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For more about the treasures of Balliol’s library and archives please visit our new blog at Historic Collections @Balliol.
For all Library and Archives enquiries please contact the library
Q: I’m looking for archival material in Oxford – and maybe elsewhere – relating to [well known deceased literary figure(s)].
A: LMGTFY – almost.
The first answer is always, of course, do an internet search – try ‘oxford surname’ and see what comes up. If nothing obvious, try adding ‘archives’, ‘papers’ or ‘letters’.
Balliol College’s personal and family archives holdings are listed online, with links to images, at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Modern%20Papers/modernmsssum.asp.
Biographies and other secondary material should mention the whereabouts of other primary sources; from the archives end though, you will want to be familiar with several national portals, as e.g. letters from your research subjects will turn up in the archives of correspondents’ archives, not their own.
Does all this sound obvious? good – but this is a genuine enquiry from a genuine researcher of the internet generation, and it’s far from unique.
Anna Espínola Lynn, MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture (Wadham College, Oxford), will be speaking on the transmission of style in fifteenth-century Catalan manuscript production.
All welcome! Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last about half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at the Balliol manuscript discussed.
Unlocking Archives is an interdisciplinary graduate seminar series of illustrated lunchtime talks about current research in Balliol College’s historic collections: archives, manuscripts and early printed books, and the connections between them.
Talks take place at 1pm in Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell. St Cross is next door to Holywell Manor and across the road from the English & Law faculties on Manor Road; directions http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f.
Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during March:
Some of the topics of remote enquiries received in March:
Enquirers and researchers should note that I resigned my post in early February and am currently completing the required 3 months’ notice. This is the last of my monthly reports to include numbers etc about enquiries and research at St Cross. As agreed in February, I have stopped taking new enquiries, requests for reprographics etc as of 1 April, and from the same date will no longer be dealing with researcher appointments, invigilation or productions and returns of material at St Cross. This is to make it possible for me to use the last few weeks of my notice period to ensure that pre-April enquiries, processing new accessions and other ‘essential but invisible’ tasks are dealt with as fully as possible before I leave. Details of the vacancy, and of interim and future staffing arrangements for the archives and manuscripts, will be posted on the Balliol College website in due course. Urgent enquiries and requests for research appointments should be directed to the Librarians until further notice.
– Anna Sander, Archivist & Curator of Manuscripts
I post brief monthly statistics here, but for readers who just can’t get enough archives news, there’s a weekly update on Facebook as well. Here’s the roundup for Hilary Term, January-February:
HT1: Happy New Year! This week in the archives, catching up on holiday enquiries, rounding up December enquiries and statistics, generally hanging the shingle out again as all services resume as normal.
HT2: this week in the archives, it’s a ‘quiet’ week as far as researcher bookings go. So in between thumb-twiddling sessions, I’ll just be finishing up holiday enquiries and reprographics requests; December, January & 2017 statistics on the blog; starting the term’s campaign of cataloguing modern personal papers collections & posting their fonds-level descriptions to the (new and improved) Archives Hub; assembling Docs in Focus features for the Library and facsimile displays for the antechapel; and starting to clear the office in case of work on pipes and electrics later…
HT3: this week in the archives, tutors planning classes using early printed books and late medieval manuscripts, a planning session for one of those classes, and flooring repairs in the repositories.
HT4: this week in the archives, just one reader booked, so, more accessioning and cataloguing. Forward in February!
HT5 : this week in the archives, a new accession to the RM Hare papers; a Balliol graduate student teaching a class based on manuscripts and early printed books; researchers looking at the Hunt, Rawnsley, McKail and Nicolson papers, college records and medieval manuscripts; and a conservation consortium management committee meeting for me. No wonder I’m only getting round to updating on Tuesday!
HT 6: this week in the archives, researchers for the Jowett, Rawnsley and Caird papers and college records; a school visit; servicing of the fire suppression system; planning a spring exhibition with several graduate student curators; and the termly Library Committee meeting.
HT 7: this week in the archives, I handed in my resignation in early February and will be leaving Balliol at the end of April, after more than 13 years, and returning to my home country of Canada after nearly 20 years away. Stay tuned for updates about modifications to archive services during the transition period. But for now, there are enquiries to answer!
HT 8: this week in the archives, researchers for the Jowett archive, Chalet papers and college records. March is the last month I’m taking new enquiries and requests for reprographics, as I wind things up in preparation for leaving at the end of April, so send them in soon!
HT9: this week in the archives, a researcher looking at college records and my last AGM at the Oxford Conservation Consortium. It’s a short week for me, as I’ll be in Cambridge on Friday at a symposium celebrating wider access to Parker on the Web, an extraordinary resource for all students of medieval manuscripts. No more paywall! https://theparkerlibrary.wordpress.com/…/parker-news-acces…/ March is the last month I’m taking new enquiries and requests for reprographics, as I wind things up in preparation for leaving at the end of April, so send them in soon.
The University is now in Vacation, but archives are busy: this week researchers are consulting records of the Chalet des Anglais, material relating to Hilaire Belloc, and the Rawnsley papers. My roundup of tweets from Friday’s brilliant Parker Library on the Web symposium in Cambridge is online (until May, when Storify dies) at http://bit.ly/2HLaYDH March is the last month I’m taking new enquiries and requests for reprographics, as I wind things up in preparation for leaving at the end of April, so send them in soon.
