Category Archives: Period

Curating the UK Web Archive’s Mental Health Collection

The UK Web Archive’s Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet collection  seeks to document the changing conversation surrounding mental health, social media and the internet by capturing UK-based websites for posterity.

Developing the Mental Health Collection

As well as including webpages which highlight the negative impact of social media on mental health, the mental health collection also serves to document online initiatives including web pages and social media platforms which are changing the conversation and helping to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. Examples of sites within the mental health collection include:

  • HeadsTogether, a mental health initiative setup and run by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry incorporating a campaign to change the dialogue surrounding mental health and raise funds to provide new mental health services.
  • The Mix provides an important source of mental health information and advice for people under twenty-five, tackling topics such as anxiety and depression, self-care and counselling.
  • The Mental Health First Aid England Instagram account (mhfaengland) serves to raise mental health literacy through a series of eye-catching posts including: photographs, drawings and info graphics which promote self-care and good mental health.
  • The Mental Health Foundation is a UK charity which aims to help people to understand, protect and sustain good mental health as seen through their online Twitter page

Help us grow our collections

The mental health collection can become a richer resource with your help. You could see your site suggestions preserved in the UK Web Archive by nominating them here.

Trifles and matters of consequence: The Edgeworths in Springtime, 1819

Since our last post, the days have thankfully got longer and warmer. Spring has well and truly sprung in the UK. When we last encountered the Edgeworths, Maria and Honora were preoccupied by Fanny’s courtship by with Lestock Wilson (Mr L W). In an anxious attempt to remove her sister from ‘the reach of poor L W’s hopes’ in Harley Street, Maria took the family out of London to the wholesome Hampstead residence of the Carr family. Writing to her step-mother Frances in a long letter dated 1st-3rd April 1819, Maria describes Maryon Hall in idyllic terms, remarking that it had been ‘intended from the Creation for the 3 Edgeworths’. The Carrs’ family home was a place where Maria, Fanny, and Honora could at last enjoy a ‘delicious spring day in the midst of spring delights’ amongst ‘the far greater delights of a family happy as ours once was’.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fols. 164r

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fols. 165r

MS. Eng. misc. c.696 fol.164 transcription

MS. Eng. misc. c.696 fol. 165 transcription

As Maria remarks in her letter, the Edgeworths were incredibly ‘fortunate […] to come’ to the Carrs ‘just at the moment we did’. Shortly after their arrival in Hampstead, Fanny fell ill with a violent cold as the result of  a draughty visit to the theatre. Maria firmly believed that Fanny’s feverish state had been brought on because she had been ‘too much harassed’ by ‘the struggle of her mind & the pain’ of deciding to reject L W’s proposal. Maria’s letter is full of anxiety as she struggles to decide on the next course of action: whether to call a doctor, whether to return to London as planned after the visit to the Carrs, and risk Fan’s further exposure to Mr. L. W.’s pursuit. As she so often does, she falls back on the advice of her (recently deceased father), Richard Lovell Edgeworth:

As my dear father used to say the great art of life is to know how to sacrifice trifles to matters of consequence. And to know what are trifles compared with great objects.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fol. 167r)

MS Eng misc c. 696 fol. 167 transcription

A cold may seem like a trifling illness to modern readers, who are often advised to resist visiting the GP for minor ailments. But this was not the case in the early nineteenth century. In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), Marianne Dashwood nearly dies of a cold brought on when she undertakes a long walk in bad weather preoccupied with her romantic disappointment over Mr Willoughby. Like Willoughby, Mr L.W. rushed to Hampstead to be by Fanny’s side when he hears of the gravity of her illness, but he was promptly denied by the cautious Maria. The treatments prescribed by Dr Holland— an eclectic mixture of arrowroot, castor oil, and antimony-induced skin-blistering— probably did little to help Fanny recover from her illness. With enough bed rest, Fanny’s cold had passed by the end of the week. But in such a grave situation, even the smallest trifles of medical help could provide psychological comfort in a matter of such great consequence as the illness of a beloved family member.

In opening the Edgeworth Papers we find ourselves constantly weighing the relative value of lengthy letters, full works in manuscript, and small  items that many would consider to be ‘trifles’. Wax seals, fragmented letters, and scraps of inscribed tracing paper may seem insignificant in comparison to some of Maria’s unpublished literary manuscripts. But their survival gives us a valuable insight into the daily lives and attitudes of the Edgeworth family and they open up new insights into the intimate, intense world that nourished Maria’s creativity. The personalised wax seal of Maria’s sister Harriet (1801-1889), for example, can be interpreted as a conscious form of epistolary self-fashioning— evidence that Maria was not the only female member of the family to care about her literary appearance. The cutting-up of one of Maria’s letters to her step-mother, possibly for sealing another contemporary letter, suggests that not every piece of manuscript by this most famous daughter was treated as precious. In stark contrast is the preservation of a ‘blotch’: a patch of paper scrawled with Maria’s tracing from a chinoiserie screen taken while ‘she was waiting to have a tooth drawn’ in 1843. Charlotte Beaufort requested to keep the paper as a ‘remembrance’ of Maria—evidence of the cult of celebrity that continued to surround the author within her family circle even in her final years. Charlotte was likely one of the four daughters from his first marriage of Captain Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), brother of Maria’s much-loved (step)’mother’, Frances. The widowed Rear-Admiral took as his second wife in 1738,  Maria’s sister, Honora. The manuscript note with the ‘blotch’ records Charlotte’s request to keep the paper as a ‘remembrance’ of Maria—evidence of the cult of celebrity that continued to surround the author within her family circle even in her final years.

Harriet Edgeworth’s red wax seal, letter from Harriet to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c. 736, fols. 56-57)

‘Cut-out’ letter, from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. c. 696, fols. 93-94)

‘Blotch’ by Maria Edgeworth (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol. 86)

And two manuscript versions exist of a poem Maria wrote for her favourite aunt, Margaret Ruxton (1746-1830), sister to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, to accompany the gift of a ‘violet vase’. Maria’s poem captures the importance of an older woman’s care of a young girl in the ‘spring-time’ of her youth: the sort of care Maria sought to provide for her much younger half-sister, Fanny.

To my dear Aunt Ruxton with a violet vase

Here the first primrose of the year shall blow,
And violets here, their earliest sweets bestow
And the last flowret of the parting year
Shall love to leave its ling’ring sweetness here

So in the spring-time of my earliest youth
Bloomed the sweet promise of thy love & truth
So to my Life’s departing year supplies
Fragrance more rare, & bloom that never dies

Maria E (c.1819)

Two copies of ‘To my dear Aunt Ruxton wth a violet vase’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols. 61-62)

Much can be learnt from the Edgeworth Paper’s rich collection of archival titbits, and we look forward to sharing many of these intriguing fragments with you over the course of this year from one Spring to the next.

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Opening the Edgeworth Papers: the team

Ros Ballaster, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies, Faculty of English and Mansfield College, University of Oxford

Catriona Cannon, Deputy Librarian and Keeper of Collections, Bodleian Library

Anna Senkiw, Research Assistant

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull, Research Assistant

Follow us on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers

References

All materials from the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

  1. Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth, 1-3 April 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c.696, fols. 164-170
  2. Cut out letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth, MS. Eng.  lett. c.696 fols. 91-94
  3. Red Seal, Letter from Harriet Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth, 24 May 1830, MS. Eng. lett. c. 736 fols. 56-57
  4. “To my dear Aunt Ruxton with a Violet Vase”, MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 (fols. 61-2)

 

Opening the Edgeworth Papers

The Bodleian Libraries hold a rich and varied collection of papers related to the Edgeworth family from the 17th to the 19th century. Only a tiny percentage of the material contained therein is available in print and even less has been subject to scholarly editing.

The collection may be little known, but it is of great significance, providing vital evidence (manuscript drafts and correspondence) about the literary career of one of the most important novelists of the early 19th century, Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849). Maria’s work is also placed in context by additional documentation that covers the educational, agricultural and political theory and practice of her father, the politician, writer and inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817).

Engraving of Maria Edgeworth (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol. 28).

Through assorted written material, the collection shows the ways in which an extended family with connections in Ireland, England, France and India, communicated and collaborated in the production of art, literature, and scientific knowledge. And it sheds light on Anglo-Irish relations during a period of political contestation and transformation.

Over the next 12 months we will investigate ways of raising the profile of this collection through social media, scholarly and digital editing.  The project takes one selection of the material in the Edgeworth papers— correspondence and other evidence related to the year 1819-1820— and tracks it alongside 2019-2020, a momentous period in the history of the relations between Britain and Europe. Each month, our blog will present sample documents from the same month 200 years earlier. Writing in March 2019, as the UK faces huge political upheaval, let us introduce you to Maria and her family, who in March 1819 are in the midst of a personal – rather than political – challenge on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Love and Marriage: A Family Affair

As the old song says, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But in the early 19th century, ‘love’ wasn’t the key concern. The idea of the ‘marriage market’ brings home the financial considerations of matrimony in the period. For women, this was particularly acute. The financial and legal implications of an imprudent marriage were serious – it was, after all, impossible to get a divorce without first obtaining a private Act of Parliament.

It is no wonder families were so invested in securing the right matches for their children – and no surprise that so many novels dramatised the intrigues, concerns and implications of the marriage market in the ‘courtship plot’. Lady Russell in Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818), for example, convinces heroine Anne Elliot not to marry the nobody Frederick Wentworth as this would present too much of a social risk. When Wentworth returns a Captain, Lady Russell’s opposition comes across as snobbish and intrusive. In the context of 19th-century marriage laws and women’s rights, Lady Russell’s concern is sincere. Today marriage comes under the umbrella of ‘personal relationships’, but 200 years ago matrimony was very much a family affair.

