Category Archives: 20th century

New Catalogue: The Archive of Hilary Bailey

The catalogue of the archive of Hilary Bailey is now available online here.

Hilary Bailey (1936 – 2017), was a writer and editor whose career spanned many decades and genres. Her early output largely focussed on science fiction, with many of her short stories, including The Fall of Frenchy Steiner (1964), published in the science fiction publication New Worlds during the 1960s, and during this time she also co-authored The Black Corridor (1969) with her then husband, the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock; Bailey served as editor of New Worlds from 1974 to 1976 .

Her social circle contained a number of science fiction writers who were fellow contributors to New Worlds, including Graham Hall, another science fiction writer and editor of New Worlds whose papers are also included within the archive.

Hilary Bailey’s post-New Worlds output tended not to fall under the genre of science fiction. Her first solo full length novel, Polly Put The Kettle On (1975), was the first Polly Kops novel she wrote, and the character would later feature in Mrs Mulvaney (1978) and As Time Goes By (1988) – novels focussing on a woman in London through the 1960s to the 1980s.

Indeed, much of Bailey’s work had a focus on women, including her retellings and sequels of classic novels – including Frankenstein’s Bride (1995) – an alternate telling wherein Victor Frankenstein agrees to build the monster a wife rather than spurning the suggestion and Mrs Rochester (1997), which imagines Jane Eyre’s life a number of years  into her marriage to Edward Rochester. Women were also the focus of her historical fiction novel, The Cry From Street To Street (1992), which imagined the life of a victim of Jack the Ripper and Cassandra (1993), a retelling of the fall of Troy. She also authored a biography on Vera Brittain.

Draft artwork for the book jacket of As Time Goes By (1988)

Her most recent work ranged from the speculative fiction Fifty-first State (2008), a novel set in the then near-future of 2013, looking at politics within the United Kingdom, to imagining Sherlock Holmes’ sister in The Strange Adventures of Charlotte Holmes (2012).

The archive comprises a large amount of correspondence both personal, with family, friends and other writers and professional, with publishers and literary agents, as well as artwork for book jackets, early draft manuscripts for novels and assorted miscellanea.

Bailey’s archive also includes a small series at the end consisting of correspondence and draft writings belonging to Graham Hall (1947-1980), a friend of Bailey’s and fellow New Worlds contributor, editor, science fiction writer and general science fiction enthusiast. As Hall’s writing career was cut short by his death in 1980, aged just 32, his name is perhaps not as easily recognisable as those of his correspondents. His correspondence contains interesting information regarding science fiction enthusiasts in the 1960s, from Hall’s early involvement with fanzines and hopes to compile bibliographies for the work of more well-known science fiction writers, to his involvement with the scene and time as editor of New Worlds. Hall’s illness and death are chronicled in Michael Moorcock’s novel, Letters from Hollywood (1986).

What I Wish I Knew Before I Started – DPC Student Conference 2018

On January 24th, four Archives Assistants from Archives and Modern Manuscripts visited Senate House, London for the DPC Student Conference. With the 2018 theme being ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’, it was an opportunity for digital archivists to pass on their wealth of knowledge in the field.

Getting started with digital preservation

The day started with a brief introduction to digital preservation by Sharon McMeekin from the Digital Preservation Coalition. This included an outline of the three basic models of digital preservation: OAIS, DCC lifecycle and the three-legged stool. (More information about these models can be found in the DPC handbook.) Aimed at beginners, this introduction was made accessible and easy to understand, whilst also giving us plenty to think about.

Next to take the stage was Steph Taylor, an Information Manager from CoSector, University of London. Steph is a huge advocate for the use of Twitter to find out the latest information and opinion in the world of digital preservation. As someone who has never had a Twitter account, it made me realise the importance of social media for staying up to date in such a fast-moving profession. Needless to say, I signed myself up to Twitter that evening to find out what I had been missing out on. (You can follow what was happening at the conference with the hashtag #dpc_wiwik.)

