– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

digitisation

medieval manuscripts exhibition #mss2017

Change and Decay: a history of damage and conservation in Balliol’s medieval manuscripts

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Balliol College Historic Collections Centre

St Cross Church, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UH

directions

A new exhibition of medieval manuscripts will be in place for Oxford Open Doors (9-10 September 2017) and throughout Michaelmas Term (until 10 December).

Opening hours: Saturday 9 September and Sunday 10 September 12-4 pm both days for Oxford Open Doors, Saturday 16 September 2.30-6.30 pm for Balliol Society and Oxford Alumni Weekend, and tba. Individuals and groups are also welcome to visit at other times by appointment with the archivist – contact

Visiting hours are normally Mon-Fri 10-1 and 2-5; appointments aren’t meant to be exclusive, it’s just that the exhibition and reading room are in the same space and we need to plan ahead to ensure that visitors and researchers are here at different times.

Further information and related events will be advertised here.

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The exhibition, curated by Balliol’s Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts, Anna Sander, includes more than 20 of Balliol’s 300+ original medieval manuscript codices and a number of contemporary documents from the college records, and highlights a decade of work on the archives and manuscripts by the team of professional conservators at the Oxford Conservation Consortium, of which Balliol has been a member since 2006.

Curator’s introduction

Balliol’s 2014 condition survey of all manuscript books

PDF of exhibition catalogue

List of manuscripts on display

– with links to exhibition catalogue entries, more images and articles on related topics. Catalogue entries may not be identical in the blog posts and the print-ready PDF – the latter has been formatted to fit each manuscript’s entry on 2 sides of A4, i.e. a single opening, but there is no such restriction on blog post length.

Case 1. College Archives D.4.1 Statutes of Dervorguilla. 1282, in Latin, on parchment. First Statutes of Balliol College, with seal of Dervorguilla de Balliol. [exhibition entry] [related documents]

Case 2. College Archives Membership 1.1. First Latin Register of College Meeting Minutes 1514-1682, in Latin and English, on paper. Earliest surviving records of Balliol College’s Governing Body. [exhibition entry] [images online]

Case 3a. MS 349 15th century. Collection of nine texts related to the office of priesthood, in Latin, on parchment. Bequeathed to Balliol by Dr George Coningesby in 1768. Closed to show the only medieval binding in Balliol’s manuscript collection. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 3b. MS 350 12th, 13th & 14th centuries, 3 medieval treatises on English law, including Herefordshire section of Domesday. Victorian vellum binding, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, on parchment. Bequeathed to Balliol by Dr George Coningesby. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 4. MS 263 14th-15th century. Texts on poetic and rhetorical composition, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 5. MS 238E ca.1445. 5th volume of medieval encyclopedia, Fons Memorabilium Universi, compiled by Dominicus Bandini de Arecio, in Latin, on parchment. Conserved and rebound ?early 2000s. Copy commissioned and given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d.1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 6. MS 148 2nd half 13th century. ‘Bernardi opuscula’, collection of short texts by 12th century Cistercian theologian and reformer Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 7. MS 253 13th century. ‘Logica vetus’ and other texts by Aristotle, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Provenance unknown; late medieval Balliol ownership inscription. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 8. MS 12., aka Arch C 1 6.  Ca. 1475. Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae (History of the Jewish People), in Latin, on parchment. Printed at Lübeck by Lukas Brandis, ca. 1475. Rebacked/rebound several times, conserved 2010-11. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [ISTC entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 9a. MS 367 11th century. Antidotarium – medical recipes and remedies, in Latin, on parchment. Victorian binding. Probably given to the College by Sir John Conroy, 1st Bt, Fellow of Balliol 1890. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 9b. MS 348 13th century. Vulgate Bible, in Latin, on very thin parchment. ‘Pocket Bible.’ Rebound 1720s.In Balliol by the 17th century; provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 9c. MS 451. 1480s. Book of Hours (Use of Rome), perhaps from Ghent or Bruges, in Latin on parchment. Early 19th century binding by by C. Kalthoeber of London. Given to Balliol by the Rev. EF Synge. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 9d. MS 378 Undated. Prayers to the Virgin Mary, in Ethiopic, on parchment. Original wooden boards without cover. From the personal library of the Rev. Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol 1870-1893, other provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 10. MS 396 Early 14th century. Five leaves of a noted Sarum Breviary, one of the liturgical books used for the Daily Office, in Latin, on parchment. These leaves were found and removed from the binding of an ‘old dilapidated’ College account book in 1898, by George Parker of the Bodleian Library. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [not yet digitized]

