Category Archives: Medical

Event: Women in Science in the Archives, 8 September 2016

As part of the FitzGerald cataloguing project, we are organising an event around women in science in the archives, to take place on Thursday 8 September, at the Weston Library (Lecture Theatre) from 9.00am to 1.00 pm.

The half-day seminar will look at women’s engagement with science in the past through the Bodleian’s historical archives, trace the changing nature of their role, discuss the experiences of female scientists in the 21st century, and explore the challenges of preserving their archives in the future.

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Women in science, 1780-2016

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Oxfordshire folklore

A hedgehog

A very lean hedgehog, by erinac@eus – own work, Public Domain

Did you know that the fat of a hedgehog can cure deafness? Or that killing a black beetle brings on rain? Or that you should spit on the ground if you pass a pair of grey horses? Or that you can cure cramp by tucking some brimstone under your pilow?

So say the people of Oxfordshire, as recorded by Percy Manning, an antiquarian and archaeologist, in the early twentieth century.

These charms against illness and bad luck are from a series of folklore notes  which cover topics ranging from animals to ghosts, omens, weather maxims and witches, altogether a wonderful compendium of wit, wisdom, magical thinking and superstitions in Oxfordshire.

If you’d like to read them for yourself, they can be found in the Percy Manning archive at the Bodleian Library at MSS. Top. Oxon. d. 190-192.

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

Monkey spines and Ringworm cultures, or: With a little help from the experts

Mabel FitzGerald today is best known for her work on the physiology of breathing, specifically for her ‘Observations on the changes in the breathing and the blood at various high altitudes’, published in 1913 and 1914. But her research interests were much broader: she researched and published on bacteriology, including ‘The induction of sporulation in the bacilli belonging to the Aerogenes capsulatus group’ (1911), and combined anatomy and physiology in her work on ‘Origin of the Hydrochloric Acid in the Gastric Tubules’ (1910). Previously, she had worked with Gustav Mann in Oxford on histology, contributing to his publication on tissue response at vaccination sites (1899), and collaborated with Georges Dreyer at the Copenhagen State Serum Institute on finding methods to differentiate between B. typhosus and B. coli in bacteria cultures (1902).

Macaca sinica. By Carlos Delgado - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wild Macaque monkey (Macaca sinica) in Sri Lanka, as photographed bCarlos Delgado – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34667538

Her own first big research project, however, took her into the world of what today would be called neurophysiology. From 1899, FitzGerald investigated the interrelationship of the grey matter (cell bodies) and white matter (nerve fibres) in the spinal cord of the Macaque monkey. She made hundreds of detailed to-scale drawings of cross-sections of the monkey spinal cord as seen under the microscope, and meticulously measured and compared the size and distribution of grey and white matter areas.

Gustav Mann, under whom FitzGerald was working at the Oxford Physiology Department, later wrote in testimonial for her: “I was so much struck by her great thoroughness  that I proposed to her the difficult task of investigating the inter-relationship of the grey and the white matter of the spinal cord of the monkey. In this research she has been engaged for five years. She spent the first three years with work having reference to the minute structure of the grey matter and made a large series of accurate microscopical drawings. The last two years she has devoted to the special investigation of the relative and absolute increase and decrease of the different tracts and of the grey matter.”

The results of FitzGerald’s research were communicated to the Royal Society by FitzGerald’s mentor – and Professor of Physiology – Francis Gotch (women were not admitted to the society at that time), but later published under her own name as ‘An Investigation into the Structure of the Lumbo-sacral-coccygeal Cord of the Macaque Monkey (Macacus sinicus)’ (1906).

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High-altitude research meets ostrich feathers: A letter from the 1911 Pikes Peak expedition

Mabel FitzGerald is today perhaps best known for her research into breathing at high altitude, in particular, for her work with J. S. Haldane and C. G. Douglas of Oxford, Y. Henderson of Yale, and E. C. Schneider of Colorado College on the Anglo-American expedition to Pikes Peak, Colorado.

