Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Library of St Michael’s College, Tenbury

Sir Frederick Ouseley

Sir Frederick Ouseley

One of the latest collections to be added to Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts as part of the ongoing Music retroconversion project is the Tenbury Collection. Built up during the course of the 19th century by the English organist, composer and clergyman Sir Frederick Ouseley (1825-1889), it became one of the most important music collections in private hands.

Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley was born into an upper-class family, the son of the diplomat and orientalist Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844), and numbered among his godparents the Dukes of Wellington and York. He was a notable musical child prodigy, reputedly playing duets with Mendelssohn at the age of six and composing an opera aged only eight. (His later compositions (mostly anthems and service settings) are worthy and well-crafted, but generally considered to be uninspired.)

Frederick inherited his father’s baronetcy in 1844, while he was still a student at Oxford, and he graduated from Christ Church in 1846. He was ordained in 1850 and served for a while as a curate in the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Barnabas, Pimlico in London. He later became Precentor of Hereford Cathedral, a post he held concurrently with that of Heather Professor of Music at Oxford, during which time he did much to reform the Music examinations.

As a musician as well as a cleric, Ouseley was greatly concerned by the low standards to which church music (particularly music in cathedrals) had sunk by the mid-19th century. He used his considerable private means to set about building the parish church of St Michael and All Angels on the outskirts of the small market town of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, close to the borders with Shropshire and Herefordshire. This mini cathedral was to function as the chapel for St Michael’s College which Ouseley founded as a choir school for boys next door. Here, for well over a century, daily, fully choral services were sung as ‘a model for the choral service of the church in these realms’, right up to the closure of the College in 1985. John Stainer (1840-1901) was appointed by Ouseley as the College’s first organist at the age of only 16 and generations of church musicians subsequently received their training at Tenbury, including George Robertson Sinclair, Christopher Robinson and the composer Jonathan Harvey.

Click here to hear Sir John Betjeman’s 1967 radio programme about St Michael’s College in the series ‘Choirs & Places Where they Sing’.

Ouseley was also a collector, pursuing interests in early music theory as well as music for the church. He started collecting seriously around 1850 and is known to have purchased antiquarian books and scores on an extended visit to the Continent in 1851. He bought from dealers and was also given many items by friends and fellow musicians, as well as inheriting some music from his father. The resulting collection is much wider in scope than one might expect, given his principal sphere of activity.

Ouseley’s collection became the college library at Tenbury and, after his death, it was looked after by eminent librarians, notably E.H. Fellowes (many of the sources for his numerous editions of Elizabethan music came from the Tenbury library) and Harold Watkins Shaw, famous for his ubiquitous edition of Handel’s Messiah, based on one of the highlights of Ouseley’s collection—Handel’s own conducting score of his most famous work, used at the work’s première in Dublin in 1742 and all subsequent performances during his lifetime.

A page from Handel's conducting score of 'Messiah', in the composer’s hand.

A page from Handel’s conducting score of ‘Messiah’, in the composer’s hand. MS. Tenbury 346, fol. 66.

As one would expect, the collection is rich in sacred music, both English and continental, and includes many important manuscript part-books dating from Tudor times. Among these are several sets which formerly belonged to the Norfolk Catholic gentleman and amateur musician, Edward Paston (1550-1630). A number of the Tenbury manuscripts were recently digitized for DIAMM (the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts) as part of the AHRC-funded Tudor Part Books Project.

The Cantus part of William Byrd's motet 'Memento Domine'

The Cantus part of William Byrd’s motet ‘Memento Domine’. MS. Tenbury 341, fol. 5r.

Another important source for Tudor and Restoration church music is the so-called ‘Batten Organ Book’ which has enabled several pieces, which otherwise exist only in incomplete sources, to be reconstructed.

A page from the 'Batten Organ Book', featuring the anthem 'This is a joyful day' by John Ward.

A page from the ‘Batten Organ Book’, featuring the anthem ‘This is a joyful day’ by John Ward. MS. Tenbury 791, fol. 257r.

The Tenbury collection also contains unique sources for some of the church music by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), known to most people only from his all-pervasive Canon but clearly a composer of some extremely attractive vocal music, demonstrated in a recent recording by the Oxford-based group Charivari Agréable with the King’s Singers. Thought at one time to be the composer’s autographs, it is now considered more likely that most of the pieces are in the hand of his son, Karl Theodor, who emigrated to America in the early 1730s, one of the first European musicians to take up residence in the colonies.

The collection also contains the most important manuscript source for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and autograph manuscripts by J.C. Bach, Blow, Boyce, Cimarosa, Galuppi and others. Autograph manuscripts of Ouseley’s own music, as well as his juvenile attempts at composition, can also be found in the collection.

Detail of 'Dido's lament', from Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas'.

Detail of ‘Dido’s lament’, from Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’. MS. Tenbury 1266.

Ouseley’s well-known anthem From the rising of the sun can be heard in a 1965 recording from St Michael’s (at around 24’ 25”).

More surprising, perhaps, is the presence of numerous volumes of 18th– and 19th-century Italian opera and a variety of instrumental music, including a manuscript of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, corrected in the margins by the composer himself.

In addition to approximately 1,500 volumes of manuscripts, the Tenbury library also included many thousands of printed books and music scores, ranging from incunables to octavo editions of Victorian anthems, the latter often inscribed to Ouseley by their composers. Of particular note are a number of rare musical treatises, including two 15th-century books by the theorist Gaffurius (1451-1522)—his Theoricum opus musice discipline (Naples, 1480) and Practica musice (Milan, 1496)—and Praetorius’ famous Syntagma musicum (Wittenberg & Wolfenbüttel, 1614-1620), one volume of which belonged to Johann Ernst Bach and another to Telemann. A project to catalogue the printed collection took place in 1990s and this can be searched in the Bodleian’s main online catalogue SOLO.

The College kept going for nearly 130 years but, in 1985, it finally succumbed to the demographic pressures which made a tiny, specialist school in the middle of nowhere unsustainable in the modern world. For a recording of the final Choral Evensong from St Michael’s (13 July 1985), click here.

Owing to an accidental conflict between Ouseley’s will and the terms of the Trust deed made when he endowed the College, the subsequent fate of the Library was something of a compromise. Most of the manuscripts, which had been deposited in Oxford for safe-keeping since the 1970s, passed directly into the Bodleian’s ownership and the Library was then permitted to buy, at a valuation, items selected from the printed collections. A fundraising campaign followed which happily allowed the Bodleian to acquire all the printed books and music scores of which it did not already have a copy.

A catalogue of the Tenbury manuscripts, made by E.H. Fellowes, was published in Paris in 1935, with later supplements by Watkins Shaw. These form the basis of the online catalogue in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. Music scholarship has, of course, moved on a good deal in the last 85 years so, within the constraints of Project resources, every effort has been made to incorporate as many updates as possible to the information in the old catalogues; further amendments can be made as time goes by.

The addition of the Tenbury collection the online catalogue is a major milestone in the project to make the music manuscript catalogues accessible online. As Music Curator, I am most grateful to our funders and the Project team for making this possible. The Tenbury catalogue can be accessed at https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/4976.

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music, Bodleian Libraries

Illustration of a duck or goose from 'The Braikenridge Manuscript'.

One of the many illustrations in ‘The Braikenridge Manuscript’. MS. Tenbury 1486, fol. 3v.

A book of magical charms: MS. e Mus. 243

Whilst working on the project of retro-converting the Old Summary Catalogue (OSC), I get a unique chance to look at everything acquired by the Bodleian Libraries since 1602. This includes the academic, interesting, and a bit weird. And weird is what I’m bringing you today, hopefully offering a welcome bit of escapism.

You never know what you’re going to come across each day and the item I’ve chosen to write about this time is recorded as number 3548, with the description beginning “A book of magical charms”. How could this not pique my interest? The full OSC entry is as follows:

The Newberry Library in Chicago contains a similar book of magical charms from the 17th century, for which they sought public help to transcribe in 2017 in the hope of making the various magical texts they held “more accessible to both casual users and experts”.  Christopher Fletcher, the coordinator of the US based project, explained that ” both protestant and Catholic churches tried very hard to make sure that nobody would make a manuscript like this…they didn’t like magic. They were very suspicious of it. They tried to do everything they could to stamp it out. Yet we have this manuscript, which is  a nice piece of evidence that despite all of that effort to make sure people weren’t doing magic, people still continued doing it.” [1] Although from a different continent, this is a great piece of evidence to show how magic, spirituality, and supposed ‘witchcraft’ continued to remain in the lives of many for much longer than the church and state would have liked to believe.

There are another three items attributed by Falconer Madan (author of the OSC and a Bodleian librarian) to the Oxford citizen Joseph Godwin, who presented this book of magical charms on the 6th August 1655. These show an interesting mixture of magic, science, and religion, that was undoubtedly prevalent – though discouraged- at the time:

– Number 3543, MS. e Mus. 173: “Copies of incantations, charms, prayers, magical formulae, astrological devices, and the like”
– Number 3546, MS. e Mus. 238: “Magical treatises” (including magic and astrology)
– Number 3550, MS. e Mus, 245: “A roll of incantations and prayers”

As with many archival items, we don’t know a huge amount of information about it. We don’t know much about Joseph Godwin, the donor, other than that he was a citizen of Oxford, and we can’t know whether this book of magical charms was written by Godwin or someone else.  What we can assume with relative confidence is that the author of this book would have been well-educated. Literacy levels are notoriously difficult to estimate; some may have been able to read and not write, and although most information comes from those able to sign their names, they may have been able to do little else. However, in England in the 17th century, it is tentatively estimated that literacy levels were around 30% for males, potentially higher for a university city such as Oxford. [2] The fact that this, as well as the other material, is written in a mixture of Latin and English, suggests an elite education. A standardised form of written English became prevalent in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with this replacing Latin and French in 1417 in government documents and business. [3] By the 17th century, Latin would have largely been the preserve of the clergy and academic community. A disproportionate amount of those persecuted for witchcraft were from poor and uneducated backgrounds, whereas this book provides additional evidence that those from all walks of life may have taken an interest.

Onto the object here at the Bodleian Library. One of the reasons I chose this item to write about was how much the first charm I came across made me laugh:

“A booke of Experiments taken
out of dyvers [diverse] auqthors. 1622

Anger to aswage.

Wryte this name in an Apple ya[v]a
& cast it at thine enemie, & thou shalt
aswage his anger, Or geve it to a
woman & she shall love thee.”

Now I’m no expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say throwing an apple at your enemy is probably not going to do wonders for repairing your friendship, even in the 17th century! Geoffrey Scare, John Callow, et al, for The Guardian in 2001, wrote about how differently we do live now, however. They began their article on witchcraft and magic in 16th and 17th century Europe with a simple truth: “‘At the dawning of the third millennium, a belief in the reality and efficacy of witchcraft and magic is no longer an integral component of mainstream Western culture. When misfortune strikes at us, our family or a close neighbour, we do not automatically seek to locate the source of all our ills and ailments in the operation of occult forces, nor scour the local community for the elderly woman who maliciously harnessed them and so bewitched us.” [4] Just like this, we do not tend to turn to magical charms in order to reverse our fortune, or solve our problems with enemies, love, or danger, as the book suggests was practiced then.

This book of magical charms is to me, a mixture of folklore, religion and spiritual belief, and I couldn’t talk about it without delving a little bit into witchcraft, which I and many others find a fascinating topic. What I found shocking when doing my research was how recent the last conviction under the 1735 Witchcraft Act was in the United Kingdom. The act repealed previous laws against witchcraft but imposed fines and imprisonment still against those claiming to be able to use magical powers. To me, witchcraft persecution is the stuff of Early Modern History classes, but it was actually 1944 when Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East London was the last to be convicted. [5] Whereas we may think of witchcraft now to be mostly mythical, or something a small amount of the population dabble in, the law has played a large part in punishing those who have been associated in it throughout at least the last 500 years.

The first official (and by that I mean recorded) law against witchcraft in England was in 1542. Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, making the practice of magic a crime punishable by death. Although repealed in 1547, it was  restored in 1562. An additional law was passed in 1604 by James I, a firm believer in the persecution of witches, which transferred the trials from the church to ordinary courts and thus made witchcraft trials far more commonplace. The peak of witchcraft trials took place between 1580 and 1700, usually involving lower class and older women, and the last known trials occurred in Leicester in 1717. It is estimated that 500 people in England were executed for witchcraft related offences, most of these being women. As referenced above, the 1735 Witchcraft Act, passed in 1736, repealed the laws making witchcraft punishable by death but allowed fines and imprisonment. This was repealed in 1951 for the Fraudulent Mediums Act which is turn was repealed in 2008. [6] The timeline of witchcraft makes the book of charms even more interesting, and the act of Joseph Godwin’s donation one of potential bravery (/stupidity). With witchcraft such a prevalent part of society in 1622, this object in Godwin’s home or as a donation may have led to suspicion, prosecution, and even death.

The story behind the book, we may never know, but it is a great object in itself. Here are some other interesting passages/charms I came across which provide us a unique look into belief at this time:

If you’re interested in this object, you can view it in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.

[1] Katz, B., “Chicago Library seeks help transcribing magical manuscripts,” Smithsonianmag.com, (3 July 2017), URL: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/chicago-library-seeks-help-transcribing-magical-manuscripts-180963911/
[2] Van Horn Melton, J., The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
[3] “Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700,” The Guardian (20 June 2001), URL: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/jun/20/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[4] Scarre, G., J. Callow, et al, “Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth Century Europe,” The Guardian (8 June 2001), URL: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001 /jun/08/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[5] “Jane Rebecca Yorke,” Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Rebecca _Yorke
[6] “Witchcraft,” UK Parliament, URL: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/religion/overview/witchcraft/

Gingerbread from the Radolphus Ayres “Cook Oxford” Recipe Book, 29th August 1721 – Reference MS. Don. e. 89

As someone who has always enjoyed baking and has a love of all things historical, finding old recipe books is one of the most exciting things about working in archives. I love when cooking shows explore what people of the past would have eaten, and the different ingredients they would have used to create what we now consider modern classics. Working on the retro-conversion of the Bodleian Libraries New Summary Catalogue since September (you can read about our project here) has allowed me to discover a fair few recipe books, with some of the treats far more enticing than others… After some deliberation, I chose this 18th century recipe for gingerbread – a tried and tested festive favourite. I wanted my colleagues to actually taste it and thought it might be slightly more appetising than the vast range of pickles, a 14th century recipe for the plague, or mince pies that were made with veal hearts and tongues (that one I vetoed pretty quickly myself). Gingerbread seemed like a safe option, and I also thought dried ginger might perhaps be easier to source than “dragon warter” – weirdly Tesco didn’t have any in stock when I asked.

So here’s what I had to work with:

Before attempting this slightly vague bake (and figuring out how/if I was going to dip the cake in a mixture of “boyling watter and ale”), I decided to do a bit of research into the history of gingerbread. When did this delicious treat make its way into our lives? The important stuff.

So, ginger root was first cultivated in China, where they used it for “medicinal and magical” purposes. Ginger is still used today in medicine to help things like travel sickness – something anticipated by John Baret in his Alvearie or triple dictionaire of 1573-80, and Henry VIII even thought it might help build up resistance to the plague in the 16th century. In Roman times, the spice was known as “zingiber” from the Sanskrit “sringavera” and was used for cooking and medicinal purposes as it travelled in from the Silk Road from the 2nd century AD. Caravans came from China full of silk, ginger and cinnamon to a meeting point in central Asia where the Romans would be able to barter for these luxury items. They loved ginger so much that a pound of the spice was worth the same as a sheep!

Ginger supplies dried up after the fall of the Roman Empire when trade routes crumbled but the spice was then reintroduced freely across Western Europe. This was supposedly with returning crusaders, or through the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century – there is quite a bit of ambiguity here. The Germans, Austrians and Hungarians were the first to develop honey and spice flour based doughs, adding candied fruits and nuts, and in France they used a simple spice recipe called “Pain d’espice”. In Medieval England, gingerbread simply meant “preserved ginger”, with the spice being used to cover up the taste of preserved meats in the winter. By Elizabeth I’s reign, between 1533 and 1603, gingerbread was eaten by wealthy aristocrats. The queen is even credited with inventing gingerbread men by asking for the biscuits to be decorated as important members of her court for a celebration.  By the 17th century, gingerbread was being sold at fairs and for special occasions in England but it was nothing like the gingerbread we love now. Valerie Barrett explains how it was “made from stale bread, honey, pepper, aniseed, with saffron or liquorice for colouring, and ginger… mashed together, moulded or shaped and dried until hard and brittle”. Doesn’t exactly sound appetising! Treacle was introduced later in the 17th century and the recipes began to change into the biscuits and cake we know today.

Gingerbread recipes travelled to America with the first English settlers, where they swapped the sugar for golden syrup. There are many variations of gingerbread, from the decorated gingerbread men and houses (popularised after Hansel and Gretal was published in 1812), to Yorkshire Parkin or American Hot gingerbread. If you want to explore the multitude of recipes I would definitely recommend The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett, The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf and The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (all available to read at the Bodleian Libraries, references below). Although gingerbread is now made mostly at home or bought in supermarkets, it remains a part of the European Christmas tradition.

Now that I have explored gingerbread and its roots (however ambiguous), I can unveil my 18th century creation:

Although most of the ingredients were easy to acquire, I had to settle for candied mixed peel instead of simply orange peel after checking 4 different supermarkets. I also didn’t complete the last step. Unfortunately dipping the cake in ale and water made the bake soggy and un-transportable… not ideal when I needed opinions from my colleagues! The recipe itself was questionable, with the mixture not actually coming together at all until I added some warm water, though I put this down to the ingredients probably being slightly different and also the recipe being quite vague.* Either way, it got into the oven and made the house smell like caraway and coriander seeds for quite a few days!

My colleagues all agreed this was “interesting”, something I definitely agreed with. Many thought it was almost savoury in flavour and was quite dry and dense, though most enjoyed it enough to eat a whole piece and some even went back for seconds! My favourite reviews have to be “first time I’ve been unable to finish a baked good, 1/10” and “pleasingly festive, surprisingly spicy, 6/10”.

Overall rating: 6.3/10

If you want to explore the original Radolphus Ayres cookbook, you can find and request it here on the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts website. Look out for some more interesting things found in the Summary Catalogue conversion project in the New Year, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

References

The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett (The Apple Press, London, 1992)

The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf (Charles Letts and Co ltd, London, 1991)

The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (Ebury Press, London, 1984)

John Mariani’s American Classics: Gingerbread” in Restaurant hospitality, October 1998, 82:10, pg. 86

PBS Food “The History of Gingerbread” by Tori Avery, 20 Dec 2013, URL: https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/

The Guardian “A Brief History of the Gingerbread House” by Antonia Wilson, 22 Dec 2018, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/dec/22/a-brief-history-of-the-gingerbread-house

* I found out at a later date that the recipe book was published in 2006, Ralph Ayres Cookery Book edited by Jane Jakeman (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2006), and this would’ve made the recipe conversion a lot easier!

Music Manuscript Catalogues Go Online

The Bodleian Libraries house rich collections of music manuscripts dating from medieval times to the present and include such highlights as Handel’s conducting score of Messiah, Holst’s suite The Planets and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture. Anyone who has used the Bodleian’s music manuscript or archival collections over the years will be used to grappling with a confusing array of different findings aids. Apart from a few old collection-level entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, we have had to rely on various paper catalogues and handlists, published and unpublished, which readers can rarely navigate successfully without help from Music section staff. These include: the published Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts (for manuscripts acquired up to 1915), supplemented by large numbers of typescript revisions to the Summary Catalogue descriptions; typescript descriptions of post-1915 acquisitions, the more recent of which also exist as MS Word files; published catalogues for the Deneke-Mendelssohn and Tenbury collections, both of which have accumulated long lists of corrections and amendments over time; boxlists for various uncatalogued collections, such as Ella and Sterndale Bennett. Such finding aids were only partially indexed so locating material has always been dependent to a large extent on the knowledge and experience of staff.

Original conducting score of Handel’s Messiah (MS. Tenbury 346, fol. 66r)

Thanks to a very generous donation, we are now well into a three-year project which aims to incorporate the content of these various finding aids into the online catalogue as well as tackle a range of music manuscripts and archives which have hitherto had no catalogue description. So far, a number of uncatalogued manuscripts and collections have been catalogued while the existing finding aids were sent off to have their contents keyed into machine-readable form for the online catalogue. The two strands of converting the existing finding aids and new cataloguing will continue side-by-side for the remainder of the project which is due to finish in the summer of 2021. By this time, if all goes to plan, all of the Bodleian Libraries’ music manuscripts and music-related archives will have entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, which is itself undergoing a system upgrade and facelift. The first collections should start to appear online in the Autumn of 2019 and will be added to gradually as catalogues are completed.

Catalogues of the Bodleian’s Music holdings

To have online access to any of this information is a major step forward for users of our collections and the beauty of an electronic catalogue is that it can be added to and improved over time.

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music

Old Ideas, New Technologies: Historical and Vintage Festivals in the UK Web Archive

Festivals are wonderful events that can often involve thousands of people, united by their shared love for a common activity or theme. The UK Web Archive seeks to capture, and record these often colourful and creative demonstrations of human culture and creativity.

Some Festivals are very large and documented, such as Glastonbury which often attracts over a 100,000 people. However, there are also a number of smaller and more specific festivals which are less well known outside of their local communities and networks, such as the Shelswell History Festival. However, the internet has helped level the playing field, and given these smaller festivals an opportunity to publicise their events far beyond the reaches of their traditional borders and boundaries. And this has allowed archivists such as myself to find and add these festivals to the UK Web Archive.

(The Festivals Icon on the UK Web Archive Website)

Historical and Vintage Festivals

One of the most personally intriguing parts of the UK Web Archive festivals collection for me is Historical and Vintage festivals. These festivals rarely attract the level of media attention that a high profile music festival featuring the world’s biggest pop stars would enjoy. However, the UK Web Archive, is about diversity, inclusivity, and finding value in all parts of society. People who attend, organise, and take part in historical and vintage festivals form part of a collective effort which often results in a website that helps chronicle their enthusiasm.

Thus far we have found forty eight different historical and vintage festivals that take place in the United Kingdom. These festivals are broad and varied, and celebrate a multitude of things. This includes Newport Rising which celebrates the 1839 Chartist rebellion, the Lupton House Festival of History which celebrates a historic house, and Frock Me! Which is a vintage fashion fair. Every single one of these festivals is unique and specific in their own way, but they do have something in common. They all celebrate history and the past, and are characterised by a charming sense of nostalgia and remembrance.

While the website is no substitute for attending in person, they often include:

• Basic information about the festival’s time, place, and theme.
• An array of photographs.
• Anecdotes about the events.
• Information about the festivals donors and supporters.
• And additional information, such as attendance policies and rules etc.

A notable feature of these websites is how they use relatively new technologies to organise events which celebrate old events, places, and themes. This indicates a fantastic synergy between the heritage sector, and modern technology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS Eng misc c. 696 fol. 167 transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

To my dear Aunt Ruxton with a violet vase

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

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

Maria E (c.1819)

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

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

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Opening the Edgeworth Papers: the team

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

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

Anna Senkiw, Research Assistant

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull, Research Assistant

Follow us on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers

References

All materials from the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

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

 

Opening the Edgeworth Papers

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Marriage: A Family Affair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript of letter:

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

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

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

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

truly affectionately yrs,

Maria E

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

Opening the Edgeworth Papers: the team

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

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

Anna Senkiw, Research Assistant

Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull, Research Assistant

Follow us on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers

Festivals in the UK Web Archive

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

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

UK Web Archive topics and themes

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Chen

Archives Unleashed – Vancouver Datathon

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

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

About the Archives Unleashed Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archives Unleashed Cloud

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

My experience at the Vancouver Datathon

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

Day One

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

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

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

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

Day Two

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

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

Map of letter writers.

Time Lapse of locations of letter writers. 

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

Why Web Archives Matter

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

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

Attending the ARA Annual Conference 2018

ARA Annual Conference 2018, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

ARA Annual Conference 2018, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

Having been awarded the Diversity Bursary for BME individuals, sponsored by Kevin J Bolton Ltd., I was able to attend the ARA Annual Conference 2018 held in Glasgow in August.

Capitalising on the host city’s existing ubiquitous branding of People Make Glasgow,  the Conference Committee set People Make Records as this year’s conference theme. This was then divided into three individual themes, one for each day of the conference:

  • People in Records
  • People Using Records
  • People Looking After Records

Examined through the lens of the above themes over the course of three days,  this year’s conference addressed three keys areas within the sector: representation, diversity and engagement.

Following an introduction from Kevin Bolton (@kevjbolton), the conference kicked off with Professor Gus John (@Gus_John) delivering the opening keynote address, entitled “Choices of the Living and the Dead”. With People Make Records the theme for the day, Professor John gave a powerful talk discussing how people are impacting the records and recordkeeping of African (and other) diaspora in the UK, enabling the airbrushing of the history of oppressed communities. Professor John noted yes people make records, but we also determine what to record, and what to do with it once it has been recorded.

Noting the ignorance surrounding racial prejudice and violence, citing the Notting Hill race riots, the Windrush generation,  and Stephen Lawrence as examples, Professor John illustrated how the commemoration of historical events is selective: while in 2018 the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act received much attention, in comparison the 500th anniversary of the start of the Transatlantic Slave Trade was largely ignored, by the sector and the media alike.  This culture of oppression, and omission, he said, is leading to ignorance amongst young people about major defining events, contributing to a removal of context to historically oppressed groups.

In response to questions from the audience, Professor John noted that one of the problems facing the sector is the failure to interrogate the ‘business as usual’ climate, and that it may be ‘too difficult to consider what an alternative route might be’. Professor John challenged us to question the status quo: ‘Why is my curriculum white? Why isn’t my lecturer black? What does “de-colonising” the curriculum mean? This is what we must ask ourselves’.

Following Professor John’s keynote and his ultimate call to action, there was a palpable atmosphere of engagement amongst the delegates, with myself and those around me eager to spend the next three days learning from the experiences of others, listening to new perspectives and extracting guidance on the actions we may take to develop and improve our sector, in terms of representation, diversity and engagement.

Various issues relating to these areas were threaded throughout many of the presentations, and as a person of colour at the start of my career in this sector, and recipient of the Diversity Bursary, I was excited to hear more about the challenges facing marginalised communities in archives and records, including some I could relate to on a personal and professional level, and, hopefully, also take away some proposed solutions and recommendations.

I attended an excellent talk by Adele Patrick (@AdelePAtrickGWL),  of Glasgow Women’s Library, who discussed the place for feminism within the archive, noting GWL’s history in resistance, and insistence on a plural representation, when women’s work, past and present, is eclipsed. Dr Alan Butler (@AButlerArchive), Coordinator at Plymouth LGBT Community Archive, discussed his experiences of trying to create a sense of community within a group that is inherently quite nebulous.  Nevertheless, Butler illustrated the importance of capturing LGBTQIA+ history, as people today are increasingly removed from the struggles that previous generations have had to overcome, echoing a similar point Professor Gus John made earlier.

A presentation which particularly resonated with me came from Kirsty Fife (@DIYarchivist) and Hannah Henthorn (@hanarchovist), on the issue of diversity in the workforce. Fife and Henthorn presented the findings from their research, including their survey of experiences of marginalisation in the UK archive sector, highlighting the structural barriers to diversifying the archive sector workforce. Fife and Henthorn identified several key themes which are experienced  by marginalised communities in the sector, including: the feeling of isolation and otherness in both workplace and universities; difficulties in gaining qualifications, perhaps due to ill health/disability/financial barriers/other commitments; feeling unsafe and under confident in professional spaces and a frustration at the lack of diversity in leadership roles.

As a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, I couldn’t abandon my own focus on digital preservation and digital archiving, and as such attended various digital-related talks, including “Machines make records: the future of archival processing” by Jenny Bunn (@JnyBn1), discussing the impact of taking a computational approach to archival processing, “Using digital preservation and access to build a sustainable future for your archive” led by Ann Keen of Preservica, with presentations given by various Preservica users, as well as a mini-workshop led by Sarah Higgins and William Kilbride, on ethics in digital preservation, asking us to consider if we need our own code of conduct in digital preservation, and what this could look like.

Image of William Kilbride and Sarah Higgins running their workshop "Encoding ethics: professional practice digital preservation", ARA Annual Conference 2018, Glasgow

William Kilbride and Sarah Higgins running their workshop “Encoding ethics: professional practice digital preservation”, ARA Annual Conference 2018, Glasgow

I have only been able to touch on a very small amount of what I heard and learnt at the many and varied talks, presentations and workshops at the ARA conference,  however,  one thing I took away from the conference was the realisation that archivists and recordkeepers have the power to challenge structural inequalities, and must act now, in order to become truly inclusive. As Michelle Caswell (@professorcaz), 2nd keynote speaker said, we must act with sensitivity, acknowledge our privileges and, above all empower not marginalise. This conference felt like a call to action to the archive and recordkeeping community, in order to include the ‘hard to reach’ communities, or alternatively as Adele Patrick noted, the ‘easy to ignore’. As William Kilbride (@William Kilbride) said, this is an exciting time to be in archives.

I want to thank Kevin Bolton for sponsoring the Diversity Bursary, which enabled me to attend an enriching, engaging and informative event, which otherwise would have been inaccessible for me.

________________________________________
Because every day is a school day, as homework for us all, I made a note of some of the recommendations made by speakers throughout the conference, compiled into this very brief list which I thought I would share:

Reading list