Category Archives: Modern

The Pass School

One of the most frequent enquiries received by the University Archives is along the lines of “My ancestor studied at Oxford, what subject did they study?” This is a deceptively simple question, as it assumes that the route to an Oxford BA has always had its current “shape” – a student is interested in a subject, they apply to specifically study that subject, they receive (if successful) a BA in that subject, usually with an honours class.

However, this was not the case for hundreds of years in the University. Instead, the system we know now is the result of the culmination of an astonishing number of changes to the examination statutes during the 19th century. The full history of these and the motivations behind them would comfortably fill a volume, so in this year, the 150th since its introduction in 1872, we’re going to look at the lead up to and implementation of one such (little known) change – the introduction of the Pass School.

From the early days of the University, then codified in the Laudian Statutes of 1636, students followed a common curriculum. In their first year, students studied grammar and rhetoric via the medium of Latin. From their second year, they studied logic and ethics. From their third year onward, they also studied Greek and Geometry. All of these subjects were studied via the works of Classical authors (Romans and Greeks) and can roundly be described as ‘Literae Humaniores’. The means of examination was oral – students were required to participate in debates and answer questions from a panel of examiners in order to demonstrate their knowledge of specific topics.

However, in the decades leading up to 1800, both Oxford’s curriculum and the means of examination were criticised. The narrow focus on the Classics seemed out-of-step with the range of subjects being methodically studied at other, newer universities, and the need to pass the BA before preceding to study any subject other than the Classics (with very few exceptions) was seen as a barrier to scientific studies. In addition to this, the examination system had become a farce. The questioning sessions had become a set series of questions, with students learning the answers by rote. There was no “ranking” of those examined – all successful candidates were awarded a BA.

It’s unsurprising therefore that many students never bothered to be examined or graduate, and the University, in the face of public contempt, sought to improve the system. Two resulting “themes” in the ensuing changes to the examination statutes throughout the 1800s can be identified – the separation of “pass” and “honours” candidates and the erosion of the common curriculum (through the introduction of new subjects and the ability to specialise).

Page of the original copy of the Laudian statute showing requirements for the BA degree

The first page of statutes relating to the exercises required for the BA degree in the first edition of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/1)

The Examination Statutes of 1800 retained the common and familiar curriculum, but made the method of examination more vigorous. A board of six examiners were appointed, with the requirement that at least three examiners were present at every examination. Furthermore, a separate “extraordinary” examination was instituted, which candidates could attend instead of the “normal” examination, which aimed to stretch the most able students. The highest performing twelve students were deemed to have passed, and their names were published, in order of merit.

The attempt was a disaster, with few entrants to the extraordinary exam, and a total of 10 individuals receiving honours between 1802 and 1807. In 1807 the Examination Statutes were again rewritten, but this time the changes were far more successful. Students were examined in much the same way, but all took the “same” examination. Honours were awarded to those who were deemed to have done exceptionally well – both through demonstrating a better understanding of the texts and ideas discussed, but also through displaying having read more widely. Successful students were placed in three groups, with their names arranged alphabetically within the groups – first class, second class, and the remainder who had “satisfied” the examiners. Furthermore, the same statute decreed that there should be two groups of classes – one for Literae Humaniores and one for the Mathematics and Physical Sciences elements of the exam. Thus, it was possible to get a “double first” – for exceptional performance in both elements.

These statutes set the tone for the changes over the next six decades. Class divisions remained, although the number varied, peaking at five (Classes 1-4, and the remainder). The examination of those seeking honours, and those aiming for a pass was gradually, increasingly separated. From 1830 candidates were required to submit in advance to the proctors not only their names, but also the lists of books which they intended to cover and discuss during the examination. Based on the lists of books submitted, examiners would divide candidates into two groups in advance – those to be examined for honours and those seeking a pass – and examine the two groups separately.

The subjects in which candidates were examined were also increasingly separated. In 1825, an additional examination for those seeking honours in Mathematics and Physical sciences was instituted. Once a candidate had passed the Literae Humaniores examination, they could say that they wished to be examined for honours in Maths and Science, and their name would be submitted for a later examination, by a separate group of examiners.

The most significant change came in 1850 when four final examination schools were introduced – Literae Humaniores; Mathematics and Physical Sciences; Natural Sciences; and Law and Modern History. However, the defenders of the common curriculum ensured that this did not mean the end of the dominance of the Classics at Oxford. In order to receive a BA, a student had to pass the examination in two subjects, and one of them had to be Literae Humaniores. All students were first examined in the Classics and only if they passed in that school could their names be passed to the examiners in one of the other three schools. Curiously, this would appear to mean that a student could not “only” study Literae Humaniores!

