Category Archives: 20th century

Looking back and pushing forwards: 75 years of Oxfam

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

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

 

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

Oxfam’s first permanent shop on Broad Street, Oxford

 

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

 

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

the programme for the evening’s events

 

 

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

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

Professor George Gow Brownlee’s lab notebooks now available

George Gow Brownlee (photograph from the Royal Society)

George Gow Brownlee (photograph from the Royal Society)

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

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

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

Now available: Catalogue of the Archive of Sir James Gowans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supported by the Wellcome Trust

Oxfam archive inspires potential University of Oxford students

Nineteen year-12 students recently attended a seminar in the Weston Library’s impressive Bahari Room as part of a summer school organised by Wadham College.

The programme allows students from schools with low application/entry rates into higher education to experience university life through a four-day residential. During the visit, students attended lectures, seminars and tutorials, giving them a taste of what it is like to be an undergraduate at the University of Oxford.

The theme for this year was ‘The Politics of Immigration’ and in the seminar, students had the chance to handle a selection of material taken from the Oxfam archive. They were then asked to discuss the representation of Palestinian refugees in the archival documents dating from the 1960s. The material used was taken from the Communications section of the archive – i.e. records of Oxfam’s external communication with the public – and is just a very small example of the material available to the public in the extensive Oxfam archive (the Communications catalogue is online here).

An example of some of the material that the students were using from the Communications section of the Oxfam archive.

Though initially hesitant, we were pleased when two eager students volunteered to open up the archival boxes and find the files that were needed. After being carefully handled by our volunteers, all the files were laid out for the students to analyse in groups.

Dr. Tom Sinclair and a student unpacking an archival box.

The students then took it in turns to give examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented in the Oxfam material. One of the excellent examples that students spotted was how Oxfam was able to remain politically neutral (a constitutional necessity for charities) by not specifying why the refugees were displaced. Students also remarked that Oxfam preferred to focus on individual stories in their communications – for instance, that of a displaced teenager with aspirations to be an engineer – which the students suggested helped humanise a crisis that could be difficult for the public to comprehend.

The students studied selected material from the Oxfam archive and gave examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented.

Overall, the ‘Politics of Immigration’ seminar was a great success that gave the students a good feel for what it would be like to use the archives to complete research for a dissertation or other academic project.

Dr Tom Sinclair, who organised the summer school, said: “It was such a privilege to be in that lovely room and have such free access to the archives… I really think that a couple of the students were inspired, and I hope they’ll be future Oxford undergraduates visiting the archives again in a few years’ time.”

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available

“to call a woman ‘hysterical’ because you have not the knowledge necessary to deny her facts is the last refuge of the unmanly and the coward…I always felt when termed hysterical that I had triumphed because it meant my arguments cannot be met nor my statements denied…” [MS. Hobhouse 25].

A strong-willed, compassionate and at times controversial figure, Emily Hobhouse is best known for her work publicising the conditions in the concentration camps which were set up by the British government to detain predominantly women and children during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Report on the conditions in the camps for the Committee of the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, MS. Hobhouse 4

Hobhouse’s influential report, MS. Hobhouse 4.

Travelling to South Africa in December 1900, Hobhouse reported on the widespread hunger, death and disease that she encountered there, distributing aid gathered by her Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, and putting pressure on the British government to improve conditions. This led the government to send out a Ladies’ Commission led by Millicent Fawcett, a contemporary but by no means friend of Emily Hobhouse.

Although Hobhouse was not permitted to join the commission, they would confirm her initial reports and make similar recommendations. In 1901 Hobhouse would attempt another visit of the camps, only to be refused permission to disembark, and be deported back to England. In 1905 she returned to South Africa to establish a Home Industries scheme to support rehabilitation, opening schools for spinning, weaving and lace making for local girls.

“a war is not only wrong in itself, but a crude mistake” [MS. Hobhouse 10]

A committed pacifist, Hobhouse travelled to Germany and Belgium during World War One to investigate conditions and meet with the German foreign minister, an act which to some put her on the wrong side of public opinion. Following the armistice, Hobhouse continued her commitment to relief work, and in 1919 set up a local relief fund in Leipzig, where she was honoured and awarded the German Red Cross decoration of second class.

