– 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

Stanford in Oxford at Balliol

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Another beautifully mounted document, two copies of the Bishop of Lincoln’s permission to Balliol College to build its own chapel.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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A plainer study text, made for university use and leaving plenty of room for commentary and annotations to be added.

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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.

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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.DSCN0384DSCN0385DSCN0386DSCN0387

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.

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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.

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Links to relevant projects:


antechapel display – winter Vacation 2017

A selection of images from the Michaelmas exhibition of medieval manuscripts at St Cross is now on public view in the antechapel in Broad Street:

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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

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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

2017 medieval mss catalogue print format [PDF, 9MB]

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] [images online]

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 LĂŒbeck 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 fully 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] [images online]

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] [images online]

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] [some 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] [images online]

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 CarrĂ© 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 archives of Balliol College. 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

Several of FF Urquhart’s photo albums have been digitised; images are available online.


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:


College prayer during wartime

‘Prayer During the War’ by James Leigh Strachan-Davidson, Master of Balliol 1907-1916, for use in the College chapel during the First World War.

Copy of JLSD-04M-001
[Oxford, Balliol College, Strachan-Davidson Papers 4M.1]

O God with whom do live the spirits of just men made perfect, we give thee thanks for our brethren the members of this College who have willingly offered themselves, and have laid down their lives for us and for our country, and for the liberty of the world. Give us grace to follow their good example, that we may never lose heart, but may bear with patience and courage, as these have done, whatever thy Providence calls upon us to endure. Comfort the bereaved, and grant to all of us that our afflictions may purify our hearts and minds to thy glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Strachan-Davidson’s manuscript also includes a prayer for the wounded:

We beseech thy goodness O Lord on behalf of the members of our College who are lying stricken from wounds received in battle in a righteous and holy cause, especially for [names]. Comfort each one of them when he lieth sick on his bed and grant them thy strength and grace to bear the pain and weariness of their condition, and, if it be thy will, assuage their sufferings and grant them restoration to life and health. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Strachan-Davidson himself died during the course of the war, in post as Master, on 28 March 1916, at the age of 72.


Q&A: digitisation

Q: Responding to a good query from @ojleaf for the #AskACurator conversation on Twitter: If you are digitising precious documents, does it frustrate you if people still want to handle the original?

A: No.

See previous post about the constant balance between preservation and access.

First, for ‘precious’ read ‘OLD.’  It’s hard to remember that a medieval manuscript in good condition, with its illustrations still bright and its parchment still smooth, is at least FIVE HUNDRED years old and may be much older. Parchment is very tough stuff, and ancient books can be enormous and very heavy. It is hard to remember that such physically formidable objects really are fragile. That doesn’t necessarily mean that pages will tear easily, or even that the books will break into bits if you drop them. They are physically vulnerable, especially the ink/paint and bindings, but less obviously, they are also chemically vulnerable – to our warm breath, to the oils on our hands, to the light we read by.

‘Because I want to feel closer to the past’ is a completely understandable reason for someone to request direct access to, say, a medieval manuscript book, but not a valid one on its own. I sympathise (all very well for me, I have direct contact with these things every day – at least in theory) but in principle, what seems more important to me (and there is always a balance to be struck between the two) is access to information rather than access to objects. HOWEVER!  if a researcher is able to demonstrate that he or she needs information from the original document that is not obtainable from a facsimile, then of course I’ll produce the original. This happens quite often. Using facsimiles, especially good quality digital images, is a great way for most researchers to get most of the information they need without having to expose the original to the wear ( = damage) of repeated handling and changes in light, temperature and humidity.

Eventually a researcher may well have to come and check the original manuscript in person, but advance preparation and familiarity with the contents, layout and visual characteristics of the manuscripts – and potential problems – will make the time spent with the originals that much more productive. Thanks to digital images, that time may be reduced from days or weeks to a matter of hours. In practical terms, having access to decent digital images, preferably in advance of a visit to see the original (but better afterwards than never) will usually mean:

  • ability to
    • view images at much-magnified resolution, i.e. larger than the original
    • manipulate images to improve colour, contrast etc – so many manuscripts are written in brown on brown
    • view pages in any order, any number of times
    • reconstitute original order in cases of misbinding
    • juxtapose images of pages which are not physically facing each other
    • view more than one opening at a time
    • use images in illustrations for discussion, publications presentation, teaching etc
    • sit in comfort at home, at own computer, in own chair, with own mug
  • reduction of
    • number of research trips
    • travel time
    • travel and accommodation costs
    • time spent in archives, where (with the best will in the world) light may be low, temperatures unpleasant, access awkward, chairs uncomfortable, and pens, water, cough sweets and tea not allowed!

