Category Archives: Medical

Can web archives tell stories?

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

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

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

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Oral History collections at the Bodleian Libraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oral Histories and Archives

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

An introduction to the Collecting COVID project

Luke Jerram’s glass sculpture of a nanoparticle of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, courtesy of the History of Science Museum.

On 4th January 2021 the NHS became the first health service in the world to roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The first person to receive a dose was 82-year-old Oxford resident Brian Pinker, who had travelled to Oxford University Hospital to receive the jab at 7:30am. This milestone event exactly one year ago today was the result of a year’s intensive work to develop a vaccine by a small team led by Professor Sarah Gilbert at the University’s Jenner Institute. As of November, over 2 billion doses of the vaccine have been released for supply to more than 170 countries, with a 3 billion target set by AstraZeneca for the end of 2021.

The project

Collecting COVID is an exciting two-year collaborative project (funded by the E P A Cephalosporin Fund) between the Bodleian Libraries and History of Science Museum. The project aims to capture the extraordinary story of the University’s COVID-19 research response and to preserve and share it with future generations.

We are inviting members of the University who have been involved in shaping this response to contribute material to a contemporary collection that will inform research on the current pandemic and aid preparation for any potential future global health emergencies.

What are we looking for?

We are keen to hear from anyone at the University who can identify any of the following for the collection…

Objects from individuals and teams across the University such as:

  • Equipment relating to COVID-19 research and clinical practice including testing, vaccination and treatment
  • Personal items, photos, artwork or ephemera relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the work and personal lives of staff

Personal digital or physical records of individuals and teams who were involved in developing the University response to COVID-19 (e.g., academic and clinical research or social policy recommendations):

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries (current and retrospective)
  • Laboratory and research notebooks
  • Working papers
  • Draft and unpublished articles
  • Photographs and videos

Websites, blogs, or Twitter feeds, which help to develop the narrative behind the University’s efforts during the pandemic can be nominated for archiving in the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.

Personal testimonies and recollections of daily life during the pandemic from those who were directly involved in the University’s response to it (which could be in the form of a short memoir or account of experiences).

What happens next?

Once objects or records have been identified (either by submission or through direct contact by the team), we will set up a meeting to discuss the donation to ascertain its suitability for inclusion in the collection. We will then arrange a visit to survey the material before it is transferred to either the library or museum. Once on-site the material will be appraised, accessioned, catalogued and eventually made available for research and public engagement activities.

We are extremely keen to speak with individuals and teams who would like to contribute to the collection, or may be able to help us to identify important material at risk of loss. General enquiries and submissions can be sent to Michaela Garland (Project Archivist) and Tina Eyre (Project Curator) at collectingcovid@glam.ox.ac.uk

Mystery items in the Clarendon archive

Did we just find Victorian condoms in the Clarendon archive?

Emptying out a leather wallet found with a box of mainly 1850s letters sent to the 4th Earl of Clarendon, I came across a few stray items: a bad sketch of a woman called Josephine, a scrap of newspaper [*see an important update at the end!], and some folded tissue. It’s not unusual to find scrumpled bits of tissue paper in archives, and sometimes that tissue is wrapping something precious, so it’s always worth investigating.

This tissue struck me as unusual, however – what caught my eye was the shaped and curved edge, and the tiny hint of ribbon. Was this a folded glove, perhaps?

Tubes of yellowed paper or parchment or tissue with ties of narrow blue ribbon

Folded tissue with ribbon

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Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

Newly available: Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project

Born digital material from the Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project has been donated to the Weston Library since the early 2010s, and the project is still active today with further interviews planned. A selection of interviews from the project are now available to listen to online,  via University of Oxford podcasts.

The Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project comprises interviews with Oxford medics, which provide individual perspectives of both pre clinical and clinical courses at the Oxford Medical School, medical careers in Oxford and other locations, and give an insight into the evolution of clinical medicine at Oxford since the mid 1940s.

The interviewees have worked in a range of specialisms and departments including psychiatry, neurology, endocrinology and dermatology to name a few. Episode 18 comprises an interview with John Ledingham, former Director of Clinical Studies (a position he held twice!), recorded by Peggy Frith and Rosie Fitzherbert Jones in 2012.  In episodes 11-12 we can learn about Chris Winearls – a self proclaimed ‘accidental Rhodes Scholar’ from medical school in Cape Town – his journey into nephrology and how he later became Associate Professor of Medicine for the university.

Listen to the Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history podcast series online at https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/recollecting-oxford-medicine-oral-histories

In episode 1, John Spalding,  interviewed by John Oxbury  in 2011, discusses working under Hugh Cairns, firstly as a student houseman at the Radcliffe Infirmary during the second world war.  Spalding also recounts his experience of the initial conception of the East Radcliffe Ventilator, first being devised for use in treatment of Polio. In episode 13 we can listen to Derek Hockaday’s interview with Joan Trowell, former Deputy Director of Clinical Studies for Oxford Medical School, which amongst other topics covers her experience of roles held at the General Medical Council.

The majority of the interviews were undertaken by Derek Hockaday, former Oxford hospitals consultant physician and Emeritus Fellow of Brasenose College. The cataloguing and preservation of the oral history project is supported by Oxford Medical Alumni. The library acknowledges the donations of material and financial support by Derek Hockaday and OMA respectively.

Listeners may also be interested in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology Oral Histories, of which the archive masters are also preserved in the Weston Library.

New catalogue: Archive of Dame Louise Johnson

The online catalogue of the Archive of Dame Louise Johnson is now available.

‘[T]he moment comes when you actually solve a problem—it may be quite a small problem—but for a few moments you stand there and think “Nobody else knows this but me”.’ – Dame Louise Johnson

RESEARCH

Never one to shy away from a challenge Dame Louise Napier Johnson (1940–2012), biophysicist and structural biologist, spent her long career solving many problems; mostly in the field of structural enzymology that she helped create.

One of the first she solved was when she, David Phillips, and Charles Vernon described the enzyme lysozyme and how it bound its substrates at a special meeting of the Royal Institution in 1965. This was at a time when structural biology was in its infancy and lysozyme was the second protein and first enzyme to have its structure elucidated. It was also the first time that the mechanism through which enzymes worked on a structural level was described.

Notes on the structure of lysozyme.

Notes on the structure of lysozyme.

This was more than just an interesting theoretical exercise; it had far reaching implications and showed that understanding structure could help in understanding biological processes. Its practical application to drug discovery changed the face of pharmaceutical research. By the 1970s pharmacological researchers were using rational drug design and looking at protein receptors and their properties and binding potential. Knowing the structure of molecules, they could look for potential binding sites and postulate possible interactions. They could then look for analogues or ‘build’ new molecules specific to targeted binding sites.

She went on to tackle larger and more complex proteins like ribonuclease S and glycogen phosphorylase, but the tools of the time meant that it was a long hard slog. In order to examine these proteins they had to be crystallised to achieve high resolution images. These crystals did not last long and in the early days of structural biology protein structures were studied using diffractometers that took days to record data sets, often going through several crystals at a time.

DIAMOND LIGHT SOURCE

Needing faster and higher resolution data acquisition she turned to synchrotron radiation, which at the time was used primarily for studying purely physical phenomena. She championed the use of synchrotron radiation in the life sciences and was heavily involved in plans for the construction of a third generation synchrotron, Diamond Light Source, in the UK.

Breaking ground for the 250m long x-ray imaging and coherence beamline.

Breaking ground for the 250m long x-ray imaging and coherence beamline.

She came on board Diamond as the Director of Life Sciences because she believed that good research needed good infrastructure and support. She was heavily involved in planning and testing the beamlines, spearheaded a collaboration with Imperial College London to build the Membrane Protein Laboratory and secured funding for the Harwell Campus for visiting researchers.

Robotic sample changers on the MX beamlines.

Robotic sample changers on the MX beamlines.

Her tireless work saw the number of researchers working in structural biology at Diamond rise to its current 40%.

But she didn’t just support researchers with funding and facilities. While Director she continued as head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics where her sympathetic management and light hand brought the best out of her research group.

