Category Archives: Century

Festivals in the UK Web Archive

Live events are funny things; can their spirit be captured or do you have to “be there to get it”? Personally I don’t think you can, so why are we archiving festival websites?

Running throughout the year, though most tend to be clustered around the short UK summer, festivals form a huge part of the UK’s contemporary cultural scene.  While it’s often the big music festivals that come to mind such as Glastonbury and Reading or perhaps the more local CAMRA sponsored beer and cider festivals; these days there is a festival for pretty much everything under the sun.

UK Web Archive topics and themes

In part this explosion of festivals from the very local and niche to the mainstream and brand sponsored has been helped by the internet. You can now find festivals dedicated to anything from bird watching to meat grilling to vintage motors.

With the number of tools and platforms available for website creation and event and bookings management and the rise of social media, it seems anyone with an idea can put on a festival. More importantly with increasing connectedness that the web gives us, the reach of these home grown festivals has become potentially global.

Of course most will remain small local events that go on until the organisers lose interest or money such as Blissfields in Winchester which had to cancel their 2018 event due to poor ticket sales. But some will make it big like Neverworld which started in 2006 in Lee Denny’s back garden while his parents were away for the week but now 10+ years on has sold out the 5000 capacity festival venue it has relocated to.

The UK Web Archive‘s Festivals collection attempts to capture the huge variety of UK festivals taking place each year and currently has around 1200 events being archived that are loosely categorised based around 15 common themes, though of course there is a great deal of crossover as they can be found combining themes such as:

In this collection of UK festivals sites, while we cannot capture the spirit of a live event we can still try to capture their transient nature. Here you can see their rise and fall, the photographs and comments left in their wake, and their impact on local communities over time. Hopefully these sites and their contents can still give future researchers a sometimes surprising and often candid snapshot of contemporary British culture.

Emily Chen

Wilfred Owen Archive: New catalogue

The Wilfred Owen archive has just been fully rehoused and catalogued, with a detailed list of items available online. The collection has had a lively existence thus far, with the bulk of it donated by Harold Owen in 1975 to the English Faculty Library. Wilfred’s cousin Leslie Gunston donated the Gunston collection in 1978. Small additions have been made since then, and the collection now includes the working papers and correspondence of two prominent Owen scholars, Dominic Hibberd and Jon Stallworthy. The entire collection was transferred to the Weston Library on 13 January 2016.

Following a month of work, the collection has been reordered and renumbered, although the former, widely-cited OEF (Oxford English Faculty) references are included in the catalogue, as are references to Jon Stallworthy’s transcripts in Wilfred Owen: The Complete Poems and Fragments (CPF).

Wilfred Owen’s literary papers make up the first six boxes (MSS. 12282/1-6) and include Wilfred’s original manuscripts (digital versions of which are available on the Word War I Poetry Digital Archive), allowing the reader to see the maturation of Owen’s poetry from the early ‘To Poesy’ to his masterpieces ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘Mental Cases’ and ‘Anthem for Dead Youth’. Drafts of poems that Wilfred sent to his cousin, Leslie Gunston, are also found in this part of the collection.

The archive also contains other primary source material relating to Wilfred. At MSS. 12282/34-5 there are original editions of The Hydra, a magazine published by the patients at Craiglockhart Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers where Wilfred was a patient in 1917. He edited several issues of the magazine and some of the copies have annotations by him, such as ‘With the Editor’s Compliments!’ School exercise books and correspondence are similarly preserved, and there is an extensive collection of objects and family possessions relating to Wilfred and his family. Many of the objects are extremely fragile and kept in a Reserved part of the collection, but they provide a tangible closeness to Wilfred. Found here are some of Tom Owen’s souvenirs from India, Susan Owen’s jewellery box, with locks of Wilfred’s baby hair, an old family clock, a boat handmade by Tom for Wilfred, and some binoculars belonging to Wilfred himself.

The photographs in the archive span from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, and include many generations of Wilfred’s mother’s family. The photos are arranged by size and subject and include photographs of Wilfred.

The remainder of the archive mostly consists of Harold Owen’s correspondence, press cuttings and working papers. These offer a fascinating insight into the life of Wilfred’s brother, Harold and highlight the way in which he controlled Wilfred’s reputation and that of the Owen family. His correspondence with admirers, scholars, publishers, libraries and museums uncovers the human face of archival acquisitions and posthumous literary fame. Harold’s biography, Journey from Obscurity, is found in this part of the collection, with a first draft of almost 1000 pages written by hand in Harold’s characteristic small capitals.

There are three later additions to the archive. The 1978 Gunston donation includes manuscripts dating back to the 19th century, letters, photographs and cartoons. Particularly charming are Leslie’s letters to his wife Norah, and the sketches contained in them.

The Owen scholar Dominic Hibberd gave his working files, which contain correspondence, press cuttings, photocopies and photographs, generated in the course of his research. Some of these items are dated as recently as 2002, and include new resources, such as photocopies of the birth, death and marriage certificates of Wilfred’s extended family.

Also present are Jon Stallworthy’s working files, which are comprised mostly of photocopies of the Owen manuscripts which he used to create his Complete Poems and Fragments.

Several items in particular caught my attention throughout the archiving process:

Items 83 and 102 in MS. 12282/7, folder 2 are two letters from Annie G Phillips to Harold Owen, dated November 1969. Annie is studying for her A levels, and writes to Harold of her admiration for Journey from Obscurity, his memoirs. She says that learning about the family life of the Owens has helped her understand Wilfred’s poetry on a deeper level, but she also makes some very personal connections. Like Wilfred, she cannot afford to go to university. Harold’s reply must have been kind because her follow-up letter is even more brimming with excitement. These exchanges really posit Harold as a living connection to Wilfred, a way for readers to access the poet, a way of keeping Wilfred alive. But this is of course exactly what Harold’s archival work did and does. His own papers are testimony to that process of preservation, and exist as items worthy of study in their own right. But these letters also left me wondering what happened to Annie Phillips, who must now be nearing 80. Did she ever go to university? Is she still reading Wilfred Owen?

Item 151 in MS. 12282 photogr. 3 is a postcard of Scarborough during the war, collected as part of a group of postcards of places connected to Wilfred Owen. It follows postcards of Bordeaux, Ripon, Ors, and many other places. The photographed place is the focus of these postcards, and very few have any writing on them. But item 151 dates from the First World War and has a message written to a ‘Miss Lucy Sunderland’ from ‘Daddy’. Archival work is never neutral, and the decision made to use this postcard in the collection represents a value judgement: the photographic record of a place is of greater importance than the message contained on the verso of the card. In the catalogue, I decided to include the information about the scribbled message in an attempt to balance out the conflicting demands placed upon this item. We’ll never know if Lucy’s Daddy made it back home again.

Item 16 in MS. 12282 objects 2 is a tiny cardboard box inside Susan Owen’s jewellery box. This tiny box contains two envelopes with the hair of Wilfred Owen inside. One of the locks of hair even had the shedded skin of a carpet beetle lodged within it! The hair itself was one of the most moving discoveries within the collection, with a tangibility that is both enticing and repulsive. But the manner of preservation was fascinating, too. The hair had originally been labelled in the envelopes and box by someone with a cursive hand, most likely Susan Owen herself, who would have been the one to cut Wilfred’s hair. The pencil marks had somewhat faded away, but one of the envelopes read ‘The hair of Sir Wilfred Edward Salter-Owen at the age of 11 ½ months in the year 1894’ For Susan, then, this was the act of a proud mother, keeping a memory of her son’s early years, to look back upon when he was older. But the cursive pencil writing is overshadowed by the characteristic small capitals in ink of Harold Owen. Harold labels the box as ‘The poet Wilfred Owen’s hair’. He displays an entirely different motive – to preserve the remains of a well-known literary figure. The object’s purpose and identity has been altered by the motives of its various owners. How the Bodleian labels this item will necessarily be another act of alteration. A strand of hair is never just a strand of hair!

Laura Hackett

Oxford LibGuides: Web Archives

Web archives are becoming more and more prevalent and are being increasingly used for research purposes. They are fundamental to the preservation of our cultural heritage in the interconnected digital age. With the continuing collection development on the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive and the recent launch of the new UK Web Archive site, the web archiving team at the Bodleian have produced a new guide to web archives. The new Web Archives LibGuide includes useful information for anyone wanting to learn more about web archives.

It focuses on the following areas:

  • The Internet Archive, The UK Web Archive and the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.
  • Other web archives.
  • Web archive use cases.
  • Web archive citation information.

Check out the new look for the Web Archives LibGuide.

