Category Archives: Sciences

Kafka24: Oxford celebrates Franz Kafka

Kafka24 logo featuring a photograph of Franz Kafka's faceTo commemorate the centenary of Franz Kafka’s death on 3 June 1924, the University of Oxford’s summer-long cultural festival Kafka24,  inspired by Kafka’s life and work, features theatre, music, cabaret, exhibitions, lectures, talks, and free family activities including the spectacular Jitterbug Tent which will land in University Parks on South Parks Road from Friday 31st May to Sunday 2nd June, and insect activities at the Museum of Natural History on the evening of 5th June.

On the evening of 3rd June, the Bodleian Libraries will host Oxford Reads Kafka in the historic Sheldonian Theatre, a public reading of Kafka’s story ‘Metamorphosis’ in which the hapless Gregor Samsa wakes up to find he’s transformed into a bug, with readers including authors Lemn Sissay, Ben Okri, and Lisa Appignanesi (tickets available online).

And on 30 May the major exhibition Kafka: Making of an Icon, featuring manuscripts from the Bodleian Library’s Kafka archive, opens in the ST Lee Gallery of the Weston Library (free admission).

The full programme of lectures and events is at www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/kafka24.

Admissions Office closure, 15-16 May

Exclamation mark graphicFor readers who need to apply for a reader’s card, please note that the Admissions Office will be closed on Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 May 2024 due to a system upgrade.

  • For any applicant who has pre-ordered material two staff members of the Admissions team will be stationed in Blackwell Hall (in front of the big screen). They will check your application form and ID documents and provide you with an official letter advising library staff to allow you access on both dates.
  • We will not be able to issue any permits for University card holders to take guests to the Duke Humfrey’s either on the 15th or 16th of May.

The catalogue of the archive of Dr Emilie Savage-Smith – available soon!

Dr Emilie Savage-Smith is a historian of science specialising in Islamic celestial globes. Islamic celestial globes are spherical maps of the sky that give the viewer a ‘God’s’ eye view of the stars and constellations, with Earth at the centre, originating from lands where Islam was the predominant religion.

Celestial globe

Savage-Smith graduated from DePauw University in 1962 and completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969. She was professor of the History of Islamic Science in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford from 2006 to 2019, and a fellow and archivist of St Cross College, Oxford, 2004-2021.

She has authored several books, including Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their History, Construction and Use, 1985. She was named a fellow of the British Academy, 2010, and the Medieval Academy of America, 2020.

Celestial globe

This collection is the largest research archive of material on Islamic celestial globes in the world, with over two-hundred globes and instruments dating back to 1080 featured. It comprises her papers, photographs and drawings collected over the course of her career. Her collection of objects was donated to the History of Science Museum.

This collection will be available soon.

Catalogue of the archive of Dr Emilie Savage-Smith

Science in the Islamic World | History of Science Museum

 

Notice to readers: Admissions office closure

Exclamation mark graphicDue to staff illness, the  Bodleian Library’s Admissions Office, based in the Weston Library, will remain closed today, 15 August, but will reopen from Wednesday 16 August (with a brief closure from 12:00-13:00 on Friday 18 August).

We offer sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Reader notice: Library catalogue downtime

Requesting items from closed stacks

Exclamation mark graphicBetween 16 – 23 August, you will not be able to use SOLO to request items from closed stacks or offsite storage. We strongly recommend that you place any requests through SOLO by 5pm on 11 August.

Libraries will extend item due dates, and items will not be returned to the stacks during the upgrade period.

We will be running a limited service to handle urgent stack requests placed between 16 – 23 August. To place a request, email book.fetch@bodleian.ox.ac.uk. You will only be able to pick up ordered items from the Bodleian Old Library or Weston Library. Please allow 48 hours for your item to be delivered.

 

Orders for manuscript and archival material will be unaffected. Rare Books held onsite can be ordered by emailing specialcollections.bookings@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

Please email specialcollections.enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk for further assistance.