During this expedition in Summer 1911, FitzGerald worked in Colorado Springs and then travelled Colorado’s mining towns to conduct research on the breathing of mining town residents over a range of altitudes from 6,000 to 10,780 feet above sea level, while her fellow researchers stayed at the summit house of Pikes Peak (14,110 feet above sea level) to investigate the process of acclimatisation of breathing to high altitude oxygen levels.

On 18 July 1911, about a week into the expedition, Mabel FitzGerald, writes from Colorado Springs to her sister Laura in Oxford:

Letter Mabel FitzGerald in Colorado Springs to her sister Laura in Oxford, 18 July 1919 (1v).

Letter Mabel FitzGerald to Laura FitzGerald, 18 July 1919 (1v). [Temp. box FitzGerald 3]

Written at the very early stages of the Pikes Peak Expedition, shortly after FitzGerald’s first brief visit to her colleagues at their temporary summit house laboratory on 16th July, the letter offers some wonderful insights into the day-to-day practicalities facing the researchers, FitzGerald’s own involvement as well as the more humdrum aspects of life during this time.

The letter does much to assert FitzGerald’s passion for science and scientific research as well as her sheer determination to continue in her scientific pursuits despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of such opportunities afforded to women at the time. Opening with a reference to the fact that she had been putting in a considerable number of hours in the laboratory, commencing work at “8.30 and leaving at about 8pm!”, FitzGerald describes a little later on (2r):

“I have not had a minute to do anything – but am enjoying the work immensely as we really are having great fun. Everyone is enjoying everything that comes along.”

Complaining of a slight headache she reassures her sister, (2r)

“…this is such a delightful experience that I do not regret decision.”

Part of the experience was a little self-experimentation where she walked with Dr Haldane, after dinner, up and down the steep part of the track from the summit which was used by her co-researchers as part of their experiments (2v)

“to see the effect on me. I could do it comparatively easily with heart going at 130. While his heart was only going at 96. And he was blowing and puffing!”

Indeed, it seems the men initially fared generally less well with FitzGerald ascribing a headache to Haldane and she states how Douglas “was laid low and Schneider did not know if he could hold on at all” with Henderson being the quickest to recover from the effects of altitude (2v).

Self experiments at Pikes Peak summit

While anticipating her own departure for Cripple Creek the following day Mabel appears to be armed solely with a letter of introduction from the president of the Portland mine in order to aid her in gaining entry into what was “a big gold mine which is the most difficult to get into” (3r).  Here she would monitor the breathing of mine workers and others living in the area.
Cripple Creek was one of the most significant mining regions in Colorado and at its peak in 1900 it was home to some 500 mines. Big mines like Portland, employing 700 workers, were connected to the railway, but some of the small mining camps FitzGerald set out to visit were very remote, and could only be reached on horseback or by foot.

Mabel FitzGerald's field notes from the Pikes Peak expedition, 1911.

Mabel FitzGerald’s field notes from the Pikes Peak expedition, 1911. [Temp. box FitzGerald 34]

This is in stark contrast to the Pikes Peak summit which boasted its own hotel accessed by cog railway and which afforded the men some home comforts for the duration of their work. FitzGerald describes how the summit house had granted them a private dining area “serving all the delicacies of the season” and bedrooms opening onto the laboratory (2v).

There was, however, the peril of the many day trippers who made the journey to the summit by rail. To keep them from disrupting the experiments in the laboratory, a practical measure was instituted by the team:

Mabel_3 cropped

At Pikes Peak summit: Portcullis…

“They have a barbed wire door which they call the portcullis which they put across as soon as the train comes” (3r). But this method of defence was clearly not fool proof as FitzGerald tells of how a lady asked to leave her hat in the laboratory which, she remarks, was “a huge one with trailing ostrich feathers. She thanked them for the ‘accommodation’ when she fetched it. We could just control our laughter til after she had gone” (3v).

Mabel_4 cropped_1

…and ostrich feathers.