 

 

New Catalogue: Papers of Louis MacNeice

The catalogue of the papers of the Northern Irish poet and playwright Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) is now available online.

MacNeice studied Classics at Oxford from 1926, and together with Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis, he became part of the circle of poets and writer that had formed around W.H. Auden. His professional life began in 1930 as a lecturer in Classics, but in 1941 he joined the BBC and for the next twenty years produced radio plays and other programmes for the Features Department.

Whilst he also wrote articles and reviews, theatre plays, a novel and even a children’s book, MacNeice is best known for his poetry. Between 1929 and 1963, he published more than a dozen poetry volumes, such as Autumn Journal (1939) – regarded by many as his masterpiece, Springboard (1944), Holes in the Sky (1948), Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), and Visitations (1957). His last poetry volume, The Burning Perch came out just a few days after MacNeice’s untimely death in autumn 1963.

Amongst other works published posthumously were a book entitled Astrology (1964), Selected Poems (1964) edited by W.H. Auden, the autobiography The Strings are False (1965) edited by E.R. Dodds, and Varieties of Parable (1965), as well as the radio/ theatre plays The Mad Islands and The Administrator (1964), One for the Grave (1968) and Persons from Porlock (1969), and the song cycle The Revenant (1975).

(Frederick) Louis MacNeice by Howard Coster,
nitrate negative, 1942. NPG x1624.
© National Portrait Gallery, London.
(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The archive at the Bodleian Libraries comprises more than 70 boxes of literary papers and other material relating to Louis MacNeice’s career as a writer, as well as extensive personal and professional correspondence, and some personal papers. Continue reading

Introducing the new UK Web Archive website

Until recently, if you wanted to search the vast UK Legal Deposit Web Archive (containing the whole UK Web space), then you would need to travel to the reading room of a UK Legal Deposit Library to see if what you needed was there. For the first time, the new UK Web Archive website offers:

  • The ability to search the Legal Deposit web archive from anywhere.
  • The ability to search the Legal Deposit web archive alongside the ‘Open’ UK Web Archive (15,000 or so publicly available websites collected since 2005).
  • The opportunity to browse over 100 curated collections on a wide range of topics.

Who is the UK Web Archive?
UKWA is a partnership of all the UK Legal Deposit Libraries – The British Library, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Libraries, and Trinity College, Dublin. The Legal Deposit Web Archive is available in the reading rooms of all the Libraries.

How much is available now?
At the time of writing, everything that a human (curators and collaborators) has selected since 2005 is searchable. This constitutes many thousands of websites and millions of individual web pages. The huge yearly Legal Deposit domain crawls will be added over the coming year.

This includes over 100 curated collections of websites on a wide range of topics and themes. Recent collections curated by the Bodleian Libraries include:

Do the websites look and work as they did originally?
Yes and no. Every effort is made so that websites look how they did originally and internal links should work. However, for a variety of technical  issues many websites will look different or some elements may be missing. As a minimum, all of the text in the collection is searchable and most images should be there. Whilst we collect a considerable amount of video, much of this will not play back.

Is every UK website available?
We aim to collect every website made or owned by a UK resident, however, in reality it is extremely difficult to be comprehensive! Our annual Legal Deposit collections include every .uk (and .london, .scot, .wales and .cymru) plus any website on a server located in the UK. Of course, many websites are .com, .info etc. and on servers in other countries.

If you have or know of a UK website that should be in the archive we encourage you to nominate them via the website.

Another version of this post was first published on the UK Web Archive blog.

Sixth British Library Labs Symposium

On Monday November 12, 2018 I was fortunate enough to attend the annual British Library Labs Symposium. During the symposium the British Library showcases the projects that they have been working on for their digital collections and issues awards to those who either contributed to those projects or used the digital collections to create their own projects.

According to Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, this year’s symposium was their biggest and best attended yet: a testimony to the growing importance of digitization, as well as digital preservation and curation, within both archives and libraries.

This year’s theme of 3D models and scanning was wonderfully introduced by Daniel Prett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, in his keynote lecture on ‘The Value, Impact and Importance of experimenting with Cultural Heritage Digital Collections’. He explained how, during his time with the British Museum, they began to experiment with the creation of digital 3D models. This eventually lead to the purchase of a rig with multiple camera’s allowing them to take better quality photos in less time. At the Fitzmuseum, Prett has continued to advocate the development of 3D imaging. The museum now even offers free 3D imaging workshops open to anyone who is in possession of a laptop and any device that has a camera (including a smartphone).

