Category Archives: Modern

Mary Ann Flaxman revealed as the author of an anonymous diary, Weimar and Lausanne 1805-6

Are these unknown sketches by Mary Ann Flaxman? (MS. Eng. misc. d. 48, fol. 35)

Readers of the Archives and Manuscripts blog will have noted that the internet has been invaluable in helping to discover anonymous authors of diaries in the Bodleian, both recently acquired items (see Search and Searchability), and manuscripts that have been in the library for more than 250 years (see Discovered! A ‘lost’ diary of Sir Edmund Warcup). This latest discovery relates to a diary purchased in 1921.

The diary is described in the Summary Catalogue thus:

45961 Diary of a continental tour, in the Almanach de Lausanne, 1806, with a (fols. 34-5) sketches and b (fols. 51-8) a diary for 1805. iv + 60 leaves.
MS. Eng. misc. f. 48

This rather unhelpful description immediately caught my eye. I was intending to use this intriguing diary as one of the manuscripts to investigate in a workshop held in the Bodleian in 2015 when students were invited to see if it would be possible to supply authors to a group of anonymous travel diaries using internet resources (Travelling Incognito workshop). However, it is a fairly fragile item and it was deemed unsuitable for the workshop.

There are some oddities about this diary. Most obviously, a simple ‘continental tour’ is not something that would have been lightly undertaken in 1806. Most British travel diaries in this wartime era either date from 1802, during the brief peace of Amiens, 1814, after Napoleon’s first defeat and exile to Elba, and 1815 after his final defeat at Waterloo. Why would anyone be travelling in 1805-6, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars? Napoleon defeated the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz in October 1805, and the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt in October 1806. So our diarist seems to have chosen a war zone for a tourist destination – indeed, the earlier part of the diary includes a stay in Weimar.  In 1804 Duke Charles Augustus of Saxe-Weimar married his son to the sister of Alexander I of Russia, and then joined the Prussians in their war with Napoleon. As a consequence of the defeat of the allied coalition, the Duke had to join the Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon’s new German order following his abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. All in all, not a good time to be a British tourist in Germany.

My first thought was that some mistake had been made. The diary is written in a printed almanac of 1806 – perhaps the manuscript diary was written a few years later? A brief perusal of the short diary soon put me right. The 1805 diary at the end of the volume is clearly headed as such, and the author was in Weimar at this date. There are no substantial entries between February and 20 June, at which date the diarist left Weimar, heading for Gotha then Eisenach, Fulda, Frankfurt and Wilhelmsbad, where the author notes, ‘an alarm on account of the French’, September 1805. By the last entry in this section, Basle has been reached. This section of the manuscript is on a gathering of leaves sown into the binding of the printed almanac towards the end. It is necessary to return to the beginning of the volume to continue the story, which begins 1 January (no year) when the diarist was given a gown as a New Year gift by ‘Mr Hare’. So it was reasonable to assume that the diarist was a woman.

What, then, was the relationship to Mr Hare, and what were they doing abroad in 1805-6? That they were still on the continent in 1806 was apparent from further entries. On 6 January the diarist attended a ball where she ‘danced only once, & with the Prince of Mecklenbourg’, presumably the Prince of Mecklenburg who visited Madame de Staël in Coppet, Switzerland, in 1805 . On the same page she noted ‘finish’d the portrait of Mr H’ which sounds formal enough to suggest that she was something of an artist. As the catalogue entry notes, there are indeed a few sketches in the diary.

Our diarist was moving in quite elevated circles, and Mr Hare seems to have been the key figure in her entourage. This promising lead was reinforced by a stark entry in the diary:

“Sunday 6th April at 7 o’clock in the morn[in]g poor Mrs H expired”

This was crucial information. Entering the words Hare died Lausanne April 1806 into a search engine produced remarkable results. Among these was a Wikipedia entry for Francis Hare-Naylor, which included the information that ‘on Easter Sunday, 1806, Georgiana Hare-Naylor (his wife) died at Lausanne, leaving her children to the care of Lady Jones (her eldest sister). The Handbook of Dates confirms that Easter that year was indeed 6 April. Georgiana was the cousin of her more famous namesake, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Who were the Hares (Hare-Naylors)? How was our diarist connected with them? And what were they doing in Weimar and Lausanne in 1805-6? The answer to some of these questions can be found in the DNB entry for Francis Hare-Naylor. It would appear that the Hare-Naylors went to Weimar for several reasons, a combination of political, social and financial problems in England that made removing to the continent desirable, coupled with Mrs Hare-Naylor’s failing health. Weimar  attracted the family because of the literary circles that were established  there, among whom was Goethe, and because they had developed a good relationship with the ruling Duchess. The move to Lausanne was presumably partly occasioned by the political developments mentioned above. Once Mrs Hare-Naylor had died, the family made a rather hazardous journey back to England. After crossing the Rhine and then the Danube, the diarist noted that they

“pass’d through a number of French troops, always civil”.

