Category Archives: Sciences

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.

 

 

 

 

Photographic material in the Zoology Archive: H.N. Moseley, the Challenger Expedition and early panoramas, 1872-1876

The Zoology Archive is a collection of research, lecture and laboratory notes, illustrations and papers from Oxford Zoologists and the Department of Zoology, dating from the late 19th century to the 1990s. One of the eminent Oxford Zoologists whose papers are included in the archive is the naturalist Henry Nottidge Moseley (1844-1891). Moseley, with much experience in research and laboratory work abroad, had in 1871 accompanied the English Government Eclipse Expedition to undertake observation of the total eclipse from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India on 12 December 1871. Although Moseley’s papers contain some photographs of this journey, including the equipment and expedition staff in-situ at the observation station in Baikur, India [1], it is the collected photographs of the four year Challenger Expedition voyage which predominate in his photographic albums.

H.M.S Challenger embarked December 1872 to conduct global oceanic research; the expedition  is seen as the foundation of modern oceanography. Five years after returning to England’s shores in May 1876, Moseley would succeed George Rolleston as the Linacre Professor of the Department of Human and Comparative Anatomy (now, Zoology). These photographic albums comprise copies from the glass plates selected for Moseley’s collections and feature Moseley’s contemporary captions alongside the photographs. An entire list of photographs and holding collection information for Challenger Expedition photographs can be found in Brunton, E.V.  (1994) ‘The Challenger Expedition, 1872-1876: A Visual Index.’ The Natural History Museum, London. [2]

[3] ZOO MA 200 (Challenger 2) Panorama of Kyoto, Japan. [1872-1876].

[4] ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp.12-13. Two panoramas of the harbour in Bahia, Brazil, c.1873.

The first panoramic camera was not invented until 1898, so for those interested in capturing overviews of an entire landscape, like Moseley, it was a case of manually arranging photographic plates of two landscapes together to create the perspective of a panorama. The content of the photographs collected by Moseley also shed light on how the natural history of his environment piqued his interests. Moseley, appointed expedition botanist, was said to always be the last one to return from shore to ship, such was his zeal for the natural history and landscapes in their location [5].

[6] ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8) Panorama of Levuka, Ovalau Island, former capital of Fiji until 1877. There is a tangible line where the plates (and then, prints) have been joined together to create an unbroken panoramic effect. [1872-1876]

As well as early photography, modern photographs relating to Oxford and Zoology in the archive include Zoology department photographs, 1960s, and photographs of the opening of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund [ICRF] Laboratory, 1987.

Retro-conversion work is currently being undertaken on the Zoology Archive, including enhancement of file and collection level cataloguing descriptions, re-housing and a publication of a new online catalogue to be made available in the coming months of 2022.

  1. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 199 (Challenger 3)
  2. Department of Zoology archive copy available at ZOO MA 198b
  3. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO 200 (Challenger 2)
  4. Bodleian Libraries ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp. 12-13
  5. Moseley, H.N. entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19389
  6. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8)

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

A flying woman

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932 [click to enlarge]

My dear Bertie

writes the Viceroy of India to his friend the 6th Earl of Clarendon in a letter of 15 March 1932:

Thanks so much for your letter, & the personal one enclosed. My poor boy has had a very rough time, & the girl appears to have gone mad about this pilot. […] it will be hard for him to start again all alone. I really thought my two young people were the happiest couple in the world.

When I read an opener like that I lean in for the whole story: please continue, Viceroy! But that, sadly, is all he divulges about the girl or her pilot.

Luckily, it was not difficult to find out more.

The ‘poor boy’ was the Viceroy’s son, Inigo Freeman-Thomas, and the girl was Maxine “Blossom” Miles. And she, it turns out, led an absolutely fascinating life.

Continue reading

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!

#WeMissiPRES: Preserving social media and boiling 1.04 x 10^16 kettles

This year the annual iPRES digital preservation conference was understandably postponed and in its place the community hosted a 3-day Zoom conference called #WeMissiPRES. As two of the Bodleian Libraries’ Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, Simon and I were in attendance and blogged about our experiences. This post contains some of my highlights.

