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Renée Vivien, enfant terrible of the Belle Époque?

Mon œuvre sera le meilleur de moi-même, qu’elle soit donc connue, et que je demeure moi-même dans l’ombre…

In the 115 years since her death, Renée Vivien (1877-1909) has become a shadowy figure of French literary history, although perhaps not in the sense she had hoped. Dubbed ‘Sappho 1900’ or ‘Muse of the Violets,’ she has acquired a paradoxical reputation, both sulphurous and ethereal, both kitsch and otherworldly, fuelled by anecdotes about her openly lesbian lifestyle and love affairs which tend to relegate her writing to the margins. Colette’s influential portrait of Vivien in The Pure and the Impure, for instance, depicts her as a sort of Parisian Miss Havisham, an alcoholic, anorexic nymphomaniac who lurks, ghost-like, in the shadows. The decadent themes of her poetry, the timing of her untimely death, and her links with other prominent members of Paris-Lesbos conspired, for better and for worse, to turn Vivien into a lasting emblem of the Belle Époque – a nostalgic synthesis of the excesses of pre-war Europe, a disturbed ‘Albertine without her little Proust,’ doomed to vanish with the withering old world order. Although the last few decades have seen a much-needed renewal of interest in (and editions of) Vivien, this myth has managed for the most part to escape unscathed, merely adapting to the times. Whether she is decried as a bad feminist or celebrated as a martyr to the cause of gay rights, Vivien’s writing often continues to come second to her life, and the same quotes and extracts are recycled over and over again to tell the same tragic story. Yet untangling the fact from the fiction is easier said than done, given that even Vivien herself was wont to offer conflicting information about herself and her writing. What – if anything – lies beneath the many masks of Renée Vivien?

Une enfance pas très heureuse, en somme, et une enfant toujours rêveuse, toujours bizarre et presque toujours seule, aimant et cherchant la solitude, et composant déjà des histoires à l’âge de six ans…

Born in London in 1877 to a well-to-do English father and American mother, the young Pauline Mary Tarn spent most of her childhood in Paris, attending a French pension, reading Racine and La Fontaine, and playing in the Champs-Élysées. When her father died in 1886, she was taken out of her French school and given a prim and proper English governess, before being shipped off to boarding school in London, where she pined for the freedom and friends she had left behind in Paris. By all accounts, her teenage years were a deeply unhappy time. Pauline felt French at heart and misunderstood by her English peers, and turned, increasingly, to literature for comfort, beginning to write verse in French at the age of fifteen, while on holiday in Fontainebleau with her childhood friend Violette Shillito. By the time she turned 21 and came into her father’s hefty inheritance, her mind was made up: she would move to Paris and become a poet.

The Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, early 1900s. Vivien lived at no. 23 from 1901 to 1909.

The Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, early 1900s. Vivien lived at no. 23 from 1901 to 1909.

Towards the end of 1899, shortly after Pauline’s return to the French capital, Violette introduced her to Natalie Clifford Barney, an American heiress who had recently scandalised Parisian society by seducing renowned courtesan Liane de Pougy. The two soon became not only lovers, but classmates and collaborators, too, taking classes in French versification with writer Jean Charles-Brun to improve their own compositions. Charles-Brun, who would go on to become a lifelong friend, helped Pauline get her first volume of poems published by Alphonse Lemerre, albeit at her own expense. Études et Préludes appeared in the spring of 1901, shortly followed by Cendres et Poussières and Brumes de Fjords the following year. These works were signed by an elusive ‘R. Vivien,’ whom many assumed to be a man. It was only in 1903, when her translation and rewritings of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho appeared in print, that the pseudonym was extended to ‘Renée Vivien,’ making the author’s gender (and sexual orientation) indubitably clear.

Renée Vivien photographed in Nice, c. 1907.

Renée Vivien photographed in Nice, c. 1907.

In the meantime, Pauline’s life had changed drastically. In spring 1901, Violette Shillito died of typhoid, and in summer of that year, Pauline broke off her unhappy relationship with Natalie and attempted suicide. Shortly afterwards, she met the woman who would become the closest thing she had to a lifelong partner: Hélène van Zuylen van Nijevelt, a wealthy, married baroness. Together, they produced a novel, short stories, and volumes of poetry under the pseudonym Paule Riversdale, while Renée Vivien’s craft came into its own, culminating in 1906 with À l’Heure des Mains jointes, widely regarded as her best work. However, the misogynistic, hostile or, worse yet, voyeuristic responses her works garnered from critics led Pauline to distance herself, increasingly, from the literary establishment of the Belle Époque, preferring instead to focus on travelling around the world and building her impressive collection of exotic antiques and musical instruments. Her health began to deteriorate, too, either as a result of, or leading to, an alcohol and chloral dependency and malnutrition. In November 1909, she died at her home in Passy, allegedly of a ‘lung congestion,’ having converted to Catholicism on her deathbed, as her friend Violette had done almost a decade earlier. She was thirty-two years old.

Je veux chercher le vrai. Rien que le vrai.

Vivien’s poetics is often characterised as a blend of Decadent, Parnassian, and Symbolist influences, allegedly indebted to such tutelar figures as Charles Baudelaire, Algernon Swinburne, and Paul Verlaine. While these affinities are undeniably present in her writing, the latter cannot be reduced to a passive pastiche. Frustrated by the blatant androcentrism of the Western literary tradition, Vivien undertook a radical revisionary project in order to redeem and re-centre the lived experiences of women, and of lesbian women in particular. Like her male predecessors, she rewrote the ancient legends of Sappho, Lilith, Delilah, and the Lady of the Lake, but unlike them, she challenged their implicit glorification of men – instead, the reader’s moral and aesthetic sympathies are directed towards the antiheroines. Everywhere in her œuvre, femininity is celebrated; associated with the moon, the sea, flowers, sensuality, and death, it represents a counter-discourse to the dominant vitalist narratives of the Belle Époque. This gynocentric agenda, more than the homoerotic content of her writing, is what sets her apart from her contemporaries – as do the technical features of her poetry. Vivien’s style is generally considered ‘old-fashioned’ for the early 20th century, laden down by formal alexandrines and unwieldy epithets. Yet what is often overlooked is its paradoxical modernity. Her novels, prose poems, and short stories experiment with form and explore the complexities of human consciousness in a strikingly proto-Modernist manner. Neglected, too, is the light side of Vivien. The frequency with which night-time, pain, and death appear in her verse has often overshadowed other, less conspicuous aspects of her writing – such as her gift for satire, her philological achievements, or her interest in syncretic spirituality. Vivien’s œuvre eludes simple definitions, oscillating, rather, between contradictory stances and aesthetics – between binary misandry and gender fluidity, between the past and the future, between pathos and irony. Like the thyrse which Baudelaire bestows upon Liszt, and no doubt wielded by her own ‘bacchante triste,’ Vivien’s poetics is an irreverent marriage of opposites.

Mercredi, 1er août 1888 : J’ai pris la résolution de devenir une petite fille sage et chrétienne. […] Jeudi : J’ai pris la décision de ne pas devenir sage ni chrétienne. C’est trop difficile.

The ‘Renée Vivien: enfant terrible of the Belle Époque?’ exhibition, held in the Voltaire Room from 22 April to 2 May 2024, is an opportunity to learn more about the life and works of this fascinating, contradictory figure from the turn of the century. Dispersing the aura of melodrama and tragedy that permeates the Vivien myth, it invites viewers to form their own understanding of who Pauline Tarn was as a person and as a poet. As well as showcasing the Taylor Institution’s array of first and subsequent editions of Vivien’s works, the exhibition has been invaluably enhanced by generous loans from the private collection of Imogen Bright, Vivien’s great-niece and literary executor. It also builds on the digital edition of Vivien’s teenage diary, titled Ma Vie et mes Idées [available soon], compiled as part of the Digital Editions course run by the Bodleian Libraries in Hilary Term 2024. Described by its author as ‘la Pauline d’aujourd’hui parl[ant] à la Pauline de demain,’ this document provides precious insight into the 16-year-old poet’s self-perception, erudition, and monumental literary ambitions.

Extract from Ma Vie et mes Idées, the diary Pauline Mary Tarn wrote in summer 1893.

Extract from Ma Vie et mes Idées, the diary Pauline Mary Tarn wrote in summer 1893.

Women writers, and Renée Vivien in particular, have traditionally been dismissed as either too feminine or not feminine enough, either dramatically sentimental or boringly scholarly. Together, the exhibition and Ma Vie et mes Idées invite us to rethink this dichotomy. What if the bluestocking and the bacchante were, in fact, one and the same?

A huge thank you to the Medieval & Modern Languages Faculty, to Nick Hearn, and to Imogen Bright, for their time, advice, and invaluable help in making this exhibition happen.

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Albert, Nicole G. (ed.), Renée Vivien à rebours : études pour un centenaire, Paris, Orizons, 2009.

Clifford Barney, Natalie, Souvenirs indiscrets, Paris, Flammarion, 1960.

Colette, Le Pur et l’Impur, Paris, Aux Armes de France, 1941.

Goujon, Jean-Paul, Tes blessures sont plus douces que leurs caresses : vie de Renée Vivien, Paris, R. Deforges, 1986.

Islert, Camille, ‘Renée Vivien, une poétique sous influence ?’, PhD thesis, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2021. Available here: https://theses.hal.science/tel-03883263/document.

Vivien, Renée, Je suis tienne irrévocablement : lettres à Natalie C. Barney, ed. Chantal Bigot & Francesco Rapazzini, Paris, Bartillat, 2023.

Vivien, Renée, Lettres inédites à Jean Charles-Brun (1900-1909), ed. Nelly Sanchez, Paris, Mauconduit, 2020.

Vivien, Renée, Ma Vie et mes Idées: A Digital Edition, ed. Rebecca Boyd, Taylor Institution Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, [forthcoming].

Vivien, Renée, Poèmes choisis (1901-1909), Paris, Points, 2017.

 

Mário Cesariny (1923 – 2006): an irreverent Portuguese poet-artist

Exhibition poster for the Cesariny exhibition, shows a blue cat on a yellow background. The exhibition opened on 27th November 2023.