Case 11. College Archives E.1. 1320s-1350s. Title deeds relating to property at Long Benton (Much/Mickle Benton) near Newcastle, given to Balliol College by Sir Philip Somerville, in Latin, on parchment, with seals. [exhibition entry] [images online]

Case 12. MS 116 Later 13th century. Commentary by Eustratius, an early 12th century bishop of Niceaea, on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. At Balliol by the late 14th century; provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 13. MS 277 Late 13th century. Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Meteorology, trans. Moerbeke, and Ethics, trans. Grosseteste, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. May have been at Balliol in the 14th century, alienated and returned in the 15th; given by Mr Robert Rok (Rook). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 14. MS 384 15th century.  English Book of Hours according to the Use of Sarum, in Latin, on parchment. 18th century binding. At Balliol since the 18th century; provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 15. MS 210 1st half 13th century. Several texts by C12-13 University theologians, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to the College by Roger Whelpdale, sometime Fellow of Balliol and Bishop of Carlisle in 1419-20 (d. 1423). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 16. MS 173A 12th and 13th century. Two collections of short texts bound together, on medieval music theory, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s.  Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 17. College Archives B.22.1. Ca. 1200, charter re St Lawrence Jewry, London. (Jewry?) Parchment, 2  pendent seals. Balliol’s oldest document, predates Balliol’s association with the property. Rehoused by OCC, 2007. [exhibition entry]

Case 18. MS 354 Early 16th century. Commonplace book of London grocer Richard Hill, in English, Latin and French, on paper. Medieval song or carol texts, literary extracts, poems, religious and spiritual texts, notes on farming and trade, recipes, proverbs, etc. Original limp parchment cover.  Provenance unknown. [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Case 19. MS 240 12th and 14th centuries. Miscellany of religious texts, in Latin, on parchment.  Conserved and rebound by Andrew Honey, 1990s. From the priory of Monks Kirby (Warwickshire). Given to the College by Richard Bole, Archdeacon of Ely (d.1477). [exhibition entry] [Mynors catalogue entry] [images online]

Find out more

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guest post

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Oxford, Balliol College, MS 200 p.1

A guest post to close the research year at St Cross: 

Robert Cowton was an early fourteenth century theologian based in Oxford, and Balliol archives house three manuscripts containing some of his treatises. I spent my week on a “micro-internship”, organised through the careers service, digitising these manuscripts for a group of researchers based in Germany. Making the images available online will hopefully save them, and the planet, a flight over.  The three manuscripts, Balliol MSS 199, 200 and 201, are all executed in the same hand with matching decorations in red and blue ink.

I started off by photographing each of the pages attempting to give a clear and legible picture of the text. Wrinkles, curling pages and minute annotations did not make this an easy task. Handling a manuscript carefully and making the pages sit flat often seem to be diametrically opposed aims. If some of the pages are a little hard to read, this is because I have erred on the side of caution. Despite these challenges  it was a real pleasure to work with the manuscripts; getting to feel the parchment and see at first hand the way the skin has been stretched and tanned to make it fit to write on. The tiny marginalia left by successive readers; from the eighteenth century page numbering (often with corrections) to the little pointed fingers indicating important parts of the text show the continued life of a text in a way that a modern printed edition cannot.

Once I had finished photographing the manuscripts I then jumped to the other end of the temporal spectrum and attempted to upload the images to Flickr. In order to get both Windows Explorer and Flickr to read the right title field data, each file had to be named twice, in two different programs. Once I had got through the renaming and uploading process it was very satisfying to see the whole manuscript online, waiting to be read.

I am very grateful to Anna Sander, the college archivist, for giving me this opportunity and patiently dealing with my questions and problems, as well as to the staff at Balliol library for giving me a desk on Friday afternoon and covering my lunch in college during the week.