The fascinating collection includes letters, diaries, and her own extensive writings, which reveal her unyielding dedication to her work. The collection also contains papers of her brother, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (1864-1929), a social philosopher and journalist.

While she is an often forgotten figure in British history, Emily Hobhouse is still remembered as a heroine in South Africa, where her ashes are buried in the Women’s Monument at Bloemfontein. On her death, Mahatma Gandhi wrote the following memorial:

On her death, Gandhi published the following memorial for Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23

Gandhi’s tribute to Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23.

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available to readers in the Weston Library. The catalogue can be accessed here.

A selection of Emily Hobhouse’s own writings are now available to view online.

 

The first rule of Pig Club…

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive at the Bodleian Library [sc22/1c]

Rulebook of Nailsworth Pig Club, April 1918, from the Sir Stafford Cripps archive [sc22/1c]

There’s just something about this delightful little three page rulebook that tickles me. Perhaps it’s the use of phrases like ‘eligible pigs’. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly serious document which details the ins and outs of the provision, insurance and inspection of pigs and potatoes (pigs and potatoes!) raised by members of the club.

It appears to have been produced by Gloucestershire County Council and was presumably part of a county-, or country-wide effort to encourage people to raise their own food during the war (also done during the second world war). Despite the central concern of food production, though, it’s a surprisingly cheering document for people concerned with animal welfare, as it’s very specific that the animals must be healthy and well-cared for, and that insurance compensation would not be paid if ‘the death or sickness of a pig is attributed to bad food, insufficient attention, or other carelessness or ill-treatment’.

One of my favourite things about the rulebook is who it belonged to: Stafford Cripps, probably best known as Britain’s ambassador to Moscow in 1940-1942 and as the austerity chancellor from 1947-1950. When this document was produced however, Cripps was not yet a political high flier. A chemistry graduate and practicing lawyer, he was both married and in ill health in 1914, which meant that he was not called up. He kept himself busy with recruitment efforts and then volunteered for a year in France as a Red Cross ambulance driver. In late 1915 he offered his chemistry expertise to the Ministry of Munitions and was posted to one of the country’s biggest munitions factories in Queensferry, near Chester. From early 1916, Cripps was running it, and it took its toll on his health. In early 1918, when this rulebook was drawn up, he was convalescing from a physical breakdown. Somehow, though, he still managed to find the time and energy to serve as honorary secretary of the Nailsworth Pig Club. The now nearly 100 year old rulebook survives in his archive at the Bodleian Library.

Incidentally, the first rule of Pig Club?:

  1. NAME.–The Society shall be called the “Nailsworth Pig Club.”

Can’t argue with that.

#WAWeek2017 – Researchers, practitioners and their use of the archived web

This year, the world of web archiving  saw a premiere: not only were the biennial RESAW conference and the IIPC conference, established in 2016, held jointly for the first time, but they also formed part of a whole week of workshops, talks and public events around web archives – Web Archiving Week 2017 (or #WAWeek2017 for the social medially inclined).

After previous conferences Reykjavik (2016) and Arhus (RESAW 2015), the big 2017 event was held in London, 14-16 June 2017, organised jointly by the School of Advanced Studies of the University of London, the IIPC and the British Library.
The programme was packed full of an eclectic variety of presentations and discussions, with topics ranging from the theory and practice of curating web archive collections or capturing whole national web domains, via technical topics such as preservation strategies, software architecture and data management, to the development of methodologies and tools for using web archives based research and case studies of their application.

Even in digital times, who doesn’t like a conference pack? Of course, the full programme is also available online. (…but which version will be easier to archive?)

Continue reading

Eton College, a journey to India, and wartime Britain: Personal stories from the Opie Archive

The Archive of Iona and Peter Opie, at first glance, is an archive of professional papers, covering the folklorists’ extensive research on childlore, games and play from the 1950s through to the 1990s. Researchers looking at the history of childhood, and at even at how the ‘world of children’ was observed and documented, will no doubt find a rich resource in the children’s original papers, as well as in the Opies’ working files, their professional correspondence, and the notes for, and drafts of, the Opie publications from The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes to The People in the Playground.