An enfant terrible of Portuguese Letters, irreverent iconoclast, and, above all, lover of freedom (in all the different hues that the word entails), Mário Cesariny’s life is inseparable from his work as poet, artist, critic and scholar; his legacy is thus that of an ‘absolute poet’ (as opportunely labelled by Perfecto Cuadrado), who deeply influenced a younger generation of artists and writers, admirers of his avant-garde work and his determination to live according to his own rules (or should we say, lack of them).

Black and white close-up photograph of Mario Cesariny.

Mário Cesariny, London, 1965. Photograph by João Cutileiro. Courtesy of Luís Amorim de Sousa

Born Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos in 1923, in Lisbon, to a well-off family, Cesariny very early displayed a rebellious spirit and a hunger for exploring different creative avenues. The petty, grey and oppressive existence of life under the Estado Novo (as the Portuguese dictatorial regime came to be known) was too small and stifling for the young Cesariny, who left for Paris in 1947, where he met the father of surrealism André Breton. Upon his return to Portugal, he helped to establish the Grupo Surrrealista de Lisboa, along with others who were part of the informal groups that, in the Lisbon cafés of the 1940s, dreamt of a new country as much as about novel forms of art and creativity. Always averse to labels and rules, Cesariny later abandoned the group, but never stopped believing in and living by the principles of the surrealist movement, which release humankind from rational, aesthetic and moral judgements. During this period, he created a dissident movement called Os Surrealistas and dedicated himself to art and poetry, introducing new techniques into his art works, such as surrealist collages and automatism, as well as publishing his most famous collections of poetry – Corpo Visível (1950), Manual de Prestidigitação (1956), Pena Capital (1957) and Nobilíssima Visão (1959). His nonconformist lifestyle and not-so-secret homosexuality brought him several times face to face with agents of the PIDE (the International and State Defence Police), encounters that he would later recall with derision and caustic humour. It was also in this period that he regularly visited London and even managed to get one of his poems translated and published in the literary journal Agenda (in 1968).

Poem by Mário Cesariny, translated by Luís Amorim de Sousa and Michael Hambuger and published in the literary journal Agenda, vol. 6, n.3-4, 1968. The poem reads: "O my pure devoted wife, you keep on suffering and it breaks my heart to see you suffer like that. But wait. Let's pretend we are the stalk of a rose with its petals plucked. Our days together are sad. Life is all wrong, only torture exists and only the poem is. Youngsters won't leave me alone. They infest my soul. Please don't ask, please don't wish to come with me on the pub round, the club round.

Poem by Mário Cesariny, translated by Luís Amorim de Sousa and Michael Hambuger and published in the literary journal Agenda, vol. 6, n.3-4, 1968.

While in London, Cesariny was an observer of London life and worked on his poetry and art whilst staying with other Portuguese artists and writers who had taken refuge in the British capital from political persecution and oppression at home (Paula Rego, Alberto de Lacerda, Luís Amorim de Sousa and Helder Macedo, to mention just a few). Those days would eventually be recorded in the collection Poemas de Londres, where Cesariny, who prayed constantly at the altar of freedom, ponders on the birds of London and witnesses the journey of a pigeon crossing Piccadilly Circus.

Book cover of Mário Cesariny, 19 Projectos de Prémio Aldonso Ortigão Seguidos de Poemas de Londres. The book cover is bright pink with circular motifs.

Mário Cesariny, 19 Projectos de Prémio Aldonso Ortigão Seguidos de Poemas de Londres. Lisbon: Quadrante, 1967.

Like many other artists of his generation, Cesariny exuberantly celebrated the Carnation Revolution of 1974 that put an end to 48 years of dictatorship, and participated in a plethora of events, one example of which is on display in this exhibition. After this pivotal experience, Cesariny focused mostly on his visual work (“Poetry was a big fire that burnt out. It’s over,” we hear him saying in Autobiografia, the 2004 documentary by Miguel Gonçalves Mendes on Cesariny’s life and work), but continued to refuse coteries and to express his sometimes outrageous opinions or tactless remarks, a stance that earned him enemies throughout his life, as well as a legion of admirers who increasingly saw him as the father of the Portuguese avant-garde. This position was certainly consolidated in the last decade of his life but did not save him from dying alone and in poverty, in what can be seen as a re-enactment of the myth of the damned artist: ‘I am placed on a high plinth, they clap and then they let me go home alone. This is what we call literary glory Portuguese-style,’ he used to scathingly reply to the applause he received in later life.

In this exhibition at the Taylor Library, we wished not only to celebrate the centenary of Cesariny’s birth, but also to shed light on the links that bound his life and oeuvre to England. For that purpose, we explored the books held by the Taylor Institution Library on the poet and artist, as some of them were written in or around the periods in which he was living or visiting London.

Mário Cesariny (ed.), Antologia Surrealista do Cadáver Esquisito. With an illustration by Mário Cesariny. Lisbon: Guimarães Editores, 1961. In the photograph, it is visible the Taylor Institution Library, stamped with the date 31 July 1967.

Mário Cesariny (ed.), Antologia Surrealista do Cadáver Esquisito. With an illustration by Mário Cesariny. Lisbon: Guimarães Editores, 1961. In the photograph, it is visible the Taylor Institution Library, with the date 31 July 1967.

In so doing, we found that the University of Oxford was collecting books by Cesariny from very early on (as early as the 1960s); it therefore seems that academics and librarians of this University were well aware of the truly innovative quality of Cesariny’s work and of its revolutionary potential in the context of the Portuguese literary canon; their decision to obtain these books was also in contrast to the views and actions taken by the Portuguese dictatorship, which relentlessly persecuted the poet.

This exhibition would also not have been possible without the memories and material kindly shared with us by Cesariny’s friend and fellow writer Luís Amorim de Sousa.

Luís Amorim de Sousa discusses the life and work of fellow poet and friend Mário Cesariny at the ‘Mário Cesariny’ exhibition, Taylor Library, 27 November 2023- 12 January 2024.

Luís Amorim de Sousa discusses the life and work of fellow poet and friend Mário Cesariny at the ‘Mário Cesariny’ exhibition, Taylor Library, 27 November 2023- 12 January 2024.

Luís’s recollections of the days spent with Mário in London in the late 1960s – early 1970s are an intrinsic part of this research and ensuing exhibition. See the video below made by Noam Sala Budgen, a student of Portuguese at the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty, and find out more about Luís’s friendship with Mário Cesariny.


Dr Luísa Coelho, Sub-faculty of Portuguese, University of Oxford

Old Frisian Summer School 2023: a student’s perspective

This summer, Oxford hosted the third edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. After a successful first edition, which was held in 2019, and an online edition in 2021, the OFSS saw its return to Oxford. The OFSS is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and is held once every two years in one of these historical university cities. Although this connection might not seem logical right away, both the Bodleian library in Oxford and the University Library in Groningen hold a considerable collection of Old Frisian manuscripts and both universities include departments in the field of Old Germanic and philology. This translates to the background of the participants of the OFSS: some being more advanced within the Old Germanic field, some new to the      field, yet      all being interested in what Old Frisian has to offer. A total of 35 participants travelled to Oxford, with English, Dutch, Czech, Danish, American and Chinese students (among others) being present. Meanwhile, for the first time, a handful of participants (14) attended the summer school online, following this edition from their homes elsewhere in the world, including Australia and the U.S.

OFSS: The programme

Dr Alex Kerkhof giving the second of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar

Dr Alex Kerkhof giving the second of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar

The summer school was structured with a couple of lectures taking place in the mornings and translation seminars in the afternoons. After the summer school was officially opened by organisers dr Johanneke Sytsema (Oxford) and mr. Anne Popkema MA (Groningen), dr Alex Kerkhof (Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden) started the first of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar and its place within Old Germanic languages.  Old Frisian, an Ingveonic or North Sea Germanic language, bears close resemblance to Old English. Old Frisian used to be spoken in large areas along the current Dutch and German coasts, from the river Sincfal in the south to the river Weser in the east. All surviving manuscripts and text fragments originate from the Frisian lands east of the river Vlie and west of the river Weser. This includes nowadays East Frisia in Germany, the Dutch provinces of Groningen and, finally, Fryslân. The oldest manuscripts date back to the 12th century.

Historical range of Frisian-speaking areas. Note that there are still three Frisian-speaking areas; the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands, North Frisia in Germany and Saterland, also in Germany.

Historical range of Frisian-speaking areas. Note that there are still three Frisian-speaking areas; the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands, North Frisia in Germany and Saterland, also in Germany. URL link: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friezen_%28vroege_middeleeuwen%29#/media/Bestand:Frisians.png

Hilbert Vinkenoog in the Old Dining Hall of St. Edmund Hall on early medieval Anglo-Frisian connections

Hilbert Vinkenoog in the Old Dining Hall of St. Edmund Hall on early medieval Anglo-Frisian connections

The grammar lectures and translation seminars were alternated with lectures focusing on the sociohistorical background. Historian Hilbert Vinkenoog (known for his YouTube channel History with Hilbert) enlightened the audience on the Anglo-Frisian connections and Frisian settlements in early medieval England, explaining how the Frisians might even have had settlements on the Faroe Islands, taking part in a local feud. Local Faroese nursery rhymes still bear Frisian aspects in them! Prof. Andreas Deutsch (Heidelberg) delved into the place of Old Frisian law within the Old Germanic legal landscape, elaborating on the widely recorded Frisian fine registers. These fine registers entail large sets of different crimes and the fines that needed to be paid in order to compensate for these crimes. For example, if one were to cut off his neighbour’s ear, he or she would need to pay the neighbour a certain amount of money. The extensiveness and details of the Old Frisian fine registers makes them truly unique within the Old Germanic legal landscape.

