Category Archives: Social Sciences

Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Publicity/Communications Department

The Archive of the Conservative Party is pleased to announce the arrival of its expanded catalogue of the Conservative Central Office Publicity Department. Known variously as the Publicity Department, Communications Department, Press and Communications Department, and the Department of Political Operations, this department has been responsible for the production and dissemination of the Party’s publicity material and propaganda, as well as facilitating relations with the media, since the 1920s. This important collection has more than doubled in size following the addition of over 90 boxes of material, providing a unique insight into the Party’s approach to publicity and communications over time. The expanded collection includes the papers and correspondence of several Directors of Publicity, planning files relating to television and radio broadcasting, and the logistics behind decades of election campaigns and Party Conferences.

A significant portion of this new material relates to, or was kindly donated by, Harvey Thomas (1939-2022), Director of Press and Communications from 1985-1986 and Director of Presentation and Promotion from 1986-1991. Thomas also played a valuable role as a political advisor to the Party, particularly contributing towards Margaret Thatcher’s publicity and campaigning strategy. Many of his papers can be found in files covering Party Conferences and events, the organisation of which he was heavily involved in throughout the 1980s.

Campaigning and publicity

Much of the newly available material in this collection relates to the Party’s campaigning and publicity, whether material created for specific general elections, by-elections, and European elections, or for general publicity and marketing, often involving the input of external advertising and branding agencies. These files include details of poster campaigns, campaign tour programmes and schedules, and draft publication designs.

Whilst the majority of the new files date from the late 20th century, a couple of interesting publicity guides from the 1950s (CPA CCO 600/25/1) and 1970s (CPA CCO 600/25/2) are included in the expanded collection. The former, a scrapbook containing examples of election literature primarily created during the 1955 General Election, sought to provide a reference guide to propaganda techniques to help those creating such publicity material in the future. It contains dozens of examples of election addresses, broadsheets, leaflets, and posters, each with annotations explaining what they had done well and suggesting areas for improvement. Below is an example of an election address from Ronald Watson, candidate for Newark in both the 1951 and 1955 General Elections, with accompanying praise for its ‘enterprising’ photograph montage and ‘lively and interesting’ centre pages (CPA CCO 600/25/1).

Election Material and Techniques, 1955 – CPA CCO 600/25/1.

In addition to the distribution of impactful physical literature, successful campaign tours and television and radio appearances have long been deemed essential contributors to election victory. Several newly available files detail the tours and visits undertaken by Margaret Thatcher during election campaigns, demonstrating the detailed planning these involved. The pages below, included in a preparation file for the 1983 General Election, are a good example of this. The left page contains a list of the publicity material created in the lead-up to the election, including ‘Maggie In’ car stickers and ‘10 Reasons for Not Voting Labour’ leaflets, whilst that on the right shows a draft outline programme for a ‘sample day’ for Thatcher touring away from London, detailing an extremely long day of meetings, interviews, rallies, and travel. Such files provide a great insight into the behind-the-scenes effort behind these campaigns.

1983 General Election preparations – CPA CCO 600/14/51.

Party Political Broadcasts

Also included in the newly available material are the annotated scripts, planning papers, and correspondence behind many Conservative Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs). These files illustrate the thought-processes behind the creation of these key forms of publicity, particularly the development of various iterations and drafts over time. The image below shows a ‘final final’ draft of a PPB from November 1985. This was set in a courtroom, the Government on trial for ‘making serious cuts in everything this country holds dear’ (CPA CCO 600/3/10/17). The broadcast contains admissions to numerous ‘cuts’ carried out by the Tories, including cutting income tax, inflation, and hospital waiting lists. In order to have maximum impact this was accompanied by a widespread distribution of leaflets and poster displays pushing the same message: only positive cuts had been made by this Government. Creative ideas like these were clearly deemed necessary to continue to catch the audience’s attention.

Party Political Broadcast 20/11/1985 script – CPA CCO 600/3/10/17.

