Tag Archives: Archives and Modern Manuscripts

Secret ciphers

Deciphered diplomatic code in a letter to Thomas Villiers, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, 12 Aug 1746

Deciphered diplomatic code in a letter to Thomas Villiers, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, 12 Aug 1746 [click to enlarge]

An 18th-century British diplomatic cipher is revealed in a 1746 letter to Thomas Villiers.

Decades after this letter was sent, Villiers revived an extinct title and became the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation) but in August 1746 he was the Hon. Thomas Villiers, second son of the Earl of Jersey, and working in Berlin as Britain’s envoy to the court of Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia, following a succession of diplomatic positions with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Electorate of Saxony and the Archduchy of Austria.

Frederick the Great liked Villiers enough to, many years later, give him a special grant to use the Prussian eagle on the Villiers family coat of arms but Horace Walpole, the writer, historian, and Whig politician thought that Frederick liked Villiers mainly because Frederick was wary of genuinely capable men: ‘[Villiers] has,’ Walpole wrote, ‘been very much gazetted, and had his letters to the king of Prussia printed, but he is a very silly fellow’ (Walpole, Corr., 20.17).

Whatever Thomas Villiers’ qualities as a diplomat, this coded letter shows something of his everyday work and the importance of confidentiality in the diplomatic service. They were right to be cautious. The ‘My Lord Sandwich’ the letter refers to, who is currently in Breda in the Netherlands, is the 4th Earl of Sandwich (the very man the sandwich is named after) who, at the Congress of Breda, apparently employed the British secret service to intercept and read French secret correspondence. This move helped Britain to diplomatically outmanoeuvre the French at the Congress, which were the peace talks to end the ruinous War of Austrian Succession.

This letter to Villiers is most interesting because it shows not just a number-based cipher, but the deciphered plain text. And although the letter itself doesn’t reveal any thrilling state secrets, it does show the essential exchange of keys so that sender and receiver can read the code.

And that, unfortunately, is about the limit of my understanding of cryptography. If there are any cryptographers reading, feel free to drop into the comments!

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A pottle of strawberries (on this day in 1842)

Two evocative lists from the Clarendon archive show the impressive range of foods that a Victorian country estate was capable of producing.

The Grove, an estate in Hertfordshire on the outskirts of Watford, was the country seat of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) for about 170 years after it was purchased by the 1st earl Thomas Villiers in 1753.

A list of fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

Two lists addressed to the Countess of Clarendon itemise the vegetables, fruit, game, poultry, fish, wood, eggs, butter and bakery items ‘Sent from the Grove the 22nd day of July 1842′, presumably to the Clarendons’ London house. It includes heads of artichokes, pecks of french beans, dozens of carrots, bushels of peas, sticks of rhubarb, baskets of salad and bunches of sorrell, and, since the printed list was not sufficient, there are handwritten additions itemising pecks of black cherries, pottles of mushrooms and strawberries, and a box of cut flowers, amongst other wonderful things.

A list of provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

The list of non-vegetable items sent that day looks sparse by comparison but it’s still a staggering amount of food: 1 fawn, 1 leaveret (hare), 12 eggs, 5lb of butter, 5 loaves of bread and 36 fagotts of wood. It’s notable that this is only the list for one day. There is another printed list of fruit and vegetables sent on the 19th of July 1842 with very similar amounts of food. The household was catering on a grand scale.

I was reasonably familiar with pecks and bushels and heads, but curious what a ‘pottle’ amounted to. The Oxford English Dictionary came to my rescue, as it often does. A pottle was, when used to measure liquids and dry goods like corn, equal to half a gallon (approximately 2.3 litres). But when used for strawberries it is, enigmatically, just a small basket of conical shape, designed to protect soft foods in transit.

And what might they have done with their strawberries? This recipe for strawberry salad, by the celebrity French chef Alexis Soyer, published in his useful work of affordable, plain cookery A Shilling Cookery for the People (1845), might not have been fancy enough for the countess, but it does at least make good use of a pottle of ripe strawberries, should you also have a gill of brandy handy.

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A flying woman

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932 [click to enlarge]

My dear Bertie

writes the Viceroy of India to his friend the 6th Earl of Clarendon in a letter of 15 March 1932:

Thanks so much for your letter, & the personal one enclosed. My poor boy has had a very rough time, & the girl appears to have gone mad about this pilot. […] it will be hard for him to start again all alone. I really thought my two young people were the happiest couple in the world.

When I read an opener like that I lean in for the whole story: please continue, Viceroy! But that, sadly, is all he divulges about the girl or her pilot.

Luckily, it was not difficult to find out more.

The ‘poor boy’ was the Viceroy’s son, Inigo Freeman-Thomas, and the girl was Maxine “Blossom” Miles. And she, it turns out, led an absolutely fascinating life.

Continue reading

The search is over…

Haggis the dog, Papers of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), c. 1932

Haggis the dog, from the papers of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), c. 1937

…I think I’ve found history’s cutest dog.

This is Haggis, in a photograph sent by an unknown friend to Verena Villiers, the Countess of Clarendon, in the 1930s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A pirate’s life?

Oil painting of the HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, sailing in a gale, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A mysterious, unsigned, undated copy letter in the Clarendon family archive describes a sailor’s discovery of an inhabited island.

The mysteries are: who was the sailor, where was the island, and when was it “discovered”? But before all that: is this letter even real, or a fantasy?

A helpful, scrappy note that accompanies the letter, also unsigned and undated, makes a suggestion:

A letter written in Ld Cornbury’s hand but whether from a Mr. Ja[me]s Hyde son of the Chancellor who was a Sailor or who else does not appear

Lord Cornbury (d. 1753), who this note speculates is the copyist, was the son of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1st creation), and would have been the 5th Earl if he hadn’t died before his father, which made the Clarendon title temporarily extinct. I have to respectfully disagree with the note, however. I think the handwriting belongs to Thomas Villiers (1709-1786), who succeeded to the Clarendon title as the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation). If the identity of the copyist is not necessarily reliable then, what about the identity of the original author?

James Hyde (d. 1681) was the son of Edward Hyde, the original 1st Earl of Clarendon, who was Lord Chancellor to Charles II. James Hyde died aged only 31 and I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that he was a sailor but let’s assume that this is family knowledge and take the note-writer at his word. Early modern sailors started their careers extremely young, which means that if this really is a letter James Hyde wrote, it dates, roughly, to the 20 years between 1661 and 1681.

‘Honoured Father’, the letter begins:

Continue reading

Sir Stafford Cripps

Black and white portrait of Sir Stafford Cripps, c. 1947 [Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO)] [Creative Commons CCO 1.0]

Sir Stafford Cripps by Yousuf Karsh, c. 1943 [Dutch National Archives] [Creative Commons CCO 1.0]

Today is the 132nd anniversary of the birth of the extraordinary British politician Sir Stafford Cripps, whose archive, and that of his wife Dame Isobel Cripps, has been made available online*.

Sir Richard Stafford Cripps (1889–1952), politician and lawyer, was the youngest child of successful barrister, Conservative MP and Labour cabinet minister Charles Cripps.

Stafford received a staunchly Christian but undogmatic education. His strong faith would be a feature of his life and work until he died. He studied chemistry at university and met his future wife Isobel Swithinbank while campaigning for his father in the 1910 general election. They married on 12 July 1911, and had four children. Cripps was called to the bar in 1913, and during World War I used his chemistry training to run a munitions factory in Queensferry. In 1916, aged only 27, this work caused a physical breakdown which sidelined him for the rest of the war. He was affected by ill-health his entire life.

Cripps was made Britain’s youngest king’s counsel in 1927 and in 1929, he joined Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government as solicitor-general, and was knighted. In January 1931, he won a by-election at Bristol East (which later became Bristol South East), where he remained an MP for the next 29 years.

His politics swung significantly to the left and he became a prominent member and then chairman of the newly formed Socialist League, and highly critical of the Labour Party. In 1939, this led to Cripps being expelled from Labour.

The Second World War changed everything.

Continue reading

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/

Letters of Sir Henry Holland, Society Physician

The Bodleian Library has recently acquired a collection of hitherto largely unpublished and unknown letters closely related to the archive of the Edgeworth Family, which we have explored in the recent blog posts by the Edgeworth Project team.

The collection comprises letters written by the writer Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) to a physician from Knutsford named Peter Holland (1766-1855), along with letters written by Peter’s son Henry Holland (1788-1873) to Maria and another contemporary female writer, Lucy Aikin (1781-1864). The collection also contains many letters written to Peter by Henry, from his early days away from home receiving education in Newcastle to his later days as an eminent society physician and renowned traveller.

Sir Henry Holland, 1st Bt, by Thomas Brigstocke, oil on canvas, exhibited 1860.    NPG 1656     © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Like Maria, Henry Holland fitted neatly into the literary and scientific milieu of the day. The Hollands originally came from Knutsford and had family connections to the potter Josiah Wedgwood as well as to the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.

Originally interested in a mercantile career, Henry spent time in Liverpool and Glasgow before deciding to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1806. Throughout his life, Henry was very career focused and was always commenting about his professional progress in his letters, particularly to his father. His early letters show a very careful assessment of his future, painting a rather sober portrait of him as a young man. Whilst Henry’s decisions were always carefully calculated, the switch from a mercantile to a medical profession stemmed from his genuine interest in the subject.

His letters from Edinburgh describe his studies in detail to his father. One such letter regards a dissection lecture:

I yesterday heard for the first time a lecture from Dr. Monro Senr; he leaves the greater part of the course to the management of his son, coming down only on extraordinary occasions. The demonstration of the brain he has always reserved to himself, and this was the occasion of his then honouring us with his presence. In good [truth I] felt strongly inclined to wish that he had staid away… From the hurried manner in which he pushed round the dissection [table] one would have supposed he was doing it for a wager; no one individual present had the slight-est opportunity of observing the parts; this was the more mortifying to me, as I had submitted to half an hour’s squeezing in the crowd for the sake of obtaining a front seat. The brain was an excellent one for demonstration, being that of a woman who was hanged the day before for the murder of her husband. (Letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, Jan 1807, MS. 16087/4)

Letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, Jan 1807, MS. 16087/4.

Full transcription of letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, Jan 1807, MS 16087/4

Whilst not one to join in with the exuberant side of student life, Henry certainly embraced what Edinburgh society had to offer in terms of intellectual exchange and mutually congenial company. These were skills he honed to his advantage when he was eventually able to set up his practice in London in 1816. By this time, he had already been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and had cultivated friendships with many of the eminent literary and scientific figures of the day, including Humphry Davy.

Henry peppered his letters to his father with titbits about his patients, particularly those with titles, and did not hesitate to discuss their personal problems. His most prestigious patients included Princess Caroline (then Princess of Wales) on her European tour in 1814. He would later become physician to no less than Queen Victoria (in 1837) and Prince Albert (in 1840). He declined, however, to become the physician of Ali Pasha, to whose court he travelled in 1812.

In his early letters, Henry carefully sets out his earnings. As his career flourished, he worked out he could comfortably work for 10 months of the year and could therefore spend the remaining two months if the year indulging in his other passion – travel.

Letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, showing earnings upt to June 1818, MS. 16087/5.

Henry visited Iceland twice (he wrote his thesis on the diseases of the Icelanders) and America eight times, as well as frequently venturing into Europe despite the ongoing threats of war and revolution. He published several works as a result of his travels including Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, &c during 1812 and 1813 in 1814, which was well received by the public and cemented his position in society.

In one letter to Maria Edgeworth dated August 1848, he wrote that ‘My fashion is to alternate south & north in successive years; & having taken Egypt last year, I aim at Christiania [Oslo] & Drontheim [Trondheim] in the present autumn’. Henry delighted in the opportunities made by the advent of new ways to travel, particularly by steamship and continued to travel right to the end of his life, latterly accompanied by his son.

Henry Holland was married twice, firstly to Margaret Emma Caldwell (1792-1830) in 1822 and secondly to Saba Smith (1802-1866), the daughter of Revd Sydney Smith, in 1834. He had seven children including Henry Thurstan Holland, first Viscount Knutsford (1825-1914). Henry Holland was made a baronet in April 1853. He died on 27 October 1873, on his 85th birthday, at his home in Brook Street, London.

The full catalogue for the letters can be found via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts online.

-Rachael Marsay

Web Archiving & Preservation Working Group: Social Media & Complex Content

On January 16 2020, I had the pleasure of attending the first public meeting of the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Web Archiving and Preservation Working Group. The meeting was held in the beautiful New Records House in Edinburgh.

We were welcomed by Sara Day Thomson who in her opening talk gave us a very clear overview of the issues and questions we increasingly run into when archiving complex/ dynamic web or social media content. For example, how do we preserve apps like Pokémon Go that use a user’s location data or even personal information to individualize the experience? Or where do we draw the line in interactive social media conversations? After all, we cannot capture everything. But how do we even capture this information without infringing the rights of the original creators? These and more musings set the stage perfectly to the rest of the talks during the day.

Although I would love to include every talk held this day, as they were all very interesting, I will only highlight a couple of the presentations to give this blog some pretence at “brevity”.

The first talk I want to highlight was given by Giulia Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications at the British Library, on “Overview of Collecting Approach to Complex Publications”. Rossie introduced us to the emerging formats project; a two year project by the British Library. The project focusses on three types of content:

  1. Web-based interactive narratives where the user’s interaction with a browser based environment determines how the narrative evolves;
  2. Book as mobile apps (a.k.a. literary apps);
  3. Structured data.

Personally, I found Rossi’s discussion of the collection methods in particular very interesting. The team working on the emerging formats project does not just use heritage crawlers and other web harvesting tools, but also file transfers or direct downloads via access code and password. Most strikingly, in the event that only a partial capture can be made, they try to capture as much contextual information about the digital object as possible including blog posts, screen shots or videos of walkthroughs, so researchers will have a good idea of what the original content would have looked like.

The capture of contextual content and the inclusion of additional contextual metadata about web content is currently not standard practice. Many tools do not even allow for their inclusion. However, considering that many of the web harvesting tools experience issues when attempting to capture dynamic and complex content, this could offer an interesting work-around for most web archives. It is definitely an option that I myself would like to explore going forward.

The second talk that I would like to zoom in on is “Collecting internet art” by Karin de Wild, digital fellow at the University of Leicester. Taking the Agent Ruby – a chatbot created by Lynn Hershman Leeson – as her example, de Wild explored questions on how we determine what aspects of internet art need to be preserved and what challenges this poses. In the case of Agent Ruby, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art initially exhibited the chatbot in a software installation within the museum, thereby taking the artwork out of its original context. They then proceeded to add it to their online Expedition e-space, which has since been taken offline. Only a print screen of the online art work is currently accessible through the SFMOMA website, as the museum prioritizes the preservation of the interface over the chat functionality.

This decision raises questions about the right ways to preserve online art. Does the interface indeed suffice or should we attempt to maintain the integrity of the artwork by saving the code as well? And if we do that, should we employ code restitution, which aims to preserve the original arts’ code, or a significant part of it, whilst adding restoration code to reanimate defunct code to full functionality? Or do we emulate the software as the University of Freiburg is currently exploring? How do we keep track of the provenance of the artwork whilst taking into account the different iterations that digital art works go through?

De Wild proposed to turn to linked data as a way to keep track of particularly the provenance of an artwork. Together with two other colleagues she has been working on a project called Rhizome in which they are creating a data model that will allow people to track the provenance of internet art.

Although this is not within the scope of the Rhizome project, it would be interesting to see how the finished data model would lend itself to keep track of changes in the look and feel of regular websites as well. Even though the layouts of websites have changed radically over the past number of years, these changes are usually not documented in metadata or data models, even though they can be as much of a reflection of social and cultural changes as the content of the website. Going forward it will be interesting to see how the changes in archiving online art works will influence the preservation of online content in general.

The final presentation I would like to draw attention to is “Twitter Data for Social Science Research” by Luke Sloan, deputy director of the Social Data Science Lab at the University of Cardiff. He provided us with a demo of COSMOS, an alternative to the twitter API, which  is freely available to academic institutions and not-for-profit organisations.

COSMOS allows you to either target a particular twitter feed or enter a search term to obtain a 1% sample of the total worldwide twitter feed. The gathered data can be analysed within the system and is stored in JSON format. The information can subsequently be exported to a .CVS or Excel format.

Although the system is only able to capture new (or live) twitter data, it is possible to upload historical twitter data into the system if an archive has access to this.

Having given us an explanation on how COSMOS works, Sloan asked us to consider the potential risks that archiving and sharing twitter data could pose to the original creator. Should we not protect these creators by anonymizing their tweets to a certain extent? If so,  what data should we keep? Do we only record the tweet ID and the location? Or would this already make it too easy to identify the creator?

The last part of Sloan’s presentation tied in really well with the discussion about the ethical approaches to archiving social media. During this discussion we were prompted to consider ways in which archives could archive twitter data, whilst being conscious of the potential risks to the original creators of the tweets. This definitely got me thinking about the way we currently archive some of the twitter accounts related to the Bodleian Libraries in our very own Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.

All in all, the DPC event definitely gave me more than enough food for thought about the ways in which the Bodleian Libraries and the wider community in general can improve the ways we capture (meta)data related to the online content that we archive and the ethical responsibilities that we have towards the creators of said content.

New catalogues: Papers of A.J. Ayer and Papers of Ruth Pitter (or: Everything is connected)

At first sight, they don’t have much in common: A.J. Ayer (1910-1989),  a philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism and close association with humanist ideas who  enjoyed socialising at clubs in London and New York, and at college dinners in Oxford, and Ruth Pitter (1897-1992), a poet deeply rooted in natural mysticism and spirituality, who preferred a much more reclusive life in a Buckinghamshire village.

However,  Ayer and Pitter have a connection, not only through the fact that their respective papers both share an archival home in the Bodleian’s special collections.

Both were regular contributors to the BBC talk show The Brains Trust in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and they actually met and talked, at least once, as this letter from the papers of Ruth Pitter confirms:

‘Fan mail’ received by Ruth Pitter after her appearance on The Brains Trust of 28 May 1957, with retrospective comment by Pitter.  MS. 7154/3.

The ‘other prof’ whose name Ruth Pitter could not remember when annotating her correspondence in the 1970s must have been Julian Huxley, an evolutionary biologist and zoologist (John Betjeman, the poet, writer and broadcaster, completed the Brains Trust panel for that episode of the programme).

Which questions the Brains Trust discussed in May 1957 we do not know, but any queries about religion, divinity, spirituality, nature and evolution, morals and family values would have sparked a lively debate between Pitter who, inspired by C.S. Lewis’s religious broadcasts and writings, had joined the Anglican Church in the 1940s, on one side, and Ayer and Huxley, both staunch rationalists and secular humanists, on the other.

Ruth Pitter donated her extensive correspondence with C.S. Lewis to the Bodleian Library, and around the same time started sorting and extensively annotating her own papers with view to bequeathing them to the Bodleian. The archive comprises literary papers and other material relating to Ruth Pitter’s career as a poet (c.1903-1983 and some posthumous material), as well as personal correspondence with an emphasis on literary and social letters (1911-c.1988) and personal and financial papers (1897-1988), including material relating to Pitter’s decorative painting business Deane & Forester. Also included are photographs (c.1884-1981), prints, drawings, engravings and watercolours (c.1900-1989), audio recordings of interviews with, and songs and poems by, Ruth Pitter (1981-1987 and n.d.), and material relating to Ruth Pitter which was collected by her friend Mary Thomas (1897-1998).

A.J. Ayer’s papers arrived at the Bodleian in 2004, donated by his son Nick. The material comprises personal and professional correspondence and papers, as well as papers – mainly manuscript and typescript versions – relating to A.J. Ayer’s books, essays, lectures, articles and other (published) works. While the material spans Ayer’s academic and professional life from c.1930 to 1989 and includes some posthumous material, there is an emphasis on material from the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s.

For both collections, online catalogues are now available: Papers of A.J. Ayer and the Papers of Ruth Pitter.

Continue reading