The final speaker before lunch was Matthew Addis, giving a technologist’s perspective. Matthew broke down the steps that you would need to take should you be faced with the potentially overwhelming job of starting from the beginning with a depository of digital material. He referenced a two-step approach – conceived by Tim Gollins – named ‘Parsimonious Preservation’, which involves firstly understanding what you have, and secondly keeping the bits safe. In the world of digital preservation, the worst thing you can do is do nothing, so by dealing with the simple and usually low-cost files first, you can protect the vast majority of the collection rather than going straight into the technical, time-consuming and costly minority of material. In the long run, the simple material that could have been dealt with initially may become technical and costly – due to software obsolescence, for instance.

That morning, the thought of tackling a simple digital preservation project would have seemed somewhat daunting. But Matthew illustrated the steps very clearly and as we broke for lunch I was left thinking that actually, with a little guidance, it probably wouldn’t be quite so bad.

Speakers on their experiences in the digital preservation field

During the afternoon, speakers gave presentations on their experiences in the digital preservation field. The speakers were Adrian Brown from the Parliamentary Archives, Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum and Edith Halvarsson from the Bodleian Libraries. It was fascinating to learn how diverse the day-to-day working lives of digital archivists can be, and how often, as Glenn Cumiskey remarked, you may be the first digital archivist there has ever been within a given organisation, providing a unique opportunity for you to pave the way for its digital future.

Adrian Brown on his digital preservation experience at the Parliamentary Archive

The final speaker of the day, Dave Thomson, explained why it is up to students and new professionals to be ‘disruptive change agents’ and further illustrated the point that digital preservation is a relatively new field. We now have a chance to be the change and make digital preservation something that is at the forefront of business’s minds, helping them avoid the loss of important information due to complacency.

The conference closed with the speakers taking questions from attendees. There was lively discussion over whether postgraduate university courses in archiving and records management are teaching the skills needed for careers in digital preservation. It was decided that although some universities do teach this subject better than others, digital archivists have to make a commitment to life-long learning – not just one postgraduate course. This is a field where the technology and methods are constantly changing, so we need to be continuously developing our skills in accordance with these changes. The discussion certainly left me with lots to think about when considering postgraduate courses this year.

If you are new to the archiving field and want to gain an insight into digital preservation, I would highly recommend the annual conference. I left London with plenty of information, ideas and resources to further my knowledge of the subject, starting my commitment to life-long learning in the area of digital preservation!

 

 

Oxford College Archives

A new website for Oxford College Archives has been launched at https://oac.web.ox.ac.uk/.

Painting of Oxford students entitled 'Conversation Piece, Worcester College' by Edward HallidayThe site includes a general introduction to the archives held by the Oxford colleges, individual pages on most of the colleges (with further links to catalogues etc.) and links to associated archives in the City and University.  There is also an FAQ page, a glossary of all those odd Oxford terms, and a bibliography.  The site will be enhanced and updated regularly.

New Conservative Party Archive releases under the 30 year rule

Top-level strategy papers that detail the Thatcher government’s efforts to secure a third term are among papers newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2018. The previously-restricted documents, now made available for the first time under the 30 year rule, form part of an extensive series of party papers from the election year of 1987, including drafts of the Conservative manifesto, detailed plans of campaign activities, and election briefings prepared by the Conservative Research Department. This piece briefly examines two such documents from one of the newly-released files [CRD 4/30/7/25], private briefings prepared for the Prime Minister’s election planning meetings in December 1986 and April 1987, to illustrate the research potential of these newly-available collections.

Although the 1987 election ultimately resulted in a second landslide for Thatcher’s Conservatives, the party was far from certain of such an outcome. ‘We believe that the electorate will be in a more questioning mood than in 1983 in the aftermath of the Falklands’, the December 1986 report cautioned, stressing the need for the party to develop and communicate clear plans for the future rather than simply seeking re-election on the basis of past achievements. The changing nature of the electoral map prompted particular concern. Although the Conservatives had opened up a narrow polling lead, the report identified a ‘sharp North-South disparity’, which posed a serious risk to the Conservative position: while the party’s national polling suggested a parliamentary majority of 20, this ‘disappeared entirely and left us in a minority of 2’ when regional variations were taken into account. In an echo of the party’s present-day challenges, the report additionally flagged up the dangers of the growing age-gap in the party’s support: ‘the under 45 group, and particularly first time voters, are still a cause of considerable concern.’

