Tag Archives: Archives & Modern Manuscripts

Geography in the Long Vacation

The Long Vacation in August has, since the 1880s, been used by University departments to hold summer schools and vacation courses in Oxford while the undergraduates are away. The School of Geography (established in 1899 as a joint venture between the University and the Royal Geographical Society) began holding its own biennial summer vacation courses in 1902.

Geography at that time was very much perceived as a masculine subject – men of high social status exploring far-flung places, climbing mountains in their shirt-sleeves. The students of the School of Geography at the turn of the century, however, were much more diverse than this. Women made up a large number of the School’s students.

Although women were still not able to become members of the University at this time, they could study for a number of diploma courses which were introduced in the early 1900s. These were usually in subjects not offered to undergraduates as part of the BA course: subjects such as public health, anthropology and geography. Women often outnumbered the men in geography diploma classes which began in 1900, although some parts of the subject, such as surveying, remained male-dominated. The women students were also often a little older than their male counterparts and from a wider range of social classes, many of them schoolteachers.

1904 vacation course details

Details of the 1904 vacation course (from OUA/GE/4A)

The summer vacation courses were designed chiefly for schoolteachers. Held to coincide with the school holidays, they were open to anyone. Those attending spent a couple of weeks in Oxford during August for a special course of lectures and practical work in geography. The courses included field trips (for surveying and map drawing) as well as excursions to local places of geographical interest.

Photograph of 1910 field trip

Vacation course field trip, nd (1910) (from OUA/GE/5A)

Women not only attended the summer vacation course in significant numbers – of the 196 students on the 1912 course, 119 were women – they were also heavily involved in its administration. The 1912 course was organised by Nora MacMunn, Demonstrator in Geography and only the second woman to be appointed to an academic teaching position in the University. She was aided by Fanny Herbertson, wife of the Director of the School, AJ Herbertson, a writer and unofficial Geography staff member for many years.

Photograph of 1924 vacation course

Staff and students at the 1924 vacation course (OUA/GE/5B/1)

Geography eventually became part of the BA course in 1932. From that date it became possible to obtain honours in geography as part of the undergraduate curriculum. As a result, however, both the diploma and the vacation courses were abolished – the new geography Final Honour School needed increased staff time to teach it. The number of women studying geography declined as it became a more masculine subject once again – dominated by men looking to move into the civil service or armed forces – and its connections to schoolteaching declined.

A group of women scholars from the School of Geography has been researching the often forgotten history of women geographers in Oxford including their role in the vacation courses. Links to their work, from which some of the information here has been sourced, are available at:

Centenary Event recording ‘A thing inexpedient and immodest’: women in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography now available online | News | School of Geography and the Environment | University of Oxford

‘Must it be a Man?’ Women’s contribution to the University of Oxford | University of Oxford Podcasts – Audio and Video Lectures

Series 2: Nora MacMunn (1875 – 1967) – Women in Oxford’s History Podcast (wordpress.com)

Conference Report: IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2021

This year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference was held online from 15-16th June 2021, bringing together professionals from around the world to share their experiences of preserving the Web as a research tool for future generations. In this blog post, Simon Mackley reports back on some of the highlights from the conference.  

How can we best preserve the World Wide Web for future researchers, and how can we best provide access to our collections? These were the questions that were at the forefront of this year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference, which was hosted virtually by the National Library of Luxembourg. Web archiving is a subject of particular interest to me: as one of the Bodleian Library’s Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, I spend a lot of my time working on our own Web collections as part of the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive. It was great therefore to have the chance to attend part of this virtual conference and hear for myself about new developments in the sector.

One thing that really struck me from the conference was the huge diversity in approaches to preserving the Web. On the one hand, many of the papers concerned large-scale efforts by national legal deposit institutions. For instance, Ivo Branco, Ricardo Basílio, and Daniel Gomes gave a very interesting presentation on the creation of the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections collection at the Portuguese Web Archive. This was a highly ambitious project, with the aim of crawling not just the Portuguese Web domain but also capturing a snapshot of elections coverage across 24 different European languages through the use of an automated search engine and a range of web crawler technologies (see their blog for more details). The World Wide Web is perhaps the ultimate example of an international information resource, so it is brilliant to see web archiving initiatives take a similarly international approach.

At the other end of the scale, Hélène Brousseau gave a fascinating paper on community-based web archiving at Artexte library and research centre, Canada. Within the arts community, websites often function as digital publications analogous to traditional exhibition catalogues. Brousseau emphasised the need for manual web archiving rather than automated crawling as a means of capturing the full content and functionality of these digital publications, and at Artexete this has been achieved by training website creators to self-archive their own websites using Conifer. Given that in many cases web archivists often have minimal or even no contact with website creators, it was fascinating to hear of an approach that places creators at the very heart of the process.

It was also really interesting to hear about the innovative new ways that web archives were engaging with researchers using their collections, particularly in the use of new ‘Labs’-style approaches. Marie Carlin and Dorothée Benhamou-Suesser for instance reported on the new services being planned for researchers at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Data Lab, including a crawl-on-demand service and the provision of web archive datasets. New methodologies are always being developed within the Digital Humanities, and so it is vitally important that web archives are able to meet the evolving needs of researchers.

Like all good conferences, the papers and discussions did not solely focus on the successes of the past year, but also explored the continued challenges of web archiving and how they can be addressed. Web archiving is often a resource-intensive activity, which can prove a significant challenge for collecting institutions. This was a major point of discussion in the panel session on web archiving the coronavirus pandemic, as institutions had to balance the urgency of quickly capturing web content during a fast-evolving crisis against the need to manage resources for the longer-term, as it became apparent that the pandemic would last months rather than weeks. It was clear from the speakers that no two institutions had approached documenting the pandemic in quite the same way, but nonetheless some very useful general lessons were drawn from the experiences, particularly about the need to clearly define collection scope and goals at the start of any collecting project dealing with rapidly changing events.

The question of access presents an even greater challenge. We ultimately work to preserve the Web so that researchers can make use of it, but as a sector we face significant barriers in delivering this goal. The larger legal deposit collections, for instance, can often only be consulted in the physical reading rooms of their collecting libraries. In his opening address to the conference, Claude D. Conter of the National Library of Luxembourg addressed this problem head-on, calling for copyright reform in order to meet reader expectations of access.

Yet although these challenges may be significant, I have no doubt from the range of new and innovative approaches showcased at this conference that the web archiving sector will be able to overcome them. I am delighted to have had the chance to attend the conference, and I cannot wait to see how some of the projects presented continue to develop in the years to come.

Simon Mackley

Relaunching the Oxford Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden celebrates its 400th birthday on 25 July 2021, marked by the current Bodleian Library exhibition ‘Roots to Seeds’  https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/roots-to-seeds. The Garden itself has changed over the four centuries since it was founded in 1621 (as the Physic Garden) and its fortunes have fluctuated.

By 1834 it was in a pretty bad state. Charles Daubeny was elected Sherardian Professor of Botany early that year and one of the first things he did on becoming Professor was to launch an appeal to raise money for the Garden. Daubeny had taken over a space which he felt was no longer fit for purpose and which he wanted to restore to ‘the character which it possessed a century ago’.

Daubeny wrote a report to the Visitors of the Garden, the body in charge of it, on 14 March 1834 setting out the problems, along with a detailed discussion of what was needed to put things right. The accompanying ‘Plan of the Botanic Garden with the projected additions’, by Henry Jones Underwood, showed the Garden as it was along with Daubeny’s proposed improvements.

Plan of Botanic Garden 1834

Plan of the Botanic Garden with projected additions by HJ Underwood

Alongside basic improvements such as better soil and the removal of vermin-ridden greenery, Daubeny wanted to expand the Garden and create new areas within it. He planned a new garden (where the Gin Border is now) for ‘plants used in Medicine, Agriculture, or the Arts’; and an ‘Experimental Garden’ for ‘ascertaining the effects of soils, or of chemical agents, upon vegetation’.

His most damning criticism was directed at the buildings in the Garden. The greenhouses, built over a century ago, when ‘the mode of constructing Greenhouses was but ill understood’ were ‘extremely ill-constructed for most kinds of plants’. The Stovehouse was ‘so miserably constructed, that all hopes of cultivating rare and curious Exotics… must be abandoned’. In such bad repair, he recommended they simply be pulled down. Other buildings desperately needed remedial work; the bedrooms in the gardener’s cottage were extremely damp on account of being ‘contiguous to a stagnant ditch’.

Daubeny proposed a range of new buildings including new greenhouses, a lecture room and a new library for the books in the Professor’s study space (themselves significant collections of historical importance which were going mouldy from being stored in a converted greenhouse) as well as for the collections of ‘dried plants’ which he saw as being equally important teachings aids as the living plants in the Garden.

A subscription committee was formed to organise the fundraising. So committed was Daubeny to the appeal that his name appeared at the top of the list of those subscribers who had already pledged money, personally donating £100 (over £13,000 today). The subscription raised enough money to make significant improvements to the Garden, but as Daubeny later reported back to the subscribers, there was still so much left to do that he donated another £100 of his own money.

Letter to subscribers, 1834

Letter to subscribers to the Botanic Garden appeal, 1834

Once the improvements were in place, the Garden flourished, even after the new museum (now the Natural History Museum) was built in the Parks in the 1850s as a centre for the sciences. Daubeny and botany had stayed in the Garden. But within twenty years of Daubeny’s death in 1867, the study of botany had declined yet again. Those sciences based in the new museum were prospering whilst the Garden was not. It took further improvements and yet more investment in the Garden to bring it back to life.

Centenary of the first woman to receive an honorary degree

It’s often said that the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the University was Queen Mary. She received a Doctorate of Civil Law (DCL) by diploma on 11 March 1921. A degree by diploma is similar to an honorary degree, in that it’s conferred without the recipient having to study or sit any exams. The difference is that degrees by diploma are for royalty and heads of state only.

The first woman to receive an honorary degree proper was Charlotte Byron Green who received an honorary Master of Arts (MA) on 14 June 1921. Honoured for her work as a longstanding campaigner for women’s education in Oxford, Charlotte had been a founder member of the Association for the Education of Women (or AEW) which had promoted women’s education in Oxford since 1878. She had connections with Somerville and St Anne’s Colleges, as well as with the city of Oxford, having trained as a district nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

Charlotte was shortly followed by the second female recipient, Elizabeth Wordsworth, former Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and founder of St Hugh’s College (both women-only colleges at that time) who received her honorary MA on 25 October 1921. She was also honoured for her work promoting women’s education in Oxford.

It’s interesting to note that neither Charlotte nor Elizabeth received their degrees at Encaenia, and both were awarded the lesser honorary degree of MA (rather that the doctorates usually conferred at Encaenia). The two ceremonies appear to have been held with very little fanfare and no documentation from either survives in the University Archives. The only record is the decision made on 30 May 1921 by Hebdomadal Council, the University’s executive body, to confer the degrees on Charlotte and Elizabeth.

Given their ground-breaking nature, it’s perhaps surprising that more was not made of these events at the time. Although the University was finally acknowledging the achievements of these women in their long fight for equal academic opportunity (both were elderly by this time: Charlotte, 78, and Elizabeth, 81), there was maybe an irony in honouring them for achieving something which the University had spent so many years resisting.

In the new few years Charlotte and Elizabeth were followed by more eminent women receiving honorary MAs, nearly all of whom were honoured as campaigners for women’s education. The first honorary doctorate was not conferred on a woman until 1925 when Harvard astronomer, Annie Jump Cannon, received an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc).

 

Relativity and an honorary degree

Ninety years ago this month Albert Einstein, the great physicist and mathematician, visited Oxford University. He came to give the Rhodes Memorial Lectures, a short series of lectures on the subject of relativity held on three successive Saturday lunchtimes at Rhodes House. According to notices in the University Gazette, the lectures were for members of the University, but a few tickets were available to members of the public. The first lecture on Saturday 9 May entitled ‘The Theory of Relativity’ was reportedly packed out. When the lecture began, there were so many people present (over 400 according to The Oxford Times), that there was standing room only for some.

While he was here, the University grabbed the opportunity to give Einstein an honorary degree. Already a famous scientist by this date, he had been invited by the University to receive an honorary degree twice before: at the Encaenia in 1925 and again in 1930. He had been unable to attend both times; his doctor advising him against the trip on the second occasion. His letters declining the offers are gracious and elegantly written. But this third time, the University succeeded and Einstein wrote again on 12 May 1931 accepting the offer with thanks. The arrangements were hastily made and his Doctor of Science (DSc) degree was conferred on the morning of Saturday 23 May, shortly before he gave his third, and final, lecture.

Gazette notice May 1931

University Gazette notice of the conferral of Einstein’s honorary degree, 1931

Einstein delivered that final lecture, on the ‘Latest developments of the Theory’ later than day but to a slightly smaller crowd than previously. The Times reported that there were notable absentees in the audience. Maybe even Oxford’s brightest minds had found an exposition of relativity in German rather challenging.

Einstein left Oxford for Hamburg five days later but the blackboard which he used in giving the second lecture, on ‘The Cosmological Problem’, was kept by the University and remains today in the Museum of the History of Science.

Einstein's blackboard

Blackboard used by Einstein during his second lecture on ‘The Cosmological Problem’. © The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. With kind permission of the Albert Einstein Archives.

 

What’s it like to be a trainee? Francesca Miller, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I discovered the Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist role while looking for jobs in Oxford that gave opportunities for training and learning. Though I didn’t know much about digital archiving, as soon as I read the advert I knew it was the job for me and I was delighted when I got it. My background is quite varied, having degrees in Graphic Design and Mathematics and being part way through my MSc in Maths, all while working in the financial sector. I decided I wanted a change of direction and the traineeship was the perfect opportunity to use my skills and knowledge in an interesting and developing field.

Having no previous experience of archives hasn’t been a barrier as the work introduces you through on the job training and the PGDip at Aberystwyth University. While studying and working at the same time can be demanding, the course compliments the job and I already feel like I know so much more. While there has be some aspects of the role I haven’t be able to do, due to remote working, there is always plenty of work and I have learnt so much in 7 months. Working alongside the other two trainees has been really enjoyable and our twice-weekly web archiving session via teams has worked really well. They have both been very supportive and are always willing to answer my questions and navigate me through the complexity that is web archiving. The role has enabled me to expand on my coding skills by learning XML as part of a retro-conversion project and learn new skills around cataloguing and indexing.

I started my traineeship in September 2020 and like a lot of what has happened in the last year it hasn’t gone quite as expected! Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been into the Weston Library since my interview which took place prior to the first lockdown. Despite working from my home and not meeting my colleagues in person, I have been made to feel welcome and part of the digital archiving team. I am very much looking forward to discovering more aspects of digital archiving during the rest of my traineeship and I hope very soon to be able to experience the Bodleian Library in person!

Francesca Miller, May 2021

What’s it like to be a trainee? Simon Mackley, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I applied to become a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist because I wanted a route into the profession that would also equip me with the skills for working with archives in the digital age. I have always had a keen interest in the past: I originally trained as a historian, completing a PhD in British imperial history at the University of Exeter in 2016. The following year I got my first archives job, working as an Archives Assistant as part of the Conservative Party Archive team at the Bodleian. I found the work fascinating and really rewarding, and it didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to pursue this as a career. When the opportunity to apply for the traineeship came up, I jumped at the chance!

One of the great things about being a digital archives trainee is that you get to work across a wide range of projects and collections. For instance, my work over the past year has included reviewing, indexing, and publishing a hugely diverse range of catalogue records as part of the Summary Catalogue project, as well as more technical tasks such as retro-converting the historic catalogues of the University Archives to make them machine-readable. A particular highlight for me has been working on the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Not coming from a technical background, this was a completely new area for me. However, working on the web archive has become one of my favourite parts of the traineeship, and I have really enjoyed developing a new set of skills in this area.

I have also found studying for the postgraduate diploma at Aberystwyth University really interesting, and the topics covered often prove very useful in my day-to-day work. Balancing distance learning with full-time work can be challenging at times, but you get plenty of support from your fellow trainees and the tutors at Aberystwyth. As a digital archives trainee, you also get to take part in the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee programme, and I have really enjoyed having the chance to learn more about the wider work of the Bodleian and College libraries.

Obviously, working during the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it its own unique challenges: my first day in the role ended up coinciding with the start of the first national lockdown! Fortunately, the nature of digital archives means that there has still been plenty of tasks to get on with while working from home. The Aberystwyth University course has also been able to continue throughout the pandemic, so I’ve not had any disruption to my studies.

I am now halfway through the traineeship, and looking back on the past year I am amazed at how much I have already learned. I really value the opportunities I’ve had in this role, and I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store!

Simon Mackley, April 2021

Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

Female blacksmiths and natural daughters

Today I discovered exactly how compulsive family history research can be when I went down a census rabbit hole after finding records of what appeared to be a female blacksmith in the Bodleian’s archival collections.

The Bodleian holds the Barham family papers which came here with the extensive Clarendon family archive thanks to Lady Katherine, the Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874), who married the 4th Earl after the death of her first husband John Foster Barham, a Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Stockbridge in Hampshire and the son of Joseph Foster Barham, a prominent Pembrokeshire landowner who also owned substantial numbers of slaves in Jamaica. [You can find slave inventories and estate accounts in the Barham Family Papers.]

Top half of a bill for blacksmithing costs owed by William Barham to Mary Hulbert, 1834, Clarendon Archive (Earls of the 2nd Creation), Bodleian Libraries

Top half of a bill for blacksmithing costs owed by William Barham to Mary Hulbert, 1834, Clarendon Archive (Earls of the 2nd Creation), Bodleian Libraries [click to enlarge]

The portion of 4th Earl of Clarendon’s papers which I am currently cataloguing, however, includes some additional Barham-related letters and papers such as this tantalising invoice of payments owed by William Barham, Lady Katharine’s brother-in-law, to Mary Hulbert, blacksmith. The invoice is a long list of work completed between April and November 1834, totalling £3 1s 1d, and is marked as unpaid.

Having learned five years ago that a woman smith worked on Blenheim Palace in 1708, I was particularly interested in the identity of this blacksmith: Mary Hulbert.

A plain search for Mary Hulbert on Ancestry produced a haystack’s worth of results, but I took a punt on the Stockbridge connection, and found that there was, indeed, a Mary Hulbert listed in the 1841 census in Stockbridge and that the Hulbert family included a blacksmith. But disappointing my hopes that she would be labelled a blacksmith in her own right, that blacksmith was her husband, George. And in fact, I soon found lower down the small stack of William Barham’s invoices (which include a bill for two nights away from home that tots up the cost of a bed, half a pint of best brandy, another bottle of brandy, and a bottle of gin) yet another 1834 blacksmith’s invoice, this one from…George Hulbert, also unpaid.

This was a useful reminder to always check related records before going down rabbit holes, but I was still curious about Mary Hulbert of Stockbridge, who, assuming she was the Mary Hulbert named on this invoice, was at the very least involved in her husband’s business. In fact, given that the jobs and dates on the two blacksmithing bills are different, it remains possible that Mary really was doing work on her own account, and more of it and at a greater value than George, whose bill only lists jobs on 29 May and 7 June 1834 worth the comparatively small sum of 4s 11d.

Interestingly, birth and marriage records show that Mary was 16 years older than her husband: he was 22 when they married in 1822, and she was 38. I wondered if perhaps Mary’s father had been a blacksmith and George Hulbert his apprentice, but in fact, no, a quick and dirty search suggests that her father Thomas Young was a maltster, while a 1784 Hampshire directory lists another George Hulbert as a blacksmith in Stockbridge, so it looks like smithing was the Hulbert family trade.

Although it seemed more than likely at this point, I still couldn’t be certain that the Mary and George Hulbert sending bills to William Barham were the Stockbridge Hulberts. I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at William Barham’s records to see if he had a direct connection with the town, given that he himself was never Stockbridge’s MP.

And that’s where things got intriguing.

Continue reading

The M. Deneke-Mendelssohn Collection

by Martin Holmes
Alfred Brendel Curator of Music, Bodleian Libraries

Fig. 1: Oil sketch by Carl Begas (1794-1854) of Mendelssohn aged 12, shortly before his flowing locks were cut off (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn e. 5). The full portrait for which this study was made is sadly lost.

A major milestone in the ongoing music manuscript and archives cataloguing project has been reached with the conversion of the first two volumes of the printed catalogue of the Bodleian’s Mendelssohn collection (https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/7530). (The third volume is devoted to printed music so lies outside the scope of this project, but its contents are already included in the SOLO catalogue.)[1]

Given the importance of England to Mendelssohn’s career and his perhaps disproportionate prominence in and influence on the musical life of this country, it is not inappropriate that there should be a Mendelssohn archive here, in his almost-adopted homeland. However, the collection contains far more material than that relating specifically to his activities on this side of the English Channel.

The Library owes the existence of its Mendelssohn collection not to any direct relationship of the composer to the City of Oxford but to the fact that one of the composer’s grandsons, Paul Victor Mendelssohn Benecke (1868-1944) settled in Oxford in the 1890s, first as a student and later as a Fellow of Magdalen College. Paul took a great interest in the family treasures he had inherited from his mother and set about adding to his collection by persuading his cousins to part with other items, including the series of 27 volumes (known as the ‘Green Books’) containing practically all the correspondence received by the composer from the age of 12. (The extremely fragile ‘Green Books’ are currently undergoing a programme of disbinding and conservation which it is hoped will help facilitate a future digitization project.)

Fig. 2: A letter from Goethe to the 16-year-old Mendelssohn. The composer had first visited Goethe when he was only 12 and he made a deep impression on the elderly poet. (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn b. 4 (13).

In Oxford, Paul Benecke renewed an acquaintance with Margaret (‘Marga’) Deneke (no relation despite the similarity of name), whose family had been neighbours of the Beneckes in Camberwell. From 1916, Marga Deneke lived with her sister at ‘Gunfield’, a large house in Norham Gardens where they held frequent concerts and musical soirées which were well-known on the Oxford music scene, attracting occasional visits from the likes of Albert Schweitzer, Paul Wittgenstein and Albert Einstein, as well as more local musicians.

Eventually, following Marga’s own purchase of a Mendelssohn manuscript, Paul decided to pass on his entire collection to her and it was moved to her North Oxford home. After Paul’s death in 1944, Marga set about accumulating whatever other Mendelssohniana she could find, encouraging other descendants of the composer to sell or give items to her growing collection. Additions at this time included the remarkable series of sketchbooks, acquired from the Swiss branch of the family, which demonstrate the composer’s prodigious artistic talent and provide a record of his frequent travels. Much of the collection was deposited in the Bodleian in the 1950s and 60s for safe keeping and, following Marga’s death in 1969 and that of her sister in 1973, the collection passed formally into the ownership of the Library which has since tried to augment it further as opportunity and funds allow.

Fig. 3: The Pass of Killicrankie as sketched by Mendelssohn on his famous Scottish tour of 1829 (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn d. 2, fol. 19). You can follow Mendelssohn’s travels virtually at https://www.mendelssohninscotland.com/ where many of the Scottish sketches are reproduced.

Most of Mendelssohn’s completed music manuscripts were given to the Royal Library in Berlin in 1878 (now the Staatsbibliothek (SBPK)). Major music manuscripts are therefore generally lacking from the Oxford collection. Instead, it is particularly rich in biographical material: in addition to the correspondence and the sketchbooks, the other papers in the collection reflect every aspect of the composer’s life, from his childhood to his death, and include documents such as his elementary school reports, early harmony exercises, diaries, account books, albums and a large portion of Mendelssohn’s personal library – even a couple of his conducting batons, his death mask and a lock of his hair. There certainly are music manuscripts in the collection, including both his first and last compositions, but most are sketches or early drafts which, to some, are arguably more interesting than the finished fair copies. Other members of the family are also represented in the collection, notably Felix’s talented sister Fanny Hensel and his wife Cécile.

Fig. 4: The opening bars of the Hebrides Overture, probably Mendelssohn’s most famous work, inspired by his Scottish tour of 1829. Final autograph draft score, purchased in 2002 with funds provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the Bodleian and individual donors. (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn d. 71, fol. 1)

As one of the Library’s most important music collections, the Deneke-Mendelssohn archive is in high demand, not only from music scholars but also from historians researching the many people who corresponded with Mendelssohn and those interested in the Romantic movement more broadly. As Mendelssohn’s talent as an artist becomes better known, the sketchbooks and watercolours are generating considerable interest and, with the recent publication of the first real attempt at a comprehensive list of Mendelssohn’s drawings and paintings{2}, that interest is likely to grow further. In addition to the artwork, other highlights of the collection include the autograph vocal score of Elijah, the Mendelssohns’ Honeymoon Diary, performing materials from the composer’s revival of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and the final autograph score of the Hebrides Overture (a more recent acquisition).

The catalogue now published online in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts is based on the text of Margaret Crum’s printed catalogue of 1980 and 1983 but incorporates the large number of corrections and amendments made to the reading room copy over many years, principally by the former Music Librarian, Peter Ward Jones (himself a leading authority on Mendelssohn). Other updates have been made (as time has allowed), including descriptions of items acquired since the printed catalogues were published and references to more recent scholarship. It is hoped that the launch of the online catalogue will further raise awareness of the collection and make it easier for scholars and other musicians to discover and access the wealth of fascinating material it contains.

References:

[1] Catalogue of the Mendelssohn papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, vols. 1-2, compiled by Margaret Crum (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1980-1983); volume 3, compiled by Peter Ward Jones, was published in 1989.

[2] Ralf Wehner, ‘»Mit Deinen Rebusen machst Du uns doch alle zu Eseln«.Zu einigen Bilderrätseln von Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’, Mendelssohn-Studien, Bd. 20 (2017), pp. 111-126.

Fig. 5: Sketch of Pozzuoli, Naples (20 May 1831), showing Mendelssohn’s particular skill and love for drawing buildings and boats. He was less good at drawing people! (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn d. 3, fol. 3)

Fig. 6: The Château de Chillon (23 Dec 1843). This tiny watercolour by Mendelssohn measures only a few centimetres across (MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn c. 49, fol. 97). Done from a pencil sketch at MS. M. Deneke Mendelssohn e. 1, fol. 4, made the previous year.

Fig. 7: A particularly fine example of Mendelssohn’s signature, appended to a presentation copy of his Schilflied, dated 24 March 1845 (MS. M. Deneke Menedelssohn c. 101)

Fig. 8: Mendelssohn’s final composition, the Altdeutsches Frühlingslied (‘Old German Spring Song’), written on 7 October 1847. The text alludes to the death of his beloved sister Fanny earlier in the year. Combined with overwork, the shock of her sudden death had sapped him of his strength and he succumbed to his final illness just a few weeks later.