In March 1819, bestselling novelist Maria Edgeworth was embroiled in her own family affair that could have come straight from a novel like Persuasion. Her young half-sister, Fanny, some 30 years Maria’s junior, was being courted by a man whose morals her family admired but whose personality they considered rather dull: the ‘Mr. L.W.’ [Lestock Wilson] of 31 Harley Street. Fanny, Maria and another half-sister, Honora (1791-1858) who was only eight years older than Fanny, were visiting London together. Maria hurriedly wrote home to Edgworthstown, Ireland, to her step-mother– and Fanny’s mother – Frances Ann Beaufort (1769–1865), her ‘dearest mother’ (in fact one year younger than Maria herself) – to discuss what to do. Believing Mr LW to be unsuitable, Maria sought to dazzle Fanny by opening the country-educated girl to the best of London society. She had herself refused a proposal of marriage in 1802 from the Swedish intellectual, Abraham Niclas Clewberg-Edelcrantz (1754-1821), who she met on a family visit to Paris, lacking the confidence to leave the family she loved so dearly for an uncertain union.

Drawing of Fanny Edgeworth as a young child by her mother Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol. 8).

Drawing of Fanny Edgeworth as a young adult by her mother Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol. 9).

The urgent tone of this letter bespeaks the need to act quickly and decisively. Both Maria and Frances are wary of Fanny accepting the invitation to Mr LW’s house, though she was desirous to ‘see & judge for herself’. Despite LW’s protestations that ‘he would not behave to her as a lover or pay her any peculiar attention’, such a visit would be ill-advised: as Maria contends, it would be neither ‘prudent’ nor ‘proper’.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. d. 696, fol. 146r).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. d. 696, fol. 146v).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. d. 696, fol. 147r).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Frances Edgeworth (MS. Eng. lett. d. 696, fol. 147v).

Maria’s concern is that a strong romantic inclination may not be sufficient to ‘secure Fanny’s permanent happiness’. Admittedly, Maria does not relish her ‘Duenna’ (chaperone) role, but writes that ‘this is to me as a feather in the balance compared with the object in view’.  Convinced of Mr LW’s unsuitability, the Edgeworths sought to protect Fanny from a marriage that she wouldn’t be able to leave. The following month, Fanny refused him – but she regretted and mourned her decision, accepting his renewed proposal some ten years later.

This letter also gives us an insight into the complex generational dynamics of the Edgeworth family. Maria’s father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, married four times and had 22 children. Richard’s death two years before these events left Maria and his fourth wife, Frances, to direct the family drama. Maria takes on her father’s mantle (she’d had early experience in helping him manage his family estate) and adopts a paternal role in agreeing with Fanny’s mother the best way forward.

Transcript of letter:

Dearest mother   On our return from breakfasting with M.rs Marcet (where we met M.r Mallet) our packet of letters was put into our hands & we ran to our own fireside to devour the con – Lest I should not have time to say more let me make sure of the most important thing I have to say. That I entirely agree with you that it would neither be prudent in her present cir=cumstances nor proper in the eyes of the world for Fanny to part company from me to go even for a few days alone to 31 Harley St.t – This having been my opinion before I knew it was yours and being streng=thened by the decided expressions In your letter to Fanny just rec.d I have advised her by no means to go there alone till at least till we hear again from you – She will or has told you  what passed between M.r L W and her yesterday morning – in consequence of his promise that if she were in the house with him he would not behave to her as a lover or pay her any peculiar attention she wished to spend some days at Harley S.t without Honora or me that she might see & judge for herself.

When I told her my reasons against this – & in particular stated repeated to her the advice my father gave me not to trust myself alone with a man in whose favor my inclinations spoke more than my judgment Fanny most prudently & kindly has yielded to me her wish & says she is quite convinced by my reasons & therefore was unwilling to write to ask your opinion further – that is to ask you whether in consequence of [what] has since passed between her & L W the circumstances are so far altered that you would advise her to go there by her=self – They have but one small spare room & therefore F — ^anny^ says cannot ask us to be with her but that objection c.d I think be easily waived for I don’t care into what space I am crammed – I can sleep in the bed with her – Honora could for a week & would I am sure go to Sneyd – We cannot all have at every moment what is most agreeable But Honora I am sure would be as willing as I am to do what may not be agreeable for the time to secure Fanny’s permannent happiness – You may guess how disagreeable it will be to thrust myself into a house Duenna=ways – the maiden’s steps to haunt & in society that cannot relish me at any time – but [xxx] this is to me as a feather In the balance compared with the object in view –

I advise that she should remain with me to the end of  the fortnight at Lady E W’s – that she sh.d dine then go with me to M.rs Carr’s Hampstead or M.rs Baillie’s or wherever we next deter=mine to go for another week or so – and then if the Wilsons ask me to go with her to Harley S.t I am ready to go if you approve & to stay as long or as short a time as Fanny wishes.

