The Red Book of Hergest, held in the Bodleian Library on deposit from Jesus College, was recently installed in the exhibition 4 Llyfr/4 Books : Welsh Icons United at the National Library of Wales.
Photos of the installation can be seen on the NLW’s facebook page.
In these pictures, we can see that during the exhibition installation some of the conservators were wearing gloves, and others not. Cotton or latex gloves are useful for those installing exhibitions, to prevent fingerprints on acrylic book cradles and glass display cases. But they are not always required for the handling of rare materials themselves. The Bodleian Library prefers that staff and readers have clean, dry hands – not gloves – when handling any rare books and manuscripts. The reasons are outlined in these posts from the University of Reading Special Collections and from the National Archives.
A cryptographic manuscript book by John Wallis (1616-1703) shows text mark-up at work in the early modern period. The symbols Wallis identified in this code include pairs of symbols that ‘signify that what is between is to be deleted’, and one symbol to delete that which is before it. The work by Wallis, who had decrypted letters during the Civil Wars, was a book of deciphered letters, intended to teach the skill to another generation.
Louisiane Ferlier’s master class on October 14 examined books donated by Wallis to the Bodleian and other Oxford libraries. Cryptographer, mathematician, founding member of the Royal Society and controversialist, he was the Savilian Professor of Geometry from 1649 until his death, and was elected Keeper of the University Archives in 1657.
His donations to the Savilian Library (kept privately within the Bodleian) and to the Bodleian itself were the subject of Dr Ferlier’s discussion, as she examined the means and possible motives of his presentation of printed books, pamphlets and manuscript books. Manuscript publication of books of letters intercepted in cipher, which Wallis had deciphered during the Civil Wars, he presented in order, he wrote, to teach others how to decrypt codes. Other materials seemed particularly aimed to strengthen the Bodleian’s holdings of material intended to show the truth of Protestant religion.
see: Cultures of Knowledge calendar and edition of Wallis’s correspondence and The Wallis Project, an investigation of his works on grammar, on logic and on music theory.
A one-day display in the Proscholium, Bodleian Library to coincide with the conference, The Lives of Objects, at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing, Wolfson College
Objects in Bodleian collections carry the memories of the lives and works of writers. Locks of hair, a traditional means of preserving the memory of the beloved, are shown in an ornate case that is part of the ‘Shelley Relics’, from the great Abinger Collection of manuscripts of Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and their family. The supposed death mask of Dante (a severe visage that contrasts with contemporary descriptions of the living man) inspired later generations to believe they were in closer contact with the great author, at only one remove from viewing the face of genius.
At the outset, the writer confronts a blank page; in library collections, the inscribed pages of manuscripts are the destination of scholars who come to study every aspect – including the shape and quality of the paper – with meticulous care. A blank notebook of the type filled by Jane Austen with her juvenile writings is presented in this display. The pen is a tangible connection with the physical activity of writing. A pen from the Shelley collection, and one used more recently by Alan Bennett, will be on display.
A china figurine of a traveller, owned by Bruce Chatwin, is one of those privately treasured items that provided the material anchor to a story which took flight with the writer’s imagination. The bill estimating (at £38.19.6) the cost of repairs to T.E. Lawrence’s prized Brough Superior motorcycle, after the fatal accident in 1935, is a reminder of the power of objects, not only in the imagination.
The Bodleian Library Proscholium is open on weekdays at 9 am. The display can be seen in the Proscholium on Thursday, 19 September, until 5:30 pm.
Peter Lindfield, the Dunscombe Colt Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, writes
“I am using this one-month fellowship at the Bodleian Libraries to explore how historical knowledge and design practices in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries connected architecture, furniture, antiquarian and medievalism. I’ve been making use of the Bodleian’s Special Collections including John Aubrey’s MSS for Chronologia Architectonica, Richard Gough’s topographical collections, and the Beckford papers — particularly letters by Franchi, Beltz and Britton to Beckford on architectural, antiquarianism and heraldic matters. I am also tracking down an inventory of Lee Priory by the antiquary Samuel Pegge, working on Bardwell’s portrait of the Earl and Countess of Pomfret, c.1750 (at the Ashmolean), and, finally, examining eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century Gothic Revival furniture found throughout Oxford’s colleges.
Grasping the opportunities offered by this fellowship, I co-organised a highly successful and international one-day symposium on the eighteenth-century Gothick Revival (7 August). Over thirty delegates attended, and were drawn from Britain, Ireland, France, USA and Canada. It is our intention to publish the conference proceedings in due course.
Details of the symposium can be found at:
The Dunscombe Colt Fellowship supports a visiting researcher with an interest in the architecture or material culture of the long eighteenth century. The Fellowship is supported by the Georgian Group and the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
For information about fellowships, visit the webpages of the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book.
from Jaume Navarro, Ikerbasque Research Professor, Universidad del País Vasco
In 1919, at the end of the Great War, Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity received tremendous support after some epoch-making astronomical observations during a total solar eclipse. Einstein and his theory of relativity became the topic of serious discussions among physicists and philosophers as well as common currency in the wider cultural world. In this context, one of the heated discussions triggered by the new theory was on the existence of the ether.
What was the ether? Generally speaking, the ether was a loose concept that philosophers of all times had imagined as the medium through which interactions such as gravity and magnetism were transmitted. Nineteenth-century British physicists had turned this entity into an all-pervading mysterious medium essential to make sense of Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism and light: because in this theory, any form of electromagnetic radiation, light included, was regarded as a wave; and if there was a vibration, there had to be something to vibrate. That was the ether at the turn of the century.