The conference kicked off with a keynote by Geert Lovink. Geert is the founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures and the author of several books on critical Internet studies. His talk was wide-ranging and covered topics from the rise of so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ (I guarantee you know this feeling by now) to how social media platforms affect all aspects of contemporary life, often in negative ways. Geert highlighted the importance of preserving social media in order to allow future generations to be able to understand the present historical moment. However, this is a complicated area of digital preservation because archiving social media presents a host of ethical and technical challenges. For instance, how do we accurately capture the experience of using social media when the content displayed to you is largely dictated by an algorithm that is not made public for us to replicate?

After the keynote I attended a series of talks about the ARCHIVER project. João Fernandes from CERN explained that the goal of this project is to improve archiving and digital preservation services for scientific and research data. Preservation solutions for this type of data need to be cost-effective, scalable, and capable of ingesting amounts of data within the petabyte range. There were several further talks from companies who are submitting to the design phase of this project, including Matthew Addis from Arkivum. Matthew’s talk focused on the ways that digital preservation can be conducted on the industrial scale required to meet the brief and explained that Arkivum is collaborating with Google to achieve this, because Google’s cloud infrastructure can be leveraged for petabyte-scale storage. He also noted that while the marriage of preserved content with robust metadata is important in any digital preservation context, it is essential for repositories dealing with very complex scientific data.

In the afternoon I attended a range of talks that addressed new standards and technologies in digital preservation. Linas Cepinskas (Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS)) spoke about a self-assessment tool for the FAIR principles, which is designed to assess whether data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Later, Barbara Sierman (DigitalPreservation.nl) and Ingrid Dillo (DANS) spoke about TRUST, a new set of guiding principles that are designed to map well with FAIR and assess the reliability of data repositories. Antonio Guillermo Martinez (LIBNOVA) gave a talk about his research into Artificial Intelligence and machine learning applied to digital preservation. Through case studies, he identified that AI is especially good at tasks such as anomaly detection and automatic metadata generation. However, he found that regardless of how well the AI performs, it needs to generate better explanations for its decisions, because it’s hard for human beings to build trust in automated decisions that we find opaque.

Paul Stokes from Jisc3C gave a talk on calculating the carbon costs of digital curation and unfortunately concluded that not much research has been done in this area. The need to improve the environmental sustainability of all human activity could not be more pressing and digital preservation is no exception, as approximately 3% of the world’s electricity is used by data centres. Paul also offered the statistic that enough power is consumed by data centres worldwide to boil 10,400,000,000,000,000 kettles – which is the most important digital preservation metric I can think of.

This conference was challenging and eye-opening because it gave me an insight into (complicated!) areas of digital preservation that I was not familiar with, particularly surrounding the challenges of preserving large quantities of scientific and research data. I’m very grateful to the speakers for sharing their research and to the organisers, who did a fantastic job of bringing the community together to bridge the gap between 2019 and 2021!

New catalogue – Oxford Women in Computing: An Oral History project

The catalogue of the Oxford Women in Computing oral history project is now available online.

This oral history project captures the experiences of 10 pioneering women who were active in computing research, teaching and service provision between the 1950s and 1990s, not only in Oxford, but at national and international levels. The rationale for the project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, through grants held by Professor Ursula Martin, was that women had participated in very early stages of computing; aside from a few exceptions their stories had not been captured – or indeed told. Among the interviewees are Eleanor Dodson, methods developer for Protein Crystallography and former research technician for Dorothy Hodgkin and Linda Hayes, former Head of User Services at the Oxford University Computing Service – now University of Oxford IT services. Leonor Barroca left Portugal in 1982 as a qualified electrical engineer to follow a boyfriend to Oxford – later that year she was one of three women on the university’s MSc in Computing course. Leonor also worked briefly as a COBOL (common business-oriented language) programmer for the Bodleian Libraries.

Themes throughout the interviews, which were conducted in 2018 by author and broadcaster Georgina Ferry, include:

  • career opportunities and early interests in computing
  • gender splits in computing
  • the origins and development of computing teaching and research in Oxford
  • development of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service and the commercial software house the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG).

The Oxford Women in Computing oral histories serve as a source for insight into nearly half a century of women’s involvement in computing at Oxford and beyond.  The collection will particularly be of use to those interested in gender studies and the history of computing.

The interviews can be listened to online though University of Oxford podcasts here.

Communications programmer Esther White in the early days of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service. © University of Oxford

 

 

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.