The Conservative Party’s electoral position was complicated by the growing North-South political divide. [CRD 4/30/7/25].

The prospect of a lost majority was still taken seriously on the eve of the election campaign, as the papers prepared for a top-level meeting at Downing Street on 16 April 1987 reveal. Although Party Chairman Norman Tebbit’s paper on general strategy began with the cautious observation that the government were favoured to win ‘with a smaller but working majority’, he warned that ‘the prospect of a hung parliament is attractive to the press and will be promoted by those hostile to us’. To counter this, he urged, the party needed to polarise the issues as far as possible, presenting a Conservative majority as the only alternative to weak or extreme government: ‘Our aim should be to make the supreme issue whether there will be a continuation of Conservative Government or through a “hung” Parliament a Labour administration with Alliance or other minority party support.’

Strategies aside, the party’s election plans also give a fascinating insight into how the party sought to understand and reshape its image going into the election. Discussing the party’s loss of support during the middle of 1986, the CCO Campaign Plans document warned of a ‘a growing perceived conflict between the two important themes of “Calvinism” or “individual responsibility” on the one hand, and “caring” on the other […] reflected in serious concerns about unemployment, health care, education and pensions’. Yet the strategy paper also reveals a resistance to any significant change in course: the proposal to organise the Prime Minister’s campaign tours around the theme of ‘regeneration’ is pointedly removed from the draft document in favour of a more individualistic emphasis on ‘believing [in] people’ and ‘personal property’. Similarly on Thatcher’s own image, the paper goes out of its way to reject suggestions that she adopt a ‘soft’ image, instead recommending a campaign focused upon her strengths: ‘leadership, strength and experience.’

Early plans emphasised that the Prime Minister campaign on the idea of ‘Regeneration’, but as the notes in the margin show others favoured a more ideological campaign theme. [CRD 4/30/7/25].

These papers will provide an essential resource for scholars of the 1987 general election and the politics of the Thatcher era, complementing the Conservative Party Archive’s existing collections of published material from the campaign. The Bodleian has also additionally taken receipt of a large donation of previously undocumented files from this period, so it is hoped that the CPA will be able to continue to expand its collections on the 1987 general election in years to come.

Among the new releases is the first draft of the 1987 Manifesto [CRD/4/30/7/29], shown here next to the final version [PUB 157/4].

The material examined in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2018. In addition to papers on the 1987 general election, the list of newly-released papers also includes material on the introduction of the poll tax, the party’s private polling and opinion research, and a wide range of briefings produced by the Conservative Research Department. For a full list of derestricted items, see the CPA website.

Jenny Joseph celebration with Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes

On Sunday 10th December 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 recent gift of Jenny Joseph’s literary archive to the Bodleian and will include a selection of poetry ranging across her more than 50 year-long writing career. There will also be a free display of material from the archive in the Weston Library over that weekend.

The reading will be at the beautiful, seventeenth-century Convocation House in the Old Bodleian Library from 12pm-1.30pm. Tickets cost £8, including tea/coffee and a pastry. You can complete our booking form at What’s On to reserve tickets in advance. (Please note that tickets will not be available on the door.)

Subcultures as Integrative Forces in East-Central Europe 1900 – present: a Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive record

A problem, and a solution in action:

The ephemeral nature of internet content (the average life of a web page is 100 days – illustrating that websites do not need to be purposefully deleted to vanish) is only one contributing factor to data loss. Web preservation is high priority;  action is required. This is a driver for not only Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive, but digital preservation initiatives on a global scale.

However, today I would like to share the solution in action, an example from BLWA’s University of Oxford Collection: Subcultures as Integrative Forces in East-Central Europe 1900 – present.