Einstein’s relativity and, to a lesser degree, the new quantum theory posed serious challenges to the notion of an ether. Continental physicists had never taken this entity too seriously, but scientists in the British tradition could not easily abandon the ether. For them, explaining natural phenomena involved imagining the hidden mechanisms of Nature and not simply finding valid equations to predict them; and, thus, the ether was essential to account for radiation and action at a distance.
In the 1920s, when theoretical developments, experimental results and international consensus forced the abandonment of the ether in theoretical science, even among the young generation of British physicists, a new and very popular technological development, spreading in every middle-class household, came to the rescue of the ether, at least for a while: wireless and radio broadcasting.
My research as a Marconi fellow at the Bodleian Library focuses on the life of the ether in the world of wireless after its death among theoretical physicists. Because, pace Einstein and his theory, ‘the ether’ remained as the medium through which wireless waves were transmitted from the sending station to the receiving apparatus. And with the rapid spread of broadcasting in the mid-1920s, the ether also became a battlefield between nations, broadcasting companies and wireless amateurs. This non-existent medium soon needed to be regulated, controlled and secured.
From 24-28 June, the Bodleian Libraries, in collaboration with the Oxford Colleges Conservation Consortium, hosted a workshop taught by Jiří Vnouček, of the Royal Library in Copenhagen. He led a team of conservators through the physical process of converting animal skins into parchment. At a lecture to a larger group of students, academics and library staff, Dr Vnouček related the appearance of parchment in medieval manuscripts to the process of production, drawing lessons for the technical examination and identification of parchment. The workshop, which is running for the first time in the UK, is generously sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, AMARC, Conservation by Design and the Leathersellers‘ Foundation.
This exhibition, curated by Judith Curthoys, allows an insight into the often surprising contents of Christ Church archives. Apart from various versions and drafts of the Statutes, examination papers, documents related to the academic curriculum or the more light-hearted side of college life, Past Perfect at the Cardinal’s College also introduces the viewer to a series of artefacts. Among these, on display for the first time, are a 13th century pewter coffin chalice with its paten discovered during Victorian excavations in the cathedral …
The exhibition will be open from 12 June 2013. Visiting hours Monday – Friday: 9.30 am – 1.00 pm; 2.00 pm – 4.30 pm (provided there is a member of staff available in the Upper Library).
by Rosanna Blakeley, Archives Assistant, Saving Oxford Medicine
Work on the Oxfam archive is well under way. Phase I of the project started in January 2013, and is due to be completed in June 2014, and will be followed by two further phases finishing in 2017. The work falls under the umbrella of the Library’s Saving Oxford Medicine initiative, and has been generously funded by the Wellcome Trust.
As part of the first phase the project team has been appraising and cataloguing various communications materials, and within this section of the archive are a series of files entitled ‘Oxfam personalities’ from the former Press Office. In order to give you a glimpse of the variety of stories we are encountering in the archive, what follows relates to just one of these ‘personalities’: Doris Munganyinka Auclair.
Doris Auclair left Rwanda in 1962, aged 18, due to the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi, and took refuge in Goma, Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, after more violence erupted, she came to Britain where she worked as a teacher and volunteered in one of Oxfam’s shops in Chiswick. She was not able to return to Rwanda until 1995, after 33 years absence. Doris had no idea whether any of her family had survived the violence in Rwanda up until this point, but discovered that only three out of her nine siblings were alive. Her father had also died in 1994. After this, Doris decided she had to do something to help.
She states on her sponsorship form for ‘Walking for a new Rwanda’,
Having seen their plight I could no longer justify spending petrol money to drive a car, so I decided to auction my very beloved 1966 VW Beetle at Sotheby’s and all the proceeds were donated to the Oxfam Rwanda Appeal.
Doris walked 360km from Goma in Zaire back to her former family home in Kibeho in Rwanda in March 1996. In the Oxfam archive there is a day-by-day diary account, handwritten by Doris, which reveals the mixed emotions that accompany a trip of this nature. The opening of this diary reads: ‘Walking for a new Rwanda Buhoro buhoro (slowly slowly)’. Another poignant entry dates from 3rd March, when Doris writes:
‘Got up at 6 am had a glass of water and started the walk at 6.30am it is very pleasant at this time of the [day] and the view along the Lake Kivu was spoiled mostly by the thought that land mines may be anywhere’.
During her walk Doris also visited Kigali, where there was an Oxfam office, and went to some schools in order to look into ways she could help with Rwanda’s devastated education system. On a post-it note stuck to a photograph Doris has written ‘some of the schools I visited in Kigali…many with broken windows and bare classrooms’. Doris also accompanied the deputy director of Oxfam Kigali to investigate repairs to water pumps in the area.
Doris has since been awarded an MBE for her services to Oxfam and was the treasurer for The Rwanda UK Goodwill Organization (RUGO). There are countless examples of the ‘personalities’ who tirelessly work for, and support Oxfam, and this is just one of the individual stories we are coming across everyday as we appraise, arrange and catalogue the Oxfam archive.
This recent post from Miranda Lewis, in the Cultures of Knowledge blog, delves into the history of the Index of Literary Correspondence. Kept in Duke Humfrey’s Library, this card index of sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century correspondence in Bodleian collections became a core dataset for Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO), a union catalogue of correspondence from the early modern period.
Ghosts in the Machine: (Re)Constructing the Bodleian’s Index of Literary Correspondence, 1927-1963