By the end of 1806 their journey had taken them to Hamburg, and by 23 July they had landed at Gravesend. It appears that the sketches in the diary might have been done on this voyage: there is a view of the English coast (probably Orford Ness – my thanks to Sumner Braund for helping to identify this), and a number of figures who appear to be lounging on or below deck. Could they be rather bored young Hares?

Sketches in the ‘Almanach de Lausanne’ for 1806. Probably unattributed works of Mary Ann Flaxman. (MS. Eng. misc. d. 48)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diarist was clearly on intimate terms with the Hare family, but not a member of it. Michael Heafford (University of Cambridge) who has worked on travel diaries and in particular on travellers in Switzerland, made an inspired suggestion. Could she be the Hares’s governess, Mary or Maria Flaxman? This suggestion was the key that unlocked the diary. Everything fell into place, and the locations, the names mentioned, and the sketches, all made sense. Mary is well known enough to have left substantial traces in the records. She was the half-sister of the famous sculptor John Flaxman (1755-1826). His DNB entry shows that he had a European reputation – he was even invited to the the Musée Napoleon in Paris in 1802. The DNB article goes on to say:

“In Germany, too, Flaxman was acclaimed as both sculptor and illustrator. His half-sister recorded seeing copies after his sculpture being sold in Hamburg, and in Weimar she met Goethe, who told her how much he admired her brother’s art.”

Augustus J. C. Hare, grandson of Francis and Georgiana Hare-Naylor, gives an account of the Hare-Naylors in Memorials of a Quiet Life, published in the 1870s. He mentions John Flaxman’s friendship with the family, and the advice he gave to Georgina to improve her own painting skills. He also states:

“Flaxman, who, with his sister (who was governess to little Anna), accompanied the Hare-Naylors to Weimar.”

There is a separate entry for Mary Ann Flaxman in the DNB, under the main entry for her brother. This too highlights the Hare-Naylor connection, and shows that Mary was an artist in her own right:

“Mary Ann exhibited at the Free Society of Artists, the Society of Artists, and the Royal Academy between 1786 and 1819. … For several years she lived as a governess with the Hare Naylor family, first in Italy and afterwards in Weimar. From 1810 she lived with John Flaxman and his wife in Buckingham Street until the sculptor’s death in 1826.”

 

Sketches and paintings by Mary Ann Flaxman are held in various repositories, and some of her letters are in the British Library. All that remained for me to do to complete the reattribution of the diary was to see if the handwriting of her letters and the style of her sketches matched what was in front of me. Claire Wotherspoon of the British Library very kindly supplied me with scans of some of Mary’s letters in Add MS 39782, and I can confirm that the handwriting matches that of the diary. There are also sketches by Mary Ann Flaxman in the same collection. To my untrained eye at least, there is nothing in the sketch below that makes me think that Mary was NOT the creator of the sketches in the diary reproduced above.

Sketch by Mary Ann Flaxman (BL Add MS 39792 B)

The diary is now being recatalogued.

 

Mike Webb

The Braun Family Archive: Second edition catalogue now available

The second edition of the catalogue of the Braun Family Archive is now available here.

More than 50 boxes – MSS. Braun 168-221 – have been added since the first catalogue was published in February 2015. In addition to the papers of, and collected by, Thomas Braun and his parents Konrad and Hildburg Braun, the archive now includes a collection of family verse and writings, as well as correspondence, personal documents, writings, memorabilia and photographs of Gerhard Braun, his wife Anneliese and daughter Ruth.

Gerhard Braun (1893-1946) was Konrad Braun’s elder brother. By profession he was an obstetrician and gynaecologist. As a young man he served as a medical officer in the First World War and then as an American POW. In 1927 he married Anneliese Finster (1901-1996), and adopted her daughter Ruth (‘Rüthli’, 1926-1999).

Braun family photo, c. 1931

The Friedmann-Brauns, c. 1931: Gertrud and Felix Friedmann-Braun with Ruth, at the back Konrad, Hildegard, Johannes, Anneliese and Gerhard Braun. – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Due to the Friedmann-Brauns’ Jewish ancestry, the family faced discrimination and persecution under the Nazi regime. After losing his posts in the public health system and seeing his previously successful practice limited to private patients and the to Jews only, Gerhard Braun was arrested in the course of the November pogrom in 1938 and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was detained for five and a half weeks. He was released in December 1938, on condition that his family paid a large sum in tax and that he emigrated.