A depiction of a student's nightmare of examinations

The “horrors” of the common curriculum and oral examination clearly continued to weigh on the undergraduate mind during the 1800s (G.A. Oxon 4° 412 (v.1), folio 12)

However, the writing was on the wall for the defenders of the mandatory study of the Classics. In 1864 the statutes were changed to allow those who were placed in classes 1 to 3 in a single subject to obtain a BA. By 1870, this was extended to those obtaining fourth class honours. As such, those defending the common curriculum were forced to rely on the curriculums for examinations taken earlier in the students’ time at Oxford in order to retain at least some focus on Literae Humaniores – Responsions (introduced in 1808, and by the 1870s generally taken in the first year, with the stronger colleges often insisting on them being taken during the first term of residence) and Moderations (introduced in 1850 and taken roughly halfway through the student’s time at the University).

A student trying to translate from English to Greek during an examination

A caricature of an undergraduate taking “smalls” (the name given to Moderations) depicting the continuing importance of the Classics in examinations (G.A. Oxon 4° 412 (v.1), folio 48)

The recognition of new subjects and the separation of pass and honours candidates culminated in the new examination statutes of 1872 – the first year in which the examination statutes merited a separate printing to the other statutes of the University. The honour schools of Literae Humaniores, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and Natural Sciences were retained; Law and Modern History had been split into two schools in 1871, and Theology had been introduced as a separate subject in 1869. There were four classes in each subject.

The greatest change in these statutes was the introduction of a specific school for those seeking a pass degree. A pass degree was no longer simply failing to be placed in a class in one of the honour schools. Instead, it was an entirely different course, with a surprisingly modern and revolutionary structure, content and method of examination. The curriculum was separated into groups (subject themes) and had “units” within those groups including some previously side-lined subjects within the University, specifically modern languages. The groups and units in 1872 were as follows:

Group A – essentially Literae Humaniores
A1 – Two books. Either both Greek or one Greek and one Latin. One to be a book of philosophy, one of history.
A2 – The outlines of Greek and Roman history
Group B – essentially Languages, Politics and Law
B1 = English history and literature; OR modern European History with Geography
B2 = French or German language and literature
B3 = The elements of political economy
B4 = A branch of Legal Study
Group C – essentially Mathematics and the Sciences
C1 = The elements of Geometry
C2 = The elements of Mechanics, Solid and Fluid, treated mathematically
C3 = The Elements of Chemistry
C4 = The Elements of Physics

Within this modular and varied course, it was mandated that students had to take and pass at least three units, giving candidates a wide selection of subjects to select from and explore. The examinations for each unit were separate from each other and could be spread over the candidates’ final two years in Oxford.

A marked up copy of the pass school regulations

A copy of the 1883 edition of the Student’s Handbook, owned by a student at the time. One motivation for the publication was to help students navigate the increasingly complex curriculum. The pages relating to the Pass School are clearly marked, indicating options of interest.

The passage of this course into statute was not straightforward. First suggested as a concept to Hebdomadal Council in February 1870, the statute was not passed by Convocation until March of 1872. In the interim, the statutes were the subject of much debate in Congregation, with amendments (often multiple and competing amendments to the same clause) being suggested and sent back to Hebdomadal Council in the intervening years. This prevarication was clearly a source of frustration to the University authorities. When the statutes came to face yet another contested vote in Congregation in February 1872, Dr Pusey, evidently frustrated, was recorded as saying “The last vote [relating to the Honour School of Literae Humaniores] was on principle, the present was a question of expediency. Let the statute pass.” (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 10 February 1872). The statute passed, by 67 votes to 43.

It is notable that the main suggested alterations and objections were not to the idea of a pass school per se, but related to details as to its implementation. One of the amendments that was included in the final version of the statute was the rule that candidates had to take and pass either unit A1 (essentially Literae Humaniores) or B2 (French or German). This is a curious compromise between attempts to preserve an aspect of the common curriculum (the Classics) with the attempts to introduce a brand-new subject (modern languages) as part of a route to the BA. In a move that seemed to ensure the diversity of the curriculum for those taking the Pass School in an age of increased subject-specialisation, students were not permitted to take more than two units from any one group.

Pages of text containing suggestions for new examination statutes 1869

A copy of the recommendations of the Examination Committee, first proposing the reconstituted Pass School (OUA/HC 1/6/2, folio 45v)

The course came in for criticism, especially in its early days, notably in terms of academic perception. PA Wright-Henderson, a tutor at Wadham College, thought the new pass school widened the ever-expanding gulf between “passmen” and “classmen” which was “founded on the questionable assumption that the passman was an entirely different creature from his counterpart reading for honours.” Pass School coaches were depicted as “cramming” the students by rote in advance of examination (harkening back to the preparation for the questioning sessions of the examinations before 1800), in contrast to the idea of encouraging honours school candidates to read widely and explore their subjects. Passmen were commonly depicted as idle (which is a questionable assumption given that their examinations were spread over a longer period of time) with Edwin Palmer (Corpus Professor of Latin) in 1877 described the teaching of passmen as “a sort of police supervision”.