The Why and How of Digital Archiving

Guest post by Matthew Bell, Summer intern in the Modern Archives & Manuscripts Department

If you have ever wondered how future historians will reconstruct and analyse our present society, you may well have envisioned scholars wading through stacks of printed Tweets, Facebook messages and online quizzes, discussing the relevance of, for instance, GIFs sent on the comment section of a particular politician’s announcement of their candidacy, or what different E-Mail autoreplies reveal about communication in the 2010s. The source material for the researcher of this period must, after all, comprise overwhelmingly of internet material; the platform for our communication, the source of our news, the medium on which we work. To take but one example, Ofcom’s report on UK consumption of news from 2022 identifies that “The differences between platforms used across age groups are striking; younger age groups continue to be more likely to use the internet and social media for news, whereas their older counterparts favour print, radio and TV”. As this generation grows up to take the positions of power in our country, it is clear that in seeking to understand the cultural background from which they emerged, a reliance on storing solely physical newspapers will be insufficient. An accurate picture of Britain today would only be possible by careful digital archaeology, sifting through sediments of hyperlinks and screenshots.

This month, through the Oxford University Summer Internship Programme, I was incredibly fortunate to work as an intern in the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive (BLWA) for four weeks, at the cutting edge of digital archiving. One of the first things that became clear speaking to those working in the BLWA is that the world wide web as a source of research material as described above is by no means a foregone conclusion. The perception of the internet as a stable collection that will remain as it is without care and upkeep is a fallacy: websites are taken down, hyperlinks stop working or redirect somewhere else, social media accounts get removed, and companies go bankrupt and stop maintaining their online presence. Digital archiving can feel like a race against time, a push to capture the websites that people use today whilst we still can; without the constant work of web archivists, there is nothing to ensure that the online resources we use will still be available even decades down the line for researchers to consult.

Fortunately, the BLWA is far from alone in this endeavor. Perhaps the most ambitious contemporary web archive is the Internet Archive; from 1996 this archive has formed a collection of billions of websites, and states as its task the humble aim of providing “Universal Access to all Knowledge”, seeking to capture the entire internet. Other archives have a slightly more defined scope, such as the UK Web Archive, although even here the task is still an enormous one, of collecting “all UK websites at least once per year.” Because of the scale of online material that is published every day, whether or not a site has been archived by either the Internet Archive or the UK Web Archive has relevance for whether the Bodleian chooses to archive it; to this extent the world of digital archiving represents cooperation on an international scale.

One aspect of these web archives that struck me during my time here is the conscious effort made by many to place the power of web archiving in the hands of anyone with access to a computer. The Internet Archive, for instance, allows any users with a free account to add content to the archive. Furthermore, one of my responsibilities as intern was a research project into the viability of a programme named Webrecorder for capturing more complex sites such as social medias, and democratization of web archiving seems to be the key purpose of the programme. On their website, which offers free browser-based web archiving tools, the title of the company stands above the powerful rallying call “Web archiving for all!” Whilst the programme currently remains difficult to navigate without a certain level of coding knowledge, and never quite worked as expected during my research, its potential for expanding the responsibility of archiving is certainly exciting. As historians increasingly seek to understand the lives of those whose records have not generally made it into archive collections, one can see as particularly noble the desire to put secure archiving into the hands of people as well as institutions.

The “why” of Digital Archiving, then, seems clear, but what about the “how”? Before going into my main responsibilities this month, some clarification of terminology is necessary.

Capture – This refers to the Bodleian’s copy of a website, a snapshot of it at a particular moment in time which can be navigated exactly like the original.

Live Site – The website as it is available to users on the internet, as opposed to the capture.

Crawl – The process by which a website is captured, as the computer program “crawls” through the live site, clicking on all the links, copying all of the text and photographs, and gathering all of this together into a capture.

Crawl Frequency – The frequency with which a particular website is captured by the Bodleian, determined by a series of criteria including the regularity of the website’s updates.

Archive-It – The website used by the Bodleian to run these crawls, and which stores the captured websites.