Another aspect of life at Pikes Peak summit house which FitzGerald highlights, and one that would no doubt be greatly missed upon her departure for Cripple Creek, was the matter of the ice-cream soda fountain which had become a regular feature of daily life. FitzGerald describes how “we sat in a row at one each day before the evening meal having no means of getting tea at the laboratory” (3v). Such an image of camaraderie and good humour shows scientists working together at their best.

Dawn Sellars

The Mabel FitzGerald Archive, or: An extraordinary woman

Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald was, in many ways, an extraordinary woman. Born in 1872, the youngest child of Richard Purefoy FitzGerald and his wife Henrietta Mary neé Chester, she spent her first 23 years at the family home North Hall in Preston Candover, Hampshire. The family life was very much that of old country gentry:  the father, after his navy and army career, managing land and  participating in county politics, the mother running North Hall and organising the family’s extensive social life, the two sons pursuing navy and academic careers respectively. Mabel, along with her four sisters, was educated at home, and grew up to live the life of a country lady. Her teenage diaries tell of violin classes and country walks, painting and literature, amateur theatre, visits to relatives and family friends, formal dances and many other social events.

Mabel FitzGerald as a young woman

Mabel FitzGerald as a young woman

Against all odds: Medicine!

But Mabel FitzGerald also had an interest in medicine, and generally in science. With her sisters she attended local lectures on nursing and healthcare, read quite widely on the topic, and admired her brother Henry, who went up to study chemistry at Oxford University in 1892.

After both parents died unexpectedly in 1895, the five FitzGerald sisters moved from Preston Candover to live with their grandmother Sarah Anna Elizabeth FitzGerald neé Purefoy Jervoise in Shalstone, Buckinghamshire. Encouraged by both her grandmother, a ‘learned lady’ who corresponded with the poet Robert Browning and other literary and intellectual figures of the time, and the local doctor G.H. De’ath, with whom she went on patient visits and discussed medical topics, Mabel FitzGerald decided on a career in medical science.

In 1896 she moved to Oxford with her sisters and started studying premedical subjects. She did so unofficially, as women were not yet admitted to study for a degree – but soon impressed her tutors with her thoroughness, dedication and critical spirit. She went on to research positions at Oxford in histology (with Gustav Mann) and physiology (with Francis Gotch), and in 1901/1902 worked with Georges Dreyer at the Sate Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

Mabel FitzGerald and Georges Dreyer, Copenhagen State Serum Institute 1901/1902

Mabel FitzGerald and Georges Dreyer, Copenhagen State Serum Institute 1901/1902

From Oxford to Pike’s Peak

From 1905 to 1908 FitzGerald worked in Oxford with J.S. Haldane on the physiology of the respiratory system, and with W. Osler and James Ritchie on bacteriology and pathology. She then travelled to North America on a Rockefeller fellowship to work with H. Naguchi in New York on bacteriology and with A.B. Macallum in Toronto on physiology.

Upon her return to Oxford she was invited by J.S. Haldane to participate in the subsequently celebrated 1911 medical expedition to Pikes Peak, Colorado, to study the effects of altitude on the respiratory system. Whilst the men in the expedition party went up the mountain to set up their laboratory in the summit house, FitzGerald travelled Colorado to measure the long-term effects of altitude on the respiratory systems of the population in the remote mining towns.

Two years later she went to North Carolina to gather data for lower altitudes and compare them with the Colorado results.  Her observations on ‘the changes in breathing  and the blood in various high altitudes’, published 1913 and 1914, are what she became most recognized for.

The Pike's Peak expedition 1911: Haldane, FitzGerald, Schneider, Henderson and Douglas.

The Pikes Peak expedition 1911: Haldane, FitzGerald, Schneider, Henderson and Douglas.

…but Medical School? Yes, as a teacher!

Alongside her extensive lab and field work, Mabel FitzGerald continued to attend lectures and demonstrations and by 1910 had completed at least 900 hours of courses in physiology, histology, pathology and chemistry, along with three years of clinical classes with Osler. Still, when she applied to study medicine at Cornell University Medical College she was rejected for not having the necessary qualifications. By 1915, the time of her second application to medical school, this time at New York, she had attended at least another 800 hours of classes, done years of lab and field work and had published eleven papers – but again, she was rejected (…this time, on the grounds of poor algebra test scores!).

In 1915, FitzGerald moved to Edinburgh to work as a clinical pathologist at the Royal Infirmary. She also applied to medical school in Edinburgh, as it was one of the few in Britain which admitted women. Again, she was rejected as a student – it was considered too much work for her to both attend lectures and fulfil her duties as a clinical pathologist. During her fifteen years in Edinburgh Mabel FitzGerald found her way into Royal College Medical School anyway – as a teacher in practical bacteriology in the 1920s.

Late recognition

In the late 1930s, she retired to Oxford to care for her ageing sisters, who, all unmarried, still lived together in a house in Crick Road. For more than two decades, Mabel FitzGerald was almost forgotten by scientists, until she was ‘rediscovered’ in the course of the centenary celebrations of her mentor Haldane’s birthday in 1960.

But it took until her own hundredth birthday in 1972 before FitzGerald received the academic recognition she deserved for her scientific work. She was finally awarded an honorary M.A. from Oxford University, and she was made a member of the Physiological Society, with her papers being quoted for comment in the 1973 Oxford University examinations.

Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald, M.A., died at the grand old age of 101 in August 1973 in Oxford.

Mabel FitzGerald, M.A., after the degree award ceremony in Oxford 1972

Mabel FitzGerald, M.A., after the degree award ceremony in Oxford, 1972

The FitzGerald Archive at the Bodleian Library

After FitzGerald’s death, her personal and academic papers, along with family papers from her Oxford home in Crick Road, came to the Bodleian Library. Family letters and diaries, personal documents and photographs, academic correspondence and lecture notes, lab books, patient cases and research data, working papers for publications and articles – the history of a Hampshire family and the biography of an extraordinary scientist condensed to  40 boxes.

FitzGerald Archive boxes

Full to the brim with history: 20 of the 40 FitzGerald boxes

The archive is particularly rich in documentation of FitzGerald’s time of ‘unofficial learning’ in Oxford, academic study and work in Copenhagen, in Canada and in the USA, and her professional appointments in Edinburgh. Work with Mann, Gotch and Osler in Oxford is documented through lecture notes, lab notebooks, scientific data and correspondence, and so is the close collaboration with Haldane on the Pikes Peak expedition. Other connections to the medical community in Oxford and beyond include the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane (J.S. Haldane’s son), the physiologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, Lady Osler and many others; FitzGerald’s correspondents abroad include the American neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing.

In addition to FitzGerald’s personal papers depicting the life of a female pioneer in science, the archive contains family papers, diaries and correspondence dating back to the 18th century, revealing the history of a well-placed Hampshire/Buckinghamshire family of notable standing in the community and with many connections to renowned contemporaries, including Jane Austen, Henry Acland, Robert Browning and the Tennysons. Not least, the letters and journals of the male members of the Purefoy-FitzGerald family relating to their army and navy careers provide much potential for military history research, as for example, they include accounts of the front-line during the Napoleonic wars, and a first-hand account of the sinking of HMS Victoria in 1893.

The cataloguing project

The FitzGerald Archive has always received attention from researchers, but the fact it was largely unsorted and uncatalogued made it very difficult to access and use the papers. A new initiative to open up the archive came up during the the Saving Oxford Medicine Project, which lead to a funding proposal being submitted to the Wellcome Trust in early 2015.

Wellcome LogoWith funding granted for a 12-month project to sort, preserve, catalogue and make accessible the FitzGerald Archive, work on the collection started in November last year with surveying the papers, identifying conservation needs and priorities, establishing a high-level arrangement and not least a lot of background research on the topics and biographies included in the collection.

An archives assistant has since joined, and we are now a few weeks into the second phase of the project: the item level sorting, which goes hand with basic preservation work such as removing paperclips, with repackaging, and with collecting more detailed information in preparation for cataloguing.