Answer me very distinctly and decidedly my dearest friend these Questions Do you approve of my going with F to 31 Harley S.t to stay some time – or Do you approve or not of Fanny’s going there by herself – I cannot write or think on any other subject at present

truly affectionately yrs,

Maria E

The blended Edgeworth clan – consisting of several step-mothers, numerous half-siblings – provided a whole series of domestic dramas, revealing surprising alliances, deep loyalties and often lively comedy. Over the next 12 months we look forward to opening the Edgeworth papers, uncovering their stories, and sharing them with you.

Opening the Edgeworth Papers: the team

Ros Ballaster, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies, Faculty of English and Mansfield College, University of Oxford

Catriona Cannon, Deputy Librarian and Keeper of Collections, Bodleian Library

Anna Senkiw, Research Assistant

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull, Research Assistant

Follow us on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers

Festivals in the UK Web Archive

Live events are funny things; can their spirit be captured or do you have to “be there to get it”? Personally I don’t think you can, so why are we archiving festival websites?

Running throughout the year, though most tend to be clustered around the short UK summer, festivals form a huge part of the UK’s contemporary cultural scene.  While it’s often the big music festivals that come to mind such as Glastonbury and Reading or perhaps the more local CAMRA sponsored beer and cider festivals; these days there is a festival for pretty much everything under the sun.

UK Web Archive topics and themes

In part this explosion of festivals from the very local and niche to the mainstream and brand sponsored has been helped by the internet. You can now find festivals dedicated to anything from bird watching to meat grilling to vintage motors.

With the number of tools and platforms available for website creation and event and bookings management and the rise of social media, it seems anyone with an idea can put on a festival. More importantly with increasing connectedness that the web gives us, the reach of these home grown festivals has become potentially global.

Of course most will remain small local events that go on until the organisers lose interest or money such as Blissfields in Winchester which had to cancel their 2018 event due to poor ticket sales. But some will make it big like Neverworld which started in 2006 in Lee Denny’s back garden while his parents were away for the week but now 10+ years on has sold out the 5000 capacity festival venue it has relocated to.

The UK Web Archive‘s Festivals collection attempts to capture the huge variety of UK festivals taking place each year and currently has around 1200 events being archived that are loosely categorised based around 15 common themes, though of course there is a great deal of crossover as they can be found combining themes such as:

In this collection of UK festivals sites, while we cannot capture the spirit of a live event we can still try to capture their transient nature. Here you can see their rise and fall, the photographs and comments left in their wake, and their impact on local communities over time. Hopefully these sites and their contents can still give future researchers a sometimes surprising and often candid snapshot of contemporary British culture.

Emily Chen

Wilfred Owen Archive: New catalogue

The Wilfred Owen archive has just been fully rehoused and catalogued, with a detailed list of items available online. The collection has had a lively existence thus far, with the bulk of it donated by Harold Owen in 1975 to the English Faculty Library. Wilfred’s cousin Leslie Gunston donated the Gunston collection in 1978. Small additions have been made since then, and the collection now includes the working papers and correspondence of two prominent Owen scholars, Dominic Hibberd and Jon Stallworthy. The entire collection was transferred to the Weston Library on 13 January 2016.

Following a month of work, the collection has been reordered and renumbered, although the former, widely-cited OEF (Oxford English Faculty) references are included in the catalogue, as are references to Jon Stallworthy’s transcripts in Wilfred Owen: The Complete Poems and Fragments (CPF).

Wilfred Owen’s literary papers make up the first six boxes (MSS. 12282/1-6) and include Wilfred’s original manuscripts (digital versions of which are available on the Word War I Poetry Digital Archive), allowing the reader to see the maturation of Owen’s poetry from the early ‘To Poesy’ to his masterpieces ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, ‘Mental Cases’ and ‘Anthem for Dead Youth’. Drafts of poems that Wilfred sent to his cousin, Leslie Gunston, are also found in this part of the collection.

The archive also contains other primary source material relating to Wilfred. At MSS. 12282/34-5 there are original editions of The Hydra, a magazine published by the patients at Craiglockhart Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers where Wilfred was a patient in 1917. He edited several issues of the magazine and some of the copies have annotations by him, such as ‘With the Editor’s Compliments!’ School exercise books and correspondence are similarly preserved, and there is an extensive collection of objects and family possessions relating to Wilfred and his family. Many of the objects are extremely fragile and kept in a Reserved part of the collection, but they provide a tangible closeness to Wilfred. Found here are some of Tom Owen’s souvenirs from India, Susan Owen’s jewellery box, with locks of Wilfred’s baby hair, an old family clock, a boat handmade by Tom for Wilfred, and some binoculars belonging to Wilfred himself.

The photographs in the archive span from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, and include many generations of Wilfred’s mother’s family. The photos are arranged by size and subject and include photographs of Wilfred.

The remainder of the archive mostly consists of Harold Owen’s correspondence, press cuttings and working papers. These offer a fascinating insight into the life of Wilfred’s brother, Harold and highlight the way in which he controlled Wilfred’s reputation and that of the Owen family. His correspondence with admirers, scholars, publishers, libraries and museums uncovers the human face of archival acquisitions and posthumous literary fame. Harold’s biography, Journey from Obscurity, is found in this part of the collection, with a first draft of almost 1000 pages written by hand in Harold’s characteristic small capitals.