Brozzler – A particularly detailed crawl, taking more time but better for dynamic or complicated sites such as social medias. Brozzlers are used for Twitter accounts, for instance. Crawls which are not brozzlers are known as standard crawls and use Heritrix software.

Data Budget – The allocated quantity of data the Bodleian libraries purchase to use on captures, meaning a necessary selectivity as to what is and is not captured.

Quality Assurance (QA) – A huge part of the work of digital archiving, the process by which a capture is compared with the live site and scrutinized for any potential problems in the way it has copied the website, which are then “patched” (fixed). These generally include missing images, stylesheets, or subpages.

Seed – The term for a website which is being captured.

Permission E-Mails – Due to the copyright regulations around web archiving, the BLWA requires permission from the owners of websites before archiving; this can be a particularly complicated task due to the difficulty of finding contact information for many websites, as well as language barriers.

My responsibilities during my internship were diverse, and my day to day work was generally split between quality assurance, setting off crawls, and sending or drafting permission e-mails. Alongside this I was not only carrying out research into Webrecorder, but also contributing to a report re-assessing the crawl frequency of several of our seeds. The work I have done this month has been not only incredibly satisfying (when the computer programme works and you are able to patch a PDF during QA of a website it makes one disproportionately happy), but rewarding. One missing image or hyperlink at a time, digital archivists are driving the careful maintenance of a particularly fragile medium, but one which is vital for the analysis of everything we are living through today.

New oral histories now online: Oxford’s pandemic perspectives

https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/collecting-covid-oral-histories

The Collecting COVID project (a collaboration of collecting between the History of Science Museum and the Bodleian Libraries) is currently well into its second year of uncovering Oxford University’s innovative and celebrated pandemic research.

The project has acquired a fascinating selection of oral history interviews from across the University, which explore the rapid research response to the crisis in early 2020. Fifty of these interviews are now publicly available in full on the University Podcasts website. An additional fifty will conclude this part of the collection, with new interviews added routinely.

Oxford academics, principal investigators, professional services and medical students all provide insights into their experiences of this time, providing testimonials that will inform research for generations. Topics are varied with contributors from all academic divisions and include vaccine manufacture and clinical trials, drug design and discovery, COVID misinformation, clinical care of patients, and economic recovery.

Collecting COVID (funded by the E. P. A. Cephalosporin Fund) is ongoing and still actively collecting pandemic research related objects and archival material from the University community. Enquiries and submissions to the collection can be sent to collectingcovid@glam.ox.ac.uk

New: Catalogue of the archive of Peter Landin (1930-2009) computer scientist, academic and gay rights campaigner

The catalogue of the Archive of Peter Landin (1939-2009) computer scientist, academic and gay rights campaigner, is now online.

Landin’s early career was industry based; in 1960 he became the sole employee of  Christopher Strachey who was then working as an independent computing consultant. As Strachey’s research assistant, he was also encouraged to pursue his autonomous research interests alongside writing a compiler to translate the early programming language ‘autocode’ into the machine language of Ferranti’s new Orion machine. Landin’s radical approach was never finished, but underpins compiler writing to this day. He researched and published prolifically on formalising the semantics of language. His career and contribution to advancing programming languages and computer science in general was incredibly pioneering – encompassed by both industry and academic positions in the United States of America, returning to England to hold the position of Emeritus Professor of Queen Mary University of London (formerly known as QMC) and teaching hundreds of students, and publishing a formal description of ALGOL 60 programming language for the International Federation for Information Processing. His abstract thinking and constant discoveries mean that Landin is celebrated as a pioneering computer scientist today.

Early in his vocation Landin also lectured at the 1963 Oxford Computing Laboratory summer school on advances in programming and non-numerical analysis. He spoke on lambda calculus and applicative expressions, which he would later publish papers on. The names on the timetable below read as a ‘Who’s who’ of key figures in the computer programming sphere at the time.

