://gemecd.org/event/11, accessed 07/06/2018.

[11] Ms. Oxfam PRF GUA 028.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ms. Oxfam PRF GUA 028 Rep.

[14] M. Black, A Cause for Our Times. Oxfam: the first 50 years (Oxford: Oxfam 1992) pp.198-199.

[15] Ms. Oxfam PRF GUA 028 Rep.

Sir Oliver Wardrop’s desk diaries donated to the library

Audience members who attended the launch of Nikoloz Aleksidze’s book Georgia: a Cultural Journey through the Wardrop Collection  at the Weston Library on June 1st also had the novel experience of witnessing the arrival of a further addition to the Bodleian’s Wardrop  holdings. A family descendant of Sir Oliver, who was attending the launch, brought his desk diaries to donate to the collection. The Wardrop collection forms the nucleus of the Bodleian’s rich holdings of Georgian books and the donation of the desk diaries enriches this significant collection still further.

Dating from 1882-1948, the diaries provide details of Sir Oliver’s daily meetings and activities. They  will offer scholars an important glimpse into his day-to-day life, particularly during the critical period leading up to and immediately after the formation of the Democratic Republic of Georgia when he served as the British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” The Lewisham North By-Election, 1957

Next week the voters of Lewisham East will go to the polls to elect a new member of parliament. Using the collections of the Conservative Party Archive, this blog post looks back at the last parliamentary by-election in the borough, held in 1957.

On 16 Feb 1957 a letter arrived at Conservative Central Office on the subject of the Lewisham North by-election, held two days previously. Addressed to the “Party Manager”, it read simply:- “Dear Sir, What the hell are you doing?”. [CCO 1/12/25/3]

Scanned image of a letter sent to Conservative Central Office, reading "Dear Sir, North Lewisham Bye-Election (and no doubt others) - What the hell are you doing?"

A letter recieved by Conservative Central Office following the party’s defeat in the Lewisham North by-election. [CCO 1/12/25/3]

The letter was just one of many critical messages sent in by Conservative supporters around the country following the by-election, which had seen the party lose the seat to Labour on a swing of 5.5%. The vote had been the Tories’ first electoral test since Harold Macmillan had replaced Anthony Eden as Prime Minister – and it appeared that the change in leadership had failed to improve the party’s fortunes.

The by-election was triggered by the death of Sir Austin Hudson, the Conservative member for the seat since 1950. Although present-day Lewisham is seen as a Labour stronghold, in the 1950s the Conservatives had a strong record in the area, and with a new leader in Downing Street the government could be expected to have a fair chance of retaining the seat on a platform of tax cuts and improved living standards. In his election address the party’s candidate, Norman Farmer, urged voters to give a “vote of confidence to the new Conservative government”, and echoed Macmillan’s pledge that “Britain has been great, is great and will stay great.” [PUB 229/1/12]

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The Conservative Campaign was soon blown off course however, as Labour went on the attack over the government’s controversial Rent Bill, which dismantled much of the post-war rent control system. The Labour candidate Niall MacDermot used his election address to warn that tenants will be left “at the mercy of the landlord” under the Tory plans. [PUB 229/1/12] The line of attack appears to have worked:- a memorandum by the party’s Chief Organisation Officer on 8 Feb 1957 notes that “The main lines of opposition attack appears to be the ‘Rent Bill’. We are likely to lose Conservative support on the issue… I am not very hopeful of holding the seat”. [CCO 1/12/25/2]

Scanned image showing the first page of a report on the Conservative Party's prospects in the Lewisham North by-election, 1957.

Conservative Party report on the campaign situation in Lewisham, dated 8 Feb 1957. [CCO 1/12/25/2]

Another issue that haunted the Conservatives was the legacy of the Suez Crisis, which had brought down Eden’s premiership. Not only did Labour continue to attack the Conservatives’ handling of the episode, but in Lewisham North the party also faced a challenge from the right-wing League of Empire Loyalists, an imperialist pressure group that supported independent candidate Lesley Greene. Greene, who was also the organising secretary of the League, used her election address to denounce the government for the loss of British influence over Suez: “All but one of the Cabinet Ministers responsible for this sickening humiliation are still members of the Government. Where is their national pride?” [PUB 229/1/12] The Conservatives sought to counter such charges by appealing to voters’ patriotism: “Don’t Listen to Nasser’s Advice’ urged one of Farmer’s leaflets, claiming that the Egyptian leader wanted to see the Conservatives defeated. [CCO 1/12/25/2] The party failed to defuse the issue however, and the Conservatives were forced onto the defensive throughout the campaign.

Scanned image of a Conservative election leaflet with slogan "Don't Listen to Nasser's Advice".