A caricature of a common perception of a "passman"

A depiction of one of the critical perceptions of “passmen”, spending his time with “ease”, “bliss”, “indulgence”, and rowing, before a period of cramming, and afterwards receiving a BA. A “testamur” was a certificate signed by the examiners, certifying you had passed an exam, and “ploughing” was slang for failing. One of the criticisms of the modular curriculum was that it meant that a candidate only had to repeat a smaller amount of work if they failed one of the three units (G.A. Oxon 4° 413 (v.2), folio 309)

However, the pass school provided a useful route by which the University could introduce new subjects as a part of the BA without (or before) developing a new honour school, and a means by which students interested in those subjects could incorporate them into their degrees. This is most clearly demonstrated with the incorporation of diplomas and certificates within the Pass School. First appearing in the Examination Statutes of 1905, diplomas (and later, certificates) offered a University-issued qualification (although not the equivalent to a degree), which could be obtained in a shorter timeframe, in new “practical” subjects such as Geography, Education, Economics, Engineering, Anthropology and Forestry. As early as 1908, candidates for the pass degree were able to use certificates and diplomas in lieu of completing units – a diploma counted for two units, whilst a certificate could be used in lieu of completing one unit.

Perhaps it is due to this public perception of the school or the emphasis of “otherness” but the pass school did begin to wane in popularity relatively quickly. According to figures compiled for the sixth volume of The History of the University of Oxford, in the 1870s, 30% of undergraduates took the pass school. By 1910, the number had decreased to 16%. Nevertheless, the pass school continued to add further subjects to its growing options over the years. In 1886 Group D was created – Elements of Religious Knowledge. This was followed three years later by a rather different addition when the preliminary examinations of many of the science-related honour schools became units. In 1904, Group E “military studies” was introduced. By 1930, Hebrew, Spanish and Italian formed part of the roster, alongside separate units for English Literature and History.

Although its popularity waned over the years, the pass school did not leave the statutes in this modular form until 1992. However, the existence and structure of the pass school reflects many of the pressures and social opinions that came to bear upon the University examinations in the 1800s. Its introduction marks the beginning of the dominance of the Honours School and the recognition of classes, alongside a desire to simultaneously widen the curriculum whilst permitting specialisation. Its innovative structure can be seen as providing a means for the University to pave the way to a more dynamic and diverse curriculum.

Sources
eds. Curthoys, M. C; Brock, M. G. The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VI: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1. Oxford: OUP, 1997, especially Chapter II, “The Examination System” by M.C. Curthoys.

Brockliss, Laurence W. B. The University of Oxford: A History. Oxford: OUP, 2016, especially Part II.7 – “Students and Teachers” and Part III.9 “A century of Reform”.

Cox, G. V. Recollections of Oxford. London: Macmillan, 1870.

Mallet, Charles Edward. A History of the University of Oxford, Volume III: Modern Oxford. London: Methuen, 1924.

 

 

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

 

 

The Roger Bannister catalogue is now online

The official race card for the 6 May 1954 athletics meeting at Iffley Road Athletic Ground featuring the world record mile race, signed by Bannister, Chataway and Brasher

The official race card for the 6 May 1954 athletics meeting that featured the world record mile race, signed by Bannister, Chataway and Brasher, who are all listed as members of Achilles, the club for current and former members of the Oxford University Athletic Club

You can now find the catalogue of the archive of athlete, neurologist, and Master of Pembroke College, Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018) online at Bodleian Archives and Mansucripts.

A talented middle-distance runner from childhood, Bannister came to the University of Oxford in 1946 to study medicine. He served as president of the Oxford University Athletic Club where one of his achievements was to redevelop and resurface Oxford’s Iffley Road athletics track, where he later won a world record. In 1949 in the European Championships, which was his first international event, Bannister won bronze for Great Britain in the 800m final. By 1951 he was ranked first in the world over the mile. In 1952, Bannister concentrated all his efforts on the Olympics in Helsinki, but even though he was considered a favourite, he finished a crushing fourth.

This blow left him on the verge of retiring from athletics, but instead he decided on a new goal: being the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. The world record was 4:01.3 but two other men were drawing close to it: Australia’s John Landy, and America’s Wes Santee, who both ran 4:02 minute miles in 1952 and 1953.

