Tag Archives: Archives & Modern Manuscripts

The Langdon Hills map

This month’s University Archives blog looks at one of the most beautiful and colourful items in the University Archives: a 1585 plan of a farm and surrounding land at Langdon Hills in Essex. How did Oxford University Archives end up with a map of Essex? The reason is a bequest to the University which took place exactly 400 years ago.

In 1621 the University was given two plots of land in Essex by Thomas White, a clergyman and former Canon of Christ Church. The gift was intended to establish and provide ongoing financial support for a new professorship at the University: the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy.

Portrait of Thomas White

Portrait of Thomas White (Bodleian Library LP 81)

Donations to the University like this were not unusual. Wealthy individuals wanting to perpetuate their name, or gain some kind of connection with the University, gave land and its associated income (eg from renting the land to tenants) to endow new academic posts or institutions. In the original deed of benefaction which conveyed the two plots of land (known as Langdon Hills and Blackmans Farm) to the University, White set out what he wanted the income from the estate to be used for. The principal one of these was to pay for the salary, or ‘stipend’, of the professor – the sum of £100 a year.

The trouble with estates is that it costs money to run them – sometimes more than the income that you get from them. White’s gift came with its own problems for the University. During the period 1621-1798 the income from the property was never enough for everything it was supposed to pay for. In 1832 the University discovered that the estate, having been neglected by its tenant, was in such ‘a grievous state of dilapidation’ that it was completely unlettable. The University had to spend nearly £2000 on repairs so it could be let again. Until the works were completed, nearly a decade later in 1841, the estate gave the University no income and not one of the post-holders was paid. The situation never really improved and so, by the 1920s, the University decided to part with the estate. By 1924, both plots of land had been sold.

When the University acquired the estate back in 1621, it also acquired a number of much older historical documents as part of the property transaction. These included two plans of the estate – one of Langdon Hills, and one of Blackmans Farm. They had been drawn up in 1585 for the then owner of the estate, Sir Thomas Mildmay. Like many wealthy landowners of the time, Mildmay commissioned surveyors to survey his estates and produce plans of them. Expensive to produce, they would have been a status symbol for him as well as having a practical purpose. Mildmay commissioned John Walker, a surveyor from Essex, and his son (also John), to survey this estate as as well as a number of others he owned in the county.

Plan of Langdon Hills estate

Plan of Langdon Hills estate, 1585 (OUA/SEP/2/1/2)

The larger of the two plans, concerning Langdon Hills, shows the size and use of the farm, including detail of trees and gates and, at the bottom of the plan marked ‘A’, an impressive Tudor house which appears to have been Langdon Hills Hall. The Hall is no longer there, but a farm, Langdon Hall Farm, with the same recognisable field boundaries, can be found just outside Basildon.

Detail of house at 'A'

Detail of house at ‘A’ (from OUA/SEP/2/1/2)

The first black student at Oxford University

As part of Black History Month, the University Archives’ blog for October celebrates the achievements of the first black student at the University: Christian Frederick Cole.

Cole was admitted to the University (‘matriculated’) nearly 150 years ago on 19 April 1873. A young man of 21 from Sierra Leone, he was the adopted son of a clergyman, Jacob Cole. His grandfather had been enslaved. The information he gave the University at his matriculation was brief and the document itself, written in his own hand, is unremarkable. But the significance of this small piece of blue paper is great.

Matriculation form of Christian Cole

Matriculation form of Christian Cole, 1873 (from OUA/UR/1/1/5)

The University did not start recording the ethnicity of its students until late the following century, so we cannot say with absolute certainty that Cole was the first black student; but his presence in Oxford was remarked upon by contemporaries, suggesting that his appearance was something new. Unfortunately we don’t really know what he looked like: we have no images of Cole here in the Archives (the University didn’t take photographs of its students at this time) and the only known images of him are contemporary caricatures showing him racially stereotyped.

Cole was admitted as a non-collegiate student. Non-collegiate or ‘unattached’ students were first admitted to the University in 1868 as part of a move in the second part of the nineteenth century to open it up to a ‘larger and poorer class of the population’. It was one of a number of developments at the time to widen access to a university which was expanding, both in terms of undergraduate numbers, as well as the diversity of the backgrounds of its students.

Non-collegiate status enabled men (it was still only men) to become students without being members of a college or hall; college membership put studying at Oxford out of financial reach for many. Cole was not a wealthy man. He’s said to have suffered much hardship whilst a student, especially after financial support from his family ceased. He found different ways to fund his time here, giving music lessons and offering private tuition to undergraduates, advertising his services in the University Gazette.

University Gazette advertisements

Advertisements for private tuition from the ‘University Gazette’, 29 January 1878

Cole worked hard at his studies, in Latin and Greek, gaining fourth class honours in Literae Humaniores (ie classics), a very respectable achievement at the time, especially for a non-collegiate student. Non-collegiate students tended to pursue a broader and more general course of study for the BA (known as the Pass School) rather than the single-subject specialisation required for honour schools.

His BA was conferred  in 1876 and this is the last mention of him in the University’s own records here. Shortly after that, however, he became a member of University College, through its Master, George Bradley. Until Cole left there in 1880, Bradley personally paid his college membership fees. He also had the support of his fellow students in the college who started an appeal to help him after his family’s financial support ended.

Cole went on to study at the Inner Temple and became a barrister-at-law in 1883. He was the first black African to practise law in an English court. It appears, however, that he struggled to find enough work and had to return to Africa. Cole died in 1885 in Zanzibar of smallpox aged only 33, but he was a pioneer and his experience at Oxford opened the door for other black students to follow. A plaque was erected at University College in 2017 to commemorate his achievements.

More information about Cole’s connections with University College can be found on their website at https://www.univ.ox.ac.uk/news/plaque-univ-pioneer/ . Further information about Cole and other early black students at the University can be found on the Black Oxford website at HOME | blackoxford .

The University’s programme of events for Black History Month is available at Black History Month at Oxford | University of Oxford .  The Opening Oxford 1871- website also includes a recent blog by Patricia Daley, Professor of the Human Geography of Africa, on her experience as a black graduate student at the University in the late 1980s A Home for Black Students | Opening Oxford 1871-

Conference Report: Archives and Records Association Annual Conference 2021

The Archives and Records Association (ARA) Annual Conference 2021 was held 1st–3rd September 2021. In this blog post, Rachael Marsay reports on some of the highlights of the conference, held entirely online this year for the first time.


Logo for the Archive and Records Association 2021 Virtual Conference

There were three themes to this year’s conference: sustainability, diversity, and advocacy. Though each day of the conference covered one theme, one of the stand-outs of the conference was just how interlinked all three strands were.

Day one’s keynote speaker was Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper at The National Archives. Jeff talked about environmental sustainability, as well as the sustainability of the record and of the archives sector. He mentioned how The National Archives at Kew are committed to lowering their carbon footprint, which has been reduced by 80% since 2009. This has been achieved by building on scientific research with regards to buildings, bringing both a financial and environmental benefit. He also spoke of records at risk, referring to the work of the Cultural Recovery Fund, the Covid-19 Archives Fund for records at risk and the Crisis Management Team alongside already established fund streams such as the Archives Revealed grant scheme. Digital records were flagged as records at risk and he stressed the need for the sector to work in partnership and collaboration, both together and with digital giants (such as Microsoft and Google) with regards to developing digital products. Sector skills include the need for records professionals to gain digital skills through schemes and strategies such as Plugged In Powered Up, the Novice to Know-How online training resource created by the Digital Preservation Coalition, the Digital Archives Learning Exchange, and the Bridging the Gap traineeship programme.

The fragility of born-digital records, identified as critically endangered by the Digital Preservation Coalition, was a common theme throughout the conference. Even the most modern of records are at risk (CD-Rs for example, have a lifespan of under 10 years). Particular digital records discussed related to oral history interviews, often seen as ‘history from below’, recording the lives of those with ‘hidden histories’ off mainstream records, such as women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Challenges to preserve digital material include cost, knowledge, skills and training, technology, and resources, as well as issues surrounding ‘gatekeeping’ and access to material. Rachel MacGregor (Digital Preservation Officer at The Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick) emphasised the need to record, describe, and catalogue born digital collections well in order to ensure that that they can be utilised by researchers, and explored some of the standards and guidance currently available.

Day two’s keynote speaker was Arike Oke (Managing Director, Black Cultural Archives) who spoke about experiences with diversity, aptly described as the equitable and mindful bringing together of difference; diversity should not be seen as static, but as a perpetual movement, both including and evolving difference. In her talk, Arike raised the point of classifying and being classified, and several sessions across the three days referred to how language and terminology impacted the use of records or archives created by or for particular communities. The use of historic terminology can be a barrier to access, particularly when words hold negative connotations that can cause distress to users. This was explored in several sessions in relation to LGBTQ+ related records and archives (including those kept at the Parliamentary Archives of the UK Parliament), as well as colonial collections such as the Miscellaneous Reports Collection held by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Thoughts on how to address the issues included guides or notes explaining the context and why such words were used, including modern terms or names in brackets, inviting feedback, and for events, giving participants time and space to process information.

The importance of being open to keeping more ephemeral material and objects (e.g. pin badges, leaflets and posters) was also highlighted, particularly in shedding light on lives not necessarily recorded in more traditional forms. Christopher Hilton of Britten Pears Arts gave an interesting presentation on the multitude of receipts kept by Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears for tax purposes. The receipts were important in shedding light on their relationship by providing evidence that they maintained clearly separate financial lives, demonstrating how important it was for their professional lives at that period that their records could be used to demonstrate a ‘plausible deniability’ should their personal relationship be questioned. The receipts were also records of businesses in Aldeburgh which are now long gone, provoking memories for older residents and providing a tangible link between the archive and the town.

Day three’s keynote speaker was Deirdre McParland, Senior Archivist at the Electricity Supply Board (Ireland) whose inspirational talk focussed on the importance of advocacy and that ‘archives are for life, not just anniversaries’. Deirdre spoke of how archives should be pro-active and innovative when it comes to advocacy, and that projects should be strategically planned to include promotion as standard. Deirdre’s talk was followed by a talk by Jenny Moran and Robin Jenkins from the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, and Richard Wiltshire of the Crisis Management Team. Jenny, Robin and Richard talked about saving the archive of the travel firm Thomas Cook after the company’s sudden collapse: an excellent example of how swift action, negotiation and successful advocacy led to the ensured survival of the archive. The conference was nicely brought to a close by a talk by Alan and Bethan Ward on their project Photographs from Another Place. Their talk, given from the perspective of the archive user, showed how a bit of archival research revealed the names and stories behind a group of forgotten and unlabelled glass plate negatives. It was, for me at least, a timely reminder of the enduring value of archives.


A selection of further reading recommendations made by speakers and participants:

 

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