All the material featured in this blog post, alongside the full updated collection of the Conservative Central Office Publicity/Communications Department, is now available to consult at the Weston Library. To browse the online catalogue, visit Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Publicity/Communications Department | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk)

New Archive of the Conservative Party releases for 2024

Each January the Archive of the Conservative Party releases files which were previously closed under the 30-year rule. This year, files from 1993 are newly-available to access.

Despite the recession of the previous couple of years coming to an end, John Major’s third year as Prime Minister was dominated by internal Party conflict over Europe and low public popularity, manifesting in two significant by-election defeats. These issues are amongst those covered within the newly-released files for 2024, alongside subject files and briefs from Conservative Research Department (CRD), material of the Young Conservatives and Conservative student organisations, and correspondence and subject files of Conservatives in the European Parliament. This blog post will highlight some of the material included in this year’s newly-available files, with a full list linked at the end.

Europe and the Maastricht Treaty

In early 1992, European leaders signed the Maastricht Treaty to bring greater unity and integration between the countries of the European Economic Committee, creating the European Union. The Treaty officially became effective on 1 November 1993 once each county had ratified it, following referendums in Denmark, France, and Ireland. Whilst no referendum was held in the UK, the Maastricht Treaty did bring divisions to Parliament, especially the Conservative Party. A small number of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voted with the opposition, who opposed the decision to opt out of the ‘Social Chapter’ rather than the Treaty itself, against ratification. Combined, these MPs were able to defeat the implementation of the Treaty in a series of votes due to the small Conservative majority at the time. Whilst Tory rebels failed in their campaign for a referendum, and Parliament did eventually ratify the Treaty, this happened only after John Major called a confidence motion in his own government. The issue of Europe, and the internal divisions it caused, undoubtedly defined Major’s early years as Prime Minister.

Many of this year’s newly-released files offer an insight into the way the Conservative Party viewed and approached the issue of the Maastricht Treaty, especially the debate over whether to hold a referendum. These can be found primarily in the collections of Conservatives in the European Parliament, CCO 508, and Conservative Overseas Bureau/International Office, COB. The image below shows two documents relating to the question of a referendum. The House of Commons Library Research Paper (left) provides details on the background to the Treaty and the arguments on either side of the debate, whilst the CRD brief of May 1993 (right) lists arguments against a referendum. These include the fact that the House of Commons had firmly defeated a vote on the issue, and that a well-publicised telephone referendum, ‘Dial for Democracy’, had received a poor turnout, suggesting limited public interest in the Treaty.

Maastricht Treaty: The Referendum Campaign – CPA COB/8/5/7, Folder 2.

Newbury and Christchurch by-elections

Internal Party divisions over Europe, alongside slow economic recovery, resulted in the Conservative Party suffering a couple of significant by-election defeats in 1993. The Party lost two seats, Newbury and Christchurch, which they had won by substantial majorities in the 1992 General Election. The Newbury by-election, held on 6 May, saw a swing of 28.4% to the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party losing this seat for the first time since 1923. Only two months later, the Christchurch by-election of 29 July saw an even higher swing of 35.4% to the Liberal Democrats.

This year’s newly-available files contain much material relating to these by-elections, including detailed constituency profiles, briefings, memoranda, and analyses of results. The following images show examples of the ‘lines to take’ created by CRD in the lead-up to these elections. Notably, whilst the Newbury by-election offered two options: ‘The Conservatives hold Newbury’ or ‘The Liberal Democrats take Newbury’, the later Christchurch election included an additional defeat option, allowing for either ‘Tories lose by less than 12,000’ or ‘Tories lose by more than 15,000’. Evidently, expectations had fallen. Whilst the Party won back Christchurch in the 1997 General Election, Newbury remained Liberal Democrat until 2005, illustrating misplaced confidence in the assertion that ‘come the next election, Newbury will return a Conservative candidate’ (CPA CRD 5/21/13).

Newbury by-election: Lines to take – CPA CRD 5/21/13.

Christchurch by-election: Lines to take – CPA CRD 5/21/14.