There are three later additions to the archive. The 1978 Gunston donation includes manuscripts dating back to the 19th century, letters, photographs and cartoons. Particularly charming are Leslie’s letters to his wife Norah, and the sketches contained in them.

The Owen scholar Dominic Hibberd gave his working files, which contain correspondence, press cuttings, photocopies and photographs, generated in the course of his research. Some of these items are dated as recently as 2002, and include new resources, such as photocopies of the birth, death and marriage certificates of Wilfred’s extended family.

Also present are Jon Stallworthy’s working files, which are comprised mostly of photocopies of the Owen manuscripts which he used to create his Complete Poems and Fragments.

Several items in particular caught my attention throughout the archiving process:

Items 83 and 102 in MS. 12282/7, folder 2 are two letters from Annie G Phillips to Harold Owen, dated November 1969. Annie is studying for her A levels, and writes to Harold of her admiration for Journey from Obscurity, his memoirs. She says that learning about the family life of the Owens has helped her understand Wilfred’s poetry on a deeper level, but she also makes some very personal connections. Like Wilfred, she cannot afford to go to university. Harold’s reply must have been kind because her follow-up letter is even more brimming with excitement. These exchanges really posit Harold as a living connection to Wilfred, a way for readers to access the poet, a way of keeping Wilfred alive. But this is of course exactly what Harold’s archival work did and does. His own papers are testimony to that process of preservation, and exist as items worthy of study in their own right. But these letters also left me wondering what happened to Annie Phillips, who must now be nearing 80. Did she ever go to university? Is she still reading Wilfred Owen?

Item 151 in MS. 12282 photogr. 3 is a postcard of Scarborough during the war, collected as part of a group of postcards of places connected to Wilfred Owen. It follows postcards of Bordeaux, Ripon, Ors, and many other places. The photographed place is the focus of these postcards, and very few have any writing on them. But item 151 dates from the First World War and has a message written to a ‘Miss Lucy Sunderland’ from ‘Daddy’. Archival work is never neutral, and the decision made to use this postcard in the collection represents a value judgement: the photographic record of a place is of greater importance than the message contained on the verso of the card. In the catalogue, I decided to include the information about the scribbled message in an attempt to balance out the conflicting demands placed upon this item. We’ll never know if Lucy’s Daddy made it back home again.

Item 16 in MS. 12282 objects 2 is a tiny cardboard box inside Susan Owen’s jewellery box. This tiny box contains two envelopes with the hair of Wilfred Owen inside. One of the locks of hair even had the shedded skin of a carpet beetle lodged within it! The hair itself was one of the most moving discoveries within the collection, with a tangibility that is both enticing and repulsive. But the manner of preservation was fascinating, too. The hair had originally been labelled in the envelopes and box by someone with a cursive hand, most likely Susan Owen herself, who would have been the one to cut Wilfred’s hair. The pencil marks had somewhat faded away, but one of the envelopes read ‘The hair of Sir Wilfred Edward Salter-Owen at the age of 11 ½ months in the year 1894’ For Susan, then, this was the act of a proud mother, keeping a memory of her son’s early years, to look back upon when he was older. But the cursive pencil writing is overshadowed by the characteristic small capitals in ink of Harold Owen. Harold labels the box as ‘The poet Wilfred Owen’s hair’. He displays an entirely different motive – to preserve the remains of a well-known literary figure. The object’s purpose and identity has been altered by the motives of its various owners. How the Bodleian labels this item will necessarily be another act of alteration. A strand of hair is never just a strand of hair!

Laura Hackett

New Catalogue: Papers of Louis MacNeice

The catalogue of the papers of the Northern Irish poet and playwright Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) is now available online.

MacNeice studied Classics at Oxford from 1926, and together with Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis, he became part of the circle of poets and writer that had formed around W.H. Auden. His professional life began in 1930 as a lecturer in Classics, but in 1941 he joined the BBC and for the next twenty years produced radio plays and other programmes for the Features Department.

Whilst he also wrote articles and reviews, theatre plays, a novel and even a children’s book, MacNeice is best known for his poetry. Between 1929 and 1963, he published more than a dozen poetry volumes, such as Autumn Journal (1939) – regarded by many as his masterpiece, Springboard (1944), Holes in the Sky (1948), Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), and Visitations (1957). His last poetry volume, The Burning Perch came out just a few days after MacNeice’s untimely death in autumn 1963.

Amongst other works published posthumously were a book entitled Astrology (1964), Selected Poems (1964) edited by W.H. Auden, the autobiography The Strings are False (1965) edited by E.R. Dodds, and Varieties of Parable (1965), as well as the radio/ theatre plays The Mad Islands and The Administrator (1964), One for the Grave (1968) and Persons from Porlock (1969), and the song cycle The Revenant (1975).