Dr Rafael Pascual in the Taylorian Library on Germanic Philology

Dr Rafael Pascual in the Taylorian Library on Germanic Philology

On Wednesday, Dr Rafael Pascual (Oxford) gave a practical introduction into Germanic philology in the Taylorian Library, discussing various view on the Indo-European language tree and on related linguistic theories. Prof. Arjen Versloot (Amsterdam and Groningen) joined the summer school online, highlighting innovative research methods on determining the age of Old Frisian texts in Codex Unia, one example of a typical Old Frisian compilation between Old Frisian texts and manuscripts. Since the texts are mainly legal in nature, on Friday, Prof. Simon Horobin (Oxford) delved deeper into Old English and Old Frisian studies by Franciscus Junius (1591-1677), whose collection of various Old Frisian manuscripts is kept in the Bodleian Library.

Participants during the translation workshops in the Old Library of St. Edmund Hall

Participants during the translation workshops in the Old Library of St. Edmund Hall

The translation workshops increased in difficulty during the week: at the start, texts such as the Ten Commandments were translated, along with grammar assignments to familiarise participants with Old Frisian morphology and syntax. Although translating was the main focus during these seminars, other aspects of working with medieval texts and manuscripts were also highlighted. Making a critical edition out of a diplomatic edition from part of the early printing of the Freeska Londriucht, for example, proved not to be as easy as one would have thought.

 

Codex Aysma (ms. Junius 78) on display in the Weston Library

Codex Aysma (ms. Junius 78) on display in the Weston Library

While most of the OFSS took place in St. Edmund Hall, which accommodated most of the participants, the participants were also welcomed wholeheartedly in the Taylorian and Weston libraries for lectures, manuscript viewings and tours. In the Weston Library, two Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed (Codex Aysma and Codex Unia), which were originally brought to England in the 17th century by philologist Franciscus Junius. In addition, two copies of the incunabulum Freeska Londriucht also known as ‘Druk’ were also shown. Physically viewing these manuscripts was, perhaps, the highlight of the summer school, as it gave most participants a clearer view and example of what they had previously learned: how are manuscripts written and produced, why certain texts featured in it, how the manuscripts survived, who were their owners, and, most importantly, what exactly do the texts in the manuscript entail? In short, the manuscript viewing brought the content of the Old Frisian Summer School to life.

Old Frisian and Old English cognates

Old Frisian was taught in the context of other Old Germanic languages, especially Old English which with Old Frisian forms the Anglo-Frisian branch of West Germanic.  The tables below show some of the similarities. In the verb conjugation, the personal pronouns are very similar and the present tense endings are near-identical (far/faran).  The verb ‘to be’ had two stems in Old English. The Old Frisian paradigm shows stems correlating both to OE stems wessan and beon. Learning Old Frisian was an interesting experience for those who already knew some Old English.

Example of the present tense of some key verbs in Old Frisian and Old English

pronouns OFR/OE Wessa (to be) OFR wesan – beon (to be) OE Fara

(to go) OFR

Faran

(to go) OE

1st singular ic – ic bin eom – beo fare fare
2nd singular thu – þu bist eart – bist ferest færest
3rd singular hi – he is is – biþ fereth færeþ
1st plural wi – we sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ
2nd plural ji / jemman – ge/ye sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ
3rd plural hia – hie sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ

Example of  some Modern Frisian-English cognate nouns

Old Frisian Modern Frisian Modern English
Ku / ko Ko Cow
Jeft(e) Jefte Gift
Gren(e) Grien Green
Morn Moarn Morning
Hors Hynder Horse

A mix of academia, culture & leisure

The OFSS did not only provide its participants with the opportunity to delve deeper into this gem among Old Germanic languages, it also allowed for a unique glimpse into Oxford university life for those who had not experienced that before. In addition to the formal programme, tours of the Taylorian & Bodleian & St. Edmund Hall Libraries were hosted, to give participants an insight into the enormous variety of books and knowledge that are held there. Furthermore, a pub quiz on Monday, a Conference Dinner on Wednesday and punting on Saturday were the ‘icing on the cake’ of a week that was not only informative, insightful and fascinating, but also much fun. All kinds of participants, older and younger, with diverse backgrounds, interests and research fields met during this week in Oxford, paving the way for a very vibrant, valuable atmosphere, for interesting conversations and for new networks.

The 2023 Old Frisian Summer School participants before the Conference Dinner in St. Edmund Hall

The 2023 Old Frisian Summer School participants before the Conference Dinner in St. Edmund Hall

2025

As the past editions of the OFSS have proven to be successful, each with their own programme, content and with their own activities, the 2025 edition is the first one that will be held in Groningen in person. This new décor will make for a totally new experience, as Groningen is in the middle of the area that used to be Old Frisian speaking centuries ago. Manuscripts, both in Groningen and Leeuwarden, will be viewed and historically significant sites such as the Upstalsbam in Aurich (Germany), the Frisian and Groninger terpen (dwelling mounds) and the Frisian eleven cities will be within reach when the OFSS will take place at Groningen.

Further reading

To get a glimpse of what the OFSS2023 looked like, take a look at the after movie on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CvClS9FonDw/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA%3D%3D.

For more information on the 2019 edition of the OFSS, Old Frisian in general, and the connection between the University of Oxford and the University of Groningen, see Dr Johanneke Sytsema’s Taylorian Blog of September 2019 (https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylorian/2019/09/).

A link to the video about Frisians on the Faroe Islands on the History with Hilbert YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leUbHnnFoDk

References to the handbooks used in the OFSS

Hofmann, D. & A.T, Popkema (2008) : Altfriesisches Handwörtebuch. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag.

Bremmer, R.H. (2009) Introduction to Old Frisian: history, grammar, reader, glossary. Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

 

Sierd Prins,
OFSS Conference assistant,
Groningen University

Romanian in Oxford: Celebrating 10 Years of the Romanian Lectorate

Romanian in Oxford. An exhibition to mark ten years of the Romanian Lectorate. 15 May - 9 June 2023. Voltaire Room, Taylor Institution Library. Romanian in Oxford is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 15th May to 9th June 2023. It showcases the library collections and related research on Romanian language from the 19th century to the present day.

What is Romanian?

The clue is in the name. Romanian originates in the language of the Romans, namely Latin. It therefore is a Romance language, one that descends from the Latin of the Roman Empire, and this makes it a ‘sister’ of languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Sardinian, and many other languages besides. Romanian is today the official language of Romania (and the mother tongue of 90% of its approximately 22 million inhabitants), and of Moldova, where it is the mother tongue of about three quarters of a population of 3.4 millions. Emigration has meant that it is also extensively spoken outside Romania.

Map of the Romance languages showing the geographical isolation of Romania.

Map of the Romance languages

This map of the Romance languages shows how geographically isolated Romanian is from its ‘sisters’. In fact, it has been isolated for well over a millennium. Unlike other Romance languages, Romanian has been subject to major influences from Slavonic, Hungarian, and Turkish, mainly in vocabulary. What has emerged is a language which is still demonstrably related to other Romance varieties, but whose sound system, grammar, and lexicon also display striking, sometimes mysterious, differences. We have relatively little evidence of the history of the language: the earliest documents in Romanian to have survived date only from around the turn of the sixteenth century. Moreover, Romanian was written in the Cyrillic, rather than Roman, alphabet until well into the nineteenth century.

Romanian is actually just the principal member of the ‘Daco-Romance’ branch of the Romance languages. This branch comprises four major sub- branches: the ‘Daco-Romanian’ dialects (to which standard Romanian belongs), and Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries, with linguistic areas marked in red.

Aromanian probably split of from the rest of Daco-Romance before the 11th century, whilst Istro-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian seem to have become detached no earlier than the 13th. Istro-Romanian—the object of one of our major research interests in Oxford—is spoken in the north-eastern Istrian peninsula (in Croatia). The Aromanians are widespread in the Balkan area, particularly Albania, central and northern Greece and south-western North Macedonia. Megleno-Romanian has a few thousand speakers, settled in villages in northern Greece, and in Northern Macedonia.

Why is Romanian important?

There are multiple answers. One is academic. An understanding of the modern structure and historical development of the Romance languages — and, beyond that, understanding of what the Romance languages can tell us about the nature of language change generally—is not really possible unless we take Romanian into account alongside other Romance languages such as Italian, French, etc. In a memorable metaphor, the Swedish Romanianist Alf Lombard wrote (Le Verbe roumain 1954:1) [our translation]:

Any comparative enquiry that does not take Eastern Latinity into account is more or less pointless, or at any rate incomplete. Actually, it rather brings to mind a table for which the carpenter has been content to make just three legs rather than four—think of the three principal sister languages: French, Spanish, and Italian—leaving the fourth corner unsupported and worryingly unstable.

The study of Romanian is simply essential to doing Romance linguistics: otherwise, our ‘table’ is forever destined to be rickety and unreliable. Actually, Romanian already possesses a most impressive body of detailed descriptive linguistic studies assembled over the past 70 years, largely under the aegis of the Romanian Academy, by Romanian scholars. These are mainly written in Romanian and therefore not easily accessible internationally. The quality of the scholarship is extraordinarily high, yet too few linguistic scholars have appreciated it or made use of it.

Another reason why Romanian is important is ‘social’. The recent Census for England and Wales revealed that Romanian is now the third most widely spoken language after English and Polish. We can ill afford not to be curious about the language spoken by one of our most significant communities. Romanian is being spoken all around us, as a stroll through central Oxford with one’s ears open will confirm!

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales)

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales). Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Of course there are many other reasons why Romanian is important. Not least the fact that it is the language of a major European culture, with a literary tradition dating back to the sixteenth century but which is still little known outside Romania. Ignorance of Romania and Romanian is no longer excusable as a result of the historical isolation of the country and its culture.

How long has Romanian been studied in Oxford?

It’s hard to say how long Romanian has been of interest to Oxford scholars. Romanian is a Romance language, and the history of the Romance languages has been studied in Oxford since at least the late nineteenth century. By 1877, the University had realized the international importance of the historical and comparative study of the Romance languages (a subject already flourishing in the German-speaking world), and the proposal was made to establish a Professorship of the Romance Languages, although the Chair was not established until 1909.  It is fair to say that the main focus of interest of the first eight Professors of the Romance Languages throughout the 20th century was French, with other Romance languages receiving less attention and Romanian being neglected.