FitzGerald letters

In the FitzGerald Archive: Bundles of letters…

FitzGerald research notes

…and publication drafts.

At this stage, we are looking at every individual letter to identify the writer and the addressee, the date it was written, and the events, people and places the letter is referring to, and sorting clinical notes and research papers, many of which have been left in a mess after decades of use. More than hundred journals and diaries are still awaiting attention by archivists and conservators, and so are hundreds of photographs.

Deciphering 19th century handwriting, identifying names, reconstructing dates, establishing details of biographies and family connections – all this is quite intricate work, requiring a lot of patience a good portion of detective work. But we get rewarded with fascinating findings almost every day, and the many links we find to contemporary events, people and topics in the world of science and beyond are astonishing.

We will make sure to share our discoveries, along with regular reports on the project progress – so watch this space for more big stories and little treasures from the life and work of Mabel FitzGerald.


Further reading
Martin Goodman: The high-altitude research of Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald, 1911-13

John B. West: Centenary of the Anglo-American high-altitude expedition to Pikes Peak
R.W. Torrance: Mabel’s normalcy: Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald and the study of man at altitude
Martha Tissot van Patot: The science and sagacity of Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh: Library and Archives Blog (March 2015)
International Women’s Day: Remembering Mabel Purefory FitzGerald


 

 

DPC Student Conference: What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

The world of digital preservation can appear a bit daunting: a world full of checksums and programming and OAIS models, AIPs and DIPs, combined with the urgency of acting before it all becomes too late and technological obsolescence creates a black hole, swallowing up our digital heritage. The Digital Preservation Coalition’s What I Wish I Knew Before I Started  Student Conference provided an opportunity to meet others beginning to work in digital preservation, and hear advice and reassurance from a range of interesting expert speakers.

Fancy words and acronym bingo

The day began with an Introduction to Digital Preservation by the DPC’s Sharon McMeekin who introduced us to current models, methodologies and frameworks, which she warned could also be known as fancy words and acronym bingo. Her presentation was very practical and informed us about resources which will be invaluable when putting digital preservation into practice. Sharon emphasised the importance of active preservation: it isn’t only the digital materials which are vulnerable to obsolescence, but the digital preservation systems that they are stored in. Crucially, digital preservation needs to be embedded into day-to-day work to make it sustainable.

The need for active preservation was echoed by Steph Taylor from the University of London Computer Centre, who urged us all to learn to keep up to date and engage with the digital preservation community through twitter, blogs and forums. She counselled us to be prepared to explain again and again that digital preservation is really not the same thing as backing up files.

Matthew Addis from Arkivum then gave a technologist’s perspective, introducing us to a range of software and tools including the DROID file format identification tool; the POWRR Grid that maps preservation tools against types of content and stages of their lifecycle; the PRONOM registry of file formats; the Exactly checksum tool, among many others, carrying on the game of acronym bingo. The amount of choice of tools and standards can lead to what Matthew called preservation paranoia and then to preservation paralysis where the task seems so big and complex that it seems better to do nothing at all.

It’s people that are the biggest risk to digital content surviving into the future. People thinking that preservation is too hard, too expensive, or tomorrow’s problem and not today’s. (Addis, 2016)

Being a digital archivist = being an archivist with extra super powers

The afternoon sessions were launched by Adrian Brown from the Parliamentary Archives. The Parliamentary Archives hold a wide range of digital material, from the expected email and audio-visual records to the more surprising virtual reality tours and reconstructions of sinking ships. He emphasised that digital archiving was still essentially archiving, involving selection, appraisal, preservation, cataloguing and supporting users. Being a digital archivist, he said, is the same thing as being an archivist, only with extra super powers.

Next, Glenn Cumiskey, Digital Preservation Manager at the British Museum spoke about the importance of engaging with technology, decision makers and user communities. In the current environment, Glenn  illustrated through the roles associated with digital preservation: Archivist, Records Manager, Librarian, Information Technologist, Digital Humanities, and Software Programmer all at once, that you may need to be all of these things at once.

