Calling students: Travelling Incognito? Help us unmask some anonymous authors of manuscript travel diaries, c. 1790-1830

The Detective by Paurian (Flick)

The Detectuve by Paurian (Flickr) http://bit.ly/1J8I4s3

Oxford History Faculty students are invited to come to the Weston Library on Thursday 11 June to use their detective skills and help us solve some manuscript mysteries.

Over many decades the Bodleian has acquired a very large number of manuscript diaries which together form a vital source particularly for social history. Many of these date from the late-18th to the mid-19th century, and travel diaries are the most represented genre. We have never been able to find the authorship for several of these diaries, and their interest and usefulness for research would increase considerably if we knew who had written them. They were mostly acquired before the Internet began to change the possibilities for research, so now, in the light of the increasing range of information available online, it is time to revisit our anonymous diaries to see if we can unmask the authors.

The inspiration for this idea has come from several successful efforts to establish authorship of recently acquired manuscripts. There is a blog post on the ‘Archives and Manuscripts at the Bodleian’ blog, explaining how the author of one diary was discovered. This will help to give some idea about how the problem can be approached.

So now we need your help! Come and help us to read through as many of the diaries as we can, looking for internal clues as to their authorship – names of friends and family, addresses, marriages, christenings, burials – anything that can be used to bring the vast array of internet resources to bear on the subject.

When

Thursday 11 June, in two sessions 11.00am to 1.00pm and 2.00-4.00pm. We hope you can attend the whole day, but you are free to go when you like! Places are restricted so book your place here. (SSO required; only open to history students.).

Where

Weston Library, Centre for Digital Scholarship (CDS) – meet in the reader Enquiries area (green sofas) on the 1st Floor.

What we will do on the day

  1. Create small teams of 2 or 3 students and allocate a diary to each teams
  2. Read as much as possible of the diaries, and take notes of interesting names, places, events or other information that might help to identify the author, or at least add value to the description
  3. Use the extraordinary range of digitised books, manuscripts and catalogues, academic and family history material to track down names and see how powerful these tools can be if used carefully.
  4. Invite participants to take digital images of pages from the diaries so that they can continue to work on them if they wish and send us further findings.
  5. Invite participants to contribute to the Bodleian blog to highlight discoveries

What you will gain from the experience?

  • This is a chance to meet staff in Special Collections and to use original manuscript resources.
  • To be part of the discovery process, and contribute to the enhancement of catalogue descriptions
  • Learn techniques for reading tricky handwriting
  • Learn about the array of internet resources helpful for historical research, and how to harness the power of Google.
  • Learn about the catalogues of manuscripts in the Bodleian, and the relationship between items and their descriptions.

What you will need

  • Bring your laptop, tablet, i-pad, digital camera or smartphone. We hope to be able to use the resources of the CDS but it is not fully functioning yet.
  • Pencils (but not pens!)
  • Remember to bring your library card and a £1 coin for the Weston lockers.

Any queries?

Contact: Mike Webb, Curator of Early Modern Archives & Manuscripts, Email: mike.webb@bodleian.ox.ac.uk, Tel.: 01865 (2)77164

Leave a Reply