However, this does not mean that no attention was paid to Romanian. Several Oxford scholars took a lively academic interest in the language. One of these was Frank Barnett, Fellow in French at Trinity College from 1952 to 1986, who visited Romania, knew the language well, and encouraged his students to learn  the language and visit Romania. Among these students was John Charles Smith, later to become Fellow and Tutor in French Linguistics at St Catherine’s College and now Emeritus Fellow of the College, whose work displays a constant awareness of the importance of Romanian. For example, a forthcoming paper by Smith addresses the vexed question of why ‘Moldovan’ has historically been considered a different language from Romanian (they are not different languages, in fact!).

Another Oxford scholar who contributed to Romanian studies was Graham Mallinson, Lecturer in Linguistics in Oxford in the 1970s, who was the author of one of the first descriptions of the Romanian language in English (e.g., 1979 The History and Structure of Romanian and 1986 Rumanian. Mallinson was also the author of the article on Romanian in The World’s Major Languages (ed. B. Comrie), recently revised and updated (2018) by our lector in Romanian, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu.

The other  Oxford scholar to explore Romanian was Dr Tony Hurren, who in the late 1970s taught Linguistics at Wadham College. Hurren’s Oxford doctoral thesis focused not on standard Romanian (although he knew the language very well) but on one of the four major branches of Romanian, ‘Istro-Romanian’ spoken in modern Croatia. Hurren’s fieldwork, thesis, and publications have formed the basis of a major research project in Oxford in the past few years, the ISTROX project. Others, too, have published on Romanian, for example Margaret Renwick, a postdoctoral research associate and later postdoctoral researcher in Oxford, author of a work on Romanian phonology.

The current, and ninth, Professor of the Romance Languages, Martin Maiden, arrived in Oxford in 1996. He is the first holder of the Chair to develop a major research interest in the Romanian language and its history. Before he came to Oxford Romanian was not, however, a particular theme of his research. His interest in the language developed slowly, over many years, but began with an attempt to learn Romanian from a grammar book in his teens, at the height of the Cold War, when Romania was a distant, inaccessible, country. It seemed to Maiden that he was so unlikely ever to meet a native speaker of the language or even hear it spoken, and that Romanian was anyway so dauntingly difficult (he was quite wrong), that he decided that he might as well give up trying to learn it!  Many years later, however, in 1987, he took an opportunity to attend the month-long Curs de Vară (Summer Course) in Romanian language and culture organized annually by the Romanian authorities in Bucharest. (By the way, Oxford now sends students from Oxford almost every year on the continuant of this course).

In 2003 Maiden spent part of a sabbatical year in Romania exploring dialectological materials held by the Romanian Academy. This renewed acquaintance with the language encouraged him to take more account of it in his work on the comparative history of the Romance languages, and after his arrival in Oxford he published a number of articles focusing on aspects of the history of Romanian morphology (word structure), notably the highly complex systems of plural formation and nouns and of diminutive derivation.

The creation of the Lectorate in Romanian in Oxford: a revolution

A crucial moment in the study of Romanian in Oxford occurred in late 2010, when Maiden was contacted by the then Romanian Ambassador to London, H.E. Ion Jinga, who wanted to discuss ‘a proposal’. This turned out to be nothing less than an extraordinarily generous offer by the Romanian government to fund a lectorate in Romanian at Oxford, administered via Institutul Limbii Române (the Institute of the Romanian Language). The Lectorate, situated within Oxford’s Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics, commenced in October 2012, and the Lector sent to us from the University of Bucharest, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu, has had her mandate renewed ever since. Dr Uță is a specialist in Romanian language and linguistics and a member of Institutul de Studii Sud-Est Europene of the Romanian Academy.

The creation of the Lectorate was also marked in 2013 by a one-day conference Romanian in Oxford: language, culture, and history, supported by the Ertegün Foundation, and attended by scholars from Britain, the US, and Romania, including the late Prof. Marius Sala, one of the world’s foremost experts on Romanian and its dialects.

It is no exaggeration that the creation of the Lectorate revolutionized the study of Romanian in Oxford. First, it made it possible to provide weekly courses, open to any member of the University (students, postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, professors), in Romanian language, at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels. These courses have been enthusiastically attended, and they have also provided the basis for a specialist examination subject in Romanian language and linguistics, taught by the Lector in Romanian and Professor Maiden. This subject covers the Romanian language in its historical and cultural context, and major aspects of the structure and evolution of the Romanian language and dialects. We are pleased to report that half of the students who have taken the special option to date have achieved a First Class result.

Not only has the creation of the Lectorate enabled our students (and others) to learn Romanian and about Romania, but it has given a major impetus to research into the Romanian language and its structure and history. This work, mainly led by Professor Maiden, has yielded numerous results in the past ten years: we have produced over 40 publications on Romanian linguistics in refereed journals and volumes over the past 10 years. We have also published various studies designed to introduce general readers to Romanian, such as Maiden’s general introduction to Romanian grammar, an article which came out of a course on the Romanian language and its history held by Maiden in France in 2014.

In all this, we are immensely grateful for the presence of the Lector in Romanian, who has repeatedly been a major stimulus and source of advice, and has herself been very academically productive. These publications have also been the basis for over thirty lectures and presentations at international conferences. Romanian also occupies a prominent place in our research and publications on general Romance linguistics (e.g., the chapter on Romanian and related dialects in the Cambridge History of the Romance Languages (2016), or the OUP volume The Romance Verb (2018). This is one case where you can judge a book by its cover: the cover is an image from one of the earliest Romanian linguistic atlases, and it reflects the importance accorded to Romanian in the book, which is a comparative-historical study of Romance verb morphology.

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

The Bodleian Libraries support research into Romanian through their very good collection of works on the Romanian language, and their willingness to acquire new works in the subject. A major element in the research into Romanian linguistics conducted in Oxford has been the study of Romanian dialects, and a major source of information is the remarkably detailed collection of Romanian linguistic atlases. They have all been vital research tools and without them many of our recent publications would have been impossible.

Some of these atlases are displayed in the exhibition, ranging from Gustav Weigand’s Linguistischer Atlas de dacoromunischen Sprachgebietes (1909), the earliest Romanian linguistic atlas, through Atlasul lingvistic român: this was produced in the 1960s under the aegis of the Romanian Academy – which has also overseen the production of a major series of regional linguistic atlases. Atlasul lingvistic român pe regiuni: sinteza is a synoptic synthesis of many of the valuable data contained in those regional atlases. We also show Atlasul lingvistik moldovenesk, the linguistic atlas of (what was then) the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The atlas is published in Romanian but, as was normal at that period in Moldova, it is written in a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet, based on that used for Russian. All of the maps on display from these atlases show aspects of Romanian dialect verb morphology, a topic on which we have published a great deal of research in Oxford.

Equally important is our collection of dictionaries and grammars of the language, some going back to the mid nineteenth century, and an extensive range of works describing Romanian dialects. A magnificent example from the Bodleian’s collections of old manuscripts and books from Romanian is presented by Dr Cristina Neagu (Christ Church) on Digital.Bodleian.[1]

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library's MS. Canon. Gr. 122, 'Gospels of Gavril'. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library’s MS. Canon. Gr. 122, ‘Gospels of Gavril’. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

A recently completed doctoral dissertation (2022) by Constanța Burlacu (Medieval and Modern Languages, supervised by Martin Maiden and Ralph Cleminson) breaks new ground: Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic of Romanian and Slavonic biblical books in the Romanian lands: a textual analysis of the sixteenth century Apostolos and Psalter texts.[2]

Romanian linguistics and Oxford University Press

Our strong links with Romanian linguistic scholars are reflected in a number of recent publications with Oxford University Press. These works, subject to OUP’s extremely rigorous processes of peer-review and quality control, are giving a much greater international prominence to knowledge of the Romanian language and its history than has ever been possible before. They include:

The Grammar of Romanian. 2013 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant ed. M. Maiden)
Verb Movement and Clause Structure in Old Romanian. 2016 (V. Hill, G. Alboiu)
The Syntax of Old Romanian. 2016 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant editor M. Maiden)
Word Order and Parameter Change in Romanian. 2019 (A. Nicolae)
The Diachrony of Differential Object Marking in Romanian. 2021 (V. Hill, A. Mardale)
The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology. 2021 (jointly by M. Maiden, A. Dragomirescu, G. Pană Dindelegan, O, Uță Bărbulescu, R. Zafiu)

Several of these items are displayed in the exhibition.

A number of these are collaborative works between Oxford linguists and Romanian linguists. Among them is what is undoubtedly the most thorough description of Romanian grammar (The Grammar of Romanian) ever published in any language other than Romanian. The most recent publication is The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology a collaborative work led by Maiden and involving our Lector, Dr Uță Bărbulescu, and three other colleagues from the linguistics institute of the Romanian Academy.

The intellectual legacy of Tony Hurren and the ISTROX project

In the late 1960s the Oxford linguist Tony Hurren (1933-2006) studied the already highly endangered language which linguists call ‘Istro-Romanian’. It was spoken by only a few hundred people in the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia and today it is recognized by UNESCO as being severely endangered. The result was Hurren’s Oxford DPhil thesis on the language: A linguistic description of Istro-Rumanian,[3]and his Istro-Rumanian: a functionalist phonology and grammar.[4] Hurren also published an article on a remarkable facet of the Istro-Romanian verb system, its grammatical ‘aspect’ system.

In 2010, Tony Hurren’s widow, Mrs Vera Hurren, generously donated to the University over thirty hours of sound recordings made by her husband in the 1960s together with his field notebooks. She later gave us other material, including photographs from the fieldwork of the 1960s where Tony Hurren interviewed Istro-Romanian speakers, making recordings and taking notes of the language.