Election leaflet in support of the Conservative candidate Norman Farmer. [CCO 1/12/25/2]

Unsurprisingly, Conservative post-mortem reports on the by-election defeat identified Labour’s campaign against the Rent Bill and the fallout from Suez as major reasons for the defeat. However, the party’s campaigners also identified more practical reasons for the failure to hold the seat:- Labour for instance were accused of deploying an illegal number of cars to ferry their voters to the polling stations (the use of private motor transport in elections was strictly regulated in the post-war period), while one Conservative canvasser berated the party for “knocking-up” their supporters too late in the day, as “it is difficult to get women to vote in the evenings as they have their husbands’ dinners to prepare”. [CCO 1/12/25/3] Reports such as these offer a fascinating insight into the very different nature of election campaigns in the 1950s.

The Conservative defeat in North Lewisham was ultimately short-lived: the party regained the seat in Macmillan’s 1959 general election victory, and subsequently held it until 1966. Even so, the contest gives us a snapshot of British politics at a time of great upheaval and change. Whoever wins in Lewisham East next Thursday, it might well be that historians of the future will similarly look at the records of the campaign in order to understand our own politics and times.

This blog is based on the Conservative Party Archive’s correspondence series and collection of historical election addresses. The archive as whole contains the official papers of the Conservative Party’s parliamentary, professional and voluntary wings, spanning from 1867 through to the present day. Visit our website for more information on our holdings and to view our full online catalogues.

The UK Web Archive: Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK

The beginnings of the Online Enthusiast collection of the UK Web Archive can be traced back to November 2016 and a task to scope out the viability and write a proposal for two potential special collections with a focus on current web use: Mental Health, and Online Enthusiasts.

The Online Enthusiasts special collection was intended to show how people within the UK are using the internet to aid them in practising their hobbies, for example discussing their collections of objects or coordinating their bus spotting. If it was something a person could enthuse about and it was on the internet within the UK then it was in scope. Where many UK Web Archive Special Collections are centred on a specific event and online reactions, this was more an attempt to represent the way in which people are using the internet on an everyday basis.

The first step toward a proposal was to assess the viability of the collection, and this meant searching out any potential online enthusiast sites to judge whether this collection would have enough content hosted within the UK to validate its existence. As it turns out, UK hobbyists are very active in their online communities and finding enough content was, if anything, the opposite of an issue. Difficulty came with trying to accurately represent the sheer scope of content available – it’s difficult to google something that you weren’t aware existed 5 minutes ago. After an afternoon among the forums and blogs of ferry spotters, stamp collectors, homebrewers, yarn-bombers, coffee enthusiasts and postbox seekers, there was enough proof of content to complete the initial proposal stating that a collection displaying the myriad uses hobbyists in the UK have for the internet is not only viable but also worthwhile. Eventually that proposal was accepted and the Online Enthusiast collection was born.

The UKWA Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK collection provides a unique cultural insight into how communities interact in digital spheres. It shows that with the power of the internet people with similar unique hobbies and interests can connect and share and enthuse about their favourite hobbies. Many of these communities grow and shrink at rapid paces and therefore many years of content can be lost if a website is no longer hosted.

With the amount of content on the internet, finding websites had a domino effect, where one site would link to another site for a similar enthusiast community, or we would find lists including hobbies we’d never even considered before. This meant that before long we had a wealth of content that we realised would need categorising. Our main approach to categorising the content was along thematic lines. After identifying what we were dealing with, we created a number of sub-collections, examples of which include: Animal related hobbies, collecting focused hobbies, observation hobbies, and sports.

The approach to selecting content for the collection was mainly focused around identifying UK-centric hobbies and using various search terms to identify active communities. The majority of these communities were forums. These forums provided enthusiasts with a platform to discuss various topics related to their hobbies whilst also providing the opportunity for them to share other forms of media such as video, audio and photographic content. Other platforms such as blogs and other websites were also collected, the blogs often focused on submitting content to the blog owner who would then filter and post related content to the community.

As of May 2018 the collection has over 300 archived websites. We found that the most filled categories for hobbies were Sports, collecting and animal related hobbies.

A few examples of websites related to hobbies that were new to us include:

  • UK Pidgeon Racing Forum: An online enthusiast forum concerned with pigeon racing.
  • Fighting Robots Association Forum: An online enthusiast forum for those involved with the creation of fighting robots.
  • Wetherspoon’s Carpets (Tumblr): A Tumblr blog concerned with taking photographs of the unique carpets inside the Wetherspoon’s chain of pubs across the UK.
  • Mine Exploration and History Forum: An online enthusiast community concerned with mine exploration in the UK.
  • Chinese Scooter Club Forum: An online enthusiast community concerned with all things related to Chinese scooters.
  • Knit The City (now Whodunnknit): A website belonging to a graffiti-knitter/yarnbomber from the UK

The Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK collection is accessible via the UK Web Archive’s new beta interface

A life in letters: a tribute to Jenny Joseph

Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes

On Sunday 13th May the actress Miriam Margolyes will be in Oxford to perform a public reading of poems by Oxford alumna Jenny Joseph, the author of Warning:

‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me’

The event, hosted by the Bodleian and St Hilda’s College, celebrates the life and work of Jenny Joseph, who died this January, and will include a selection of poetry ranging across her more than 50 year-long writing career. She donated her literary archive to the Bodleian in 2017.

The reading will be at the beautiful, seventeenth-century Convocation House in the Old Bodleian Library from 11.30pm-1.00pm. Tickets cost £12 (£10 concessions), including tea/coffee and a pastry. You can book tickets online at What’s on, or phone the box office at 01865 278112 (there is a £2 booking fee for phone bookings).

Please note that tickets will not be available on the door.

Opie Archive: Working papers and publications material now available

The catalogues of two further series of the Opie Archive have now been completed and are available to search online here. Series B comprises the Opies’ working papers and research materials, while Series C consists of material relating to the Opies’ publications.

The first part of the working papers series contains a collection of 239 subject files, stored in 105 boxes (MSS. Opie 47-151). Compiled by Iona Opie, in the days before Excel spreadsheets, this series of subject files represents a large, analogue database of all the Opies’ research materials, which formed the basis of their published works. The files cover a range of topics, such as nursery rhymes, children’s songs, games and playground lore, as well as their historical, literary, sociological and geographical context. They contain research notes and drafts, extracts of material written by children in response to the Opies’ school surveys, newspaper cuttings, journal articles, letters from the Opies’ many correspondents, photographs, postcards and other ephemera. The subject files were added to over a number of years, largely from the 1940s to the 1980s and -’90s, although several files also include older collected material, such as extracts of material on children’s games gathered by A.S. Macmillan in 1922 and sent to the Opies by his daughter.

The Opie working files are housed in their original ‘Loxonian’ binders from circa the 1940s-1950s, which will be of interest to any connoisseurs of vintage stationary. These ingenious hardcover binders come with laces, much like shoe laces, which hold the sheets in place, and are then fastened at the front with metal spiral clips.

As far as possible, the arrangement of the files aims to reflect the Opies’ own original file order, based on their numbered or alphabetical file titles; otherwise the files are arranged chronologically, according to the publication date of the various Opie books to which the files relate. However, not all of the material collected by the Opies made it into their published books. For instance, some of the collected songs, rhymes and jokes contained in the ‘Improper’ files in MS. Opie 61, are surprisingly bawdy, and certainly could not have been included in a book like The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren back in 1959. Nevertheless, even those relatively innocent verses that did make it into this book, were too strong for some; a few amusing newspaper clippings from 1966, contained in MS. Opie 75, tell of a substitute teacher who was reprimanded after scandalised parents complained about the ‘saucy’ verses he had read aloud from the Opies’ Lore and Language book to a class of 13-year-old pupils.

Some unexpected items found inside some of the subject files included a Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cereal box from the 1990s with a Humpty Dumpty ‘spot the differences’ puzzle on the back, contained in a file on nursery rhymes, a ring tab from a tin can in a section on ‘projectiles’ within a file on children’s activities, various football and baseball trading cards, some 1970s crisp packets, a 1980s ‘friendship pin’ created using a safety pin and colourful beads, to be worn attached to one’s shoe laces or lapel, and even some samples of grasses, from the 1960s, which children used to bind together in clusters to create miniature trees. The grass samples, which were stuck down under a sheet of cellophane, were duly examined by our Conservation department, but were fortunately pronounced safe, in archive preservation terms.

[1960s grass samples, and a 1980s ‘friendship pin’ – two unexpected items found in file ‘Activities D-G’, MS. Opie 145]

Additional material, also relating to the Opies’ work and research, which did not originally belong to their pre-existing collection of subject files, was added onto the end of the Working Papers series, but in a separate sub-series (MSS Opie 152-168). This includes material on children’s books, further research notes, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings files, and even the Opies’ library tickets and bibliographical notes, which show the vast number of books they consulted in the course of their research.

The fruits of all this research can be seen in Series C of the Opie Archive, which contains material relating to the Opies’ publications. This material shows how Peter and Iona’s published works took shape, including manuscripts, corrections, paste-ups, and proof copies, as well as correspondence with publishers, concerning the process of planning and producing their books. The reception of these books, once they were finally released into the world, is documented in the press cuttings of book reviews, carefully saved up (one imagines, with some pride) by the Opies. Aside from their books, other Opie productions are likewise included in this series, such as various articles, lectures, exhibitions and broadcasts. Moreover, any Opie enthusiasts will be particularly interested in the tantalising glimpse of further Opie works which might have been, offered by papers relating to book proposals and publishing projects which were never realised.


Please be aware that work on the remaining Opie Archive is still ongoing, and parts of the archive will continue to become temporarily unavailable whilst preservation and cataloguing work is being carried out. We aim to accommodate urgent researchers’ requests for access wherever possible, however, if you do need to consult uncatalogued material from the Opie Archive before June 2018, please 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.


The Opie cataloguing project is generously funded by the Wellcome Trust.