Although Prett shared much of his other successful projects with us, he also emphasized that much of digitization is about trial and error, and stressed the importance recording those errors. Unfortunately, libraries and archives alike are prone to celebrate their successes, but cover-up their errors, even though we may learn just as much from them. Prett called upon all attendees to more frequently share their errors, so we may learn from each other.

During the break I wandered into a separate room where individuals and companies showcased the projects that they developed in relation to the digital libraries special collections. A lucky few managed to lay their hands on a VR headset in order to experience Project Lume (a virtual data simulation program) and part of the exhibition by Nomad. The British Library itself showcased their own digitization services, including 360° spin photography and 3D imaging. The latter lead to some interesting discussions about the de- and re-contextualization of artworks when using 3D imaging technology.

In the midst of all this there was one stand that did not lure its spectators with fancy technology or gadgets. Instead, Jonah Coman, winner of the BL Teaching & Learning Award, showcased the small zines that he created. The format of these Pocket Miscellany, as they are called, are inspired by small medieval manuscripts and are intended to inform their readers about marginalized bodies, disability and queerness in medieval literature. Due to copyright issues these zines are not available for purchase, but can be found on Coman’s Patreon website.

The BL labs symposium also showed how the digital collections of the British Library can inspire both art and fashion. Fashion designer Nabil Nayal, who unfortunately could not accept his BL labs Commercial Award in person, for example, had used the Elizabethan digital collections as inspiration for the collection he presented at the British Library during the London Fashion week.

Artist Richard Wright, on the other hand, looked to the library’s infrastructure for inspiration. This resulted in The Elastic System, a virtual mosaic of hundreds of the British Library books that together make-up a sketch of Thomas Watts. When you zoom in on the mosaic you can browse the books in detail and can even order them through a link to the BL’s catalogue that is integrated in the picture. Once a book is checked out, it reveals the pictures of BL employees working in the stacks to collect the books. It thereby slowly reveals a part of the library that is usually hidden from view.

Another fascinating talk was given by artist Michael Takeo Magruder about his exhibition on Imaginary Cities which will be staged at the British Library’s entrance hall from 5 April to 14 July 2019. Magruder is using the library’s 19th and early 20th century maps collection to create new and ever changing maps and simulations of virtual, fantastical cities. Try as I might, I fear I cannot do justice to Magruder’s unique and intriguing artwork with words alone and can therefore only urge you to go visit the exhibition this coming year.

These are only a few of the wonderful talks that were given during the Labs symposium. The British Labs symposium was a real eye opener for me. I did not realize just how quickly the field of 3D imaging had developed within the museum and library world. Nor did I realize how digital collections could be used, not simply to inspire, but create actual artworks.

Yet, one of the things that struck me most is how much the development of and advocacy for the use of digital collections within archives and libraries is spurred on by passionate individuals; be they artists who use digital collections to inspire their work, digital- and IT-specialists willing to sacrifice a lunch break or two for the sake of progress or individual scholars who create little zines to spread awareness about a topic they feel passionate about. Imagine what they can do if initiatives like the BL labs continue to bring such people together. I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future for digital collections and scholarship holds. On to next year’s symposium.

 

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2019

Speaking notes prepared for Margaret Thatcher, annotated drafts of William Hague’s election leaflets, and briefing papers written by David Cameron as a young researcher are all among files newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2019. This year, our releases are drawn primarily from the records of the Conservative Research Department (CRD): these comprise the department’s subject files and working papers, its briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, and the papers and correspondence of CRD desk officers. In addition to our regular scheduled de-restrictions, the Conservative Party Archive is pleased to announce that the papers of Robin Harris, the Director of the Conservative Research Department from 1985-1989, will also be made available for consultation for the first time. This blog will briefly look at some of the items to be found in each of these main series, demonstrating the value of these collections to researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of modern British history.

Conservative Research Department Files, 1988

Among the newly-released records are a number of files on the ever-thorny question of Europe, including the minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee, the Party’s coordinating group for the 1989 elections to the European Parliament. These files provide a fascinating insight into the challenges the Party faced in trying to balance the record of its MEPs with the increasing Euroscepticism of British Conservatism: a September 1988 report on the Party’s private polling on Europe, for instance, warned that nearly a third of Conservative general election voters were opposed to EEC membership and would not turn out to support the Party in the European Elections [CPA CRD 4/30/3/1]. The Conservative Party Archive has, separately, also recently acquired the records of the Conservative delegation to the European Parliament in this period, and will be seeking to make these available for consultation later in 2019.

Minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee – CPA CRD 4/30/3/1.

Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1988

This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, typically prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an excellent snapshot of the Party’s thinking, tactics, and rhetorical strategy on the key issues of the day. Subjects covered by the briefings include some of the most prominent policies of the Thatcher government, including the introduction of the Community Charge (Poll Tax) and the privatisation of state-owned utilities.

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment and Local Government file, covering the Community Charge, Section 28, and Acid Rain – CPA CRD/B/11/7.

This series notably includes briefing papers prepared by David Cameron during his time in CRD, covering topics on environmental, energy and industrial policy. In 1989 Cameron became the Head of the Political Section, a post he held in the department until 1992, and we expect to be able to de-restrict more of his papers from this period in the years ahead.

Two CRD briefings on Energy Privatisation written by David Cameron – CPA CRD/B/10/8.

Conservative Research Department Letter Books, 1988

The papers and letter books of the Research Department desk officers are a unique resource for those studying the history of Conservatism. Among those files newly de-restricted for 2019 are the letter books of CRD Desk Officer Richard Marsh. Specialising in environmental policy and local government, Marsh’s papers include extensive material on the Poll Tax, and are likely to be of high value to researchers of the subject. Marsh’s papers also include a draft copy of William Hague’s election leaflet from the 1989 by-election, complete with revealing annotations – a pledge to bring in harsher sentences for criminals, for instance, is struck out and replaced with a vaguer commitment to take ‘vigorous action in the fight against crime’ [CPA CRD/L/4/40/2].

Annotated drafts of an election leaflet for William Hague, the Party’s candidate in the 1989 Richmond By-election – CPA CRD/L/4/40/2.

Papers of Robin Harris, Research Department Director, 1985-1988

Finally, the records of CRD Director Robin Harris provide a rich insight into the Conservative Party during the 1980s. For instance, Harris’ letter book for August and September 1987 shows how the Research Department went about preparing material for Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference, with draft sections of the speech and working memoranda included in the file [CRD/D/10/2/25].

Robin Harris file on Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Party Conference speech, including draft speech sections – CPA CRD/D/10/2/25.

Harris’ papers also show how the Party responded at times of political crisis. During the Westland Affair, when Thatcher’s premiership was briefly seen to be threatened, the Party received numerous letters from the public calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Harris’ memo books from the time show how Conservative Central Office managed the situation, drafting template responses defending the government’s conduct [CRD/D/10/1/11]. The papers should prove to be a valuable resource for historians of the period, and we expect to be able to make further de-restrictions in this series under the thirty-year rule in January 2020.

Robin Harris memoranda on the Party’s response to the Westland Affair – CPA CRD/D/10/1/11.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2019. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.

New catalogue: Shrimpton’s Oxford Caricatures

The online catalogue of Shrimpton’s Oxford Caricatures is now available.

Thomas Shrimpton & Son published and sold photographic reproductions of commissioned or submitted original caricatures from their premises at 23-4 Broad St., Oxford, from 1868-1901, their shop window display seemingly their only advertising strategy, there being no evidence of them ever having produced a catalogue or list.

Image of Shrimpton & Sons shop window

Shrimpton & Sons shop window, with Benjamin Jowett, Vice-Chancellor and Master of Balliol College and three beadles as sandwich men advertising publications for sale, 1884. 8 recognisable caricatures are on display and are held within collection. G. A. Oxon. 4º 417, fol. 1050.

The caricatures were primarily intended for undergraduates and drawn by undergraduates, portraying the trials and tribulations of undergraduate life, as well as the delights, as seen from their perspective. Images are immediate and inventive, and often quite irreverent. Certain individuals received special and frequent attention, their identification, despite (thinly) disguised attempts to conceal their names through clever or simplistic wordplay, were only too obvious to University members. Many caricatures lack a proper caption or title, relying solely upon a pithy phrase, quotation or misquotation to assist the viewer. Some allusions are obscure or meaningless at first sight, but with thought and research their message or humorous allusion has been revealed.