Since 2018 the Hurren donation has inspired new research into Istro-Romanian in Oxford, funded hitherto by Oxford’s John Fell Fund, PER Seed fund project, and TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund. In particular, we have conducted our own fieldwork on Istro-Romanian (some photos of our fieldwork are displayed). We have been exploring how this language has changed since the 1960s, and also traced how the population of speakers has dwindled over the past half-century, innovatively using online methods and social media to establish contacts with members of the speech community in émigré communities in the US and Australia.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the ć family. Mrs ć, her older sister Mrs ć, and their families, met with us in their family home in Ž. Just over 50 years earlier, recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs ć who was 37 at the time.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the Sanković family. Mrs Vesna Sanković, her older sister Mrs Laura Sanković, and their families, met with us in their family home in Žejane. Just over 50 years earlier, Tony Hurren recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs Maria Sanković who was 37 at the time.

Click here to listen to Vesna Sanković (‘Kljomina‘), 8 years old, as recorded by Tony Hurren in the 1960s.

You can hear further recordings of Istro-Romanian and read more about current research projects at the following pages:

All the materials associated with this project are preserved in the Oxford Research Archive.[5].

From 26 June to 24 August 2022, the ISTROX project and Hurren’s work was the subject of an exhibition (in English and Croatian) at the Lapidarium Museum in Novigrad, Croatia, entitled ISTROX 50 years of the Istro-Romanian Language: from the Oxford Hurren Collection to the ISTROX project. At the opening of the exhibition, many members of the surviving Istro-Romanian-speaking community attended – photographs below.

The Oxford tradition of research into Istro-Romanian is also now being carried forward by a doctoral student, Fabian Helmrich, who is working on a subject which also fascinated Hurren: the expression of ‘aspect’ in the Istro-Romanian verb system. Helmrich is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Maiden and Uță Bărbulescu are also involved, in collaboration with scholars at Universitatea de Vest in Timișoara, Romania, in editing and preparing for publication the fifth and final volume of P. Neiescu’s dictionary of the Istro-Romanian language, left unfinished when the author died in 2021.

Our work on Istro-Romanian in the diasporic community has earned such appreciation that one of its members, Mr Libero Soldatić, now resident in Australia, has generously endowed the annual Anton Soldatić and Antonija Soldatić (née Skalir) Memorial Prize, in memory of his parents, for the best piece of work by a student on Istro-Romanian or other languages of the Istrian peninsula.

The long-term aim of Oxford research into Istro-Romanian is to publish a comprehensive history of the language and its speakers.

Martin Maiden

Statutory Professor of the Romance Languages
Director, Research Centre for Romance Linguistics
Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics & Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Fellow of Trinity College
University of Oxford

Footnotes

[1]Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Canon. Gr. 122. Four Gospels (‘Gospels of Gavril’): https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/47dff5d9-d2a0-46a9-b28a-44f974aa1861/

[2] Burlacu, C. Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic Biblical Books in the Romanian Lands: a Textual Analysis of the Sixteenth Century Apostolos and Psalter Texts. University of Oxford, 2022. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/ora-erej81xna

[3] Hurren, H.A. A Linguistic Description of Istro-Rumanian. University of Oxford, 1971. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:bfb29e35-e2b8-4613-97cf-3b62bdb6a1f6

[4]Hurren, H.A. Istro-Rumanian : A Functionalist Phonology and Grammar. Unpublished manuscript. Oxford, 1999.

[5]ISTROX Dataset. The Oxford University Hurren Donation and the Istro-Romanian language, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/bodleian:GOrqZkzVJ

 

 

An example of Vytynanka, an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) .

Pioneering women in Ukraine

Text: Clara McGrane
Images: Olena Marchyshyna

Pioneering Women in Ukraine is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 25th January until 19th May 2023. It showcases the stories of fourteen women from Ukraine’s past and present.

Seven women, who were historically pioneers in their fields, are paired with seven contemporary trailblazers. Each pair is linked by a shared background such as activism, military service, medicine or education. All are connected by the important role they played in Ukrainian women’s history. The seven figures, with their different professions, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual identities, provide a snapshot of Ukrainian society. However, the exhibition aims to be neither representative nor canon-shaping. Rather, it is positioned as just one amongst a range of projects promoting women’s achievements.

The exhibition is an outcome of a collaborative project, funded by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, the University of St Andrews and Heinrich Boell Foundation, Ukraine.  Starting in 2020, this project was led by Dr Margarita Vaysman (School of Modern Languages, St Andrews) and her Ukraine-based collaborators: Dr Tamara Zlobina and Anna Dovgopol at Gender in Detail, a media platform that aims to promote the understanding of gender issues in Ukraine, and Dasha Nepochatova at Creative Women Space, a collective that provides a platform for projects that empower women.

This exhibition draws attention to the stereotypical ways in which women are portrayed in national histories and to general preconceptions that form as a result of this limited representation. Dasha Nepochatova, co-founder of Creative Women Space and the co-curator, along with Dr Vaysman, of the exhibition, emphasises that the team wanted to showcase the ‘complexity of these women’s lives’: their relationships, duties and achievements. The exhibition aims to make these women’s stories more widely known whilst championing different perspectives. According to Nepochatova, the power of this visible female representation is particularly important: ‘What can inspire women in Ukraine? Particularly those from very rural and poor villages. How can they believe in themselves? What can help them? I strongly believe that such stories, true stories, of women in the past who achieved great things and did so in spite of the challenges they faced are so important. It shows that if they did it, you can too.’

Each woman’s story is brought to life by the Ukrainian artist and graphic designer Olena Marchyshyna. Using the traditional paper-cutting method of vytynanka, Marchyshyna created individual portraits of the fourteen women to accompany their short biographies, also on display alongside the striking images. As Marchyshyna explains, she chose the vytynanka technique to reflect the project’s goal:

An example of Vytynanka, an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) . ‘Vytynanka is one of the traditional decorative arts in Ukraine. It first appeared in China, where people started to cut patterns from the moment when paper was invented. However, this idea came to us in the west in the mid-nineteenth century. Vytynanka is an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) using a knife or scissors. Vytynanka in Ukraine was used to decorate various corners of a home, such as windows, walls, shelves, etc. The idea of using vytynanka as a technique for working on the project was a team decision. I believe that this technique best emphasises the fact that women are sometimes “invisible”, and “unrepresented” in social life. It can be as difficult for women who “carved” new paths for themselves as it is to see a vytynanka on a blank sheet of paper. It requires illumination, manifestation, and highlighting of the silhouette to make it visible. The goal of this project was to highlight the important role of women in Ukraine by illuminating, highlighting, and displaying their stories.’

The use of vytynanka links each portrait, providing a sense of cohesion and connection. Yet, with their varied backgrounds and striking headshots that capture the spirit of their subjects, the portraits are noticeably individual, at the same time. This reflects Marchyshyna’s creative process: ‘It was an intriguing exploration for me, particularly when dealing with historical figures. I conducted extensive research in the archives, studied biographies of these women, and photographs (if available), to envision where the heroines lived, how they dressed, and what they might have liked. Afterwards, I selected the patterns that, I believed, would best accentuate their individual identities. With the contemporary heroines, I made sure that the images I chose personally appealed to them and accurately reflected their characters.’

The exhibition contains another, fifteenth portrait, titled ‘The Unknown Ukrainian Woman’. This image represents the exclusion of women’s experiences from Ukrainian history and emphasises the need to champion female voices. For Marchyshyna, creating this image

‘was the most difficult task, as I needed to reflect everyone in one image: my own generation of Ukrainian women, as well as our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. I wanted the heroine to have a direct, strong gaze, so that she would not forget her roots, that she is Ukrainian, proud of it, and that she can achieve her goals by walking her path with dignity and relying on the experience of many generations of Ukrainian women.’

Portrait, titled ‘The Unknown Ukrainian Woman’According to the curators, ‘Pioneering Women in Ukraine’ showcases women’s innovative contribution to Ukrainian history: ‘I’ve always connected this project with my story and my experience. I often wonder if somebody will remember us in one hundred years. I believe that it is our duty to find the story of women who came before us. We are a kind of pyramid. We are standing on the shoulders of each other. What we have right now – it is only because they worked so hard to get it for us. It is our duty to find their names, to dig them up and talk about them. Even if there is very little information. It’s very important. Without this, we can’t expect that future generations will remember us’, says Nepochatova.

After the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022, Dasha Nepochatova, Olena Marchyshyna, as well as many other Ukrainian women, were forced to leave their homes and have found refuge abroad. This exhibition is a small token of respect for these women’s continuous fortitude in the face of war, death, and destruction.

The Pioneering Women in Ukraine Exhibition has been produced with the financial and organisational support from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and Barbara Costa, St Catherine’s college librarian, in 2022. We would also like to acknowledge the help of Elisabet Almunia (Bodleian Libraries Finance and Administration Officer), Matthew Smith (Taylor Institution Library Premises Supervisor) who put up the portraits so expertly and Dr Johanneke Sytsema (Linguistics and Dutch and Frisian subject specialist) who coordinates the Taylorian blog.  The exhibition is currently on loan to the Taylor Institution Library before it transfers to Scotland in autumn 2023. The digital version of this exhibition can be found here in Ukrainian and in English (translated by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk).

Visiting our Pre-Covid Past: Artists’ Books on Display at the Taylor Institution Library

Viewing Walter J. Strachan’s Livre d’artiste Collection with Geoffrey Strachan

Remember the Taylor Institution Library in the days before Covid? A busy place, full of academics, students and visitors en route to lectures — and to the library. Indeed, some individuals were attending seminars and other events at which the library’s special collections were on view. In this post we look back twelve months, to (as you will discover if you read on) one of our more memorable special collections events……

Giullaume Apollinaire. Si je mourais là-bas. Illustrated by Georges Braque (Paris: L. Broder, 1962)

 

In May 1945, less than a fortnight after the German surrender marking the end of  World War II in Europe, a British schoolteacher took his French language students on a trip to London. They were going to the National Gallery (whose collection of paintings had been transferred to Wales for the duration of the War) to see an exhibition of livres d’artistes, or artists’ books, a still relatively minor avant-garde art form imported from the Continent — principally Paris; one can assume that for the students the exhibition was little more than an excuse to experience a post-VE Day London still ecstatic with the new, incompre-hensible peace in Europe.