On the live web, attempts to access the site are met with automatic redirects to BLWA’s most recent archived capture (24 Jan. 2017). The yellow banner indicates it is part of our archive. Image from http://wayback.archive-it.org/2502/20170124104518/http://subcultures.mml.ox.ac.uk/home.html

Subcultures is a University of Oxford project, backed by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, which through its explorative redefinition of ‘sub-cultures’ aims to challenge the current way of understanding simultaneous identification forms in the region of Eastern Europe through a multi-disciplinary methodology of social anthropology, discourse analysis, historical studies and linguistics. The project ran from 2012-2016.

The Subcultures website is an incredibly rich record of the project and it’s numerous works.  It held cross-continent collaborative initiatives including lectures, international workshops and seminars, as well as an outreach programme including academic publications. Furthermore, comparative micro-studies were conducted in parallel with main collaborative project: Linguistic Identities: L’viv/Lodz, c.1900; Myth and Memory: Jews and Germans, Interwar Romania; Historical Discourses: Communist Silesia and Discursive Constructions: L’viv and Wroclaw to present. The scope and content of the project, including key questions, materials, past and present events and network information is* all hosted on http://subcultures.mml.ox.ac.uk/home.html.

Was*. The site is no longer live on the internet.

However, as well as an automatic re-direction to our most recent archival copy, a search on Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive generates 6 captures in total:

Search results for Subcultures within BLWA. Image from https://archive-it.org/home/bodleian?q=Subcultures

The materials tab of the site fully functions in the archived capture: you are able to listen to the podcasts and download the papers on theory and case studies as PDF versions.

The use of Subcultures

To explore the importance of web-archiving in this context, let us think about the potential use(rs) of this record and the implications if the website were no longer available:

As the  project comprised a wider outreach programme alongside its research, content such as PDF publications and podcasts were available for download, consultation and further research. The website platform means that these innovative collaborations and the data informed by the primary methodology are available for access. This is of access to the public on a global scale for education and knowledge and interaction with important issues – without even elaborating on how academics, researchers, historians and the wider user community will benefit from the availability of the materials from this web archive. Outreach by its very nature demands an unspecified group of people to lend its services to help.

Listening to the podcast of the project event hosted in Krakow: ‘Hybrid Identity’ in 2014. Rationale, abstracts and biographies from the workshop can also be opened. Image from http://wayback.archive-it.org/2502/20170124104618/http://subcultures.mml.ox.ac.uk/materials/workshop-krakow-hybrid-identity-september-2014.html

Furthermore, the site provides an irreplaceable record of institutional history for University of Oxford as a whole, as well as its research and collaborations. This is a dominant purpose of our University of Oxford collection. The role of preserving for posterity cannot be underplayed. Subcultures provides data that will be used, re-used and of grave importance for decades to come, and also documents decisions and projects of the University of Oxford. For example, the outline and rationale of the project is available in full through the Background Paper – Theory, available for consultation through the archived capture as it would be through the live web. Biographical details of contributors are also hosted on the captures, preserving records of people involved and their roles for further posterity and accountability.

Building on the importance of access to research: internet presence increases scholarly interaction. The scope of the project is of great relevance, and data for research is not only available from the capture of the site, but the use of internet archives as datasets are expected to become more prominent.

Participate!

Here at BLWA the archiving process begins with a nomination for archiving: if you have a site that you believe is of value for preserving as part of one of our collections then please do so here. The nomination form will go to the curators and web-archivists on the  BLWA team for selection checks and further processing. We would love to hear your nominations.

A sympathy for strangers: Oxfam and the history of humanitarianism

On Tuesday 31st October the Oxfam Archive Assistants attended a lecture at St Antony’s College by Princeton University’s Professor Jeremy Adelman, entitled Towards a Global History of Humanitarianism. Professor Adelman’s focus was primarily the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but his narrative had implications for the way we might view contemporary humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam.

 

Historians have not always been kind in their assessments of international humanitarianism. Alex de Waal was broadly critical of the role such agencies have played when dealing with famine on the African continent: by supplying aid externally, he argues, they inadvertently undermine the democratic accountability of African governments, disincentivizing humanitarian intervention or crisis prevention as a way of preserving political power.[1] To an extent, Adelman spoke in a similar vein: abolitionists may have helped stimulate the rise of humanitarianism in the nineteenth century but colonial penetration itself was often justified in terms of humanitarian intervention, where the white settler was morally and ethically obliged to ‘civilize’ the unsophisticated ‘native’. Humanitarian discourse, Adelman argued, is by its nature racialized, and it invariably reinforces the self-image of Western nations as occupying the apex of a civilizational hierarchy.

 

This might seem somewhat damning of all Oxfam does and stands for. However, Adelman also spoke of a ‘sympathy for strangers’ which grew out of increasing global connectedness and integration as telegraph cables, railways and steamships curtailed the spatial and intellectual distances between disparate peoples. The camera was, according to Adelman, a fundamental technological innovation in this respect and the relationship between photography and humanitarianism has in many ways been central to the development of charities like Oxfam. Borrowing from Susan Sontag, Adelman suggested that ‘moral witnesses’ – i.e., photographers – record public memories of pain, creating a connection between the ‘victim’ – the subject of the photograph – and the viewer.

 

In the 19th century missionaries armed themselves with Kodak cameras, and by producing lantern slide shows of their experiences in foreign climes hoped to raise money for future missionary work. But in the Congo Free State, rendered a personal possession of King Leopold of Belgium in 1885, missionaries began to use their cameras to record atrocities committed against Congolese rubber plantation workers. In the face of international scrutiny – which admittedly was somewhat more self-interested than compassionate – King Leopold was forced to cede Congo as a personal asset. It could certainly be argued that such photographs exploited the pain of others, titillating public interest at home without any true empathy for or understanding of the Congolese people. According to Susan Sontag, the ‘knowledge gained through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist’.[2]

 

 

But the power of the photograph to reinforce moral or empathetic feeling can be – and has been – used for the genuine betterment of others. From 1957 to the early 1960s Oxfam sent simple Christmas ‘appeal’ cards to its donors, featuring a simple ‘thank you’ message and photographs of individuals helped by the charity. A card from 1958 showed a huge-eyed little girl, sitting wrapped in a coat and woollen socks with a spoon stuck into a beaker of food. The caption read ‘This little Greek girl was found as a baby hungry and dying… Now she is properly fed… because Oxfam sends food, and years ago was able to plant black-currant bushes in her village which are now bearing fruit.’ This photograph does not simply broadcast the pain of strangers. It broadcasts hope, and promises resolution through charitable action. While a healthy scepticism and constructive interrogation of the conduct of international agencies is to be encouraged, we should be careful not to overlook and devalue the charitable efforts inspired by genuine ‘sympathy for strangers’.

[1] Alex de Waal, Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa (1997)

[2] Susan Sontag, On Photography (1973)

Donation of Monier-Williams archive

The Bodleian owes much of its rich collection of Indic manuscripts and books to the personal collection of Oxford University’s Boden Professor of Sanskrit, Sir Monier Monier-Williams and that of the Indian Institute Library, which he founded in 1883. Scholars have long assumed that the library also holds Sir Monier’s papers: these, however, remained with his family.

Sir Monier-Williams’ great great grandson has now most generously donated these papers to the library.  This archival collection includes diaries, material on the controversial election of Sir Monier to the Boden Professorship, his lecture notes and scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, all of which provide new insights into his career and the history of Indian Studies at Oxford.

 

The Braun Family Archive: Second edition catalogue now available

The second edition of the catalogue of the Braun Family Archive is now available here.

More than 50 boxes – MSS. Braun 168-221 – have been added since the first catalogue was published in February 2015. In addition to the papers of, and collected by, Thomas Braun and his parents Konrad and Hildburg Braun, the archive now includes a collection of family verse and writings, as well as correspondence, personal documents, writings, memorabilia and photographs of Gerhard Braun, his wife Anneliese and daughter Ruth.

Gerhard Braun (1893-1946) was Konrad Braun’s elder brother. By profession he was an obstetrician and gynaecologist. As a young man he served as a medical officer in the First World War and then as an American POW. In 1927 he married Anneliese Finster (1901-1996), and adopted her daughter Ruth (‘Rüthli’, 1926-1999).