12-year-old Ruth was sent ahead to safety in England in late 1938, staying with family friends – Curt and Hilde Sluzewski who had had already emigrated from Germany – in London. Gerhard and Anneliese followed in early 1939. Since they had been forced to leave behind most of their possessions, and Gerhard Braun was forbidden to work, the family, for more than three years, was reliant on the generous support of Marcel Wolfers, a merchant in the China trade.

Gerhard Braun was detained as an ‘enemy alien’ at the Huyton internment camp near Liverpool for several months in 1940. Only from 1942 was he able to practice medicine in England, as a junior hospital doctor in Birmingham. However, his health had been seriously impaired by his mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis and he died in 1946, at just 52 years of age.

Gerhard Braun at the piano

Gerhard Braun at the piano. – Photograph by permission of Christopher Braun

Anneliese and Ruth Braun eventually moved from Birmingham to London, where they shared a house in Golders Green until Anneliese Braun’s death in 1996. Mother and daughter were extremely close, and together they were known as ‘the Pummels’ to family and friends.

Anneliese Braun was an amateur writer since her youth, and some of her poems and short stories had been published in German newspapers before 1933. Even before coming to England in 1939, she had begun to write in English as well, and later she also translated works by other writers, including Monika Mann, Ruth Tenney (Marcel Wolfer’s wife) and Veronica Erdmann-Czapski, with whom she was friends.

Ruth Braun, having attended Birmingham Theatre School as a young woman, also had a lifelong interest in drama and music – in many ways, following the family tradition. Her ‘adopted grandfather’, Felix Friedmann-Braun (1861-1934), had been a brilliant amateur pianist in Berlin, and his four children grew up in a prosperous, cultured family with many links to leading literary, musical and artistic figures in Germany.

Poster for a recital by Hildegard Braun in Berlin, 1918. The Bechstein-Saal, a chamber music hall with more than 500 seats, had been opened 1892 with a series of concerts by Johannes Brahms, Anton Rubinstein and the like. Hildegard Braun certainly was in good company! – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Daughter Hildegard was a successful professional singer, the youngest son, Johannes, an actor. Konrad Braun was a keen amateur violinist and played in a string quartet with friends (Curt ‘Slu’ Sluzewski, amongst others), while Gerhard had inherited his father’s talent as a pianist. Gerhard also composed short pieces of music, such as birthday serenades for Ruth, and set to music verses by his wife Anneliese and poems by Ruth Tenney. Some of his compositions survive in the archive (MS. Braun 221), and together with a collection of family verse compiled by Thomas and Christopher Braun (MSS. Braun 168-169), these give a wonderful glimpse of the important role that music, literature and writing played in the Braun family’s life – as a profession, as a pastime and for pleasure, and not least, as a source of a sense of identity, dignity and hope in times of hardship.

A song written down for Konrad Braun “von seinem Papa” – by his father, Felix Friedmann-Braun, 1911. – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Poem written by Konrad Braun for his wife Hildburg’s 30th birthday on 14 May 1940. Just a year earlier, they had emigrated from Germany to England to escape persecution by the Nazis. The poem was published 63 years later, transcribed and translated by their son Thomas Braun, in The Oxford Magazine, No. 216, 2003. – Photo: Braun Family Archive

Find out more about the Braun family story, and about the archive, here.

The Braun Family Archive was donated to the Bodleian Library by Christopher Braun, London, in several tranches between July 2010 and May 2017, together with a grant towards the cost of preparing the catalogue.

Looking back and pushing forwards: 75 years of Oxfam

As an Archives Assistant spending the next twelve months helping to catalogue the Oxfam Archive, I probably shouldn’t admit how woefully ignorant I was of Oxfam before I started. I knew their shops sold cheap books and nice Christmas cards. I knew you could buy someone a goat or a toilet for Christmas, and that this goat or toilet would go to someone who lived somewhere without a sewage system or a supermarket selling pasteurized milk. But beyond this, I’d never really stopped to think who ‘Oxfam’ were and what they meant. It came as a surprise that ‘Oxfam’ wasn’t just a made-up word but came from Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, and that a charity which was born in one small city has spread its offices and infrastructure across the globe. I’ve learnt a lot in the two months since I started. But Oxfam’s 75th birthday party, held in Oxford’s town hall on Friday 6th October, taught me a lot more. 

some of the archive material used for the ‘show and tell’ sessions

 

At the Bodleian we were involved with preparations for the 75th anniversary in a low-key way, answering enquiries from Oxfam staff regarding photographs which would be used in exhibitions and slideshow presentations. Between the 4th and the 6th October there were also opportunities for Oxfam staff and volunteers to view some of the highlights of the Oxfam archive in the Bodleian, and this proved a learning experience for me as well. Through objects such as a scrapbook documenting fundraising and a damp-gnawed but still-legible gift-shop cashbook from 1948-9, I realised the importance of innovatory and motivated figures like Robert Castle and Joe Mitty, who respectively established the first permanent Oxfam shop and helped make the charity-shop phenomenon what it is today. A particularly memorable entry in the cashbook was simply ‘Dog’, which sold for 5 shillings – we presume the dog was ornamental, especially as an ‘Elephant’ was also sold at around the same time!

Oxfam’s first permanent shop on Broad Street, Oxford

 

The anniversary celebrations themselves took place on Friday 6th October in Oxford’s Town Hall. We were treated to cake and tea in the Assembly Room, and then moved into the ornate Main Hall where the Oxfam choir sung us into our seats. The full hall made me realise not only the importance of Oxfam as a UK employer, but also as a social institution which generations of people have grown up with. Many of the volunteers were elderly, but a gurgling baby at the back of the hall indicated that the Oxfamily spans all ages.

 

My job is to catalogue Oxfam’s project files, bundles of correspondence, receipts and reports which document how development work plays out on the ground. This is what Stan Thekaekara, founder-director of trade model ‘Just Change’ and one of the evening’s speakers, would call the ‘worm’s eye view’. I was much less aware of the ‘bird’s-eye view’, the need for an overarching vision and policy and the tension that can result between the bird and the worm, between the decision-makers at home and the boots on the ground. This was something discussed by the panel hosted by Duncan Green, strategic advisor at Oxfam GB. The panellists debated the need to reorient the global economic system away from exponential growth and a capitalistic zero sum game, but also the importance of listening to the communities worst-affected by this system and providing them with the knowledge that could help improve their lives.

the programme for the evening’s events

 

 

In a discussion on the future of Oxfam, Mark Goldring (Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive) suggested this focus on communities was already being embodied by Oxfam International, the worldwide confederation of Oxfam affiliates. Oxfam International Executive Director Winne Byanyima was optimistic as she announced that Oxfam International’s headquarters would shortly be moving to Nairobi, and the celebratory talks concluded with reiterations of Oxfam’s commitment to end poverty.

While the optimism and passion of the speakers was inspiring, I couldn’t help but notice the tragic irony of the fact that, twenty-five years ago, Oxfam’s 50th anniversary celebrations were overshadowed by the influx of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, and that 2017 has witnessed renewed attacks and allegations of genocide by the Myanmar authorities. Despite Oxfam’s energy and determination, I can’t help but think that, while human hatred continues to fuel governments, human suffering will not be easy to uproot.

Professor George Gow Brownlee’s lab notebooks now available

George Gow Brownlee (photograph from the Royal Society)

George Gow Brownlee (photograph from the Royal Society)

The archive of Professor George Gow Brownlee, FMedSci, FRS, is now available online. Professor Brownlee was born in 1942 and took his degree and then a PhD at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, studying under double Nobel Laureate Fred Sanger at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (in 2014 he published a biography of Sanger). He worked for the Medical Research Council in Cambridge from 1966 until 1980 and then came to Oxford as a Fellow of Lincoln College and the first E.P. Abraham Professor of Chemical Pathology at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, a chair he held until retirement in 2008.

Professor Brownlee’s research interests were in molecular biology and he and his group made significant discoveries in sequencing RNA and DNA during the early days of that field of research. In 1977, his group discovered the existence of pseudogenes – abnormal, mutated genes – which are now known to be ubiquitous in the genome of all organisms. After 1980, Brownlee became more involved in applied medical problems, and managed to isolate the clotting factor IX gene (also known as Christmas factor), which is present in people with haemophilia B. This led to improved treatment for people with the disease. He went on to work on gene regulation in influenza. In 1999 he and Ervin Fodor, whose contributions feature heavily in this archive, were able to isolate recombinant influenza virus, which led to improved vaccines for children.

These lab notebooks, which span most of Professor Brownlee’s career, form a rich scientific record that interestingly covers failed experiments as well as the experiments that led to major discoveries. And as a bonus, the catalogue is based on Professor Brownlee’s own descriptions of the notebooks, so it offers a level of detail that couldn’t be replicated by anybody else. The archive is likely to be of interest to scientists in the field as well as medical historians.

Now available: Catalogue of the Archive of Sir James Gowans

The Archive of the immunologist Sir James Gowans  (b.1924) is now available (online catalogue).

James Learmonth ‘Jim’ Gowans, after obtaining his medical degree from King’s College Hospital in 1947, came to Oxford on a Medical Research Council Studentship to work under Howard Florey, and was awarded a DPhil in 1953.

During the 1950s he did pioneering work on the life cycle of the lymphocyte, establishing that the small lymphocyte continuously recirculated from the blood to the lymph and back again, and that this cell was at the centre of immunological responses.
In 1962 he became Henry Dale Research Professor of the Royal Society at the Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, and from 1963 he was also Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cellular Immunology Research Unit at the Dunn School.

In 1977 Gowans left his research career to become the Secretary of the Medical Research Council and during 10 years in office oversaw, or was involved with, a number of major projects and initiatives, notably the establishment of Celltech as a company to develop biotechnology research into commercial opportunities, folic acid trials to prevent the development of neural tube defects, the Rothschild proposals for the reorganisation of medical research funding in the UK, the setup of the Voluntary Licensing Authority for Human in-vitro Fertilization and Embryology, and MRC AIDS Directed Programme.
From 1989-1993 Gowans was the Secretary-General of the Human Frontier Science Program, Strasbourg.

Alongside his posts at the Medical Research Council and the Human Frontier Science Program, and after his retirement, Gowans was a consultant and advisor, non-executive director or trustee for a number of companies, organisations and charities, including the World Health Organization Programme on AIDS, 3i – Investment in Industries, the Tavistock Trust, the Charing Cross Sunley Research Centre, Synaptica, EICOS – European Initiative for Communicators of Science, St. Christopher’s Hospice, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation.
Amongst many awards he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1963, and knighted in 1982.

The archive mainly comprises professional and scientific correspondence, and related papers such as briefing papers and reports, relating to all stages of Gowans’s career, as well as general (personal) correspondence, papers relating to awards, honours and memberships, conferences and visits, publications, and selected photographs.

The material was catalogued with the generous support of Sir James Gowans.

Children’s Papers: Series 1 catalogue of Opie Archive now available

The cataloguing of the first series of the Opie Archive, which comprises children’s papers, as well as related correspondence from school teachers, has now been completed. The catalogue is available to search online here.

The material in the first 13 boxes spans most of the 1950s, during which time, Iona and Peter Opie were working on their book, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, which was published towards the end of 1959. They began by placing an advert in the Times Educational Supplement, seeking teachers willing to assist in their research. Those who responded, soon put the Opies in touch with further colleagues in other schools, until they had recruited a wide network of enthusiastic teachers across the country. In order to keep track of their dizzying number of correspondents, the Opies kept meticulous notes in a series of small address books, in which each contact was assigned a reference code. The material in the first 13 boxes is, therefore, arranged in order of the reference codes of those contacts who had sent in each batch of papers. The subsequent 20 boxes, following the publication of The Lore and Language, date mostly from 1960 onwards. From this point, the material is instead arranged alphabetically, by the area the material had come from – from Aberdeen to York.

The Opie address books, which hold the key to all their many correspondents

The papers, often accompanied by colourful illustrations, list the children’s favourite counting out and skipping rhymes, describe games such as ball games, chasing games and marbles, explain slang terms and expressions currently in use, recount the latest playground fads and crazes, and outline various traditions, superstitions and other playground lore that have been passed down to them. Some of the games described would make modern-day readers flinch, such as the popular game “Knifey”, which involves throwing a pocket knife to stick in the ground near the opponent’s leg. The children’s papers are usually prefaced by a note from their teacher, often apologising for spelling mistakes in their pupils’ work, and sometimes recalling their own childhood songs and games. The teachers’ insights are often particularly interesting, such as when one teacher observes that the few English-language songs and rhymes known to the children in their predominantly Welsh-speaking school in Ruthin, north Wales, appear to be the legacy left by children from Liverpool, who had been evacuated there during the war.

The series also includes a sub-section of material received from sources other than schools, such as from fellow researchers working in the same field as the Opies, or a collection of local rhymes and songs from across Scotland, gathered by the editors of the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. This section also includes ten boxes of children’s essays submitted to the Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition, passed on to the Opies by Camberwell’s Chief Librarian. These competition entries provide a fascinating glimpse into the children’s thoughts and lives. The essays are very clearly rooted in their time, which is apparent not only through the 1950s and ’60s hairstyles and fashions, discernible in some of the charming, childish illustrations, but also in the children’s responses to essay topics such as “What I want to be when I leave school”, in which all the girls aspire to be nurses, dressmakers and typists, while their male counterparts seek to become firemen, policemen and train drivers. Other interesting responses were elicited by the 1955 essay title “A visit to the moon” – some children setting their stories firmly in the realm of fantasy, imagining being transported to the moon by fairies or goblins, while others wrote of rocket ships, but set their stories in the far distant year 3000, little imagining that the moon landing could become a reality in just over a decade’s time.

Shiny, new, archive boxes, all labelled up and barcoded!

To begin with, the bundles of papers were mostly still packaged in the same old, brown envelopes in which they had been stored by the Opies. Part of our task, in order to preserve the material long-term, was to remove all the harmful fasteners that could cause damage to the papers over time, such as rusty paperclips, pins and staples, as well as brittle, dried-up elastic bands. The papers could then be repackaged into standard, acid-free archive folders and boxes. In those instances where whole batches of papers had been folded or rolled up within their envelopes, the process of unfurling and flattening them to lie safely and neatly in their archive folders, was rather time-consuming.

Some of the rusty fasteners, removed from the Opie schools material

Our final task was foliation – which means physically numbering all the individual leaves (or “folios”) in each box, in pencil, so that the original order of the pages will never become muddled. The foliation process demanded sustained concentration, as it was all too easy to either miscount or accidently skip a page, especially given that the leaves in each bundle were all different sizes. Once such an error is discovered, all the subsequent numbers in the sequence are then, of course, likewise out of sync – a highly frustrating occurrence which we sought to avoid! In total, we numbered over 24 and a half thousand leaves across 46 boxes.

The Opie cataloguing project is generously funded by the Wellcome Trust. While the catalogue of this first series has now been completed, please note that work on the remaining Opie Archive is still ongoing, and sequences of the Opie Archive will continue to become temporarily unavailable whilst preservation, cataloguing and digitisation work is being carried out. We will try to accommodate urgent researchers’ requests for access wherever possible, however, if you need to consult material from the Opie Archive before June 2018, please do ensure that you contact us with as much advance notice as possible, so that we can advise on the availability of the material in question and make any necessary arrangements.

Supported by the Wellcome Trust

Oxfam archive inspires potential University of Oxford students

Nineteen year-12 students recently attended a seminar in the Weston Library’s impressive Bahari Room as part of a summer school organised by Wadham College.

The programme allows students from schools with low application/entry rates into higher education to experience university life through a four-day residential. During the visit, students attended lectures, seminars and tutorials, giving them a taste of what it is like to be an undergraduate at the University of Oxford.

The theme for this year was ‘The Politics of Immigration’ and in the seminar, students had the chance to handle a selection of material taken from the Oxfam archive. They were then asked to discuss the representation of Palestinian refugees in the archival documents dating from the 1960s. The material used was taken from the Communications section of the archive – i.e. records of Oxfam’s external communication with the public – and is just a very small example of the material available to the public in the extensive Oxfam archive (the Communications catalogue is online here).

An example of some of the material that the students were using from the Communications section of the Oxfam archive.

Though initially hesitant, we were pleased when two eager students volunteered to open up the archival boxes and find the files that were needed. After being carefully handled by our volunteers, all the files were laid out for the students to analyse in groups.

Dr. Tom Sinclair and a student unpacking an archival box.

The students then took it in turns to give examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented in the Oxfam material. One of the excellent examples that students spotted was how Oxfam was able to remain politically neutral (a constitutional necessity for charities) by not specifying why the refugees were displaced. Students also remarked that Oxfam preferred to focus on individual stories in their communications – for instance, that of a displaced teenager with aspirations to be an engineer – which the students suggested helped humanise a crisis that could be difficult for the public to comprehend.

The students studied selected material from the Oxfam archive and gave examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented.

Overall, the ‘Politics of Immigration’ seminar was a great success that gave the students a good feel for what it would be like to use the archives to complete research for a dissertation or other academic project.

Dr Tom Sinclair, who organised the summer school, said: “It was such a privilege to be in that lovely room and have such free access to the archives… I really think that a couple of the students were inspired, and I hope they’ll be future Oxford undergraduates visiting the archives again in a few years’ time.”

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available

“to call a woman ‘hysterical’ because you have not the knowledge necessary to deny her facts is the last refuge of the unmanly and the coward…I always felt when termed hysterical that I had triumphed because it meant my arguments cannot be met nor my statements denied…” [MS. Hobhouse 25].

A strong-willed, compassionate and at times controversial figure, Emily Hobhouse is best known for her work publicising the conditions in the concentration camps which were set up by the British government to detain predominantly women and children during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Report on the conditions in the camps for the Committee of the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, MS. Hobhouse 4

Hobhouse’s influential report, MS. Hobhouse 4.

Travelling to South Africa in December 1900, Hobhouse reported on the widespread hunger, death and disease that she encountered there, distributing aid gathered by her Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, and putting pressure on the British government to improve conditions. This led the government to send out a Ladies’ Commission led by Millicent Fawcett, a contemporary but by no means friend of Emily Hobhouse.

Although Hobhouse was not permitted to join the commission, they would confirm her initial reports and make similar recommendations. In 1901 Hobhouse would attempt another visit of the camps, only to be refused permission to disembark, and be deported back to England. In 1905 she returned to South Africa to establish a Home Industries scheme to support rehabilitation, opening schools for spinning, weaving and lace making for local girls.

“a war is not only wrong in itself, but a crude mistake” [MS. Hobhouse 10]

A committed pacifist, Hobhouse travelled to Germany and Belgium during World War One to investigate conditions and meet with the German foreign minister, an act which to some put her on the wrong side of public opinion. Following the armistice, Hobhouse continued her commitment to relief work, and in 1919 set up a local relief fund in Leipzig, where she was honoured and awarded the German Red Cross decoration of second class.

The fascinating collection includes letters, diaries, and her own extensive writings, which reveal her unyielding dedication to her work. The collection also contains papers of her brother, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (1864-1929), a social philosopher and journalist.

While she is an often forgotten figure in British history, Emily Hobhouse is still remembered as a heroine in South Africa, where her ashes are buried in the Women’s Monument at Bloemfontein. On her death, Mahatma Gandhi wrote the following memorial:

On her death, Gandhi published the following memorial for Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23

Gandhi’s tribute to Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23.

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available to readers in the Weston Library. The catalogue can be accessed here.

A selection of Emily Hobhouse’s own writings are now available to view online.

 

PDF/A: Challenges Meeting the ISO 19005 Standard

Anna Oates (MSLIS Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and NDNP Coordinator Graduate Assistant, Preservation Services) explaining the differences between PDF and PDF/A

We were excited to attend the recent project presentation entitled: ‘A Case Study on Theses in Oxford’s Institutional Repository: Challenges Meeting the ISO 19005 Standard’ given by Anna Oates, a student involved in the Oxford-Illinois Digital Libraries Placement Programme.

The presentation focused initially on the PDF/A format: PDF/A differs from standard PDF in that it avoids common long term access issues associated with PDF. For example, a PDF created today may look and behave differently in 50 years time. This is because many visual aspects of the PDF are not saved into the file itself, (PDFs use font linking instead of font embedding) the standardised PDF/A format attempts to remedy this by embedding  metadata within the file and restricting certain aspects commonly found in PDF which could inhibit long term preservation.

Aspects excluded from PDF/A include :

  • Audio and video content
  • JavaScript executable files
  • All forms of PDF encryption

PDF/A is better suited therefore for the long term preservation of digital material as it maintains the integrity of the information included in the source files, be this textual or visual. Oates described PDF/A as having multiple ‘flavours’, PDF/A-1 published in 2005 including conformance level A (Accessible – maintains the structure of the file) and B (Basic – maintains the visual aspects only). Versions 2 and 3 published later in 2011 and 2012, were developed to encompass conformance level U (Unicode – enabling the embedding of Unicode information) alongside other features such as JPEG 2000 compression and the embedding of arbitrary file formats within PDF/A documents.

Oates specified that different types of documents benefited from different ‘flavours’ of PDF/A, for example, digitised documents were better suited to conformance level B whereas born digital documents were better suited to level A.

Whilst specifying the benefits of PDF/A, Oates also highlighted the myriad of issues associated with the format.  Firstly, while experimenting with creating and conforming PDF/A documents, she noted the conformed documents had slight differences, such as changes to the colour pixels of embedded image files (PDF/A format showed less difference in the colour of pixels with programs like PDF Studio), this showcased a clear alteration of the authenticity of the original source file.

Oates compared source images to PDF/A converted images and found obvious visual differences.

Secondly,  Oates noted that when converting files from PDF to PDF/A-1b, smart software would change the decode filter of the image (e.g. changing from JPXDecode used for JPEG2000 to DCTDecode accepted by ISO 19005) in order to ensure it would conform to ISO 19005. However, she noted that despite the positives of avoiding non-conformance the software had increased the file size of the PDF by 65%. The file size increase poses obvious issues in regards to storage and cost considerations for organisations using PDF/A.

Oates’ workflow for creation and conformance checking of PDF/A files using different PDF/A software

Format uptake was also discussed by Oates. She found that PDF/A had not been widely utilised by Universities for long term preservation of dissertations and thesis in the UK. However, Oates provided examples of users of PDF/A for Electronic Theses and Dissertations Repositories that included: Concordia University, Johns Hopkins University, McGill University, Rutgers University, University of Alberta, University of Oulu and Virginia Tech.  Alongside this it was mentioned that uptake amongst Research and Cultural Heritage Institutions included: the Archaeology Data Service (ADS), British Library, California Digital Library, Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS), the Library of Congress and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

“Adobe Preflight has failed to recognize most of the glyph errors. As such, veraPDF will remain our final tool for validation.” (Anna Oates)

Oates therefore concluded that PDF/A was not the best solution to PDF preservation, she mentioned that the new ISO standard would cause new issues and considerations for PDF/A users.

Following the presentation the audience debated whether PDF/A should still be used. Some considered whether other solutions existed to PDF preservation; an example of a proposed solution was to keep both PDF/A and the original PDFs. However, many still felt that PDF/A provided the best solution available despite its various drawbacks.

Hopefully Oates’  findings will highlight the various areas needed for improvement in both PDF/A  conversion/ validation software and conformance aspects of the ISO 19005 Standard used by PDF/A to ensure it is up to the task of digital preservation.

To learn  more about PDF/A have a look at Adobe’s own e-book PDF/A In a Nutshell.

Alice, Ben and Iram (Trainee Digital Archivists)

Email Preservation: How Hard Can it Be? DPC Briefing Day

Miten and I outside the National Archives

Miten and I outside the National Archives, looking forward to a day of learning and networking

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) Briefing Day titled Email Preservation: How Hard Can it Be? 

In 2016 the DPC, in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, announced the formation of the Task Force on Technical Approaches to Email Archives to address the challenges presented by email as a critical historical source. The Task Force delineated three core aims:

  1. Articulating the technical framework of email
  2. Suggesting how tools fit within this framework
  3. Beginning to identify missing elements.

The aim of the briefing day was two-fold; to introduce and review the work of the task force thus far in identifying emerging technical frameworks for email management, preservation and access; and to discuss more broadly the technical underpinnings of email preservation and the associated challenges, utilising a series of case studies to illustrate good practice frameworks.

The day started with an introductory talk from Kate Murray (Library of Congress) and Chris Prom (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), who explained the goals of the task force in the context of emails as cultural documents, which are worthy of preservation. They noted that email is a habitat where we live a large portion of our lives, encompassing both work and personal. Furthermore, when looking at the terminology, they acknowledged email is an object, several objects and a verb – and it’s multi-faceted nature all adds to the complexity of preserving email. Ultimately, it was said email is a transactional process whereby a sender transmits a message to a recipient, and from a technical perspective, a protocol that defines a series of commands and responses that operate in a manner like a computer programming language and which permits email processes to occur.

From this standpoint, several challenges of email preservation were highlighted:

  • Capture: building trust with donors, aggregating data, creating workflows and using tools
  • Ensuring authenticity: ensuring no part of the email (envelope, header, and message data etc.) have been tampered with
  • Working at scale: email
  • Addressing security concerns: malicious content leading to vulnerability, confidentiality issues
  • Messages and formats
  • Preserving attachments and linked/networked documents: can these be saved and do we have the resources?
  • Tool interoperability

 

The first case study of the day was presented by Jonathan Pledge from the British Library on “Collecting Email Archives”, who explained born-digital research began at the British Library in 2000, and many of their born-digital archives contain email.  The presentation was particularly interesting as it included their workflow for forensic capture, processing and delivery of email for preservation, providing a current and real life insight into how email archives are being handled. The British Library use Aid4Mail Forensic for their processing and delivery, however, are looking into ePADD as a more holistic approach. ePADD is a software package developed by Standford University which supports archival processes around the appraisal, ingest, processing, discovery and delivery of email archives. Some of the challenges they experienced surrounded the issue of email as often containing personal information. A possible solution would be the redaction of offending material, however they noted this could lead to the loss of meaning, as well as being an extremely time-consuming process.

Next we heard from Anthea Seles (The National Archives) and Greg Falconer (UK Government Cabinet Office) who spoke about email and the record of government. Their presentation focused on the question of where the challenge truly lies for email – suggesting that, opposed to issues of preservation, the challenge lies in capture and presentation. They noted that when coming from a government or institutional perspective, the amount of email created increases hugely, leaving large collections of unstructured records. In terms of capture, this leads to the challenge of identifying  what is of value and what is sensitive. Following this, the major challenge is how to best present emails to users – discoverability and accessibility. This includes issues of remapping existing relationships between unstructured records, and again, the issue of how to deal with linked and networked content.

The third and final case study was given by Michael Hope, from Preservica; an “Active Preservation” technology, providing a suite of (Open Archival Information System) compliant workflows for ingest, data management, storage, access, administration and preservation for digital archives.

Following the case studies, there was a second talk from Kate Murray and Chris Prom on emerging Email Task Force themes and their Technology Roadmap. In June 2017 the task force released a Consultation Report Draft of their findings so far, to enable review, discussion and feedback, and the remainder of their presentation focused on the contents and gaps of the draft report. They talked about three possible preservation approaches:

  • Format Migration: copying data from one type of format to another to ensure continued access
  • Emulation: recreating user experience for both message and attachments in the original context
  • Bit Level Preservation: preservation of the file, as it was submitted (may be appropriate for closed collections)

They noted that there are many tools within the cultural heritage domain designed for interoperability, scalability, preservation and access in mind, yet these are still developing and improving. Finally, we discussed what the possible gaps of the draft report, and issues such as  the authenticity of email collections were raised, as well as a general interest in the differing workflows between institutions. Ultimately, I had a great time at The National Archives for the Email Preservation: How Hard Can it Be? Briefing Day – I learnt a lot about the various challenges of email preservation, and am looking forward to seeing further developments and solutions in the near future.