We hope that’s an improvement for everyone. And we do have exhibitions of all sorts of items from the special collections – even if visitors are not able to leaf through a 400-year-old Aldine imprint, they can get pretty close to a good number of Exciting Old Things and hopefully find some interesting information about them in the captions or catalogue. Maybe some will be inspired to start their own research projects…


Q&A: digitisation

I was recently asked: ‘I noticed that quite a bit of material from your archives has been digitized, and that you have put it to fine use by widening access to the collection on the website and through online exhibitions.  I wondered how you are going about digitizing the items – are you working in-house, or are you using an external organization to do it, or a mixture of both? Please could you tell me how this is being financed, and if you are aiming to digitize the whole archive or just a part?’ This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about my digitization programme at Balliol, and it prompted a bit of an essay on how I do things now and how that has changed since I began in October 2010. So here’s is an update to what I was thinking then.

web1Who does the work?

I do the digitising myself – I have an excellent A3 scanner and a serviceable but outdated camera which I’m about to replace. I allocate a few hours a week to scanning & photography so that it progresses regularly, if not quickly, but I am posting about 2000 images a month these days.

The occasional exception is when someone wants to photograph an entire manuscript or series for their own research; in such cases I ask for copies of the images and permission to publish them online and make them freely available to other researchers, with credit to the photographer of course. So far the few people I’ve asked have been very happy to do this, since they have had free access and permission to photograph. (Sometimes their images are not as good as mine, so then I don’t bother!)

There are also numerous documents in the collections that are just too big for me to photograph – eventually, if and when they are asked for, we will have to think about having someone in to photograph them systematically. So far the multiple photos of each that I or the researcher have been able to do has sufficed.

For now at least, I have decided against a systematic digitisation of our microfilms of the medieval manuscripts. This would involve a lot of time and effort to fund and arrange, the images would all be black and white, and of variable quality, and there are knotty questions of copyright as well. Some of the MSS were only partly microfilmed, and none has more than a single full-page perpendicular view for each page – no closeups or angles to get closer to initials, erasures, annotations, marginalia or tight gutters, so there would still be considerable photography to do anyway. Also, see below.

Why don’t you apply for a grant and have a professional photographer do more than you can do yourself?

So far, I’m able to fulfil reprographics orders in a pretty timely manner and to a standard that satisfies enquirers. Aside from cost and time management for individual orders, because I can respond individually and fit them in around my other tasks, the great advantage of doing the digitisation myself is that I am getting to know the collections extremely well. If we had an outside photographer do it, all that direct encounter with each page would go to someone with no real interest in the collections, what a waste. This way,  I’m checking in a lot of detail for physical condition, learning to recognise individuals’ handwriting, discovering/replacing missing or misplaced items, prioritising items that need conservation or repackaging, noticing particularly visually attractive bits for later use in exhibitions and so on, and not least ensuring that items are properly numbered – which many are not!

What is the cost?

???????????????????Because I work reprographics orders into my regular work schedule, there is no extra cost, except the ÂŁ50 or so fee every 2 years for our unlimited Flickr account.

Do you charge for access?

I always mention that donations are welcome, but in general I do not charge for reprographics. Most of the requests are from within academia, and I think HE institutions have a responsibility to be helpful and cooperative with each other and with the public, particularly when it comes to access to unique items. On the one hand, I know that special collections are extremely expensive to maintain, and often have to sing for their supper, but on the other I know how frustrating it is to be denied the chance to take one’s own photographs and then to be charged the earth for a few images. Institutions like ours, whose own members may need such cooperation from other collections and their curators, should probably err on the side of the angels er scholars! Most of the other requests for images are for private individuals’ family history research purposes, and since many of those enquirers would otherwise have no contact with Balliol or Oxford, I think it’s good for the relationship between college, university and the wider public to be helpful in this way. Family history is usually very meaningful to researchers, and they remember and appreciate prompt and helpful assistance.

Balliol College reserves the right to charge for permission to publish its images, but may waive this for academic publications.

Are you planning to digitise all the collections or just parts? What are your priorities and how do you determine the order of things to be done next?

Most of the series I’ve put online don’t start with no.1. All the reprographics I do now are in response to specific requests from enquirers, and I don’t seriously intend, or at least expect, to digitize All The Things. Although 40,000 images sounds like a lot, and there’s loads to browse online, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface; most collections aren’t even represented online – yet… This way, everything I post online I know is of immediate interest to at least one real person – if we did everything starting from A.1, probably most of it would sit there untouched. For the efficiency of my work and for preservation of the originals, digital photography is marvellous, enabling me to make every photo count more than once rather than having to photocopy things repeatedly over the years.

On the other hand, if someone asks for images of one text occupying only part of a medieval book, I will normally photograph the whole thing; or if the request is for a few letters from a file, I will scan the whole file. It’s more efficient in the long run, as a whole is more likely to be relevant to other future searchers than a small part.

What about copyright?

web2I probably should mark my own photos of the gardens, but I don’t think anybody will be nicking them for a book and making millions with it. As for the images of archives and manuscripts, of course I am careful to avoid publishing anything whose copyright I know to be owned by another individual or institution, but for older material that belongs to Balliol, I’m with the British Library on this one. I think as much as possible should be as available online as possible, for reasons of both access and preservation.

We do have some collections whose copyright is held by an external person or body, and in some of those cases I am permitted to provide a few images (not whole works) for researchers’ private use, but cannot put images online or permit researchers to take their own photos.

How do you make images available?

Now that other online media are available, I am reducing image use on the archives website,  to use it as a base for highly structured, mostly text-based pages such as collection catalogues, how-tos, research guides etc, as this information needs to be well organised and logically navigable. These days I am using this blog for mini-exhibitions discussing single themes and one image, or a few at a time.

Flickr is a good image repository for reference, not so much for exhibitions – I’ve written about that at https://balliolarchivist.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/thing-17/

I expect I will have rethought the digitisation process again in a couple of years’ time!


Thing 17

Thing 17 for 23Things for Research is Exploring images. Basically, it’s exploring Flickr. Which I use. So that’s handy!

I’ve uploaded about 40,000 images to Flickr by now, and have had more than 106,000 views of individual images. The bulk of the images are of (mostly entire) medieval manuscripts, but I’ve also added old photo albums, medieval title deeds, 19th century sketchbooks, letters, diaries, literary manuscripts, administrative records, transcriptions & finding aids… and my own photos of Balliol’s gardens in all seasons, which have proved surprisingly popular!

Flickr doesn’t fill my criteria for an online exhibition facility, because it’s set up so that photos have to be viewed in a highly structured, linear way. However, it makes a very good repository for zillions of images that do need to be arranged in a highly structured, linear way – e.g. a collection of Balliol’s medieval manuscripts, containing numerous sets, each of those containing images of each page of a manuscript, presented in (usually!) the same order as in the original book. It mirrors the structure of the real collections and their contents, and it’s easy to refer enquirers to freely available, high-resolution sources.

I also refer enquirers to Flickr when they ask for visual information about some building or other physical aspect of Balliol as it is now – because they will find a better pool of those images on Flickr than the college has itself. One good reason to continue to use and to add to it is that Flickr is becoming well known as perhaps the top place to go online to search for images of whatever particular something – much more effective than the image tab on search engines. So if it’s the best, more people will be using it, and it’s worth having a presence there. For instance: wish you’d got up early enough to catch all the merry May Day madness in the streets of central Oxford this morning? For a flavour of the atmosphere, you could do worse than start here.

What do we then do about online exhibitions? For a long time I wanted some kind of image slideshow facility on the college’s website, but now that seems dated and limited, no more interesting than what Flickr can offer (and more expensive!) Instead, I’m inclined to try some of the presentation tools I’ve investigated during 23Things – for instance, Prezi and some of the newspaper/magazine tools such as scoop.it, because they provide ways of presenting images and text in more visually flexible and interesting ways – one item doesn’t simply have to follow another; you can relate several things to each other in different ways. This also takes more planning and therefore time but I think I’ll end up with better presentations in the end. And blog posts are a great way of highlighting a single item, especially isolated ones such as my recent mystery postcard accession.

What about copyright? Well, I probably should mark my own photos of the gardens, but I don’t think anybody will be nicking them for a book and making millions with it. As for the images of archives and manuscripts, of course I am careful to avoid publishing anything whos copyright I know to be owned by another individual or institution, but for older material that belongs to Balliol, I’m with the British Library on this one. I think as much as possible should be as available online as possible, for reasons of both access and preservation.

Flickr has lots more potential than just getting good-quality images from A to B – indeed, I wish it were rather less clicky to get from one original-size image to the next in the set, and that there were a filename-preserving way of allowing viewers to download whole sets. I do use several other Flickr features:

tags: obviously, this is the most efficient way to ensure that your photos are picked up in searches!

descriptions: I use set descriptions to provide basic information about the source material, and to refer the viewer back to our website for more structured in-depth information, catalogues etc. So far I haven’t used individual photo descriptions much, as it would take huge amounts of time and would duplicate information on our website – I don’t really want to add a lot of new information to Flickr, because it’s hard to keep track of. But on the other hand, there is potential here for crowdsourcing/community projects such as mapping and transcription – more investigation and planning needed.

flickandshare: a 3rd-party app that allows you to send, or include in your set description, a link that lets viewers download whole sets of your photos. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to preserve your filenames, so viewers may have to download the images one at a time from a list of filenames, which is tedious but at least less irritating than having to click through to and download each individual original-size image direct from Flickr. Come on app people!

map: when marking up sets that relate to a particular place (especially outside Balliol, such as college livings, formercollege properties or addresses on old letters) I like to pin one or two (more makes it crowded and messy) to Flickr’s map – even though it does then label each mapped photo as taken in that place, which is hardly ever true in our case! This means that users who browse the map for a place that interests them will happen across Balliol’s relevant historic photos during their own search, rather than my waiting for them to make a structured investigation for e.g. documents about that place, which they might never do. And then they might just get interested…

groups: I’ve joined and posted photos to a number of Flickr group pools – these usually have quite narrow remits, and are a way of becoming visible to different and perhaps unexpected potential audience. Here’s my list of groups – some predictable (Archives & archivists on Flickr), others perhaps not quite so much so (Tulips in Bloom) Come and have a look!

  •     Manuscript Journeys (16 members)
  •     Oxfordshire Churches (241 members)
  •     Art of Heraldry (390 members)
  •     Tulips In Bloom (80 members)
  •     Manuscripta mediaevalia (395 members)
  •     archives & archivists on flickr (226 members)
  •     The Great War Archive Flickr Group (540 members)
  •     Oxford Colleges (82 members)
  •     Oxfordshire Gardens (25 members)
  •     Historical Type and Lettering (553 members)
  •     Sealing Wax (95 members)
  •     ArchivesOnFlickr (298 members)
  •     Handwritten Ledgers (19 members)
  •     converted buildings (15 members)
  •     Archivists (23 members)
  •     Old Paper (15 members)
  •     Book Inscriptions (169 members)

Any recommendations of other Flickr functionalities I should explore? suggestions welcome!

To sum up: Flickr has a dual function for my image collections: as a structured ‘digital repository’ – of facsimiles only, I hasten to add! – to refer enquirers to who have already been in touch about something specific; and as an opportunity for serendipitous discoveries that may provoke a view or two, or may lead to more browsing, focussed interest and an enquiry.


horns of the dilemma

Access and preservation – pillars of the profession, or, the archivist’s Scilla and Charybdis

I detest being pushed into the role of curmudgeonly dragon, so I wish people would not request to ‘glance through’ (e.g.) 19th century literary papers because they like the subject’s poetry. This is just not a good enough reason to ask to handle fragile, light-sensitive documents that are 150 years old. Use of archives is normally the final step of primary research on a particular thesis (research question), after thorough investigation of secondary and published sources. And I will say so, because my first duty is to the college and the preservation of its collections – otherwise there will soon be nothing left! But thank goodness for digitisation and the huge increase in access it makes possible. I am as committed to increasing access to the information within the collections as I am to physical preservation of the originals.

While the corollary of  increased access via digitisation is increased preservation of the original, its flip side is decreased access to the original. I do not produce manuscripts that have been digitised except for codicological queries that truly cannot be answered by consulting the facsimile. There is something special about direct contact with an ancient codex, but the fact is that every exposure to light, fluctuations in temperature and humidity and handling, however careful, inevitably causes cumulative and (at least in the case of light) irreversible damage to paper and parchment.

Access and preservation often pull in opposite directions, and the needs of the reader and those of the archives can appear to be in conflict. But archivists have to hold these two poles in some kind of balance, because without preservation there will soon be no access, and without access – and I emphasise that in most cases the important thing is access not necessarily to the physical objects but to the information they contain – preservation would be pointless.


Q & A – digitisation

Q: The manuscript scans on flickr are very exciting! Are there plans for a full systematic digitization? And do you take requests?

A: Thank you! Most of the medieval manuscript books have been microfilmed over the years and I’m looking into digitisation of the microfilms in the first instance, as less invasive for the MSS. Whether we go ahead with that depends on cost and quality of the end product – I’m not convinced scratchy b/w films are worth it, but on the other hand most of our MSS are unornamented, so little information is lost in black and white.

Obviously digital images would be better (colour for one thing) and images like those on Early Images at Oxford for all the MSS would be the ideal, but there isn’t budget or time for that, so the digitisation I do so far is in reaction to specific scholarly requests (hence often partial) rather than systematic. It also depends on the physical state of the manuscript – we’re part of the Colleges Conservation Consortium but of course it’s a long process.

As far as digitising the archives is concerned, again it’s reactive rather than systematic and is subject to preservation considerations. After about 1550 many of the documents are bigger than A3, sometimes A2 or even bigger; they’ve always been stored folded down to A4 or smaller, and there’s just no way I can scan those. But the little medieval deeds, though several hundred years older, are generally easily scannable. It’s a question of time and priorities – eventually they would make an excellent basis for an online palaeography learning resource, as well as for the information they contain.