Braun family photo, c. 1931

The Friedmann-Brauns, c. 1931: Gertrud and Felix Friedmann-Braun with Ruth, at the back Konrad, Hildegard, Johannes, Anneliese and Gerhard Braun. – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Due to the Friedmann-Brauns’ Jewish ancestry, the family faced discrimination and persecution under the Nazi regime. After losing his posts in the public health system and seeing his previously successful practice limited to private patients and the to Jews only, Gerhard Braun was arrested in the course of the November pogrom in 1938 and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was detained for five and a half weeks. He was released in December 1938, on condition that his family paid a large sum in tax and that he emigrated.

12-year-old Ruth was sent ahead to safety in England in late 1938, staying with family friends – Curt and Hilde Sluzewski who had had already emigrated from Germany – in London. Gerhard and Anneliese followed in early 1939. Since they had been forced to leave behind most of their possessions, and Gerhard Braun was forbidden to work, the family, for more than three years, was reliant on the generous support of Marcel Wolfers, a merchant in the China trade.

Gerhard Braun was detained as an ‘enemy alien’ at the Huyton internment camp near Liverpool for several months in 1940. Only from 1942 was he able to practice medicine in England, as a junior hospital doctor in Birmingham. However, his health had been seriously impaired by his mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis and he died in 1946, at just 52 years of age.

Gerhard Braun at the piano

Gerhard Braun at the piano. – Photograph by permission of Christopher Braun

Anneliese and Ruth Braun eventually moved from Birmingham to London, where they shared a house in Golders Green until Anneliese Braun’s death in 1996. Mother and daughter were extremely close, and together they were known as ‘the Pummels’ to family and friends.

Anneliese Braun was an amateur writer since her youth, and some of her poems and short stories had been published in German newspapers before 1933. Even before coming to England in 1939, she had begun to write in English as well, and later she also translated works by other writers, including Monika Mann, Ruth Tenney (Marcel Wolfer’s wife) and Veronica Erdmann-Czapski, with whom she was friends.

Ruth Braun, having attended Birmingham Theatre School as a young woman, also had a lifelong interest in drama and music – in many ways, following the family tradition. Her ‘adopted grandfather’, Felix Friedmann-Braun (1861-1934), had been a brilliant amateur pianist in Berlin, and his four children grew up in a prosperous, cultured family with many links to leading literary, musical and artistic figures in Germany.

Poster for a recital by Hildegard Braun in Berlin, 1918. The Bechstein-Saal, a chamber music hall with more than 500 seats, had been opened 1892 with a series of concerts by Johannes Brahms, Anton Rubinstein and the like. Hildegard Braun certainly was in good company! – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Daughter Hildegard was a successful professional singer, the youngest son, Johannes, an actor. Konrad Braun was a keen amateur violinist and played in a string quartet with friends (Curt ‘Slu’ Sluzewski, amongst others), while Gerhard had inherited his father’s talent as a pianist. Gerhard also composed short pieces of music, such as birthday serenades for Ruth, and set to music verses by his wife Anneliese and poems by Ruth Tenney. Some of his compositions survive in the archive (MS. Braun 221), and together with a collection of family verse compiled by Thomas and Christopher Braun (MSS. Braun 168-169), these give a wonderful glimpse of the important role that music, literature and writing played in the Braun family’s life – as a profession, as a pastime and for pleasure, and not least, as a source of a sense of identity, dignity and hope in times of hardship.

A song written down for Konrad Braun “von seinem Papa” – by his father, Felix Friedmann-Braun, 1911. – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Poem written by Konrad Braun for his wife Hildburg’s 30th birthday on 14 May 1940. Just a year earlier, they had emigrated from Germany to England to escape persecution by the Nazis. The poem was published 63 years later, transcribed and translated by their son Thomas Braun, in The Oxford Magazine, No. 216, 2003. – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Find out more about the Braun family story, and about the archive, here.

The Braun Family Archive was donated to the Bodleian Library by Christopher Braun, London, in several tranches between July 2010 and May 2017, together with a grant towards the cost of preparing the catalogue.

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.