The subject matter includes many aspects of University life, notably University and religious personalities. Other subjects frequently covered are ritualism, politics, aestheticism , ‘town and gown’ confrontations and women, especially allusions to their becoming full members of the University. The imagery is invariably humorous, witty and inventive, covering local (University), as well as, national events; many display learned quotations from classical authors and contemporary poets. Throughout the publishing history distinct series were produced, notably ‘Great Guns of Oxford’ (Nos. 1 – [70]) and’ Our Public Schools’ (Nos.1-27), generally representing an individual in their familiar setting, though always done humorously.  In all there are 1214 images. The 7 albums which comprise the collection would appear to represent the complete set of caricatures published. This set, together with the one in the John Johnson Collection, are the only known ‘complete sets’. I have made every attempt to identify individuals (500+), including caricaturists, locations and events in order to produce a fully comprehensive catalogue. Where appropriate, contextual notes have been added and quotations cited. The locations of the (few known) surviving, original caricatures are provided within the catalogue description.

The heyday of the publishing history of the ‘Caricatures’ in terms of output and inventiveness was 1868-84, after which new publications became increasingly erratic. There was probably a combination of reasons for this, but its long demise may well have started in earnest when Thomas Shrimpton died in 1885 aged 79. Perhaps its commercial potential was already waning. Even so they had become an Oxford institution, known by all at the University at the time and remembered fondly by many for years to come. The importance of these caricatures is not only the number of individuals represented (some of whom may have no existing likeness elsewhere), but also the context in which they appear, alluding to events which would, perhaps, be otherwise completely forgotten.

Until now their full extent could not be fully appreciated. Now, for the first time, this wonderful, visual resource for the study of various aspects of Oxford University life in the second half of the nineteenth century, has been fully catalogued.

Colin Harris

Display – Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

A hundred years ago, at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) the Armistice was signed, bringing to an end the First World War. As the celebratory church bells rang out, a telegram was delivered to Susan and Tom Owen informing them of the death of their eldest son, Wilfred, one of 17 million casualties of the Great War to end all wars. He had been killed at the age of 25, just seven days before the Armistice. Owen received the Military Cross for gallantry, but was unknown to the public as a poet: only five of his poems were in print before his death. Today he is recognised as one of the greatest writers of war poetry in the English language.

To mark this double centenary the Bodleian has mounted a display of original material from the Owen Collection, which was given to Oxford University by Owen’s sister-in-law, Phyllis, in 1975 and transferred from the English Faculty Library to the Bodleian in 2016. Included in the exhibition are manuscripts of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’; editions of the Craiglockhart Hospital magazine which Owen edited while being treated for shell-shock in 1917, and a selection of photographs and personal belongings preserved by his family.

Curated by Judith Priestman and Andrew Wheale

Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War
26 October – Christmas 2018
Proscholium, Bodleian Old Schools Quadrangle
Free entry

Attending the ARA Annual Conference 2018

ARA Annual Conference 2018, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

ARA Annual Conference 2018, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

Having been awarded the Diversity Bursary for BME individuals, sponsored by Kevin J Bolton Ltd., I was able to attend the ARA Annual Conference 2018 held in Glasgow in August.

Capitalising on the host city’s existing ubiquitous branding of People Make Glasgow,  the Conference Committee set People Make Records as this year’s conference theme. This was then divided into three individual themes, one for each day of the conference:

  • People in Records
  • People Using Records
  • People Looking After Records

Examined through the lens of the above themes over the course of three days,  this year’s conference addressed three keys areas within the sector: representation, diversity and engagement.

Following an introduction from Kevin Bolton (@kevjbolton), the conference kicked off with Professor Gus John (@Gus_John) delivering the opening keynote address, entitled “Choices of the Living and the Dead”. With People Make Records the theme for the day, Professor John gave a powerful talk discussing how people are impacting the records and recordkeeping of African (and other) diaspora in the UK, enabling the airbrushing of the history of oppressed communities. Professor John noted yes people make records, but we also determine what to record, and what to do with it once it has been recorded.

Noting the ignorance surrounding racial prejudice and violence, citing the Notting Hill race riots, the Windrush generation,  and Stephen Lawrence as examples, Professor John illustrated how the commemoration of historical events is selective: while in 2018 the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act received much attention, in comparison the 500th anniversary of the start of the Transatlantic Slave Trade was largely ignored, by the sector and the media alike.  This culture of oppression, and omission, he said, is leading to ignorance amongst young people about major defining events, contributing to a removal of context to historically oppressed groups.

In response to questions from the audience, Professor John noted that one of the problems facing the sector is the failure to interrogate the ‘business as usual’ climate, and that it may be ‘too difficult to consider what an alternative route might be’. Professor John challenged us to question the status quo: ‘Why is my curriculum white? Why isn’t my lecturer black? What does “de-colonising” the curriculum mean? This is what we must ask ourselves’.

Following Professor John’s keynote and his ultimate call to action, there was a palpable atmosphere of engagement amongst the delegates, with myself and those around me eager to spend the next three days learning from the experiences of others, listening to new perspectives and extracting guidance on the actions we may take to develop and improve our sector, in terms of representation, diversity and engagement.

Various issues relating to these areas were threaded throughout many of the presentations, and as a person of colour at the start of my career in this sector, and recipient of the Diversity Bursary, I was excited to hear more about the challenges facing marginalised communities in archives and records, including some I could relate to on a personal and professional level, and, hopefully, also take away some proposed solutions and recommendations.

I attended an excellent talk by Adele Patrick (@AdelePAtrickGWL),  of Glasgow Women’s Library, who discussed the place for feminism within the archive, noting GWL’s history in resistance, and insistence on a plural representation, when women’s work, past and present, is eclipsed. Dr Alan Butler (@AButlerArchive), Coordinator at Plymouth LGBT Community Archive, discussed his experiences of trying to create a sense of community within a group that is inherently quite nebulous.  Nevertheless, Butler illustrated the importance of capturing LGBTQIA+ history, as people today are increasingly removed from the struggles that previous generations have had to overcome, echoing a similar point Professor Gus John made earlier.

A presentation which particularly resonated with me came from Kirsty Fife (@DIYarchivist) and Hannah Henthorn (@hanarchovist), on the issue of diversity in the workforce. Fife and Henthorn presented the findings from their research, including their survey of experiences of marginalisation in the UK archive sector, highlighting the structural barriers to diversifying the archive sector workforce. Fife and Henthorn identified several key themes which are experienced  by marginalised communities in the sector, including: the feeling of isolation and otherness in both workplace and universities; difficulties in gaining qualifications, perhaps due to ill health/disability/financial barriers/other commitments; feeling unsafe and under confident in professional spaces and a frustration at the lack of diversity in leadership roles.

As a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, I couldn’t abandon my own focus on digital preservation and digital archiving, and as such attended various digital-related talks, including “Machines make records: the future of archival processing” by Jenny Bunn (@JnyBn1), discussing the impact of taking a computational approach to archival processing, “Using digital preservation and access to build a sustainable future for your archive” led by Ann Keen of Preservica, with presentations given by various Preservica users, as well as a mini-workshop led by Sarah Higgins and William Kilbride, on ethics in digital preservation, asking us to consider if we need our own code of conduct in digital preservation, and what this could look like.

Image of William Kilbride and Sarah Higgins running their workshop "Encoding ethics: professional practice digital preservation", ARA Annual Conference 2018, Glasgow

William Kilbride and Sarah Higgins running their workshop “Encoding ethics: professional practice digital preservation”, ARA Annual Conference 2018, Glasgow

I have only been able to touch on a very small amount of what I heard and learnt at the many and varied talks, presentations and workshops at the ARA conference,  however,  one thing I took away from the conference was the realisation that archivists and recordkeepers have the power to challenge structural inequalities, and must act now, in order to become truly inclusive. As Michelle Caswell (@professorcaz), 2nd keynote speaker said, we must act with sensitivity, acknowledge our privileges and, above all empower not marginalise. This conference felt like a call to action to the archive and recordkeeping community, in order to include the ‘hard to reach’ communities, or alternatively as Adele Patrick noted, the ‘easy to ignore’. As William Kilbride (@William Kilbride) said, this is an exciting time to be in archives.

I want to thank Kevin Bolton for sponsoring the Diversity Bursary, which enabled me to attend an enriching, engaging and informative event, which otherwise would have been inaccessible for me.

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Because every day is a school day, as homework for us all, I made a note of some of the recommendations made by speakers throughout the conference, compiled into this very brief list which I thought I would share:

Reading list