Conservative student organisations

Amongst the material being released this year are several files of both the Young Conservatives and Conservative Party student organisations, including the Conservative Collegiate Forum (CCF), also known as Conservative Students. Alongside the addition of these new files from 1993, the collection of Conservative Student Organisations, CCO 506/D, has recently been updated and expanded, offering a valuable insight into the political activities of Conservative students throughout the late 20th century. Files being released this year include assorted meeting minutes, conference papers, campaigning and publicity material, and research files. A significant amount of the material within this collection relates to the CCF’s campaign for voluntary membership of NUS (National Union of Students), a campaign which occupied much of their time and resources. The image below illustrates a couple of examples of the briefings and reports created by CCF during the late 1980s and early 1990s as they monitored and documented various student union ‘abuses’ perceived as evidence that student union reform, in general, was needed.

CCF research file: NUS and student unions – CPA CCO 506/65/3.

Rachel Whetstone, Conservative Research Department

Lastly, as in previous years, files of CRD, including subject files, briefs, and desk officers’ letter books, comprise a significant proportion of the newly-released files for 2024. Amongst these are a handful of letter books of Rachel Whetstone, head of CRD’s political section between 1992 and 1993. These offer an insight into the campaigning techniques and opposition monitoring carried out by CRD at this time. The image below shows a memorandum from Julian Lewis, CRD Deputy Director, outlining campaigning methods. Lewis argues in favour of negative campaigning, suggesting ‘We did not win the General Election – Mr Kinnock’s Labour Party lost it, largely as a result of the ‘fear factor’ which we and others had helped generate’ (CPA CRD/L/5/24/8).

Rachel Whetstone letter book: Political section – CPA CRD/L/5/24/8.

All the material featured in this blog post will be available from 2 Jan 2024. The full list of de-restricted items can be accessed here: Files de-restricted on 2024-01-02

The CRD catalogue is currently being updated and will be available shortly. In the meantime, if you wish to access any of the newly-available CRD files, please email conservative.archives@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

The catalogue of the archive of C.F.C. Hawkes – available soon!

Christopher Hawkes (1905-1992) was an eminent archaeologist of European prehistory who made Oxford a centre for archaeological research and post-graduate teaching. This led to the foundation of the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford, of which Hawkes was the first director. His interest in learning about the past started when he was a child, when he visited monuments such as Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, and continued through his time at New College, Oxford, where he took part in excavations at Brecon, Wroxeter and Winchester. After achieving a first-class degree, he worked at the British Museum in the department of British and Medieval Antiquities until he was appointed the new chair of European archaeology at Oxford in 1946. He stayed in Oxford with his second wife, archaeologist Sonia Hawkes, and continued to publish for many years after his retirement in 1972.

This collection comprises his personal and professional papers, including correspondence with colleagues and former students. His working notes show the wide scope of his work and include illustrations and drawings completed in his distinctive style.

 

Lt. Col. Charles Pascoe Hawkes (1877-1956) served in the Northumberland Fusiliers, 1900-1920, and was a barrister at the Inner Temple from 1902 until 1950. He was a political caricaturist, drawing for Granta, Cambridge University, and for the Daily Graphic. A keen traveller and an avid documenter of his adventures, his collection includes photograph albums titled ‘Kodakings in divers places’ and sketchbooks from his trips to Scotland, Europe and North Africa.

This collection will be available soon.

Catalogue of the archive of C.F.C. Hawkes

Tracing the impact of war through the correspondence of C.F.C. Hawkes

Guest post by Eleanor Newman, Summer intern in the Modern Archives & Manuscripts Department

As a Classical Archaeology DPhil student, I was thrilled to learn that my job as Archives Processing intern would be cataloguing the work files of Professor C.F.C. Hawkes (1905-1992), founder of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford. A complex but brilliant scholar, his archives are made up of everything from scribbled notes to full publications, drawings to photographs, and even a real Roman potsherd discovered in Colchester. The files of Hawkes contain a fountain of knowledge on archaeology from Prehistoric Europe to Bronze Age Greece to Roman Britain and beyond, and provide a wonderful insight into the life and career of an established archaeologist.

The correspondence of C.F.C. Hawkes has been particularly interesting, revealing close friendships, bitter rivalries, and even full-blown archaeological scandals (on more than one occasion). What I have found particularly striking, however, are the consistent references to the unstable political climate of the early 20th century and the effects of war on the field of archaeology. A collection of letters from this time highlight the devastation caused by the Spanish Civil War and World War II and the impact on the careers of archaeologists who were, otherwise, just trying to go about their lives.

Hawkes, like many of his colleagues, was called up for duty during WWII. A letter from Hawkes to the Headmaster of Colchester Royal Grammar School (1944) [MS. 21042/162, Colchester] reveals that he had “war-time duties”, which involved working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production. M. R. Hull, curator at the Colchester and Essex Museum states in a letter addressed to Hawkes (1942) [MS. 21042/162, Colchester] that he was part of the Observer Corps, which was taking time away from his ability to do archaeological work. Of course, war time duties carried great responsibility and may have even been traumatic, but I had personally never considered the impact that it must have had on careers which people such as Hawkes and Hull had dedicated their lives to.

References to war and its ongoing impact have appeared in unexpected circumstances throughout this archive. Correspondence between Hawkes and two colleagues working in Ireland, Seán Ó Ríordáin and Gerhard Bersu, refers to a dispute between the latter two about the approach to archaeology in Ireland in the early 1950s [MS. 21042/156, Ireland]. Bersu claims that Irish archaeologists should follow the continental European approach, while Ríordáin stresses that, actually, the Irish approach is perfectly good. The drama and, in some places, comedy of this dispute is overshadowed by one devastating fact: Gerhard Bersu was working in Ireland at this time because, as a German of Jewish ancestry, he had been removed from his position as director of the Römisch‐Germanischen Kommission in 1935 and was forced to flee Germany, eventually taking refuge in Ireland. As a letter from 1950 reveals, it was still not safe for him to return to Germany even five years after the end of the war [MS. 21042/156, Ireland].

Bersu was not the only one of Hawkes’ colleagues displaced from their home as a result of conflict. In 1947, a letter to Hawkes details the emotional struggle of Pere Bosch-Gimpera, a Spanish archaeologist and the Minister of Justice of Catalonia in the government of Lluís Companys, following the Spanish Civil War [MS. 21042/156, Iberia 1]: “I read…with emotion that my ancient colleagues and pupils remember me and still think that I have done something for the archaeology of my country…I fought more than 20 years for having a real Archaeological Museum in Barcelona and to make an organisation of Archaeology in Catalonia, and when things began to become settled I had to fly away.” This story told by Bosch-Gimpera, who fled to Mexico following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, reflects the personal and professional devastation caused by conflict. Not only did he leave behind friends and colleagues, but he also was not able to witness the impact of his campaign for archaeology in Barcelona and broader Catalonia. A heart-breaking read, this letter shows one man’s touching dedication to archaeology through turmoil.

Finally, Hawkes’ correspondence reveals the severe physical impact of war on museums and collections of artefacts. Museums were no longer able to function as research facilities, as a letter from M.R. Hull to Hawkes in 1940 [MS. 21042/162, Colchester] suggests: “To what extent is the [British Museum] still functioning?” Instead, practical measures for the preservation of material took urgent priority over research and analysis. In a letter from 1947, Bosch-Gimpera details the earlier evacuation of artefacts from a museum in Spain to prevent their destruction by bombings [MS. 21042/156, Iberia 1].

Unfortunately, these preventative measures were not always successful. A devastating letter from A.J.E. Cave, Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, to Hawkes details the damage caused by the London blitz in 1941: “You will be sorry, I know, to learn that our Museum was practically totally destroyed by enemy action on May 10th-11th, and that a mere handful of specimens alone remains of our former incomparable collections. The devastation is truly terrible: I cannot even attempt to describe the extent of this national loss. The most famous historical specimens in British biological science are gone for ever and two centuries of labour and collecting are wiped out at one foul blow. We were burned to the foundations in some places and material placed underground for ‘safety’ has suffered with the rest. A nucleus remains, it is true, for a future Museum, but nothing can ever replace the priceless specimens in osteology, anatomy, pathology and physiology now utterly vanished.” The extent of this loss is inconceivable and its impact on research is surely ongoing even now.