 

Whatever the students thought of it, the exhibition was nothing short of life-changing for their teacher, Walter Strachan, who described first seeing the livres d’artistes as simply “over-whelming”. He took his pupils home and returned not long after, traveling to Paris as soon as the Channel was re-opened to tourists. There he met the artists, authors, printmakers, typesetters and publishers in situ, with a dream of stimulating interest in the livre d’artiste genre back home in the UK. Strachan’s advocacy was greeted with open arms in France and he returned home rich with examples of recently-created works to show to potential collectors, such as V&A curators and librarians who, thanks to his urging, ultimately acquired over 60 such pieces. This trip was followed by another, and then another, until an annual tradition began.

Paul Verlaine. Parallèlement. Illustrated by Pierre Bonnard (Paris: A. Vollard, 1900)

By the time he was 80, Strachan had formed a working collection of over 250 complete and semi-complete livres d’artistes, spanning works incorporating lithographs designed by Pierre Bonnard (1900) to Pierre Tal-Coat etchings (1983). Strachan sought a permanent home for his collection, where it could be used as it had been throughout his life—not untouched in a collector’s drawer, but as a living body of work that would continue to promote the genre as a wildly creative and important art form.

Jean Cocteau. La voix humaine. Illustrated by Bernard Buffet (Paris: Parenthèses, 1957. Pierre Reverdy. Le chant de morts (Paris: Teriade, 1948)

In 1987, after a commemorative exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Strachan found that home at the Taylor Institution Library. Thirty-two years later, the collection is still used by both researchers and students from across the University—and occasionally shown to visiting groups, as happened in July 2019.

It was the hottest day on record in Oxford’s history: not the kind of day one would choose to mount a display of our livres d’artistes. With the support  of our premises manager, Piotr Skzonter—without whom the whole display would have fallen apart—we exhibited a selection of pieces chosen for a visit by the Charlbury Art Group, led by Walter Strachan’s son, Geoffrey. The Taylorian’s lecture  hall was mercifully cool, its high windows, blinds and thick walls protecting us from the inferno outside; still, we wondered, given the heat would anyone come?

Slowly, the hall filled up and, despite the  temperature,  soon the whole group was with us. The afternoon was introduced by Clare Hills-Nova, Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, where the collection is now held (on long-term loan) in a climate-controlled environment. Clare noted that this was the largest livre d’artiste event that the Taylor had yet hosted. As library staff – together with Geoffrey Strachan — brought together selected works to show our visitors, we discovered pieces that we had never seen before; one example—Mario Prassinos’ rendering of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, with its many iterations of the raven image—reminding us what an unparalleled didactic tool the collection serves for University of Oxford researchers and students. Since Strachan’s pieces were often page proofs, ‘off-cuts’ and/or working drafts, or even rejects from the artists (the finalized works too valuable to give away) our collection reveals the thought processes behind livres d’artiste production and the 30 works we showed that day represented a microcosm of this artistic dynamic.

Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven. Illustrated by Mario Prassinos (Paris: Pierre Worms, 1952

Alongside our selections of semi-complete artists’ books were a few complete works, either owned by the Taylorian or held by other libraries, to show how each of the incomplete works fitted into the finished whole, and what might have changed between Strachan’s visits with the artists and their books’ completion.

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. Illustrated by Abram Krol (Paris: A. Krol, 1965)

Geoffrey Strachan gave a stimulating talk, setting the stage by walking us through his father’s journey from that momentous National Gallery exhibition to his pivotal role promoting the livre d’artiste in Britain. That we have this collection is not only thanks to his father’s passion, Strachan reminded us, but also thanks to the generosity of the artists he met.

With that in mind, the group was invited to explore the display, spread across the shaded lecture hall. Grouped by theme and/or period, the pieces held different attractions for different viewers; some mulled over the more famous pieces such as Pierre Bonnard’s illustrations for Parallèlement, by Paul Verlaine, or Georges Braque’s images for Si je mourais là-bas by Guillaume Apollinaire; while others were drawn to lesser-known works such as the compelling line-images of Agamemnon, illustrated by Polish émigré Abram Krol or the fairy-tale-esque etchings in Hélène Iliadz’s Brigadnii – Un de la Brigade, by another émigrée artist, the Ukranian Anna Staritsky. One of the most popular works was French cultural icon (and Minister of Culture) André Malraux’s La Tentation de L’Occident, illustrated by Zao Wou-Ki (an émigré from 1940s China), combining emotive and explosive abstract images with an elegant typographical design.

While each work had a magic of its own, viewing the display as a whole had a kaleidoscopic effect, showing the variety of technique, colour, authors and artists within a once side-lined genre. This was magnified further by these artists’ books’  donation home: a library where the content of much-read and consequently battered texts normally takes precedence over the visual materiality of the publications themselves; a library temporarily transformed into a gallery for books whose physicality is their raison d’être. It is easy to see how this radical and at times very powerful marriage of word and image, content and form swept Strachan away in a lifelong love affair that we, with much appreciation, are still learning from.

Alex Zaleski, Library Assistant, Taylor Institution Library

Photo credits: Clare Hills-Nova, Justine Provino and Alex Zaleski

Further reading

Le livre d’artiste: a catalogue of the W.J. Strachan gift to the Taylor Institution: exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Ox, 1987 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, 1987).

W.J. Strachan. The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d’artiste (London: Owen, 1969)

Listening, Reading, Responding : students, researchers, and librarians shaping collections together

Many libraries are re-examining how their collections shape, form or erase our perceptions of the past in the light of recent events. This is something that librarians are very aware of – avoiding censorship and discrimination when acquiring books is part of library training.  This account of a workshop held in the Taylorian last year shows how students can assist librarians and influence decisions on acquisitions and the visibility of collections.

On 13th February 2019, the Taylorian Library hosted a workshop for attendees at Veronika Schuchter and Miriam Schwarz’s open seminar on Afro-German women’s writing. This was part of a wider programme of events, ‘Länder der Dichterinnen und Denkerinnen’, which celebrated female writers and thinkers of the German-speaking countries, the programme title playing on the time-worn and exclusionary designation of Germany as ‘Land der Dichter und Denker’.

Around twenty undergraduate students were joined by Miriam Schwarz, Veronika Schuchter, Nicola Thomas and Emma Huber, Subject Librarian for German at the Taylorian Institution library.

The session began with Veronika Schuchter, who introduced students to the idea of the politics of citation via a handout with extracts from texts by Beverly Weber and Sara Ahmed, along with a bibliography for further reading. Veronika explained that who and how we cite the work of other scholars is an important part of inclusive and politically-aware academic practice: making sure that the scholarship of women and people of colour is recognised and amplified.

Emma Huber then spoke about the role of the Taylorian collections in enabling students to access academic research by an appropriate range of authors and critics. She explained how the Taylorian subject librarians use a combination of their own specialist subject knowledge and recommendations from the scholarly community to build their collections, and that student recommendations form an important part of this. Librarians at the Taylorian and college librarians welcome suggestions from students for items to acquire, and in this way students have the power to influence what is studied in Oxford, and how it is studied, by making suggestions which expand the range of voices represented in library holdings.

Nicola Thomas then introduced the hands-on part of the workshop. She gave students a choice of assignments to tackle in small groups. One group focused on auditing reading lists for canonical topics within German studies, to see how varied the range of perspectives on offer was, and whether it could be expanded. For example, does the library hold texts which will expose students to feminist approaches to Goethe’s Faust? Is ‘difficult’ modern poetry, like the work of Paul Celan, presented on reading lists as the sole preserve of male scholars?

Another group worked with a list of texts, primary and secondary, about Afro-German and Black German women’s writing. They checked whether key texts from this list were held anywhere in Oxford, and whether copies of key texts (by May Ayim, Audré Lord and others) were easily accessible and given due prominence.

The new edition of Ayim et al’s Farbe Bekennen, recently republished by Orlanda Frauenverlag.

The new edition of Ayim et al’s ‘Farbe Bekennen’, recently republished by Orlanda Frauenverlag.

A third group focused on their college library holdings, cross-checking with the Taylorian collections to see whether it would be helpful to make texts by women writers and scholars more widely available by suggesting that copies of key works were acquired by college librarians.

Tutors circulated during these group-work sessions to talk with students about their experiences of studying German and how they felt about the range of perspectives and approaches on offer, and how their experience of using the library had shaped the way they thought about who writes and reads German-language literature. This generated lots of thoughtful and interesting discussion. Students came away with increased confidence to make suggestions to librarians, at the Taylor Institution and in college, and a new critical awareness of the politics of citation, librarianship and academic teaching and learning. Above all, it was heartening and enjoyable to see students willingly engaged in researching and accessing library resources, developing a sense of the library as a shared resource in which they are important stakeholders.

Staff at the Taylor Institution Library found the concept of this workshop fascinating, as nothing in this format had been held before. Students gained a range of information skills, such as using catalogues and databases effectively, as well as how to navigate the library. They were also encouraged to view the collections with a critical eye, and engaged with library staff about the collections. These sorts of interactions are invaluable and it was a great opportunity for both students and staff.  Students made several recommendations of books the library should purchase, which the library is now acting on. Book suggestions were made for other libraries as well, so the workshop had wider benefits.

The library is very grateful to Nicola Thomas, Rey Conquer, Veronika Schuchter and Miriam Schwarz who initiated the workshop and shared their findings with us. They were instrumental in setting up Expanding German Studies, which aims to develop a database of texts in or about German culture (films, prose, drama, poetry and critical work) written by or about under-represented and historically marginalised groups, with the aim of helping to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK.

………………….

Dr Nicola Thomas, formerly of Queen’s College, now Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary, University of London.

Emma Huber, German Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library

Literatures of Multilingual Europe: Polish

The lecture series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, most of which took place in the course of Michaelmas 2018 came at a very significant time. As we were giving our talks at the Taylorian, we could hear the almost imperceptible sound of the Brexit time-bomb  ticking  towards its final countdown like the calm before the storm. How ironic to introduce ‘lesser-known’ European literatures such as Scandinavian, Irish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Modern Greek, and Yiddish to -our English-speaking audience at a time when we  could not even take an interest in the more mainstream ones for granted? This thought kept nagging  away at the back of my mind as we discussed the rather flimsy position of translated literature in the UK and the US during our introductory panel.

2018 was a particularly successful year for Polish literature and film in the UK. The Man Booker International Prize was awarded to Polish contemporary writer (and later the 2018 Nobel Laureate in Literature) Olga Tokarczuk and her American translator Jennifer Croft for Flights (Fitzcarraldo). This happened only the year after yet another Polish author, Wioletta Greg (based in the UK), made it onto the longlist alongside her translator Eliza Marciniak for Swallowing Mercury (Portobello Books). In 2019, Tokarczuk was shortlisted again with her other translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Fitzcarraldo). Some might call it a literary hat-trick, others might see it as a positive trend for the British reception of Polish works. In other news relating to the visual arts in 2018, the UK-based and Oxford-educated Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, known for his previously Academy-awarded Ida (2014), created another black-and-white masterpiece entitled Cold War. The film earned him the Best Director prize in Cannes and three nominations for the Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film.

London : Portobello Books

Wioletta Greg ; translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak. London : Portobello Books, 2017.

While this was clearly a reason to celebrate the significance of Polish artistic output in the UK, it still felt like a parallel universe somewhat disengaged from everyday problems. Polish is currently the second most widely spoken language in the UK after English and, on a wave of anti-EU sentiment, the Polish minority in the UK has been subject to a range of xenophobic assaults, including verbal and physical violence such as hostile graffiti, offensive messages and gang attacks. Of course, there  have been strong moves to commemorate the presence and contribution of Poles in the UK way before 2004 (e.g. the Chopin statue in Manchester, the Joseph Conrad bike tour, Polish ENIGMA code breakers in Bletchley Park, the statue of war hero General Maczek, the statue of Wojtek the Bear, and the Great Polish map of Scotland, to mention a few).

However, it is very difficult to  bring the two divergent worlds together, when there is so little academic interest in Polish literature and culture. Whilst the study of the history, economy, and politics of the country is also crucial, elevating and re-evaluating the status of Poland’s vibrant literary and cultural activity across the centuries might be a more promising way of changing  the way it is perceived ‘under Western eyes’. This was partly the intention of the introductory talk which I gave for the series. In addition to serving as a taster of a lesser-known literature and highlighting the Bodleian and Taylorian’s collection, the talk was meant to condense the long rich history of a literature which represents Britain’s ‘invisible minority’. This literature perhaps remains overshadowed by the stereotyped view of a community which is thought of as just another Eastern European country supplying the UK with skilled manual labour.

2018 was also symbolic for another reason: it marked the centenary of Poland regaining its independence after more than a century of being partitioned between three empires (those of Prussia, Austria, and Russia). These partitions  took place at the end of the eighteenth century, after hundreds of years of a prosperous Kingdom of Poland and later a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and exerted a stranglehold over Polish life and culture throughout most of the nineteenth century up until 1918. It is towards the end of this tumultuous period interspersed with failed uprisings and frustration that anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski and writer Joseph Conrad (or more accurately: Józef Konrad Korzeniowski) arrived in London at the heart of the British Empire. It is also half way through this period, in 1850, that the Bodleian Library purchased a large collection of early Polish books known as Libri polonici (see Stone 2005), which would become one of the major collections of the kind in the West. This repository includes less than two thousand items such as printings of sixteenth-century literature, a unique copy of the first Polish newspaper dating back to 1557 and material related to Polish Arianism in the age of Reformation.

Libri polonici (Polonica from the Bodleian’s pre-1920 catalogue), entry on different printings of the work by Mikołaj Rej (1505-69), one of the founders of the Polish literary language.

Fifteen years later, in 1865, the Earl of Ilchester, a friend of the Polish prince and statesman Adam Czartoryski, endowed the University of Oxford with a substantial sum to encourage ‘the study of the Polish and other Slavonic languages, Literature, and History’. He made it explicit in his will that priority should be given to Polish over any other Slavonic language. However, most likely following the advice of an amateur philologist, Lord Strangford, Convocation breached the agreement. Instead, the University funded the study of Russian, the language of one of Poland’s imperial occupiers at that time (see: Stone 2005). Taking this backstory into account, there are few places where the celebration of Poland’s regained independence from imperial forces could have been felt more powerfully so many years later than here in  Oxford.

When preparing for the talk and asking our Library Subject Specialist Nick Hearn for books to be displayed, I came to realize that the collections of both the Bodleian and the Taylorian were far more diverse and rich in Polish sources than I could ever have foreseen. As part of Libri polonici, the Weston Library holds quite a number of early seventeenth-century printings of the work of Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski (1530–84), including his cantos, epigrams (fraszki), threnodies (treny), and elegies, both  in Polish or Latin. In my talk, I introduced his cycle of threnodies or lamentations entitled Treny from 1580, movingly rendered into English by Seamus Heaney and Stanisław Barańczak, among others. In particular, I briefly discussed Kochanowski’s ‘Lament 7’:

‘Tren 7’ by Jan Kochanowski, Kraków 1639, Weston Library (Libri polonici).

The holdings of the Taylor Institution library were in particular a great surprise to me. As part of the series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, we hosted Professor Bill Johnston from Indiana University. Bill returned to Oxford after decades (he read Modern Languages at University College in the early 1980s) to read from his newly released Guggenheim-funded translation of Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. Originally published in Paris in 1834, Pan Tadeusz [Master Thaddeus] comprises twelve books in verse and is sometimes considered the last great epic poem in European literature as well as the Polish national epic. How excited we were to see that the Taylorian was actually in possession of the first edition!

Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, Paris 1834, Taylorian collections.

With their worn-out edges and dog-eared pages, library holdings like this one contain whole different universes and bygone worlds, which have sadly sunk into oblivion and remain unexplored. They could almost stand for the “empty frames” in the hall of mirrors from this passage in Bill’s translation of Pan Tadeusz (p. 52):

These memories had clearly left him pained,

He wished them gone. Upstairs they came at last

To a great room that had been in the past

A hall of mirrors; now all you could see

Were empty frames and windows. A gallery

Overlooked the gate. Gerwazy hid his eyes

In his cupped hands, head bowed in thought. His gaze,

When he looked up, showed grief and hopelessness.

Dusting off some of Bodleian and Taylorian’s impressive holdings and revisiting their stories seemed like giving them a new lease of life. To speak about them to the Oxford public was an act of filling these empty frames again with some colours and reflected images. Perhaps, some other generation of readers, students, and scholars will also come to look into all these mirrors, and hopefully, they will find and recognise themselves in their reflections, too.

Dr Kasia Szymańska

Former Junior Research Fellow in ML, Oxford; Thomas Brown Assistant Professor, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Trinity College Dublin.

You can see the podcast of Kasia’s lecture here: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/polish-literature


Polish literature bibliography

Adam Mickiewicz, 1798-1855 : selected poems, editor: Clark Mills (et al.) New York: Noonday Press, 1956

Foer, Jonathan  Tree of codes London: Visual editions, 2010

Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 2010

Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke  Translated by E. Mosbacher, London, 1965

Greg, Wioletta  Swallowing mercury  Translated by Eliza Marciniak  London: Portobello books, 2017

Kochanowski, Jan  Laments Translated by Seamus Heaney and  Stanisław Barańczak,

Kochanowski, Jan Treny Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy imienia Ossolińskich, 1986

Krasicki, Ignacy  Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki Warszawa: Książka, 1947

Krasicki, Ignacy The adventures of Mr Nicholas Wisdom Translated by Thomas Hoisington Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1992

Krasicki, Ignacy Monachomachia ; Antymonachomachia Warszawa : Książka i Wiedza, 1988

Krasicki, Ignacy Myszeidos pieśni X Wrocław : Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1986

Lem, Stanislaw  Solaris  Warsaw: Agora, 2008

Mickiewicz, Adam  Ballady i romanse Lipsk, 1852

Mickiewicz, Adam  Forefather’s Eve Translated by Count Potocki of Montalk  London: Polish cultural foundation, 1968

Mickiewicz, Adam  Dziady  Wrocław, 1864

Mickiewicz, Adam  Pan Tadeusz, or, The last foray in Lithuania: a story of the gentry from 1811 and 1812: comprising twelve books in verse Translated by Bill Johnston  New York: First Archipelago Books edition, 2018

Mickiewicz, Adam  Pan Tadeusz, czyli, Ostatni zajazd na Litwie : historja szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812, we dwunastu ksiegach, wierszem Paris, 1834

Miłosz, Czesław The History of Polish Literature  Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983

Peterkiewicz, Jerzy, Five centuries of Polish poetry, 1450-1950; an anthology London: Secker & Warburg, 1960

Prus, Boleslaw  The doll Translated by David Welsh  New York: New York Review, 2011

Prus, Boleslaw  Lalka: powieść w trzech tomach  Warsaw: PIW, 1972

Schulz, Bruno  The street of crocodiles  London: Pan books, 1980

Schulz, Bruno  Sklepy cynamonowe ; Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą    Translated by Celina Wieniewska  Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 1994

Tokarczuk, Olga  Flights  Translated by Jennifer Croft  London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018

 

The First Oxford-Groningen Old Frisian Summer School

In the lovely sunny week of 8-12th July, twenty-four students gathered in St Edmund Hall for the first edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. Eleven students came from the University of Groningen, most of them Frisian speakers. Others hailed from Oxford or from as far afield as  St Petersburg and Toronto, a mix of undergraduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral researchers. Sessions were held in St Edmund Hall, the Taylor Institution Library and the Weston Library.

Why Old Frisian?

Old Frisian was an Old Germanic language, spoken along the mainland North Sea coast, as far south as the river ‘Zwin’ or, in Old Frisian, ‘Sincfal’, which is nowadays the border between the Netherlands and Belgium, and as far east as to the river Weser in Germany. The area shrunk over time, by 800 AD the river Rhine was the southern border, by the year 1000 the western border was formed by the river Flee. Over time, the area diminished as Prof. Rolf Bremmer (Leiden University) showed in his first lecture ‘The Scope of Old Frisian Studies’.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Linguistically, Old Frisian is related to Gothic and Old Norse, more closely to Old High German and Old Saxon and most closely to Old English. The Anglo-Frisian connection is so close that some scholars assumed that both languages must stem from one Anglo-Frisian ancestor, before they split into Old English and Old Frisian, the so-called ‘Anglo-Frisian hypothesis’.

Archaeological evidence shows that there were plenty of Anglo-Frisian connections during the 7th and 8th centuries, proven by very similar jewellery and other finds either side of the North Sea, as Nelleke IJssennagger, former curator of the Frisian Museum and co-author of Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours, showed in her lecture. There was ongoing trade after the settlement of Britain, so language contact must have been maintained in the following centuries.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Linguistic similarities between Modern English and Modern Frisian still show the close connection between the two in comparison with German and Dutch:

  Frisian English   German Dutch
vocabulary kaai key Schluessel sleutel
Irregular plurals ko – kij cow – kine (archaic) Kuh-Kühe koe-koeien
goes – gees (archaic) goose – geese Gans – Gänse Gans – ganzen
skiep – skiep sheep – sheep Schaf – Schafe schaap – schapen
Palalisation of k/g tsjerke church Kirche kerk
dei day Tag dag

These similarities are just an example of connections that were much closer at the time of Old English and Old Frisian. The closeness of the two Old Germanic languages led to the Anglo-Frisian hypothesis, the assumption of one common Anglo-Frisian ancestor from which both Old English and Old Frisian descended. Scholars adhered to this hypothesis for a long time, until 1995 when Dr Patrick Stiles (UCL) denounced the theory on phonological grounds. Dr Stiles explained that many supposed ‘Anglo-Frisian’ sound changes are in fact also shared with Old Saxon or Old High German. The only sound changes that are exclusively Anglo-Frisian are the fronting of West Germanic long ā > ē or ǣ and the fronting of West Germanic short a > e or æ. The West Germanic vowel remains unchanged in Old High German, as shown in the table below.

WGmc OE OFris OHG gloss
*dād- dǣd dēd tāt ‘deed’
*dag- dæg dei tag ‘day’

Why a Summer School?

Old Frisian may be regarded as a ‘niche’ subject within the study of Old Germanic languages and is not always part of the curriculum at universities that offer Old Germanic. To enable students and early career researchers with an interest in Old Germanic to familiarise themselves with the Old Frisian language, its history and its textual sources, the Old Frisian Summer School was organised outside of term time. It was a great advantage to have such an international group of delegates, and many were amazed how much they learned in a week, enough to actually translate Old Frisian texts.

Why in Oxford?

Some unique Old Frisian sources are found at Oxford in the Bodleian Library. These manuscripts are the main source of our knowledge of Old West Frisian[1].  Collections of law texts, the manuscripts came to Oxford by Franciscus Junius’ bequest, dated 1677. Junius was a polymath who had taught himself Old Frisian by copying parts of Codex Unia, now ms Junius 49 and ms Junius 109.   He had borrowed Codex Unia from the Frisian history writer Simon Abbes Gabbema, and failed to return it. (Nothing new under the sun!) He must have borrowed Codex Aysma, now Junius 78, from Gabbema, too. These two manuscripts constitute the base of Old Frisian studies at Oxford.

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

 Junius had an interest in Old Frisian as an Old Germanic language. Having studied Gothic, Old English and Old High German, he clearly considered his knowledge of Old Germanic incomplete without knowledge of Old Frisian.  So, unknowingly, he paved the way for further comparative Old Germanic studies at Oxford, and provided a good reason for the choice of Oxford as the first university to host the Old Frisian Summer School.

Was it fun or hard work?

The summer school programme consisted of lectures in the mornings and workshops in the afternoons, interspersed with some social events and library tours and with excellent lunches. The morning lectures covered the grammar and phonology and aspects of the overarching theme of Anglo-Frisian Connections.  Delegates were presented with an introduction to the field of Old Frisian Studies by Prof Rolf Bremmer (Leiden) to set the scene. Dr Leneghan (Oxford) , whose forthcoming monograph on Beowulf will contain a section on the role of the Frisians, a gave a lecture on Frisians in Beowulf, showing the presence of Frisians in Old English Literature.

Viewing Old Frisian manuscripts at the Weston Library.

The Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed during a visit to the Weston Library. The Junius specialist Dr Kees Dekker had come from Groningen to talk about the manuscripts with the help of a visualizer, (a projector showing the text of a manuscript on a screen), in the Visiting Scholars Centre of the Weston Library.

The delegates had to learn Old Frisian grammar in just three lectures; though most students had some prior knowledge of at least one other Old Germanic language, this was still felt to be a crash course.  Following two grammar lectures by Prof Bremmer and Dr Sytsema, Dr Nelson Goering (BA Research Fellow, Somerville College) explained eight sound changes that are typical for Old Frisian. For those interested in comparative Old Germanic, Dr Howard Jones (Oxford) offered a more in-depth comparison of the verbal classes in the Old Germanic languages.

It may have felt like a crash course, but delegates proved to be able to translate some Old Frisian texts with the help of the grammar and the dictionary (see references) of which each delegate had a copy. The translation classes were valued so much so that none of the students wanted to stop at 5pm when they had not finished their assignment! Since the groups were multilingual in a modern sense (English, Frisian and German) and also in an ‘Old Germanic’ sense – knowledge of Old Norse, Old English, Old High German, Old Frisian and Gothic were present in the group – students were able to benefit from each other’s knowledge.

Prof. Nigel Palmer, Emeritus Professor of German Medieval and Linguistic Studies and Fellow  of St Edmund Hall, placed Old Frisian in a wider European context by introducing the 15 Signs of Doomsday, a text based on various Latin exemplars that circulated in Europe in the 13th century. In addition to the many extant medieval High and Low German versions of this text, there is one Old Frisian version. Students translated this into English in the translation workshop. Their English translation will appear on the Old Frisian Summer School website as one of the Summer School outcomes.

Delegates were shown round the Bodleian Library, the Taylor Institution Library and St Edmund Hall Old and New library, thus seeing the places where the Old Frisian manuscripts in the Junius and Marshall collections and Frisian items in the Alistair Campbell Collections are kept.

 

Taylor Institution Library

Main Reading Room, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

The public lectures on the Anglo-Frisian thesis in the Taylor Library were attended by a wider audience. Some came to see Alistair Campbell’s Frisian collection in the Taylorian. As Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon (1963-1974), Alistair Campbell had shown a great interest in Anglo-Frisian connections and was co-founder of the Frisian Academy.  Some items in the Taylorian collections bear witness of his contacts with other Old Frisian scholars.

Students agreed that the summer school was intensive, but also a lot of fun, as proven by these photographs!

Video report

Fardau Visser compiled this excellent video report of the summer school:

 What’s next?

 Partnership with Groningen University

The OFSS was the first event in the Oxford-Groningen partnership. Groningen University is traditionally the university in the Netherlands where Old Frisian is taught and the library at Groningen holds precious Old Frisian manuscripts, as does the Bodleian in Oxford. Nearly half of the delegates came from Groningen University, and next year it will be Groningen’s turn to organise the summer school. Hopefully, the OFSS will continue to be held on an annual basis in Oxford, Groningen or elsewhere. The spreading of knowledge of Old Frisian language and history should continue, ‘salang’t de wyn fan ‘e wolkens waait’ (as long as the wind blows from the clouds).

Funding

The OFSS could not have happened without the generous funding of TORCH International Partnership Fund and of TORCH Oxford Medieval Small Grants. Also, the studentships made available by the Faculties of Linguistics and of English have enabled some Oxford students to take part. Groningen University has also contributed in various ways, not least in allowing the Old Frisian lecturer Anne Popkema to co-organise the summer school.

Summer school convenors and participants

Summer school convenors and participants

A number of students told me they wanted to come to the summer school again next year in Groningen. There will be a different special topic, as well as an opportunity to see the different manuscripts held by Groningen.

 Old Frisian Network

A mailing list will ensure that delegates, speakers and any other scholars or students with a research interest in Old Frisian can keep in touch and share news. If you would like to join the mailing list, please contact me by email: johanneke.sytsema@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

 

Johanneke Sytsema

Subject Librarian for Linguistics, Dutch and Frisian, Bodleian Libraries

Linguistics lecturer, St Edmund Hall

 

[1] Old East Frisian manuscripts are kept in Leeuwarden, Groningen and Oldenburg.

References

Bremmer, R.H.Jr. (2009) An introduction to Old Frisian : history, grammar, reader, glossary. Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

Dekker, C. (2000) ‘Francis Junius (1591-1677): copyist or editor?’, In: M. Lapidge, M. Godden, & S. Keynes (Eds.), Anglo-Saxon England Volume 29 (pp. 279 – 296). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hofmann, D and A. Popkema (2008) Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch. Heidelberg : Winter.

Leneghan, F. (forthcoming) The Dynastic Drama of “Beowulf”.

Hines, J. & IJssennagger, N. (2017) Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK : The Boydell Press.

Gerhardt, Ch. & N. Palmer (1992) Das Münchner Gedicht von den fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht : nach der Handschrift der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek Cgm 717 : Edition und Kommentar.

Giliberto, C. (2007) ‘The Fifteen Signs of Doomsday of the First Riustring Manuscript’, in Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, 2007, Vol.64(1), pp.129-152.

Stiles, P. (1995) ‘Remarks on the ‘Anglo-Frisian’ Thesis’, in: Friesische Studien II: Beiträge des Föhrer Symposiums zur Friesischen Philologie vom 7.–8. April 1994.
Herausgegeben von Volkert F. Faltings, Alastair G.H. Walker und Ommo Wilts
[
NOWELE Supplement Series 12]. 177-220.

Sytsema, J. (2012) Diplomatic Edition Codex Unia http://tdb.fryske-akademy.eu/tdb/index-unia.html

Sytsema, J. (2018) ‘Old Frisian studies in Oxford’, in: It Beaken, vol.80, 3-4. 202-220.