On 6 May 1954, at a meeting between Oxford University and the Amateur Athletic Association at Oxford University’s Iffley Road track, Bannister and his pacemakers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway (then a student at  Magdalen) were in the AAA team, and lined up at the starting line. There was a false start: by Chris Brasher. The wind had been swirling all day and the decision to run had been touch or go until the wind suddenly dropped, just before the race. In his memoir Twin Tracks, Bannister remembers how angry he was at this delay, afraid that they might be about to lose the lull in the wind.  The starter’s gun went off again.

At first Brasher held the lead, pacing Bannister for just over two laps, and then Chataway took over. With over 200 yards to go, Bannister turned on his famous finishing kick and accelerated into the lead with the Oxford crowd screaming in the stands.

He crossed the line at 3:59.4, not only breaking the world record but running the first ever sub-four minute mile.

Instantly internationally famous, Bannister was sent by the Foreign Office on a tour of America, while also finding time that spring to qualify as a doctor, but 46 days later his world record was broken by rival John Landy. In August 1954, the Landy and Bannister met in one of the most anticipated races of the twentieth century at the British Empire [Commonwealth] Games in Vancouver. The ‘Miracle Mile’ put Bannister’s finishing kick on full display. Landy, who was in the lead, made a famous mistake when he turned nervously to look for Bannister over his left shoulder, only for Bannister to overtake him immediately on the right. Bannister beat his own record with a time of 3:58.8 but Landy retained the world record.

Roger Bannister retired from athletics that year to concentrate on his medical career. He practiced clinical medicine as a neurologist at both St Mary’s Hospital and the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London and did his national service with the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1957-1959, which included writing a life-saving report on preventing heat illness. His research interests were in the autonomic nervous system, with a particular interest in the neurological control of breathing, on orthostatic hypotension (a failure to regulate blood pressure) and on multisystem atrophy. From 1982 he was the first chairman of a body he largely inspired, the Clinical Autonomic Research Society. Also in 1982, he published the first textbook on the autonomic nervous system, Autonomic Failure.

From 1971-1974 Bannister served as the first chairman of the Sports Council (now called Sport England) and was knighted for this in 1975. He oversaw an increase in central and local government funding of sports facilities and he also introduced the first testing for anabolic steroids. He was subsequently appointed the president of the International Council for Sport and Physical Recreation (ICSPR). Between 1985 and 1993, he returned to Oxford to serve as Master of Pembroke College.

Roger Bannister published two autobiographies, The First Four Minutes (1955) about the four-minute mile, and Twin Tracks (2014) about his dual careers in athletics and medicine.

The archive includes correspondence and papers about the four minute mile, including training schedules and many congratulations letters and requests for appearances and advice. It also includes correspondence relating to his working career as a doctor, head of the Sports Council, and Master of Pembroke, as well as an extensive range of photographs covering his athletic career and public appearances.

African Poetry Project: an intern’s view

What do we mean when we say ‘African poetry’? Do we mean poetry by an African writer? But who counts as an African writer? A poet born in Africa? A poet living in Africa at the time of writing? And what does ‘poetry’ mean here? Are we referring to traditional verse forms like sonnets, villanelles, quintets, with regular metre and rhythm, printed in verse collections or neatly typewritten in English? What would happen if we broaden our definitions, if we recognize the various types of communication, broadcast, and preservation of traditions and how they may inform how poetry is carried in different cultures? What if we were open to these forms? These are the questions which I have been helping to answer over the past few weeks during my internship in the Bodleian Library’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts department. By using broader defining terms and broader answers to these questions, we can dive back into the archives to find new sources of African poetry which may have been buried.

This project is associated with the African Poetry Digital Portal, an initiative of the African Poetry Book Fund. The Fund promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts through its book series, contests, workshops, and seminars and through its collaborations with publishers, festivals, universities, conferences and all other entities that share an interest in the poetic arts of Africa. The Portal is a new and evolving resource for the study of the history of African Poetry and will provide access to biographical information, artefacts, news, video recording, images and documents related to African poetry from antiquity to the present. It will also feature specially curated digital projects on various aspects of African poetry. The first two sections of the portal—‘The Index of Contemporary African Poets’ and ‘The African Poets and Poetry in the News’ have been developed with the support of the Ford Foundation and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The Bodleian Library is one of the collaborating institutions working on the project. When I said ‘dive back into the archive’, the archives of most interest to us are the collections of records relating to Africa, many of which were created during the colonial era. While the collections under consideration also include those more commonly associated with ‘African poetry’, such as the protest songs and poems in the Archive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, this is what the project is designed to do – to recover the occluded and the lost voices, of which there are many in the collections.

Guided by the APDP’s brief, I began by creating a list of search terms. The project’s definition of an ‘African’ with regards to poetry is: “The poet must be African, which we define as someone who was born in an African country, is a citizen of an African country, or has at least one parent who is/was an African.” Their definition of poetry is a broad one, and too extensive to quote here, but to give a hint of what it entails, my list of search terms ended up including, without being limited to:

poetry, proverb, saying, aphorism, motto, epigram, verse, rhyme, ballad, song, incantation, folk, folklore, custom, history, fable, art, runes, oral, chorus, vernacular, oath, tradition…

With this list of terms, I first tackled the online catalogue, Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. There were limited results here and the outlook seemed bleak. But then I began to gingerly approach a selection of scanned and OCR’d handlists, each of which gives an outline of what each collection includes. Ctrl + F is your friend here. And a good playlist. It was slow progress, and the names are enough to make one doubt: Lord Scarborough. Sir Mark Wilson. Humphrey William Amherst. Searching for ‘folk’ turns up more instances of ‘Norfolk’ and ‘Suffolk’ than African folk songs. ‘Customs’ finds lengthy papers on ‘Customs and Tariffs’ instead of traditional African customs. ‘Histories’ of African tribes look promising, until you see the author – a John, Charles, or George – and realise the history is a type of history written for a particular reason, and not the one we’re looking for.

But there are flashes of discovery. A vague handlist entry tells us about a letter which might contain something of interest:

f. 35. Philip (JOHN) to James Crapper concerning his attack on slavery, his own experiences and findings among the… [Khoekhoe people], and the English translation of a song from Madagascar.

When I had a hunch that here might be an example of African poetry just waiting to be found, I requested the box up from the subterranean levels of the Weston Library. Such was the case for Rev. John Philip’s letter to James Crapper dated 29th September 1830. Having collected the item, I could see that Philip includes in his correspondence ‘A Song Concerning the Dead’ which is ‘translated literally from the Madagascan language’. Squinting through his handwriting, we can make out the origins – he overheard the song while anchoring for a short time in a coastal town. He provides a commentary on the ‘Song’ and compares its beauty to that of Gray’s ‘Elegy’. This is success – a Madagascan poem, composed by an unknown African poet, housed among colonial records and now given its literary due thanks to the project.

Photograph of a handwritten letter including text for a Song Concerning the Dead, 29 September 1830‘Song Concerning the Dead’, letter from John Philip to James Crapper, 29 Sep 1830, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Afr. s. 4, fols. 35-36

Another example might be the Papers of Lord Claud David Hamilton, who spent much of his life involved in colonial affairs, as well as travelling through and researching Kenya. The handlist reads:

HAMILTON. (Lord Claud David). Correspondence on the Masai [Maasai] tribe, Kenya, with collections of tribal folk-tales and songs, articles on life in Kenya and a MS history of the Masai.

As expected, we find his unpublished (rejected) manuscript on the Maasai. Perhaps more unexpectedly, this manuscript is bursting with Maasai songs, prayers, and poems in various African languages, neatly typewritten. These range from women’s fertility prayers at an ‘ol-omal Ceremony’ to a ‘Song of the Il-Peless age-set’. While we cannot attribute the songs to a named poet or verify the accuracy of his transcriptions of course, these certainly originate from the Maasai tribes and are certainly poems – ‘African poetry’, if we take APDP’s definition.

Hamilton’s and Philip’s papers are just two examples of many more discoveries that we have made, and so far, after combing through catalogues and calling up boxes, I have found fifteen definite instances of African poetry. And the list of boxes for further checking is still extensive. While my internship is over, the project is definitely not – and I’m sure there is much more to find.

-Kelly Frost

Philip Larkin: Centenary of a Poet

Today marks the centenary of the birth of the poet Philip Larkin, who was born in Coventry on 9th August 1922.

Larkin was educated at King Henry VIII School in Coventry and at St John’s College, Oxford, where he read English language and literature, graduating with a first-class degree in 1943. Whilst many generations who studied his poems at school will remember him first and foremost as a poet, he also had a long and successful career as a librarian, most notably at the University of Hull where he worked for the last thirty years of his life.

Photograph of the poet Philip LarkinPhilip Larkin by Godfrey Argent, bromide print, 19 June 1968, NPG x29214  © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Larkin’s association with the Bodleian Library started in his undergraduate years, and continued throughout his creative and professional life. On his death, Larkin bequeathed the Bodleian several collections of letters. These include letters from: Kingsley Amis, a fellow English student at St John’s who became a life-long friend; the novelist Barbara Pym; and Larkin’s long term friend, lover, and companion, Monica Jones. In 2006, the Bodleian acquired the corresponding letters Larkin wrote to Jones and it is in these letters we get an insight into the creation of one of his most famous poems, An Arundel Tomb.

The tomb that inspired Larkin to write the poem is located in Chichester Cathedral and is now generally thought to be the tomb of Richard FitzAlan, the 10th Earl of Arundel (d.1376) and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster (d.1372). Larkin and Monica Jones visited Chichester in January 1956 and his letters to her after their visit refer to the poem in progress (MS. Eng. c. 7413)*.

The letters show that Larkin particularly deliberated over the last verse and the famous oft-quoted last line in particular. On 12th February 1956 (fol. 7), Larkin wrote to Monica saying that he was

absolutely sick of my tomb poem… It’s complete except for the last verse, which I can’t seem to finish: but I can’t feel it is very good, even as it stands. It starts nicely enough, but I think I’ve failed to put over my chief idea of their lasting so long, & in the end being remarkable only for something they hadn’t perhaps meant very seriously.

A postcard to Monica followed, postmarked 21st February (fol. 10), where he gives two alternatives to his last line:

‘That what’  } survives of us is love.
‘All that’

Larkin asks for ‘Comments please’ before rapidly moving on to yesterday’s bout of indigestion. On 26th February (fol. 19v-20r), he wrote that he has ‘about finished the tomb’, the last lines now reading:

Our nearest instinct nearly true:
All that survives of us is love.

Larkin is however still unsure, writing that including ‘almost’ instead of ‘nearest’ and ‘nearly’ in the penultimate line

wouldn’t do if the last line was to start with All: I didn’t think it pretty, but it was more accurate that this one, & I felt an ugly penultimate line would strengthen the last line. Or rather, a “subtle” penult.[imate] line w[oul]d strengthen a “simple” last line. Sea-water mean?

It seems ‘All that’ won out for a time, appearing again in pencil at the end of the typescript draft Larkin sent to Monica (fol. 22). The very fact that these lines are in pencil indicates Larkin was still undecided. On 2nd March, he wrote that he ‘shall ponder the last two lines. I quite like the “almost” set up, but don’t like the “that what” construction it entails’ (fol. 26).


Typescript draft of Philip Larkin's poem 'An Arundel Tomb'
Typescript draft of Philip Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 7413, fol. 22. By kind permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

In the end, the ‘almost’ won through and the ‘that what’ was avoided:

Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

An Arundel Tomb was published in May that year and would go on to be included in Larkin’s 1964 collection The Whitsun Weddings. Whilst possibility not one of his own favourite poems, it is certainly one of his best remembered. The poem was read at Larkin’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey in February 1986 and the two last lines from the poem were inscribed on Larkin’s memorial stone in Poets’ Corner, which was dedicated on 2nd December 2016.

-Rachael Marsay


*Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from letters from Philip Larkin to Monica Jones, Feb 1956-Jul 1956, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 7413 and are quoted with the kind permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

The Earls of Clarendon catalogue is now online

You can find the new catalogue of the family and working papers of seven Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts.

The archive adds considerably to the Bodleian’s existing collections of Clarendon family papers, which include the seventeenth-century state papers of the very first Earl of Clarendon (1st creation) who was chief advisor to Charles I and Lord Chancellor to Charles II. His heirs in the Hyde and Villiers families took up the mantle and continued to serve the British government and the royal family well into the twentieth century. Notable postings included the 4th Earl of Clarendon serving as Viceroy of Ireland during the Great Famine and later as Foreign Secretary, and the 6th Earl of Clarendon serving as Governor-General of South Africa in the 1930s.

The archive includes approximately 800 letters from Queen Victoria and correspondence with monarchs and statesmen including Frederick the Great of Prussia and Viscount Palmerston. It also includes intimate family and estate papers, including letters between mothers and sons and husbands and wives.

I have been blogging about interesting items I’ve found along the way, ranging from 19th-century condoms to letters from the front during the American War of Independence (plus one extremely cute dog) and you can find those posts all here at the Archives and Manuscripts blog.

‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’ – keeping the peace at Encaenia

Encaenia hasn’t always been the solemn and serious ceremony it is now. For much of its life, it was the victim of some very bad behaviour – some of which was formally sanctioned by the University, but most of which was not. Until the Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1669, the Act (the predecessor of Encaenia) took place at St Mary’s, the University Church. By the late fifteenth century, however, this, once sober occasion had begun to turn into a much less respectable and rather outrageous event.

As well as the conferral of honorary degrees, the Act (effectively the University’s annual graduation ceremony) also contained a theatrical element absent from the modern Encaenia ceremony. It attracted travelling players and musical performers, and was livelier and more exuberant than it is now. Part of the exuberance came from a character at the event who was appointed by the University almost deliberately to lower the tone. The Terrae Filius (‘son of the earth’, meaning someone of very lowly origins) was an anonymous speaker whose role was to poke fun at the University and give a satirical speech about the honorands.