The correspondence of C.F.C. Hawkes highlights the ongoing struggle of archaeologists through conflict in the 1940s. These heart-breaking stories are reflections of the, sometimes surprising, impacts of war on individuals and their work. They are also inspiring demonstrations of persistence and tenacity during difficult times, and echoes of the love that these men held for archaeology.

The catalogue of the archive of the Butler family – available soon!

This archive comprises three generations of an Oxford academic family; Rohan Butler (1917-1996), his father Harold Butler (1883-1951), and grandfather Alfred J. Butler (1850-1936).

Rohan Butler was a historian and civil servant. He worked at both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information during World War II. From 1963 to 1982 he was Historical Advisor to the secretary of state for foreign affairs. He authored two books, The Roots of National Socialism (1941) and his magnus opus Choiseul: Father and Son, 1719-1754 (1980). He was elected a prize fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1938 and continued to be involved with the college throughout out his life.

Rohan Butler’s papers include his personal papers, literary work, time at All Souls College and work as a civil servant. The subseries relating to Choiseul includes extensive notes on the French military officer and diplomat, and on European history of the time, used by Butler to complete the work. There are also several volumes of unpublished poetry, a draft play and papers relating to an unpublished book titled ‘Redeemers of Democracy’.

Harold Butler was a civil servant and author. He worked in various government departments, including the Ministry of Labour and the Home Office. At the outbreak of World War II, he was appointed southern regional commissioner for civil defence. In 1942 he was appointed head of the British Information Service at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, where he remained until his retirement in 1946. His papers relate mainly to his civil service work, including his time in Washington which brought him into correspondence with Churchill, Eden, Ismay and Roosevelt. There are three diaries, covering 1917-1919 and 1940-1941, in which he talks about the war progress and the home situation. Olive Butler was a frequent correspondent to her son, Rohan, and her correspondence gives an insight into a diplomat’s life in Washington during World War II.

Alfred J. Butler was a historian specialising in Coptology. He was the author of several works including; The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, Vol 1 and 2 (1884), The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion (1902) and Sport in Classic Times (1930). His papers relate to his work on ancient Coptic Churches and includes a draft manuscript for an unpublished work titled ‘Greater or Lesser Britain’.

This collection will be available soon.

Catalogue of the archive of the Butler family

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.

The International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference: Thoughts and Takeaways

A couple months ago, thanks to the generous support of the IIPC student bursary, I had the pleasure of attending the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) web archiving conference in Hilversum, The Netherlands. The conference took place in The Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision, adding gravitas and rainbow colour to each of the talks and panels.

The Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision. Photo taken by Olga Holownia.

What I was struck by most throughout the conference was the extremely up-to-date ideas and topics of the panel. While typical archiving usually deals with history that happened decades or centuries ago, web archiving requires fast-paced decisions and actions to preserve contemporary material as it is being produced. The web is a dynamic, flexible, constantly changing entity. Content is often deleted or frequently buried under the constant barrage of new content creation. Therefore, web archivists must stay in the know and up to date in order keep up with the arms race between web technology and archiving resources.

For instance, right from the beginning, the opening keynote speech discussed the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, the independent investigative collective focused on producing open source research, discussed the role of digital metadata and digital preservation techniques in the fight against disinformation. Using the example of Russian spread propaganda about the war in Ukraine, Higgins demonstrated that archived versions of sites and videos, and their associated metadata, can help to debunk intentionally spread misinformation depicting the Ukrainian army in a bad light. For instance, geolocation metadata has been used to prove that multiple videos supposedly showing the Ukrainian army threatening and killing innocent civilians, were actually staged and filmed behind the Russian frontlines. The notion that web archives are not just preserving modern culture and history, but also aiding in the fight against harmful disinformation, is quite heartening.