Early version of timetable for the Oxford Computing Laboratory summer school in advances in programming and non-numerical analysis, 1963. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 147. Rightsholder: University of Oxford

Particularly in the series of work papers, drafts and published works and correspondence, Landin’s conscientious and creatively chaotic work ethic is evident. However, computing was never his entire life [1].  As Landin aged, he became less enthused by computer science, particularly disillusioned at its misuse by large corporations and what he saw as the ‘surveillance state’.  This fed into his lifelong disenchantment with bureaucracy, hierarchy and the running of large organisations in general, which is particularly evident in notes, reflections and social aphorisms of Landin, as well as some personal correspondence. In the series of activism and social-political notes, 1961-2003, some papers are testament to his personal life which he kept fairly private. From early 1970s he was involved in facilitating campaigns for the newly founded UK branch of the Gay Liberation Front [GLF] and other social justice causes. Some of the issues we see Landin concerned with in his private notes include:

  • Nuclear free zones and disarmament [2]
  • ‘The Impossibility of getting a campaign going’ [3] and ‘notes for the unaffiliated campaigner’ [4] (This is interesting because  Landin’s involvement in grassroots organisations with a deliberate lack of structure such as the GLF and Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100, corroborates he disagreed with bureaucracy, hierarchy and administration of organisations in general.)
  • social change and social demonstrations [5] (some of these notes are made on the reverse of a ‘Whose Camden’ poster and GLF poster.)
  • ‘socialists with Rolls Royces’ [6] and the Road crossers [RLF?] Piccadilly Circus ‘The Car Stops Here’ campaign, c.1972 [7] (Landin never owned a car)
  • ‘rights – individual and the collective’ [8]
  • ‘Social values’, including  a circular from Oxford Gay Action Group [9]

Even those colleague and friends closest to him were not fully privy to the entirety of Landin’s personal campaigning life, although correspondence with fellow computer scientist Rod Burstall does shed light on discussions about balancing social activism with work [10]. Other correspondents include:

  • Robert ‘Bob’ Mellor, one of the founders of the GLF [11]
  • Ted Honderich, philosopher [12]
  • Dana Scott, logician [13]
  • Mervyn Pragnell, [14] whose informal underground logic seminars Landin was invited to, c.1960.

However little these two ‘lives’ crossed over, Landin’s archive attests to his constant evolution of teaching and communicating computer science throughout the 1960s to the early 2000s, alongside his interests and involvement in activism, facilitating social change and politics.

Kelly Burchmore

References:

  1.  Bornat, R. ‘Peter Landin: a computer scientist who inspired a generation, 5th June 1930-3rd June 2009. Formal Aspects of Computing, Springer Verlag, 2009, 21 (5), pp.393-395.
  2.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 17
  3.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 18, folder 2
  4.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 20, folder 3
  5.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 18, folder 2
  6.  Ibid.
  7.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 22, folder 1
  8.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 20, folder 1
  9.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 22, folder 2
  10.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 46
  11.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 69 (=Closed)
  12.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 69
  13.  Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 69
  14. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Landin 45

 

 

Collecting COVID: Oral Histories now available

The Collecting COVID project has been underway at the Bodleian Libraries and History of Science Museum since late 2021, with an active collecting programme achieving a range of material acquisitions relating to the University’s research response to COVID-19.  To complement the physical COVID-19 collections established at both institutions, the Bodleian has also been collecting oral history interviews, all conducted by writer and broadcaster Georgina Ferry.

The first batch of born digital audio files have now been made publicly accessible through the University Podcasts website.

https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/collecting-covid-oral-histories

Consisting of 20 episodes relating to the interviews of 13 researchers and academics spanning across academic divisions, the interviews reveal an insight into some of the incredibly impactful work happening behind the scenes during the height of the pandemic. From drug discovery/repurposing, vaccine trials and development, government policy tracking and development of mass testing programmes, the interviews offer the listener a window into our recent past and into the immense efforts taken to combat a global health emergency.

The Collecting COVID project is funded by the E. P. A. Cephalosporin Fund.

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.