(Frederick) Louis MacNeice by Howard Coster,
nitrate negative, 1942. NPG x1624.
© National Portrait Gallery, London.
(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The archive at the Bodleian Libraries comprises more than 70 boxes of literary papers and other material relating to Louis MacNeice’s career as a writer, as well as extensive personal and professional correspondence, and some personal papers. Continue reading

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2019

Speaking notes prepared for Margaret Thatcher, annotated drafts of William Hague’s election leaflets, and briefing papers written by David Cameron as a young researcher are all among files newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2019. This year, our releases are drawn primarily from the records of the Conservative Research Department (CRD): these comprise the department’s subject files and working papers, its briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, and the papers and correspondence of CRD desk officers. In addition to our regular scheduled de-restrictions, the Conservative Party Archive is pleased to announce that the papers of Robin Harris, the Director of the Conservative Research Department from 1985-1989, will also be made available for consultation for the first time. This blog will briefly look at some of the items to be found in each of these main series, demonstrating the value of these collections to researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of modern British history.

Conservative Research Department Files, 1988

Among the newly-released records are a number of files on the ever-thorny question of Europe, including the minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee, the Party’s coordinating group for the 1989 elections to the European Parliament. These files provide a fascinating insight into the challenges the Party faced in trying to balance the record of its MEPs with the increasing Euroscepticism of British Conservatism: a September 1988 report on the Party’s private polling on Europe, for instance, warned that nearly a third of Conservative general election voters were opposed to EEC membership and would not turn out to support the Party in the European Elections [CPA CRD 4/30/3/1]. The Conservative Party Archive has, separately, also recently acquired the records of the Conservative delegation to the European Parliament in this period, and will be seeking to make these available for consultation later in 2019.

Minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee – CPA CRD 4/30/3/1.

Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1988

This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, typically prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an excellent snapshot of the Party’s thinking, tactics, and rhetorical strategy on the key issues of the day. Subjects covered by the briefings include some of the most prominent policies of the Thatcher government, including the introduction of the Community Charge (Poll Tax) and the privatisation of state-owned utilities.

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment and Local Government file, covering the Community Charge, Section 28, and Acid Rain – CPA CRD/B/11/7.

This series notably includes briefing papers prepared by David Cameron during his time in CRD, covering topics on environmental, energy and industrial policy. In 1989 Cameron became the Head of the Political Section, a post he held in the department until 1992, and we expect to be able to de-restrict more of his papers from this period in the years ahead.

Two CRD briefings on Energy Privatisation written by David Cameron – CPA CRD/B/10/8.

Conservative Research Department Letter Books, 1988

The papers and letter books of the Research Department desk officers are a unique resource for those studying the history of Conservatism. Among those files newly de-restricted for 2019 are the letter books of CRD Desk Officer Richard Marsh. Specialising in environmental policy and local government, Marsh’s papers include extensive material on the Poll Tax, and are likely to be of high value to researchers of the subject. Marsh’s papers also include a draft copy of William Hague’s election leaflet from the 1989 by-election, complete with revealing annotations – a pledge to bring in harsher sentences for criminals, for instance, is struck out and replaced with a vaguer commitment to take ‘vigorous action in the fight against crime’ [CPA CRD/L/4/40/2].

Annotated drafts of an election leaflet for William Hague, the Party’s candidate in the 1989 Richmond By-election – CPA CRD/L/4/40/2.

Papers of Robin Harris, Research Department Director, 1985-1988

Finally, the records of CRD Director Robin Harris provide a rich insight into the Conservative Party during the 1980s. For instance, Harris’ letter book for August and September 1987 shows how the Research Department went about preparing material for Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference, with draft sections of the speech and working memoranda included in the file [CRD/D/10/2/25].

Robin Harris file on Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Party Conference speech, including draft speech sections – CPA CRD/D/10/2/25.

Harris’ papers also show how the Party responded at times of political crisis. During the Westland Affair, when Thatcher’s premiership was briefly seen to be threatened, the Party received numerous letters from the public calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Harris’ memo books from the time show how Conservative Central Office managed the situation, drafting template responses defending the government’s conduct [CRD/D/10/1/11]. The papers should prove to be a valuable resource for historians of the period, and we expect to be able to make further de-restrictions in this series under the thirty-year rule in January 2020.

Robin Harris memoranda on the Party’s response to the Westland Affair – CPA CRD/D/10/1/11.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2019. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.

Archives Unleashed – Vancouver Datathon

On the 1st-2nd of November 2018 I was lucky enough to attend the  Archives Unleashed Datathon Vancouver co-hosted by the Archives Unleashed Team and Simon Fraser University Library along with KEY (SFU Big Data Initiative). I was very thankful and appreciative of the generous travel grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that made this possible.

The SFU campus at the Habour Centre was an amazing venue for the Datathon and it was nice to be able to take in some views of the surrounding mountains.

