Tag Archives: Oxford

Protest in the archives: The history of anti-black protest in Oxford’s History

The thing that drew me to this internship was the opportunity to redefine and recapture black history at Oxford. A part of a joint project with the Museum of Oxford, the internship allowed me to explore the varied history of political activism in anti-black discrimination. It also gave me the chance to reinstate black political actors into the conversation of anti-racism and recognise their work and importance in the progress we have made so far and how they have inspired us to continue this work.

THE UK IS NOT INNOCENT, MS. 18592/13, item 6

THE UK IS NOT INNOCENT, MS. 18592/13, item 6

For my research I focused on the idea of ‘Protest, Power and Posters’, identifying how the art and cultural medium of posters and other types of ephemera highlight and capture contemporary race issues. Furthermore, how certain themes and messages in these ephemera have sustained and been reproduced throughout Oxford’s history of protest all the way to the present. I was able to look through the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) archives, the Joint Action Commission Against Racial Intolerance (JACARI) archives and Rhodes Must Fall 2.0 posters from this summer.

A theme that I also wanted to highlight within my research was British complicity in the mistreatment of black individuals.

The poster above, created for a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Oxford, details black British individuals who have had their lives taken by violence and institutional brutality. I was particularly drawn to this poster, as it forces us to recognise a global issue or an ‘American’ issue as a national and local one as well, instead of painting Britain as a society where anti-blackness doesn’t exist.

JACARI Lunchtime Meetings poster, John Johnson Collection, Oxford Union Societies box J5

JACARI Lunchtime Meetings poster, John Johnson Collection, Oxford Union Societies box J5

An episode of Oxford’s race history that really interested me was the ‘Colour Ban’ in the 1950s and 1960s, enacted on POC (people of colour) Oxford students. This was brought to the public’s attention as JACARI, the largest student organisation at that time, published a report in 1963. This report featured the statistic that 62% of landladies had stated that they would not lodge African/Asian students. The poster on the right advertises a lunchtime discussion group to discuss this matter alongside other issues associated with race relations such as Fascism in Britain. Both of these posters highlight the need to continue to address Britain’s own race issues as part of global anti-blackness and not cast them aside as an American problem.



Xaira Adebayo, Summer Intern 2020, Bodleian Libraries and Museum of Oxford

Common Threads: From Past to the Present

The race and diversity narratives project with the Bodleian Libraries and the Museum of Oxford allowed me to explore a crucial aspect of the city of Oxford and its inhabitants. For my research I looked at the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) archives, dating back to the 1960s, directly in correlation with the contemporary Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) 2.0 protests from summer and the global Black Lives Matter movement.

MSS. AAM 607. Reproduced with the permission of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee.

MSS. AAM 607. Reproduced with the permission of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee.

It was fascinating to trace the common elements between these two historical protests that the city of Oxford has witnessed. The simple but powerful Black Power Fist signifies just how connected the movements are. A poster from the 1980s for ‘End Repression in South Africa’ depicts a man raising his fist and can be directly compared with a picture from 2020 RMF movement and a protestor using the same powerful symbol.

Beyond significant symbols, the city as a space, the involvement of the students and city dwellers together, all become a part of the continued common history.

‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in Oxford, June 2020.

‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in Oxford, June 2020.

The AAM archives hold several letters and correspondences between the local chapter and the national one, between AAM and Oxford citizens who want to be more involved and supportive of the movement, minutes and proceedings of Oxford City Meetings and AAM meetings. The call for protests above is similar to the calls we send out today, the method of dissemination might have evolved, the sentiment remains the same – to unify and stand together.

One particular incident that stood out to me was the boycott of the Apollo Theatre during the Christmas of 1987 because the theatre starred Marti Caine, an actress who said: ‘The best thing we can do for the blacks is send them back into the jungle to recover their culture.’ The protest and the boycott led to Caine issuing a public apology and signing the AAM petition. Caine and Rhodes, Apollo Theatre and Oriel College, these are not the same issues, but similar in how spaces and people come to represent ideologies, often extremely problematic ones, but simultaneously how a unified stand against such ideas brings them down.

The idea of common elements or ‘threads’ between the two protests, for me, reflects how the fight for racial equality is an ongoing conversation and struggle but it has multiple sides to it. While the positives show that the people of Oxford have time and again stood up against the injustice, the counter-question becomes why have these injustices continued well into the 21st century? A critical exploration of archives at the Bodleian relating to the city of Oxford allowed me to ask these questions while contributing to and continuing the conversation. It is perhaps in these historically extending common threads across the decades that the meaning of ‘a movement and not a moment’ truly shines through as minority identities continue their struggles against historical and contemporary injustices.

MS. 18592/3, item 6.

MS. 18592/3, item 6.

Summer Intern 2020, Bodleian Libraries and Museum of Oxford
MPhil Modern South Asian Studies (2019-2021), St Antony’s College, University of Oxford


John Hungerford Pollen: Early years and Oxford

This is the first in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

‘Photograph of John Hungerford Pollen 1885 [aged 65] made by his wife [Maria Pollen]’, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

he wears a beard, like other men of genius‘ (1)

John Hungerford Pollen was a talented artist and author with a particular interest in art, design, and architecture: he was an active and formative developer of the collections in his role as Assistant Keeper at what is now the V&A. However, his career was not a straightforward one, having trained and practiced as a Church of England priest before his conversion to Roman Catholicism. His social circle was wide and varied, counting John Henry Newman as much as a friend as fellow Pre-Raphaelite artists and literary celebrities such as Wilfred Scawen Blunt and William Makepeace Thackeray. One of his friends later in life was his employer and fellow convert Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India. At home, he was also very much the family man, being father to ten children.

John Hungerford Pollen was born on 19th November 1820 at 6 New Burlington Street in London, the second son of Richard Pollen (1786–1838) and his wife, Anne Cockerell (1784–1865). He was educated at Durham House, Chelsea and Eton College before he went up to study at Christ Church, Oxford. After taking his BA in 1842, he became a fellow of Merton College and would go on to become (at various points) dean, bursar, and garden master there. After a year or so of travelling with his elder brother Hungerford (Richard Hungerford Pollen, 1815-1881) in the Middle East, he was ordained as a deacon in 1845 and became a curate at St Peter-le-Bailey in Oxford before being ordained as a priest by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Samuel Wilberforce, in June 1846.

J.H. Pollen, watercolour of his room at Merton, 17 September 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

During his curacy at St Peter-le-Bailey, Pollen employed his artistic skill in designing a decorative scheme for the ceiling of the church (sadly, it has not survived as the church was demolished in 1872 when the road was widened). Pollen would go on to design and paint the ceiling of the chapel in Merton College between 1849 and 1850. Whilst lilies were a prominent theme, he also included images of angels, prophets, and church fathers, drawing inspiration from his friends and family. Permission was granted for him to extend the scheme and paint the upper part of the walls of the chapel a few years later, in 1877.

J.H. Pollen, watercolour of Merton college chapel, 25 June 1850, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

J.H. Pollen, studies of lilies (presumably for the decoration of Merton Chapel ceiling), 16 July 1850, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Pollen became a Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford in 1851 and, in different circumstances, might have gone on to live a long and settled life within the climes of Oxford. However, by this point his time at Oxford was drawing to a close, as we shall discover in tomorrow’s blog post.

J.H. Pollen, view of Oxford from the river with Iffley church and rectory foreground left and Tom Tower, Christ Church, mid-distance right, 11 October 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

-Rachael Marsay


1) John Henry Newman quoted in Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.275.

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/

Headington Hill, bellows and giddiness: Alveolar CO2 pressure, and (self-) experiments in respiratory physiology

In 1905, John Scott Haldane and Mabel FitzGerald set out to ‘ascertain the limits within which the alveolar CO2 pressure varies in different individuals’  – i.e. they set out to discover a baseline figure for the carbon dioxide (CO2) pressure in the lungs of healthy human beings – ‘as a knowledge of these limits is essential to a correct appreciation of pathological changes in the alveolar CO2 pressure’. Or to put it another way, the team needed to determine the normal range of alveolar pressure in healthy people before anybody could judge how diseases affected people’s lungs.

To obtain the data, Haldane and FitzGerald used a method and apparatus  which Haldane had introduced in 1898 for measuring the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air people breathed out, widely known as the Haldane Apparatus. These measurements allowed the team to calculate the CO2 concentration or ‘pressure’ in the actual alveoli, and to draw conclusions on the exchange of CO2 and O2 between the lung and the blood – the very foundation of respiratory physiology.

Colleagues, friends and family were amongst the volunteers examined in the first set of experiments conducted at the laboratory at  Haldane’s home in North Oxford, in March and April 1905. These results of these experiments were recorded by Mabel FitzGerald in one of the many notebooks which survive in her archive.

FitzGerald Notebook

A small black notebook (pictured here with some of FitzGerald’s general notes on air analysis) – looking rather inconspicuous, but giving remarkable insights into early experiments in respiratory physiology.

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