Easter Vacation (University sense): this week in the archives, researchers for the Rawnsley, Jowett and Belloc papers and some other individual items. From next week, please send all enquiries, requests for reprographics and requests for appointments to carry out research on the archives and manuscripts at St Cross to firstname.lastname@example.org. The librarians are providing interim cover; future staffing arrangements for St Cross will be noted on the college website in due course. I will not be dealing with any new instances of these after this week, as I need the last few weeks of my notice period to leave everything as free of loose ends as is ever possible in an archive.
Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during February:
Some of the topics of remote enquiries received in February:
Enquirers and researchers should note that I resigned my post in early February and am currently working the required 3 months’ notice. Details of the vacancy, and of interim and future staffing arrangements for the archives and manuscripts, will be posted on the Balliol College website in due course.
– Anna Sander, Archivist & Curator of Manuscripts
Last week I had the privilege and huge fun of planning and teaching a class with Stephanie Solywoda, Director of the Stanford Program in Oxford. We were talking about medieval Oxford – town, gown and especially books…
Stanford people get up close and personal with medieval manuscripts – here we are discussing the complicated layout of this Aristotle manuscript, and the functions of illuminated initials other than just being amazing – navigation, mnemonics, sometimes didactic or humorous (or even inexplicable) comment on the main text.
Colours and lines are still bright and sharp after 7 or 8 centuries – it’s hard to imagine someone spending the weeks or months it would have taken to copy this text out by hand. Not to mention manually justifying every line while keeping letter spacing consistent, using abbreviations and having to allow for imperfections in the parchment interrupting the writing space.
Bindings on the other hand, may not last so well – note the spine break in the manuscript above.
Old books, new technology – online gateway to Parker on the Web, and a modern facsimile of the ancient Book of Kells that lets us safely handle a binding using medieval techniques.
Kells facsimile – not strictly related to Balliol’s special collections (alas, no early Irish manuscripts here) but a facsimile is a wonderful teaching resource. The pages feel like the modern shiny light card they are, but they faithfully reproduce weight and thickness of parchment, dirty smudges at the edges, the way some fugitive pigments show through to the other side of a page (e.g. lower right of this opening) and even the holes in the original. These Stanford students will be visiting the real Book of Kells, the centrpiece of a dedicated exhibition, at Trinity College Dublin later in their time in the UK, so this was particularly apposite.
Some recently conserved administrative documents from Balliol’s history, contemporary to the books displayed, were on show to demonstrate the differences in layout, hands and contents between academic texts and legal records.
Balliol’s Foundation Statutes of 1282, still with the original seal of Dervorguilla de Balliol, in their new mount and box from OCC. Like nearly all legal documents of the time, this is in formulaic, heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, but we were able to find the word ‘Balliol’ in several places in the text (and a full transcription and translation was available 😉 ) We talked about the evolution of early college statutes, the similarities and differences between colleges and monastic houses, the heavily religious language of the statutes and the practical stipulations included.
Balliol’s historic seal matrices and modern impressions – all featuring female figures, like the foundation statutes. St Catherine is the College’s patron saint, and we talked about the college chapel system and the fact that Balliol had a side chapel dedicated to St Catherine in St Mary Magdalen church – just outside Balliol’s walls – before it received permission (and had the funds) to build its own chapel.
Another beautifully mounted document, two copies of the Bishop of Lincoln’s permission to Balliol College to build its own chapel.
An opening from the first Register of College Meeting Minutes (1593-1594) showing formal but more workaday recordkeeping in the College, still in Latin but often with English phrases or sections, annotations, amendments and crossed out sections.
MS 301 has a typical layout for legal and Biblical manuscripts, with a central section, here decorated, of the main text to be studied in larger hand, and surrounding layer or layers of formal commentary plus shorter notes and personal reader annotations toward the outer edges. (No, the book is not hanging over the edge of the table – it’s the camera angle!)
Details of the decoration in that central section, showing rubrics (headings in red), regular red and blue penwork initials and still-familiar paragraph/section marks, plus more pigments, white highlights, and gold leaf on the most important initial.
A plainer study text, made for university use and leaving plenty of room for commentary and annotations to be added.
We enjoyed these whimsical doodles, turning initials into faces so full of character they might be portraits – or caricatures. They may also have had mnemonic and navigational value, particularly in a manuscript without folio numbers, as was usual. The manuscripts are foliated now, but most foliation is either early modern and/or 20th century.
The oldest document (ca. 1200) in the College Archives has been mounted to allow it to be displayed without damaging it; I also had two C14 legal documents out for the students to handle, and so we could talk about seals, seal attachment, and pre-signature authentication methods.
A mounted charter with pendent seals, still with their green and red silk cords intact. The conservators’ inner box cover includes photographs of the reverse of the whole document, the seal and the label, as well as a caption. Instant display without having to disturb a fragile manuscript.
For extra resources and further reading, I had a small selection of the College’s modern printed books on archives and manuscript studies topics out as well. The Manuscript Book compendium has recently been translated from Italian and is a brilliant resource for eastern as well as western manuscripts.
Links to relevant projects: