Cast your mind back to November 2019. Life seems relatively simple. The coronavirus is about to strike its first victim but it is Brexit that is on everyone’s minds. I was in my third month as a trainee at the Taylor Institution Library and was finishing my day at the Enquiry Desk. Clare Hills-Nova, Italian Literature and Language Librarian at the Taylorian and also Librarian-in-Charge at the Sackler Library, was beginning her evening desk duty and, in the last few minutes before I went home, we were having quite an interesting conversation. At one point in time, we had both worked in rescue archaeology and I was describing how my specialism while I was studying was Roman Britain. It was a lovely conversation as I adore talking about archaeology (to anyone who will listen) and, after wrapping it up, I did not think any more of it.
A few days later, I received an email from Clare about the possibility of doing my trainee project on the Haverfield Archive, housed at the Sackler Library. I responded saying that I was (of course!) interested and we arranged a meeting to view it.
For those of you who are not clued up on the archaeology of Roman Britain, you may have never heard of Francis Haverfield. Haverfield (1860-1919) was Camden Professor of Ancient History at Oxford and seen as the chief expert on Roman Britain at the start of the 20th century. He was instrumental in persuading the Society of Antiquaries to establish a research fund in support of research excavations focusing on Roman Britain. A pioneer in his field, Haverfield helped to establish archaeology as the discipline that it is today. Indeed, he championed the introduction of Archaeology as a degree subject at Oxford: he helped fund university training excavations; and aimed to improve the methodologies that were developed by antiquarian excavators.
In the world of archaeology, Haverfield has an enduring legacy with his theory of Romanization in Roman Britain. This theory was initially delivered as a lecture and then appeared as a small book in 1912 (Haverfield, F.1912. The Romanization of Roman Britain. Clarendon Press: Oxford). Haverfield sought to elucidate the incorporation of Britain into the Roman Empire, which he viewed as a cultural assimilation rather than enforced acceptance. In CE 43, the full, gradual conquest of Britain began under the Emperor Claudius, ending in CE 87. This certainly was not the first time that Britons had communicated with the Roman Empire, as Julius Caesar described his expeditions in Britain in his Gallic Wars between 55 and 54 BCE (Caesar, Gallic Wars. Translated by Peskett, AG. 2014. Digital Loeb Classical Library). Haverfield was the first English academic to systematically consider the cultural consequences of the CE 43 Roman invasion through archaeological evidence. To Haverfield, this evidence suggested that Britain fully participated in Roman culture. His Romanization theory challenged previous views — which reflected British early 20th century colonial values — that it was through invasion and colonisation that Britons became more ‘civilised’ and ‘Romanized’. The term ‘Romanization’, therefore, itself indicated a more ongoing and active process.
The Haverfield Archive consists of correspondence, coloured prints, and drawings illustrating mosaic pavements, site plans, publication extracts — an assortment of archaeological paraphernalia! The archive reportedly holds only a tiny fraction of Haverfield’s papers. Haverfield bequeathed his papers and library to the university, and these were housed at the Ashmolean Museum. In 2001, the Archive was transferred to the newly-built Sackler Library. When viewing the archive itself with Clare and the Classics and Classical Archaeology Librarian, Charlotte Goodall, I was astounded by the richness of its content and its potential for future research projects.
The component of this archive of greatest interest to me is the collection of images illustrating mosaic pavements discovered (mostly) in Britain. Often grouped together and mounted on very large cardboard sheets, the collection is housed in approximately thirty extremely large, transparent hanging folders, each of which contains multiple mosaic pavement illustrations. Sifting through the folders, we were delighted with each new discovery of brilliantly coloured prints and drawings.
According to Clare and Charlotte, while readers occasionally consult Haverfield’s text-based papers the mosaic pavements collection had received little or no attention. The collection would be of great interest to researchers and students, but its sheer vastness and lack of organisational documentation — there is no catalogue detailing its contents — are serious impediments to in-depth research. Therefore, my task for the trainee year appeared to be relatively simple: create an index, recording each document in detail. So that, ultimately its research potential would become clear.
Our second task was highlighted by the large, tired looking, over-full and hence unwieldy hanging folders housing the collection. Some of the folders showed cracks and tears and there was also some concern regarding exposure to light. A new plan chest had been purchased, and it was decided that the sheets would be transferred to the drawers of the plan chest as they were catalogued. New archive-appropriate ‘Melinex’ folders, suitable for horizontal storage, would also be purchased to house each sheet individually. This improved storage solution would ensure the collection’s preservation for years to come!
This will be a series of blog posts. Next time, I will showcase some of the amazing mosaic prints that I came across when creating the index of the archive.
Chloe Bolsover, Graduate Trainee, Taylor Institution Library
Craster, HHE. 1920. Francis Haverfield. The English Historical Review, 63-70
Freeman, PWM. 2007. The Best Training-Ground for Archaeologists. Oxford: Oxbow Books
Millett, M. 2015. Roman Britain since Haverfield. In M. Millett, L. Revell and A. Moore (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.