Whilst originally a solemn and serious participant in the proceedings, the Terrae Filius’s speech gradually descended over the years into downright rudeness. Although the University officially tolerated this licensed outrageousness, some of the individuals present (especially those on the receiving end of the rudeness) did not. Some speeches were so offensive that the Terrae Filius was attacked and beaten afterwards. In other years the speech gives were expelled from the University, forced to retract their speech, and even arrested on the spot and taken to Oxford’s bocardo prison.

The theatricals and the insults of the Terrae Filius appealed to many undergraduates and visitors from outside Oxford and the came to the Act in large numbers. The crowds and the general spirit of licentiousness proved a dangerous cocktail with undergraduates seeing the event as an opportunity to misbehave. They made noises which disrupted the ceremony (‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’), were rude to the honorands, and deliberately sat in the wrong seats, ie those set aside for more senior University individuals. The University started having to issue notices to undergraduates warning them of the consequences of their bad behaviour.

Notice of 1652

Notice of 5 July 1652 concerning student behaviour at the Act (from OUA/WPgamma/28/8)

The Act became such an undesirable part of the University’s calendar that by the late seventeenth century it wasn’t even held every year. It seems that the University looked for any excuse not to have to hold it. Some years there were ‘not enough honorands’; other years, it wasn’t held for fear of sparking political disturbances. The event had become so rowdy that many thought it no longer appropriate to be held in a church. As a result, the Sheldonian Theatre was built and the Act moved there in 1670.

The Act was held only three times in the first half of the eighteenth century: in 1703, 1713 and 1733. The Terrae Filius didn’t even speak at the 1713 Act, his speech apparently having been burnt. His very last appearance in 1763 was in a much reduced, and heavily-censored, role.

The 1733 Act, famous for involving the composer George Frideric Handel, was the last traditional Act to take place. It was replaced shortly afterwards by the new annual Encaenia ceremony, a much-reduced version of the Act. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Encaenia (also known as the Commemoration) was becoming an important part of the University calendar again. Unfortunately rowdy undergraduate behaviour was also becoming a regular part of Encaenia. The move to the Sheldonian had not curbed the behaviour, it had simply moved it to a new location. Student rowdiness was such a part of the tradition of the event that although the Terrae Filius had long been consigned to history, his spirit lived on.

University notice concerning students banished for disruption of Encaenia 1843 (OUA/WPgamma/26/2/18)

In June 1843, four students were banished from the University for between one and five years each for ‘grievous violation of the peace’ at the Sheldonian Theatre. The University issued numerous notices over the following decades chastising the undergraduates for their continuing bad behaviour, repeated without fail each Encaenia.

University notice concerning behaviour at Encaenia, c1840 (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/19)

The notices reminded undergraduates that they had no formal right to even be at the ceremony. Encaenia was technically a meeting of Convocation (the body of MAs and higher degree holders of the University) of which undergraduates were not members.

University notice of 24 June 1867 concerning student behaviour (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/84)

By the time Encaenia 1867 was about to take place, the University was issuing strongly-worded notices to its undergraduates about the impact of their behaviour. It was not only bringing the University into disrepute, it was even, allegedly, putting people off accepting an honorary degree from Oxford. They just couldn’t face the ‘ordeal’ of it.

The problem of undergraduates’ bad behaviours at Encaenia was finally solved in the 1870s. The Curators of the Sheldonian Theatre were established in 1872, a direct result of the Encaenia disturbances. A new body set up to take responsibility of the Sheldonian, one of its first acts was to tackle the issue of crowd control at Encaenia. Until that time, entry to the Sheldonian had not been restricted in any way and any member of the University, undergraduate or otherwise, could turn up. In 1872 the Curators decided to admit undergraduates to Encaenia by ticket only. In 1878 they went even further, deciding on 30 May that year that undergraduates would no longer be allowed at Encaenia. Removing undergraduates from the ceremony entirely finally enabled the University to bring Encaenia back under control and into the realms of respectability.

For more information about the chequered history of the Terrae Filius, see the article by Bromley Smith and Douglas Ehninger ‘The Terrafilial disputations at Oxford’ at  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00335635009381578

The Acts of 1713 and 1733 are discussed by H Diack Johnstone in his article ‘Handel at Oxford in 1733’ available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3138069?seq=1 and in his chapter ‘Music and Drama at the Oxford Act of 1713’ in Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain (ed Susan Wollenberg, 2017).