About the Archives Unleashed Project

The Archives Unleashed Project is a three year project with a focus on making historical internet content easily accessible to scholars and researchers whose interests lay in exploring and researching both the recent past and contemporary history.

After a series of datathons held at a number of International institutions such as the British Library, University of Toronto, Library of Congress and the Internet Archive, the Archives Unleashed Team identified some key areas of development that would enable and help to deliver their aim of making petabytes of valuable web content accessible.

Key Areas of Development
  • Better analytics tools
  • Community infrastructure
  • Accessible web archival interfaces

By engaging and building a community, alongside developing web archive search and data analysis tools the project is successfully enabling a wide range of people including scholars, programmers, archivists and librarians to “access, share and investigate recent history since the early days of the World Wide Web.”

The project has a three-pronged approach
  1. Build a software toolkit (Archives Unleashed Toolkit)
  2. Deploy the toolkit in a cloud-based environment (Archives Unleashed Cloud)
  3. Build a cohesive user community that is sustainable and inclusive by bringing together the project team members with archivists, librarians and researchers (Datathons)
Archives Unleashed Toolkit

The Archives Unleashed Toolkit (AUT) is an open-source platform for analysing web archives with Apache Spark. I was really impressed by AUT due to its scalability, relative ease of use and the huge amount of analytical options it provides. It can work on a laptop (Mac OS, Linux or Windows), a powerful cluster or on a single-node server and if you wanted to, you could even use a Raspberry Pi to run AUT. The Toolkit allows for a number of search functions across the entirety of a web archive collection. You can filter collections by domain, URL pattern, date, languages and more. Create lists of URLs to return the top ten in a collection. Extract plain text files from HTML files in the ARC or WARC file and clean the data by removing ‘boilerplate’ content such as advertisements. Its also possible to use the Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER) to extract names of entities, locations, organisations and persons. I’m looking forward to seeing the possibilities of how this functionality is adapted to localised instances and controlled vocabularies – would it be possible to run a similar programme for automated tagging of web archive collections in the future? Maybe ingest a collection into ATK , run a NER and automatically tag up the data providing richer metadata for web archives and subsequent research.

Archives Unleashed Cloud

The Archives Unleashed Cloud (AUK) is a GUI based front end for working with AUT, it essentially provides an accessible interface for generating research derivatives from Web archive files (WARCS). With a few clicks users can ingest and sync Archive-it collections, analyse the collections, create network graphs and visualise connections and nodes. It is currently free to use and runs on AUK central servers.

My experience at the Vancouver Datathon

The datathons bring together a small group of 15-20 people of varied professional backgrounds and experience to work and experiment with the Archives Unleashed Toolkit and the Archives Unleashed Cloud. I really like that the team have chosen to minimise the numbers that attend because it created a close knit working group that was full of collaboration, knowledge and idea exchange. It was a relaxed, fun and friendly environment to work in.

Day One

After a quick coffee and light breakfast, the Datathon opened with introductory talks from project team members Ian Milligan (Principal Investigator), Nick Ruest (Co-Principal Investigator) and Samantha Fritz (Project Manager), relating to the project – its goals and outcomes, the toolkit, available datasets and event logistics.

Another quick coffee break and it was back to work – participants were asked to think about the datasets that interested them, techniques they might want to use and questions or themes they would like to explore and write these on sticky notes.

Once placed on the white board, teams naturally formed around datasets, themes and questions. The team I was in consisted of  Kathleen Reed and Ben O’Brien  and formed around a common interest in exploring the First Nations and Indigenous communities dataset.

Virtual Machines were kindly provided by Compute Canada and available for use throughout the Datathon to run AUT, datasets were preloaded onto these VMs and a number of derivative files had already been created. We spent some time brainstorming, sharing ideas and exploring datasets using a number of different tools. The day finished with some informative lightning talks about the work participants had been doing with web archives at their home institutions.

Day Two

On day two we continued to explore datasets by using the full text derivatives and running some NER and performing key word searches using the command line tool Grep. We also analysed the text using sentiment analysis with the Natural Language Toolkit. To help visualise the data, we took the new text files produced from the key word searches and uploaded them into Voyant tools. This helped by visualising links between words, creating a list of top terms and provides quantitative data such as how many times each word appears. It was here we found that the word ‘letter’ appeared quite frequently and we finalised the dataset we would be using – University of British Columbia – bc-hydro-site-c.

We hunted down the site and found it contained a number of letters from people about the BC Hydro Dam Project. The problem was that the letters were in a table and when extracted the data was not clean enough. Ben O’Brien came up with a clever extraction solution utilising the raw HTML files and some script magic. The data was then prepped for geocoding by Kathleen Reed to show the geographical spread of the letter writers, hot-spots and timeline, a useful way of looking at the issue from the perspective of engagement and the community.

Map of letter writers.

Time Lapse of locations of letter writers. 

At the end of day 2 each team had a chance to present their project to the other teams. You can view the presentation (Exploring Letters of protest for the BC Hydro Dam Site C) we prepared here, as well as the other team projects.