What is probably less well known is the fact that the archive also includes a significant proportion of personal papers and correspondence – the personal archive of Peter Opie, covering his own childhood and teenage years, his years at Eton College, his early career as an author, his time serving in the Army, and the early years of starting a family and finding his vocation of collecting books and researching childhood folklore. These personal papers, which focus on the 1930s-1950s, include correspondence with friends and relatives, diaries and scrapbooks, personal documents, photographs and memorabilia. Another sequence comprises the raw material, notes, and drafts for Peter Opie’s early autobiographical books, short stories and other writings.

An aspiring writer: Drafts for Peter Opie’s first book ‘I Want To Be A Success’, early 1938.

Continue reading

Web Archiving Week 2017 – “Pages for kids, by kids”

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a day of the Web Archiving Week 2017 conferences in Senate House, London along with another graduate trainee digital archivist.

A beautiful staircase in Senate House

Every session I attended throughout the day was fascinating, but Ian Milligan’s ‘Pages by kids, for kids’: unlocking childhood and youth history through the GeoCities web archive stood out for me as truly capturing part of what makes a web archive so important to society today.

Pages by kids, for kids

GeoCities, for those unfamiliar with the name, was a website founded in 1994 from which anyone could build their own free website which would become part of a ‘neighbourhood’. Each neighbourhood was themed for a particular topic, allowing topic clusters to form from created websites. GeoCities was shut down in Europe and the US in 2009, but evidence of it still exists in the Internet Archive.

Milligan’s talk focused particularly on the Enchanted Forest neighbourhood between 1996 and 1999. The Enchanted Forest was dedicated to child-friendliness and was the only age based neighbourhood, and as such had extra rules and community moderation to ensure nothing age inappropriate was present.

“The web was not just made by dot.com companies”

The above image shows what I think was one of the key points from the talk, a quote from the New York Times, March 17th 1997
“The web was not just made by dot.com companies, but that eleven-year-old boys and grandmothers are also busy putting up Web sites. Of course, the quality of these sites varies greatly, but low-cost and even free home page services are a growing part of the on-line world.”

The internet is a democracy, and to show a true record of how and why it has been used it necessarily involves people – not just businesses. By having GeoCities websites within the Internet Archive, it’s possible to access direct evidence of how people were using the internet in the late part of the 20th century, but, as Ian Milligan’s talk explained, it also allows access to direct evidence of childhood and youth culture forming on the internet.

Milligan pointed out that access to evidence of childhood and youth culture is rare, normally historical evidence comes in the form of adults remembering their time as children or from researchers studying children, but something produced by a child for other children would rarely make it into a traditional archive. Within the trove of archived GeoCities websites, however, children producing web content for children is clearly visible. From this, it is possible to examine what constituted popular activities for children on GeoCities in the late 20th century.

Milligan noted one major activity within the Enchanted Forest centred around an awards culture, wherein a popular site would award users based on several web page qualities such as no personal identifiable information, working links and loading times of less than one minute. Some users would create their own awards to present to people, for example an award for finding all the Winnie the Pooh words in a word search. His findings showed that 15% of Enchanted Forest websites had a dedicated awards page.

A darker side of a child-centric portion of the web was also revealed in the Geokidz club. On the surface, the Geokidz Club appeared to be an unofficial online clubhouse where children could share poetry and book reviews, they could chat and take HTML lessons – but these activities came at the price of a survey which contained questions about the lifestyles of the child’s parents (the type of information would appeal to advertisers). This formed part of one of the first internet privacy court cases due to the data being obtained from children and sold on without proper informed consent.

It was among my favourite talks of the day, and showed how much richer our understanding of the recent past can be using web archives, as well as the benefit to researchers of the history of youth and childhood.
It felt particularly relevant to me, as someone who spent her teen years on the internet watching, and being involved in, youth culture happening online in the 2000s to know that online youth culture, which can feel very ephemeral, can be saved for future research in web archives.

A wall hanging in Senate House (made of sisal)

In truth, any talk I attended would have made an interesting topic for this blog – the entire day was filled with informative speakers, interesting presentations and monumental, hair-like wall hangings. But I felt Ian Milligan’s talk gave such a positive example of how the internet, and particularly web archives, can give a voice to those whose experiences might be lost otherwise.