A similarly current topic of conversation was the potential use of artificial intelligence (AI) in web archives. Given the hot topic that AI is, it’s prevalence at the web archiving conference was well received. The quality assurance process for web archiving, which can be arduous and time consuming, was mentioned as a potential use-case for AI. Checking every subpage of an archived site against the live site is impossible given time and resource constraints. However, if AI could be used to compare screenshots of the live site to the captured version, even without actually going in and patching the issues, just knowing where the issues are would save considerable time. Additionally, AI could be used to fill gaps in collections. It is hard to know what you do not know. In particular, the Bodleian has a collection aimed at preserving the events and experiences of peopled affected by the war in Ukraine. Given our web archiving team’s lack of Ukrainian and Russian language skills, it can be hard to know what sites to include in the collection and what not to. Thus, having AI generate a list of sites deemed culturally relevant to the conflict could help fill the gaps in this collection that we were not even aware of.

Social media archiving was also a significant subject discussed at the conference. Despite the large part that social media plays in our lives and culture, it can be very challenging to capture. For example, the Heritrix crawler, the most commonly used web crawler in web archiving, is blocked by Facebook and Instagram. Additionally, while Twitter technically remains capturable, much of the dynamic content contained in posts (i.e. videos, gifs, links to outside content) can’t be replayed in archived versions. Discussions of collaborations between social media companies and archivists were heralded as a necessity and something that needs to happen soon. In the meantime, talk of web archiving tools that may be best suited for dealing with social media captures included Webrecorder and other tools that mimic how a user would navigate a website in order to create a high-fidelity capture that includes dynamic content.

Between discussions of the role of web archives in halting the spread of disinformation, the use of barely understood tools like generative AI, and potential techniques to get around stumbling blocks within the field of social media archiving, the conference discussions got all attendees excited to begin further exploration of web preservation. The internet is the main resource through which we communicate, disseminate knowledge, and create modern history. Therefore, the pursuit of preserving such history is necessary and integral to the field of archiving.

New: Catalogue of the Archive of Denis Healey

The archive of Labour Party politician Denis Healey is now available for consultation. The catalogue can be consulted online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts.

via Wikimedia Commons

Healey held various roles both in and out of government, including Secretary of State for Defence, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Deputy leader of the Labour Party, and ran for Party leadership in 1976 and 1980. The archive contains papers on Healey’s political work, as well as his personal interests, particularly his love of photography.

A real highlight of the collection are Healey’s diaries, which he kept throughout his life and cover holidays he took as a youth, his service in Second World War, and his political career all the way from his first job as International Secretary of the Labour Party to his death in 2015. These diaries give a personal, and often entertaining view of his times and his contemporaries – I particularly like his 1946 description of Michael Foot: “He looks like the Tory idea of a weedy Bolshie – gaunt, black hair en brosse, black glasses, bad teeth, and a ravaged complexion, and talks with a nervous cockney glottal stop” (MS. Healey 62).

Diaries of a cycling holiday in Germany, July-August 1936, from MS. Healey 61

My personal favourites, however, aren’t his political diaries, but rather the group of diaries he kept to record a cycling holiday he took to Germany in 1936. These were written in rough while on the holiday, written up neatly on his return (a good thing, as Healey’s handwriting is pretty terrible) and illustrated with postcards, photographs and sketches. Healey was a passionate anti-fascist, to the extent of leaving the Communist Party because of their opposition to WW2 following Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and in 1965 he had an altercation with notorious neo-Nazi Colin Jordan who invaded the stage at a town hall meeting: “I barged him off”, Healey says in his diary (MS. Healey 63), but contemporary newspapers seemed sure it was a punch. However, his experience of travelling around and talking to people strongly influenced his post-war attitudes to international relations, as well as simply being a fascinating and oddly charming account of an outsider’s view of Nazi Germany.