Picture this….

The Bodleian Libraries have been actively engaged in the digitization of Special Collections materials for more than two decades. Much of this work has only been made possible by publicly-funded grant programmes or the vision and benevolence of particular individuals and organizations. The vast majority of such endeavours have involved the creation of high-quality digital images, which have subsequently been delivered by a variety of media: ranging from basic single-user, stand-alone CD-ROMs, through to the current generation of cutting-edge websites accessible to all. Yet as this wealth of material has continued to grow, it has not been possible to browse and search all these images from a single location – until now.

Over the past twelve months, we have begun the major task of migrating our digital image collections into a single virtual library, available at: http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/allCollections

The best way to find out about this new site is simply to visit and explore…

At the moment, there are just under 34,000 images of manuscripts and early printed books available on the site – and more are being added every week. Users can create and share their own collections of images selected from across the material hosted on the site; in many cases images can be downloaded for use in private research or teaching, or users can link from their own webpage to the “master” image hosted by us.

Whilst we are pleased with the progress that has been made to-date, we are also very keen to receive feedback from anyone who has used this new interface. You are welcome to post comments and suggestions to odl-enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Linguistic Geographies – revealing the Gough Map’s secrets

The Gough Map, held at the Bodleian Library, is internationally-renowned as the earliest map to show Britain in a geographically-recognizable form. Yet questions remain of how the map was made, who made it, when and why. Linguistic Geographies is an AHRC-funded research project that seeks to address these key questions.

As the project proceeds during 2010, its website will develop with the ultimate aim of providing online access to the Gough Map, and a searchable database of the place-names that the map contains. The project will conclude with an exhibition and colloquium at the Bodleian Library in June 2011, on the topic of “The language of maps”.

The Gough Map’s origins are uncertain, including who made it, how, where and why? This project seeks to address these questions by using an innovative approach to explore the map’s ‘linguistic geographies’, that is the writing used on the map by the (unknown) scribes who created it. This technique involves specialist palaeographic and linguistic skills that are normally applied to text manuscripts, but with this project they are being tried on a map manuscript, somewhat experimentally, with the aim of not only finding more about the Gough Map’s making but also the transferability of particular methods from linguistic to cartographic history.

The project involves a group of researchers from across three UK HEIs, each bringing distinctive skills and expertise to bear. Each has an interest in maps and mapping, though from differing disciplinary perspectives, from geography, cartography and history. Their aim is to learn more about the Gough Map, specifically, but more generally to contribute to ongoing intellectual debates about how maps can be read and interpreted; about how maps are created and disseminated across time and space; and about technologies of collating and representing geographical information in visual, cartographic form.

One of the main project outcomes will be the web-resource through which the Gough Map will be made more widely accessible, and through which the data and findings of this project will be made freely available. This will help others to develop the research, whether in academic or non-academic sectors. As well as the web-resource, the project will provide the basis for a public exhibition on the Gough Map, to be held at the Bodleian at which a colloquium will provide a forum for discussion on the language and linguistics of medieval maps and mapping.

The project website is at:


The project partners are:

Queen’s University Belfast

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

King’s College London

The project is running for 15 months, having commenced on 1 April 2010, and is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Beyond Text’ programme.

Linguistic Geographies

Nick Millea

Map Librarian, Bodleian Library

See conservation of the Gough Map :


CF10: Conservation in Focus. Icon Conference, Cardiff University 24-26 March 2010

The Institute of Conservation’s (Icon) first ever conference “CF10: Conservation in Focus” was recently held in Cardiff, Wales’ vibrant capital city, to consider the broad theme of UK Conservation – past, present and future. The conference aimed to:

  • Advance and share knowledge about conservation issues in and beyond Icon’s members.
  • To have an enjoyable conference where people have time to talk and network
  • To leave Icon stronger as an organisation

The first full day of the conference consisted of a one day plenary session and focused on the two themes – ‘evidence based decision-making in conservation’ and ‘a sustainable future for UK conservation’. Highlights of the first day included an argument from Andy Calver (St. Albans Museum Service) for the use of buffering agents to control environmental conditions rather than large-scale air-conditioning systems. There was also feedback on the success of the recent ‘Conservation in Focus’ exhibition at the British Museum. I saw the exhibition in September 2008 and thought it was a brilliant concept. The display showcased the conservation of objects and allowed visitors the opportunity to meet conservators and ask them questions whilst they worked. The outcome of the exhibition seemed mostly positive allowing the conservation department to have a much greater web presence. Increased interest has led to a number of videos and pod casts of conservation work to be uploaded.

The second day provided an opportunity for the Icon groups to host specialist half day seminars. I attended the conservation science and care of collections group sessions in the morning and afternoon, highlights of which included an update on Oddy materials testing at the British Museum from Julie Phippard. The BM feels that it has a responsibility to share results of material testing and as such will publish all known results in an online database which will clearly state whether materials are safe for use within museums and archives.

The organisers of the conference had also gone to the length of creating a Facebook page for the conference (CF10: are you going? (http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=77317902593&ref=ts). I found this incredibly useful as it allowed me to easily ask any questions about conference organisation and provided me with regular updates or news of last-minute changes.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. It offered a perfect opportunity to chat with colleagues and a number of interesting papers were presented. The conference organisers made a particular effort to include evening social events in the main conference attendance cost so that all delegates could attend, creating even more networking opportunities. I eagerly look forward to the next conference which will hopefully have the same friendly atmosphere and flexible theme.

The full conference programme can be found online at http://www.icon.org.uk/images/stories/cf10_programme-110310.pdf

– From Jennifer Varallo (jennifer.varallo@bodleian.ox.ac.uk)

Clay Sanskrit Library Project launches

This week has seen the launch of a new project in the Oriental Section at Special Collections – the Clay Sanskrit Library.

‘The Recognition of Sakuntala’ by Kalidasa – from the CSL series

Generously funded by the JJC Foundation, the Clay Sanskrit Library is a series of over 60 volumes spanning a wide range of Classical Indian literature published as Sanskrit-English parallel texts. With many volumes from the series already held at a number of university libraries, the JJC Foundation has commissioned this project to fulfil a variety of exciting new objectives:

• 50 complete sets of the Clay Sanskrit Library are to be donated to universities, research institutions and public libraries with a committed interest in Sanskrit, South Asian studies and Indian culture
• A new website is going to be launched promoting the collection and keeping academics and the public alike up-to-date with events
• A special outreach programme will be implemented, working with schools and public libraries to raise awareness about the history and value of Classical Indian literature to people today
• An academic conference will be held later in 2010, bringing together scholars who translated for the series to deliver papers on interesting aspects of their work with the collection to an academic audience
• Master classes and workshops will also be running later this year, providing people with an opportunity to discover the world of translation and what working with religious literature is like

Many of these developments are already underway, with a group of students from St James School in London (the only school in the UK to offer Sanskrit!) making a visit to the Bodleian on May 24th to see our outstanding manuscript collection and work with some of the texts.

Chris Gibbons receives our CSL sets to donate

The sets to be donated are already being held here at the New Bodleian, with the hope of delivering them to those libraries lucky enough to receive a donation in the coming months.

We will be keeping everyone up-to-date on all these aspects of the project and more through our Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections Project page and blog, both to appear in the coming weeks… watch this space!

Matt Kimberley
Project Officer,

Clay Sanskrit Library

Early Manuscripts of Anselm: conservation begins

Conservation work has recently started on two manuscripts containing the works of St. Anselm dating from the twelfth century. St. Anselm is arguably the most significant theologian and author ever to hold the office of Archbishop of Canterbury. He died on 21 April 1109, and 900 years later the Bodleian Library held a colloquium on the production and early circulation of manuscripts of Anselm’s works in April 2009.

MS. Bodl. 271 is an important early copy of his collected works from Christ Church, Canterbury; it includes the Monologion, Proslogion (famous for its ‘ontological proof’ of the existence of God), Cur Deus Homo, and other texts, and was probably compiled shortly after Anselm’s death. A second part, also Anselmian, was added in the 15th century, when the manuscript gained its current blind-tooled binding. It was given to the Bodleian in 1616.

MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 is a composite volume, containing three separate 12th-century illuminated texts: a liturgical calendar from St. Albans, a Psalter from Winchester, and a copy of Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations (read today by a wide public in the Penguin Classics translation by Sister Benedicta Ward SLG), with an important series of illustrations. The three parts seem to have been combined by the time the manuscript belonged to the Benedictine nunnery of Littlemore in the later Middle Ages. It was given to the Bodleian in about 1672.

Following the colloquium the Conservation & Collection Care section were approached about two of the manuscripts whose condition and importance indicated the need for conservation. Treatment proposals were drafted and the Bodleian was able to secure funding for the work from generous private donations. Treatment began in January 2010, and is being undertaken jointly by Nicole Gilroy and Andrew Honey.

MS. Bodl. 271 survives in a fifteenth-century Canterbury blind-tooled binding using four as yet unrecorded tools and which incorporated fragments of a fourteenth-century polyphonic music manuscript used as spine linings. Some of the linings were removed in the past, and combined with other damage this has had a detrimental effect on the sewing structure and board attachment. The binding is being repaired in-situ, by consolidation of the weakened sewing and re-attachment of the boards.

MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 was rebound for the Bodleian, probably in the early eighteenth century. The earlier binding history of the three texts, and in particular the question of when they were brought together, is of significant scholarly interest. The current binding, which had previously been repaired and rebacked, is entirely broken down and the opportunity to disbind and record all evidence of previous sewing is a valuable one. What is discovered during this process will determine the eventual rebinding of the three texts.

Both manuscripts pose interesting conservation dilemmas, and as work progresses we discover evidence left by craftsmen who worked on these manuscripts in the past and are faced with questions about the production and binding history of these volumes.

See the report of Anselm Day at the Bodleian Library, April 2009, Early Manuscripts of Anselm: a discussion with five manuscripts.

Jane Austen’s Volume the First

MS. Don. e. 7: The conservation of Jane Austen’s Volume the first

MS. Don. e. 7
“Volume the First” before treatment

This manuscript takes its name from the inscription on its upper cover. It contains a compilation of Jane Austen’s early short works, written in Austen’s hand as a fair copy, and includes Henry & Eliza, The Adventures of Mr Harley, and The beautifull Cassandra. Austen wrote in a ready-made bound blank-book and completed the transcript when she was seventeen. The manuscript was bought for the Bodleian Library through the Friends of the Bodleian in 1933 and was first published in an edition by R. W. Chapman (Oxford, 1933).

The conservation of the manuscript was made possible by a grant from the National Manuscript Conservation Trust and was carried out in parallel with an Arts and Humanities Research Council award to digitize the manuscript. The original, though damaged condition of this major literary manuscript required sensitive conservation treatment; a stationer’s binding was not intended to last indefinitely and subsequent use has led to its breakdown. Unfortunately, the damage was at a stage where it threatened safe handling of the volume, and a complete breakdown of the manuscript’s structure was threatened.

The conservation treatment was focussed on the repair of the damaged and broken spine folds of the manuscript as well as the breaking sewing and collapsed spine without dis-binding the manuscript. All repairs were carried out in-situ and the original structure was disturbed as little as possible during treatment. The conservation work was carried out by Andrew Honey of the Bodleian Library’s Conservation & Collection Care department.

Temporary repairs were carried out so that the manuscript could be fully digitized before conservation. The general condition of individual leaves was very good but many of their spine-folds were breaking down and several leaves were completely detached. The original sewing had broken down in places and the text-block was loose although sewing supports were sound and were still attached to the boards. The covering leather had broken down and the boards were not protecting the text-block.

To repair the leaves, Japanese paper patches were fed around the backs of sections, around the remains of the sewing thread, and pasted in place. The manuscript’s loose structure was repaired by re-sewing the text-block through a stiffened spine wrapper made from a laminate of linen and Japanese paper. This spine wrapper was then used to reposition the boards and formed the base for the new spine. The new spine was covered with layers of toned Japanese paper with a surface finish. Finally the repaired manuscript is housed in a new cloth box.

— From Andrew Honey
See more Conservation projects at the Bodleian Library

Gough Map project

The Gough Map
14th-century map of Great Britain

Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain and its Making

(Dr Keith Lilley, School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast; Nick Millea, Map Library, Bodleian Library; Dr Elizabeth Solopova, English Faculty, Oxford University; Paul Vetch, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London – the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme award, April 2010 – July 2011)

This interdisciplinary project will focus on a medieval map of Britain known as the Gough Map, now kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This manuscript, of national and international importance, conventionally dated to c.1360, contains the earliest surviving cartographic representation of Britain in a geographically-recognizable form. Recent research has demonstrated that the map is in parts a strikingly accurate depiction of the locations of places, yet very little is known about how it was made, why, where and by whom.

The project will attempt to answer some of these questions through a linguistic and paleographic analysis of the text on the Gough map. This work will be undertaken by Dr Elizabeth Solopova, English Faculty, Oxford University. This is an innovative approach to take with medieval maps, which will test transferability of techniques developed for the study of medieval manuscript texts to the study of manuscript maps. The project will investigate such questions as how many scribes worked on the present manuscript; where they were from; what their exemplars were like; what subsequent revision was undertaken, if any; and when did it take place. This will be achieved through a paleographic analysis of the map, but also through the study of the linguistic form of its place names, which reflects the dialect of its scribes and probably also the dialect of their patrons and the map’s original users. Since very little is known of the processes that were involved in medieval map-making, the insights achieved by the project will have significance beyond its immediate scope of study, and will contribute to ongoing debates about how maps were created and disseminated.

The project involves a group of researchers from three institutions and will be directed Dr Keith Lilley, Queen’s University Belfast. The work undertaken at the Bodleian will be overseen by Nick Millea, Map Curator, Bodleian Library. The project will have a website hosted at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London, where the work will be overseen by Paul Vetch. The website will feature a description of the research and technical development being carried out, with updates on progress, and a blog for project comments and discussion. It will also be the basis for the project’s online interactive Gough Map. This will be an enhancement of an existing version (created in 2005 as part of a British Academy funded project directed by Dr Keith Lilley), and will provide users with a means of accessing information on all of the places and features shown by the Gough Map. The online map will publicise the findings of this new research, and help disseminate the analytical results of the study both to academic and non-academic audiences, and across a wide range of subject areas. The project has an advisory panel comprising a linguistic historian (Professor Jeremy Smith) and a cartographic historian (Dr Peter Barber), both leading experts in their respective fields.

The award from the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme provides funding for an exhibition and colloquium at Oxford which will be held at the end of the project. The two-day colloquium will be an academic occasion to stimulate further discussion on the ‘language’ of medieval maps and map-makers. An associated exhibition focusing on the Gough map will be aimed at a wider audience and will be part of the Bodleian’s popular advertised exhibitions.

The project will generate intellectual debate within its team and their institutions, as well as by extending this into the broader academic community and beyond through digital web-based media, the exhibition and colloquium. It will develop new ways of studying the ‘language’ of medieval maps to stimulate high quality interdisciplinary research across academic and cultural sectors.

For further information see the AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme website

— From Elizabeth Solopova

Resting books


On a visit to Leiden University Library’s Special Collections reading room, I was happy to see these comfortable- looking bookrests.  At the Bodleian our bookrests are all angular grey foam.  Also noted, the view from the window of the Leiden reading room …

canal view
canal view

Collection care is priority

exhibition scissors
exhibition scissors

“Do no harm” is the conservator’s creed.  When books are put on display for exhibition, they are often laid open on a cardboard book cradle. The pages are strapped down, gently, with polypropylene straps. But these need to be cut to remove the book once the exhibition is over. Cut with sharp scissors, so close to the priceless pages of an early printed book or manuscript?!  Now the exhibition officers have found a solution: multi-functional round-headed scissors maintain a smooth rounded surface near to the book allowing the sharp cutting edge to sever the temporary strap without endangering the ancient written treasure.

Map of China from the early 17th century

This is a late Ming watercolour map of East Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and part of India, probably executed in the 1620s. The map has no title, and is very large, approximately 1×1.5m. The text is Chinese, but there are some Latin annotations by a later hand. The map shows shipping routes and compass bearings from the port of Quanzhou across the entire region. A panel of text on the left of the map near Calicut, its western extremity, gives directions of the routes to Aden and the Strait of Hormuz.


The shelfmark is MS Selden supra 105.


It came to the library from the estate of the London lawyer John Selden (d.1654) in 1659, along with a large collection of Oriental manuscripts, Greek marbles, a Chinese compass and the famous Aztec history known as the Codex Mendoza. It was most likely obtained in Southeast Asia through the East India Company’s base at Banten, but was almost certainly produced in the port of Quanzhou in Fujian province. It probably arrived in London towards the mid-17th century.

The map has always been known as an interesting curiousity from the time it arrived in the Library, but its importance was first recognised by the visiting American scholar Robert Bachelor in January 2008. He was the first to notice the shipping routes, which make the map unique among both Chinese and indeed European maps of the period, and has described it as “an object of globally recognizable significance”.