Further information about the Encaenia ceremony today can be found on the University’s website at https://www.ox.ac.uk/news-and-events/The-University-Year/Encaenia

 

Windrush Day 2022

Wednesday 22 June 2022 is Windrush Day in the United Kingdom, celebrating the contributions of Afro-Caribbean migrants and their descendants to British culture, economy and society. The day is also a call to acknowledge and reflect on the hardships and sacrifice endured by the huge number of brave people who responded to the British call to colonies to migrate to Britain, assist in her recovery from World War Two and build a life here.

To mark Windrush Day, we thought we would have a look in our Archives and Modern Manuscripts to highlight some items related to the ship H.M.T. Empire Windrush, and the 70 year anniversary of 2018.

H.M.T. Empire Windrush

The first generation of settlers arrived in Tilbury Docks, 22 June 1948, aboard the Empire Windrush ship (previously called ‘Monte Rosa’, before the British renamed it). On this Caribbean journey the ship picked up passengers in Trinidad, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico and Bermuda. Reports of numbers of arrivals on that first day vary between 500-1000 Caribbean men and women, but immigration from the colonies continued into the 1950s whereby the new British citizens who had travelled aboard H.M.T. Empire Windrush to their new home numbered tens of thousands. Many were servicemen or ex-servicemen.

In 2016 the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera  received the donation of the Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera,  which holds some material relating to the ship’s other voyages.

After being claimed as a war prize by the British at the end of the Second World War in 1945, the H.M.T. Empire Windrush still operated as a troopship, at a hefty 14651 tons. Image credit: Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera, WP37 Empire Windrush RP troopship

An order for a Divine Service given on board, 30 Oct 1949. Image Credit: Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera, ZB19 Empire Windrush Divine Service

‘The Black House’, 1973-1976, photographic series by Colin Jones

Photojournalist Colin Jones, together with journalist Peter Gillman of the Sunday Times, created a photo-series focused on a community hostel run by Caribbean migrant Herman Edwards at 571 Holloway Road, London during the 1970s. The hostel was a refuge for young black British people who were victims of prejudice, unemployed and had problems with the law. The name of the series comes from the name given to the hostel by those who frequented the halfway house, officially named ‘Harambee [Swahili for ‘pulling together’]’, who knew it as ‘the Black House’. Jones and Gillman set about to create a photographic record of everyday life in the house. The story of the series of the British Caribbean adolescents is ‘one of the most profound portraits of Black urban life in Seventies Britain’.[1]

Two photographs from ‘The Black House’ series feature in the Hyman Collection of British Photographs, which was donated to the Bodleian in 2019. The photographs have been digitised and can be viewed on Digital.Bodleian here: MS. 16177/5/4 and MS. 16177/5/5 

 

Psalm for Windrush

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Mus. 2021 c. 1 (22)

The Bodleian holds a printed copy of the original 24 page music score for Psalm for Windrush: for the Brave and Ingenious, with words based on Psalm 84.  In 2018,  to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of migrants from the Caribbean aboard H.M.T Empire Windrush, Westminster Abbey held a service of thanksgiving and commemoration: ‘Spirit of Windrush: Contributions to Multicultural Britain’. This service also took place in the wake of the Windrush Scandal. The anthem of the service was Psalm for Windrush, written by British Jamaican composer and academic Shirley J. Thompson specifically for the commemoration of the Windrush Generation. Psalm for Windrush was performed for the first time at the Westminster service by sopranos Nadine Benjamin and Gweneth-Ann Rand, tenor Ronald Samm and Baritone Byron Jackson, accompanied by Peter Holder on the organ and directed by Thompson. This copy was printed in The Netherlands,  as part of the Deuss Music Vocal Series.

Many of the British Caribbean migrants settled in London. London local authorities (as well as those further afield) charities,  organisations and heritage institutions are holding arts events, hosting festivals, curating playlists and collating educational resources to engage with Windrush,  the Windrush generation and descendants, and their lived experiences.

References:

[1] ‘Remembering Colin Jones’ Landmark Photographic Series The Black House’ 4 Nov 2021 Elephant Art accessed via https://elephant.art/remembering-colin-jones-landmark-photographic-series-the-black-house-04112021/

Can web archives tell stories?

Archives tell stories. A series of induction sessions with archivists have brought me, a web archivist, to a new understanding of what archives are and what archivists do.

Archivists enable stories to be told — stories about people, organisations, society and much more. Archival materials bring them back to life. The very making of a collection — how its contents have been selected, preserved and made available to the public, and how some have not – constitute stories in themselves.

But can web archives tell stories? Web archives differ from conventional archives, where archival material comes into custody as a collection with a relatively clear boundary, within which archivists carry out appraisal, selection and cataloguing work. The boundaries for web archives, by comparison, have been both blurred and expanded.

Continue reading

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.