LABORATORY OF MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS

In 1967 Johnson joined David Phillips at the newly founded Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics at Oxford University; succeeding him as department head in 1990. Johnson was a constant in a department which endured considerable turnover of staff. The nature of Johnson’s field was very dynamic and it was common for researchers to move to and from other institutions regularly throughout their careers. One of twenty senior staff in 1975; by 2000 she was the only one remaining.

As head, she supervised around 80 people with an outside grant income in 2000 of almost £7 Million; overseeing a successful graduate programme while maintaining a nurturing environment for students and staff alike.

She routinely organised over 50 in-house and general research seminars annually. Many of them focused on the laboratory’s very productive output. Between 1995-6 alone, more than 30 protein and virus structures were solved. She trained a generation of Oxford crystallographers; as evidenced by the plethora of Protein Data Bank entries (including many forms of glycogen phosphorylase and cell cycle CDK/cyclin complexes) deposited by her lab; and kept the department running smoothly when they inevitably departed.

Johnson endeavoured to be a role model for other women. It was source of pride for Louise Johnson that of the six senior faculty members in her laboratory, three were women. She was also a trustee of the Daphne Jackson fund for scientists returning to research after career breaks. In September 2007 a symposium was held in her honour to recognise her continuing achievements and contribution the University.

– Emily Chen and Sean Macmillan

CREDITS

The archive of Louise Johnson came to us through the Saving Oxford Medicine project which sought to discover and catalogue collections relating to Oxford that have had an impact on the medical sciences. These papers were kindly donated by Professor Elspeth Garman and Johnson’s son Umar Salam.

The UK Web Archive Ebola Outbreak collection

By CDC Global (Ebola virus) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By CDC Global (Ebola virus) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Next month marks the four year anniversary of the WHO’s public announcement of “a rapidly evolving outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD)” that went on to become the deadliest outbreak of EVD in history.

With more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, it moved with such speed and virulence that–though concentrated in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone–it was feared at the time that the Ebola virus disease outbreak of 2014-2016 would soon spread to become a global pandemic.

No cure or vaccine has yet been discovered and cases continue to flare up in West Africa. The most recent was declared over on 2 July 2017. Yet today most people in the UK unless directly affected don’t give it a second thought.

Searching online now, you can find fact sheets detailing everything you might want to know about patient zero and the subsequent rapid spread of infection. You can find discussions detailing the international response (or failure to do so) and lessons learned. You might even find the reminiscences of aid workers and survivors. But these sites all examine the outbreak in retrospect and their pages and stories have been updated so often that posts from then can no longer be found.

Posts that reflected the fear and uncertainty that permeated the UK during the epidemic. The urgent status updates and travel warnings.  The misinformation that people were telling each other. The speculation that ran riot. The groundswell of giving. The mobilisation of aid.

Understandably when we talk about epidemics the focus is on the scale of physical suffering: numbers stricken and dead; money spent and supplies sent; the speed and extent of its spread.

Whilst UKWA regularly collects the websites of major news channels and governmental agencies, what we wanted to capture was the public dialogue on, and interpretation of, events as they unfolded. To see how local interests and communities saw the crisis through the lenses of their own experience.

To this end, the special collection Ebola Outbreak, West Africa 2014 features a broad selection of websites concerning the UK response to the Ebola virus crisis. Here you can find:

  • The Anglican community’s view on the role of faith during the crisis;
  • Alternative medicine touting the virtues of liposomal vitamin C as a cure for Ebola;
  • Local football clubs fundraising to send aid;
  • Parents in the UK withdrawing children from school because of fear of the virus’ spread;
  • Think tanks’ and academics’ views on the national and international response;
  • Universities issuing guidance and reports on dealing with international students; and more.

Active collection for Ebola began in November 2014 at the height of the outbreak whilst related websites dating back to the infection of patient zero in December 2013 have been retrospectively added to the collection. Collection continued through to January 2016, a few months before the outbreak began tailing off in April 2016.

The Ebola collection is available via the UK Web Archive’s new beta interface.

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.

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.