Why Web Archives Matter

How we preserve, collect, share and exchange cultural information has changed dramatically. The act of remembering at National Institutes and Libraries has altered greatly in terms of scope, speed and scale due to the web. The way in which we provide access to, use and engage with archival material has been disrupted. All current and future historians who want to study the periods after the 1990s will have to use web archives as a resource. Currently issues around accessibility and usability have lagged behind and many students and historians are not ready. Projects like Archives Unleashed will help to furnish and equip researchers, historians, students and the community with the necessary tools to combat these problems. I look forward to seeing the next steps the project takes.

Archives Unleashed are currently accepted submissions for the next Datathon in March 2019, I highly recommend it.

New catalogue: Shrimpton’s Oxford Caricatures

The online catalogue of Shrimpton’s Oxford Caricatures is now available.

Thomas Shrimpton & Son published and sold photographic reproductions of commissioned or submitted original caricatures from their premises at 23-4 Broad St., Oxford, from 1868-1901, their shop window display seemingly their only advertising strategy, there being no evidence of them ever having produced a catalogue or list.

Image of Shrimpton & Sons shop window

Shrimpton & Sons shop window, with Benjamin Jowett, Vice-Chancellor and Master of Balliol College and three beadles as sandwich men advertising publications for sale, 1884. 8 recognisable caricatures are on display and are held within collection. G. A. Oxon. 4º 417, fol. 1050.

The caricatures were primarily intended for undergraduates and drawn by undergraduates, portraying the trials and tribulations of undergraduate life, as well as the delights, as seen from their perspective. Images are immediate and inventive, and often quite irreverent. Certain individuals received special and frequent attention, their identification, despite (thinly) disguised attempts to conceal their names through clever or simplistic wordplay, were only too obvious to University members. Many caricatures lack a proper caption or title, relying solely upon a pithy phrase, quotation or misquotation to assist the viewer. Some allusions are obscure or meaningless at first sight, but with thought and research their message or humorous allusion has been revealed.

The subject matter includes many aspects of University life, notably University and religious personalities. Other subjects frequently covered are ritualism, politics, aestheticism , ‘town and gown’ confrontations and women, especially allusions to their becoming full members of the University. The imagery is invariably humorous, witty and inventive, covering local (University), as well as, national events; many display learned quotations from classical authors and contemporary poets. Throughout the publishing history distinct series were produced, notably ‘Great Guns of Oxford’ (Nos. 1 – [70]) and’ Our Public Schools’ (Nos.1-27), generally representing an individual in their familiar setting, though always done humorously.  In all there are 1214 images. The 7 albums which comprise the collection would appear to represent the complete set of caricatures published. This set, together with the one in the John Johnson Collection, are the only known ‘complete sets’. I have made every attempt to identify individuals (500+), including caricaturists, locations and events in order to produce a fully comprehensive catalogue. Where appropriate, contextual notes have been added and quotations cited. The locations of the (few known) surviving, original caricatures are provided within the catalogue description.

The heyday of the publishing history of the ‘Caricatures’ in terms of output and inventiveness was 1868-84, after which new publications became increasingly erratic. There was probably a combination of reasons for this, but its long demise may well have started in earnest when Thomas Shrimpton died in 1885 aged 79. Perhaps its commercial potential was already waning. Even so they had become an Oxford institution, known by all at the University at the time and remembered fondly by many for years to come. The importance of these caricatures is not only the number of individuals represented (some of whom may have no existing likeness elsewhere), but also the context in which they appear, alluding to events which would, perhaps, be otherwise completely forgotten.

Until now their full extent could not be fully appreciated. Now, for the first time, this wonderful, visual resource for the study of various aspects of Oxford University life in the second half of the nineteenth century, has been fully catalogued.

Colin Harris

Display – Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

The last photograph of Wilfred Owen, Hastings, 30 Aug 1918

A hundred years ago, at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) the Armistice was signed, bringing to an end the First World War. As the celebratory church bells rang out, a telegram was delivered to Susan and Tom Owen informing them of the death of their eldest son, Wilfred, one of 17 million casualties of the Great War to end all wars. He had been killed at the age of 25, just seven days before the Armistice. Owen received the Military Cross for gallantry, but was unknown to the public as a poet: only five of his poems were in print before his death. Today he is recognised as one of the greatest writers of war poetry in the English language.

To mark this double centenary the Bodleian has mounted a display of original material from the Owen Collection, which was given to Oxford University by Owen’s sister-in-law, Phyllis, in 1975 and transferred from the English Faculty Library to the Bodleian in 2016. Included in the exhibition are manuscripts of ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’; editions of the Craiglockhart Hospital magazine which Owen edited while being treated for shell-shock in 1917, and a selection of photographs and personal belongings preserved by his family.

Curated by Judith Priestman and Andrew Wheale

Wilfred Owen: The Pity of War
26 October – Christmas 2018
Proscholium, Bodleian Old Schools Quadrangle
Free entry