– Mary Maschio (Queen’s College)

Anna adds: Some of Mary’s images have already had dozens of views, and I am very grateful for her help furthering the progress of manuscripts digitisation and sharing. I also thank the Oxford University Careers Service for organising the microinternship scheme, and appreciate their consistently excellent pools of applicants for these placements!


antechapel display – medieval manuscripts

The second in the new series of small displays in Balliol antechapel of images from the archives: illuminated details from the western medieval manuscript books.

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(Numbers have been superimposed on the image and do not appear in the display.)

1. Balliol MS 277 f 43r. Reynard and Chantecleer, or perhaps just a fox carrying away his chicken dinner.

2. Balliol MS 13, f.24r. Images

3. Balliol MS 208, f.109r. Images

4. Balliol MS 367, f.16r.  Images

5. Balliol MS 232B, f.152r. Dragon, inhabiting a foliate initial D. Images

6. Balliol MS 238E, f.64v. Images

7. Balliol MS 384, f.52v-53r. Annunciation. Images

8. Balliol MS 129, f.83v. Homunculo-maniculum hooded figure. Images

9. Balliol MS 253, f.80v. Images

10. Balliol MSv 240, f.32r. Images

11. Balliol MS 103, f.88v. Images

12. Balliol MS 396. Images

13. Balliol MS 129 – series of elaborate manicula. Images

14. Balliol MS 238E, f.59r. An early depiction of a blind man using an assistance dog and a stick. Note the bells on both the man’s scrip and the dog’s collar. Images

15. Balliol MS 1, f.187v.

16. Balliol MS 208, f.109r. Images

17. Balliol MS 350, f.62r. Images

18. Balliol MS 13, f.18r. Images

More information about these and all the other medieval manuscript books at Balliol in RAB Mynors’ catalogue, and images of many of them on Flickr.


Students and Soldiers

Guest post 3/3 by our August OUIP intern, Sophie Lealan (Oriel College):

Students and Soldiers

Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s portraits of the various people housed by Balliol College during World War One record fragments of lives that sometimes went on to meet great success, but often were cut tragically short.

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.1F

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.1F

Whilst, as an amateur photographer, Urquhart’s photographs sometimes lack in technical skill, they make up for this with the informal insights they offer into the lives of students. His portraits often show an intimate view of these young men, quietly studying or posing for his camera. One photograph depicts student Geoffrey Madan looking out of a window while sitting in Urquhart’s room. [FFU07-1-F] The sheets of paper beside him, perhaps an essay, suggest that this picture might have been taken during a tutorial with Urquhart. Other photographs in the album show students sitting in this same window seat or on Urquhart’s sofa with a book on their lap.

Urquhart was also able to capture the interactions and relationships between students. For example, one photograph shows Arthur Wiggin and future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan posing arm in arm in their new officer uniforms. The sense of playfulness is continued in Urquhart’s use of the camera, overlaying two portraits on top of each other as a double exposure. [FFU07-20-D-E-F]

Macmillan, of course, became a prominent politician, but many other subjects of Urquhart’s photographs did not fare so well. Ronald Glover, for example, was killed at Ypres in 1917. He first appears in Urquhart’s album posing in the snow-covered college grounds, and then sitting cheerfully on the wall of the Fellows’ Garden in his officer’s uniform. Glover is one of the many students Urquhart documented before they left to fight and never returned. [FFU07-36-B] [FFU07-44-B]

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.63G

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.63G

In some cases Urquhart had a direct influence on students’ military careers. Hardit Singh Malik was one such student. Initially rejected by the British air force because of his Indian origins, it was due to Urquhart’s intervention that he was allowed to fly during the war. Indeed, Malik can be seen proudly wearing his R.A.F. uniform in several of Urquhart’s photographs. [FFU07-63-G]

Students were not the only people Urquhart photographed. He took numerous images of the soldiers, mostly officer cadets, for whom Balliol was briefly a home during their officer training, and, as with his photographs of students, he appears to have been interested in capturing these subjects informally. A series of images (titled ‘A gentle warrior’) shows his small son clambering over the legs of Harold Brewer Hartley, in civilian life a Tutor in Physical Chemistry at Balliol, while his daughter grins at them from behind a tree. One image provides an unusually casual portrait of a group of officers, all sitting cross-legged on the grass and smiling – the group is from D Company, 7th Ox & Bucks LI, and includes several Balliol men whom Urquhart would have known and taught before the war. This photograph indicates the kind of picture that Urquhart thought was worth keeping, although like several others in the album it was taken by someone else (Urquhart has written ‘Pemberton fecit’ in the corner). [FFU07-30-D] [FFU07-24-E]

Urquhart’s album tells us much about the man who took and collected these photographs. Whilst his images undoubtedly act as documents of the changing times he lived through, they are also records of who Urquhart spent his time with, how he spent this time, and which fragments of these events and people he wanted to keep in his album. My research has only been able to scratch the surface of what Urquhart’s photographs can tell us about him, and about this period in Oxford’s history, and I hope that future scholars will be able to pick up some of the threads I have introduced here.

 

I am very grateful for the invaluable advice and assistance I have received from archivist Anna Sander, and librarians Fiona Godber and Rachel McDonald during my time at Balliol, and for the funding provided by Oxford University Careers Service.

– Sophie Lealan, August 2015

 

Selected Bibliography

Bailey, Cyril, Francis Fortescue Urquhart: A Memoir (London: 1936).

Elliott, Sir Ivo (ed.), The Balliol College Register, 1833-1933 (Oxford: 1934)

Graham, Malcolm, Oxford in the Great War (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: 2014).

Jones, John, Balliol College: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Malik, Hardit Singh, A Little Work, A Little Play: The Autobiography of H. S. Malik (New Delhi: 2010).

 

Sophie’s posts about FF Urquhart’s WW1-era photo album:

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3


Life in Balliol during World War One

Guest post 2/3 by Sophie Lealan, one of our OUIP interns:

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.11F

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.11F

Urquhart’s photograph album of 1914-1918 narrates, in hundreds of small, sepia images, the transformation of Balliol College from a site of parties and fancy dress to one of officer training and uniforms. However, amidst these dramatic developments many of the traditions and rituals of college life proved resilient.

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.12A

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.12A

The summer of 1914 has often been described as a ‘Golden Summer’, and Urquhart’s photographs appear to testify to this. Students are shown punting and picnicking around Oxford, dressed in black tie for ‘Eric Lubbock’s “Twentyfirster”’, or having tea in the college gardens while dressed in kimonos. Of course, these were only the occasions to which Urquhart was invited, or of which he had a photograph, but they illustrate the light-hearted atmosphere of the summer. [FFU07-11-F] [FFU07-12-A]

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.21F

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.21F

As the album progresses to Michaelmas 1914 students still smile and appear relaxed for Urquhart’s camera, only now they are dressed in army uniforms. Meyrick Carré is just one of the dozens of Balliol students Urquhart photographed in their new military outfits. In his portrait we can see a pile of dirty dishes on the ground, just within the entrance to staircase eighteen. [FFU07-21-F]

Like its students, the college took on new roles during the war. Balliol became a base for officer training programmes, and many of the resident cadets were captured by Urquhart’s camera. In one image we see a queue of men in uniform, each holding a mug as they line up the stairs for hall. Another photograph shows a distant view of a soldier standing beside a blackboard, addressing a group of soldiers who are gathered around him in a semi-circle on the college grounds. Balliol was not the only college to become a form of army barracks and several others became hospitals for wounded soldiers. Indeed, the war affected the whole of Oxford, as Urquhart documented in a view of soldiers standing in formation across Christ Church Meadow. [FFU07-20-C] [FFU07-55-C] [FFU07-21-H]

Of course, the buildings of Balliol College stayed the same, and much of its architecture remained a constant feature of Urquhart’s photographs. Subjects frequently sit on the walls of the Fellows’ Gardens, first as students and then as soldiers. Such images indicate a sense of continuity; whatever events might be happening in the world, the ritual of Urquhart taking one’s photograph in this spot was constant. Signs of college life continuing amidst the upheavals of war are also evident in details such as the rowing crest chalked on the wall behind two students (Eric Lubbock and Ernest Besly) in uniform. [FFU07-52-F] [FFU07-43-D]

The ways in which students spent their free time was also affected by the war. With fewer students, sports continued at a greatly reduced level. Images of young men playing tennis and cricket or rowing in Torpids open the album but, after war breaks out, such images almost disappear. However, the cadets at Balliol also became involved in sports, as can be seen in several of Urquhart’s photographs. One image shows Officer Cadet Battalions playing a game of rugby, whilst another image appears to show a tug of war between trainee officers. [FFU07-1-H] [FFU07-65-A]

Although visits to Urquhart’s chalet in the French Alps were suspended, other aspects of college life continued in various forms. Punting reappears frequently throughout the album, but one can imagine that such activities took on quite different meanings for students returning from the trenches. Tea in the college gardens is also a common subject throughout the war years, including one image in which a uniformed student appears with his arm in a sling. Urquhart also photographed several students wearing graduation robes and hoods over their army uniform, one of the aspects of Oxford life that was modified but not ended by the war. [FFU07-27-G] [FFU07-26-F] [FFU07-63-C]

Sophie’s posts about FF Urquhart’s WW1-era photo album:

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3


Francis Fortescue Urquhart: Oxford Tutor and Amateur Photographer

A guest post by Sophie Lealan (Oriel College), our second OUIP (Oxford University Internship Programme) intern  of summer 2015.

Francis Fortescue Urquhart: Oxford Tutor and Amateur Photographer

Life in Oxford during the First World War is presented to us vividly in Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s eleven photograph albums, currently held in the Balliol College Archives. Covering the tumultuous period of 1914 to 1918, the seventh of these volumes begins with partying students and ends with uniformed soldiers. As part of the Oxford University Internship Programme I have been researching what this album can tell us about Balliol College and its students during wartime, and these will be the subjects of upcoming posts. Firstly, I looked at how Urquhart used his photographs to record and even constitute his role as an Oxford tutor.

Oxford, Balliol College Archives. FF Urquhart Album 7.71A

Oxford, Balliol College Archives. FF Urquhart Album 7.71A

As was expected of a tutor during this period, Urquhart (nicknamed ‘Sligger’) lived in college as a bachelor from his appointment in 1896 until his death in 1934, and dedicated his time to educating rather than researching. Indeed, he is often described as academically unremarkable but well-liked by his students, many of whom would gather in his rooms to talk late into the night. Although some, including Evelyn Waugh, criticised Urquhart for only associating with a particular type (namely good-looking old Etonians), he became a friend to many students [FFU07-71-A]. Evidence of such close relationships can be seen in his numerous photographs of picnics, walks and days out on the river with the young men of the college. Photographs also show Urquhart’s visits to students’ homes and former schools during the vacations, and even travelling as far as Italy with them.

 

Perhaps most indicative of the close, informal relationship between Urquhart and his students is the fact that he photographed them while participating in their social activities, not while merely observing them. Many images have been taken from within rowing boats and punts, including a series of three pictures which were clearly taken while Urquhart and two students passed the camera between them to take pictures of each other. [FFU07-56-D-E-F] He is frequently pictured sitting on the grass with students, and the low perspective in many of his own photographs indicates that Urquhart had placed his camera on the grass or on his lap while sitting down with those he was photographing. [FFU07-28-A]

This album also tells us about his more staged photographs. One image appears to show Urquhart in the act of taking a portrait. He is holding an object, possibly a box camera, in his hands and pointing it at a man in uniform, who poses next to a column that reappears in many of Urquhart’s portraits. [FFU07-29-B] This picture could indicate that Urquhart’s habit of photographing students had itself become a college institution worthy of being recorded. We can see another example of cameras being used in a photograph of two men in a punt, one of whom has a folding camera beside him. [FFU07-11-E]

Urquhart’s collection of photographs was notable within the college. The walls and mantelpiece of his rooms were filled with photographs of friends, and large albums sat on top of his bookcase. Having one’s picture taken by Urquhart and displayed in his rooms must have further strengthened the personal relationships between himself and his students. It is also likely that these photographs took on a particular significance during the war, as many of the young men pictured were enlisted. In an image of Maurice Jacks and his brothers, several of the portraits included in Urquhart’s 1914-1918 album can be seen sitting in frames on the mantelpiece, including an image of Neville Talbot and Stephen Hewett. The latter had died by the time this photograph of Jacks was taken, and so the framed portrait of him acted a memento of someone who was no longer present, as indeed the whole album does today. [FFU07-58-G] [FFU07-26-I]

Sophie’s posts about FF Urquhart’s WW1-era photo album:

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3


What Balliol people read between 1677 and 1712

A guest post by Matthew Main (New College, 2012), our first OUIP (Oxford University Internship Programme) intern  of summer 2015.

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In the archives of Balliol Library there are two Folio ledgers, with dimensions suited for the task of recording tall columns of accounts. Alongside Bursar’s accounts and a partial early Library catalogue, they contain fragments of a lending register from the main College Library, chronicling intermittent periods between roughly 1677 and 1712.  The register consists of a total of 565 entries, including some that are illegible or too vague to be identified. As part of my role as an intern at Balliol Library in the summer of 2015, I transcribed the lending register, before converting it into a searchable database for researchers interested in libraries and their usage in this period.

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Use of the register was haphazard. A considerable portion of the entries remain unidentified, for various reasons; some are scored out, presumably upon the book’s return to the Library, while others are no more than an abbreviated scribble or a faded pencil mark. There appears to have been no agreed conventions for entering a record; one or more of the date, book, author, shelf mark and even borrower name may be missing from any given record. This made compiling a useful set of data a challenging task, but not an insurmountable one; I identified most books through a process of elimination and by consulting old Library catalogues.

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It is difficult to say exactly how much the register can tell us about the historical intellectual community at Balliol. Officially, the Library was for Fellows of the College, although the register occasionally records instances where undergraduates and external visitors were apparently granted special dispensation to borrow from the collections. In Balliol College: A History, John Jones remarks that if one takes the register to be a picture of the College’s scholarship, ‘the impression is left  . . . of a dilettante approach, lacking in concentrated effort or application’, an impression borne out by the dearth of meaningful academic work produced by the contemporary set of Fellows. This should not, however, put us off investigating the way that Fellows interacted on the page, and the entries offer an insight into the type of texts most commonly read in the wider period, as well as the specific, changing Balliol environment. After the Civil War, Balliol had been placed under the administration of the Bishop of Lincoln in an attempt to remedy its ailing financial health. The Fellows and successive Masters were engaged in raising funds in order to pay down accumulating College debts, many originating from years of unpaid battels, and a charitable explanation for the lack of academic output in the period might be that attentions were primarily focused elsewhere.

Close ins8QK4nF2pection of the register reveals plenty of instances where a community of readers appear to recommend certain works to one another, suggestive of interaction between scholars. The College subscribed to Philosophical Transactions and the rival journal Acta eruditorum, and Fellows perused both frequently. Plenty of books were seemingly passed around, some of them more obscure; five different people are recorded as having borrowed mostly forgotten French writer Louis Ellies du Pin’s 13-volume History of Ecclesiastical Writers (1692–1699). Mathematics and theology were generally the dominant subjects, and as Jones reminds us, these were the only fields in which anything of note was published out of Balliol between 1675 and 1725. The nature of progress in both fields is somewhat cumulative, and existing work is often superseded rather than lasting on in our cultural imagination, which means that many of the mathematicians and theologians studied at the time are not household names today. Thus the lending register allows us to recover the names of people who shaped the discourse of their respective subjects but might otherwise have been forgotten. It might be tempting for us to think of the 17th century as the era of Paradise Lost, but if Balliol possessed a copy of the poem – and catalogue records suggest that it did – then the lending register suggests that it did not appeal to any of the Fellows at the time. The register offers a rare insight into what was actually read in the College, not simply owned or bought, and might force us to modify our understanding of what readers considered to be important.

Matthew uses the portable book cradle borrowed from the Oxford Conservation Consortium to photograph early Library records at St Cross church.

Matthew uses the portable book cradle borrowed from the Oxford Conservation Consortium to photograph early College Library records at St Cross church.

During my time at Balliol I was privileged to borrow from the expertise of the archivist, Anna Sander, and the librarians, Naomi Tiley, Fiona Godber, and Rachel McDonald, all of whose guidance has been invaluable. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to gain research and professional experience and the funding that has made that possible. I hope my work can play some small part in opening up this manuscript for further study by experts in this field.

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– Thanks to Matthew’s research project, new digital images of three important archival sources for the history of Balliol College Library are now online:

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, Library Records: