A demonstration of image matching software developed to enable scholars to compare printed images is now running in the Bodleian Library.
Alongside a display of broadside ballads printed in the 17th and 18th centuries is the 21st-century technology that reveals how early modern printers copied woodcut blocks to illustrate different publications.
At a lecture on Tuesday, December 4, in the library’s Convocation House, Giles Bergel (English Faculty) will be joined by Professor Andrew Zisserman and Relja Arandjelovic (Visual Geometry Group, Department of Engineering), to talk about how the software was applied to thousands of items from Bodleian Library collections of printed ballads.
In 1975, Michael Turner (then of Special Collections, later Head of Conservation) with Bodley’s Librarian Robert Shackleton and the Keeper of Printed Books, Julian Roberts, opened the first of 900 packing cases containing the collection of Walter Harding of Chicago.
This legacy from a transplanted Englishman raised in Chicago brought a wealth of music into the Bodleian, including vast quantities of English secular song, English and foreign opera scores and music hall songs. Harding’s collection of American sheet music made the Bodleian the major holder of American song material on this side of the Atlantic.
Dr Abigail Williams (English Faculty, Oxford) will tell Harding’s story in a radio programme on Tuesday, 7 Feb. at 8:10 pm on BBC Radio 3. The programme includes interviews with Michael Turner and with Clive Hurst, the Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian Library.
Highlighting the value of Harding’s collection for music scholarship, Michael Burden, Professor of Opera Studies, took participants through an 18th-century opera libretto, of which some unique examples were collected by Harding, pointing out that these printed guides to performances are valuable clues to which songs were really sung on any night, given the cavalier attitude of 18th-century opera directors and singers to the composer’s actual score.
The weight of the Harding collection – 22 tons – was noted in the speeches. In fact the sheer scale contributes greatly to its utility for scholars today. Harding’s collections of verse and song, for instance of American sheet music, broadside ballads, and poetry anthologies, enable researchers to ask the kind of quantitative questions – touching on popular taste and on the movement of literary goods in a mass market – that are now regarded as key to understanding cultural developments in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Several Bodleian Library and Oxford-based research projects and online resources draw upon the Harding Collection: The Digital Miscellanies Index; 1000 poetry anthologies, printed in the 18th century Bodleian Broadside Ballads; including 15,000 broadside ballads in Harding’s collection, from the 18th and 19th centuries The John Johnson Collection of Ephemera, online archive, where Harding materials are featured in both the ‘Crime’ category (with broadsides featuring news of murders and executions) and the less sensationalist ‘Book trade’ category, represented by bookplates.
As the speeches and the display also revealed, the collector with time and knowledge to devote to his passion for music was able to acquire rare and unique items. On display was the sole surviving copy of a song by J.C. Bach performed at Vauxhall, and part-books printed in Venice in the 16th-century, one of which is also a unique survival.
The evening’s concert of music by the duo Alva (Vivien Ellis and Giles Lewin) included songs from Harding’s collection, one song of his own composition, and concluded with the hymn supposed to be his favourite, “When they ring those Golden Bells”.
Lay still my fond shepherd
In praise of Yarm (from The Yorkshire Garland)
The Horse Race (from The Yorkshire Garland)
(Tunes from) The dancing master, Playford
A true and tragical song concerning Captain John Bolton (from The Yorkshire Garland)
An thou were (traditional Scots song)
My Dad is a Delver (from Calliope, or, English Harmony (1739))
All dressed up with nowhere to go (music by Walter Harding)
When they ring those Golden Bells
At the Seminar on the history of the book, Giles Bergel told us about the Wandering Jew’s Chronicle, a broadside ballad first published in 1634 and updated in at least 14 subsequent editions up to the 19th century. As these were turbulent times for England and the monarchy, the use of an unbroken portrait gallery of monarchs to illustrate most of the versions suggests a royalist theme, and the “Whiggish”, triumphalist view of English history.
A reader was looking at a volume of broadside ballads, Wood 401, with a view to confirming whether the copy of “The wandering Jew’s chronicle” was really from 1634 as labelled in our main online catalogue (converted record). This got me thinking again about the opportunities we might have to update the ballads database; so far we’ve investigated using a web service, mnemosyne, to link our ICONCLASS codes to a general index of codes, so linking our ballad woodcut material with emblems from other collections. But equally nice would be to allow people who are working on bibliographies of a particular ballad to link in to our examples — to form paths through the collection, that the simple browsing and indexing doesn’t really highlight, only exposes.