We then heard from Helen Hockx-Yu from the Internet Archive. Here at the Bodleian, the digital archive trainees are actively involved with the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive which uses the Internet Archive’s ‘Archive-It’ and ‘wayback machine’ services. It was interesting to hear from Helen about the redevelopment work she is involved in and how her own career developed in web archiving. Her final advice to us was to keep learning and not worry about being a perfectionist.

Ann MacDonald from the University of Kent inspired us with a talk about her own career began and developed over the last few years, and emphasised that technical innovations are not all about big machines and that small actions can go a long way in implementing digital preservation.

Only point of digital preservation is reuse of data. Nothing else.

Finally, Dave Thompson, Digital Curator at the Wellcome Collection, gave an entertaining presentation which made the point that digital preservation is not an exercise in technology  for its own sake.  He argued that the only point of digital preservation is the reuse of data, therefore data needs to be reusable, consumable and shareable. Digital preservation should be seized as a social opportunity to do this.

Overall, the DPC’s Student Conference: What I Wish I Knew Before I Started was an engaging mixture of reassurance, ideas and advice to prepare us to begin working practically with digital preservation. Key themes which emerged across the presentations were the importance of people in the process, the importance we must give to what users actually want from digital collections, and the importance of selling the benefits and opportunities that digital preservation can bring. It introduced us to technology, tools and processes, but at the same time stressed that you do not need to be a qualified programmer to work in digital preservation.

New catalogue: The Montgomery family papers

A small collection, this is the archive of a close-knit family of intellectuals, Robert Montgomery (1859-1938), his son Neil Montgomery (1895-1979), Neil’s wife Margaret (1896-1984) and their children, Lesley Le Claire (1927-2012) and Hugh Montgomery (1931-2008).

Robert Montgomery was an Argyll-born weaver’s son who became a headmaster in Huddersfield. While the archive is light on his papers, it may contain a long-lost gem of Highland romanticism, Robert’s draft novel The Last of the Clans. Or perhaps not – as his son, Neil, wryly writes in a preface:

“For the main part, however, the novel is hardly a success. My father never intended to publish it, or if he ever entertained such an idea he quickly abandoned it.”

Neil Montgomery was a distinguished psychiatrist who became the superintendent of Storthes Hall Hospital, a Huddersfield asylum. He had a strong interest in metaphysics, literature and theological matters with a particular interest in the philosophical poetry of Denis Saurat (1890-1958), an Anglo-French scholar, writer and broadcaster.

The Montgomery children went on to excel in divergent fields. Hugh Montgomery studied at Merton College, Oxford and  became a physicist, working among other places at the Harwell Research Laboratory in Oxford. He was a member of the Scottish Arctic Club and one of the features of the family archive are his photographs of expeditions to Greenland and Iceland in the 1970s and 1980s. Lesley Montgomery (who in 1986 married Alan Le Claire, also a physicist and originally Hugh Montgomery’s boss) became a much respected librarian, finishing her career as Librarian of Worcester College, Oxford (1977-1992). She was an expert, in particular, on seventeenth-century Britain, a hub of scholarly work on the period, and friend to researchers, reflected in the large pile of letters from Eric Sams, a musicologist and a Shakespeare scholar. The archive also features Lesley’s literary works as a playwright and author, including the script she wrote for Worcester College students to dramatize the Putney Debates of 1647, which was eventually produced for BBC radio. She went on to write other BBC Third Programme documentaries and to write and lecture on subjects including Kenelm Digby (manuscripts collected by Digby can be found in the Bodleian [PDF]).

The Montomery family archive is notable for the warmly affectionate, psychologically informed, intellectually stimulating, and open-minded correspondence between family members. In a letter from Neil Montgomery to Lesley, then 24, on the 16th of June, 1951, he writes about divorce, repression, the emancipation of women and the sexual sphere.

“The insistence on feminine chastity is of course a culture pattern belonging to a firmly based patriarchal society […] the demand for chastity of wives and daughters is basically the jealousy of the “Old Man”, the father, against all younger males. […] Nevertheless in a properly regulated society the vote will be a useful thing to have. So too will sexual freedom. Women will then be able to choose chastity freely and not forced to accept it as something imposed upon them by the lordly male. And that, unless I am much mistaken, will be in basic accord with the normal woman’s nature. […] Deep in her bones woman knows what the biological meaning of all this sex business is. She must have a stable home for the children which are born. Therefore she is instinctively against promiscuity. […] So then I come back to my genial Victorian corner. The sanctity of marriage is not overthrown. Women can still be paragons of virtue, and at the same time I can lay claim to be in the vanguard of modern thought. Did ever you know a better of [sic] example of having one’s cake and one’s halfpenny?”

The archive is particularly strong on early twentieth-century psychological theories, and their intersections with literature, philosophy and theology. It is also notable for Neil Montgomery’s correspondence with Philippe Mairet and W.T. (Travers) Symons, editors of the New English Weekly; the long sequence of letters from Eric Sams to Lesley Le Claire; a series of draft articles written by the mathematician Ethel Maud Rowell; and the transatlantic, wartime letters written by Margaret Montgomery (the honorary secretary of the Huddersfield Association of University Women) to Lydia Lagloire of Quebec City, Canada (a fellow University Woman) which touch on conditions in the U.K. and Canada and the political situation in Quebec, among many other matters.

Digital.Bodleian + Wikipedia

For anyone looking to define Taijitu, Putso or Sangha, or to learn about Elizabeth Fry, the Junior wives of Krishna, or the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, one of the top internet search hits will be Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Articles about these, and hundreds of other topics, are now being improved using the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections.

Images from Digital.Bodleian collection are being uploaded to Commons, the database of freely reusable digital files. From here they can be embedded in articles not just in English Wikipedia, but in other languages and in other educational projects. So far, more than six hundred articles, across many different languages, are illustrated with images from the Bodleian Libraries, reaching a total of nearly 1.5 million readers per month.

Military Insignia of the Late Roman Army (Insignia of the magister militum praesentalis. Folio 96 v of the manuscript Notitia dignitatum. Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Misc. 378.) Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Military Insignia of the Late Roman Army (Insignia of the magister militum praesentalis. Folio 96 v of the manuscript Notitia dignitatum. Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Misc. 378.) Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Bodleian images come from many different countries and eras. The themes range from the serene watercolours of 19th century Burma (present-day Myanmar), via geometrical diagrams in an 11th century Arabic book, to the nightmarish demonic visions of the 14th century Book of Wonders.

A taste is given in an image gallery on Commons. Clicking on any of the images – here or in Wikipedia – and then on ‘More details’ will bring up a larger version, along with links and shelfmarks so that interested readers can track down the physical object.

Anyone is allowed to edit the entries for the images, for example to translate descriptions into other languages. However, these edits are monitored to make sure they respect the educational goals of the site.

This is just the start of an ongoing project: more files and more themes will be added over the next nine months. The Bodleian Libraries’ Wikimedian In Residence, Martin Poulter, welcomes enquiries – you can get in touch via the form below.

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From Oxford to the World: International Archives Day 2015

updated weston and minute bookToday is International Archives Day, with repositories around the world celebrating the archives profession by contributing to a special website a document from their collections that they feel ‘shows the locality served by [their] archive service’. The Bodleian Library’s contribution is Oxfam’s first minute book, a simple, now rather worn, school exercise book used to record the proceedings of the first meeting of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief on 5 October 1942 and subsequent meetings up to November 1948.

The Oxford Committee, set up to lobby for the relief of suffering from starvation behind the Allied blockade in Greece and other occupied countries, is now internationally recognised and respected as Oxfam. Both rooted in Oxford, Oxfam and the Bodleian Library serve a global community.

See the International Archives Day website here:
http://www.internationalarchivesday.org/wordpress/?page_id=25

The Oxfam minute book is at: http://www.internationalarchivesday.org/wordpress/?portfolio=bodleian-library-department-of-special-collections