– 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.

update

monthly report October 2017

Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during October:

  • Number of enquiries: 55
  • Running total for 2017: 634
  • Number of researchers in person (unique user): 10
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 13 (open 16 days)
  • Collections consulted: college records,  medieval manuscripts (3), Browning papers, Nicolson diaries, Monckton archive (2), Jowett archive, TH Green papers, Caird papers, RBD Morier archive, AL Smith archive
  • Productions (consulted by researchers in person or by the archivist in response to enquiries) – actual numbers may be slightly higher:
    • 20 boxes containing from two bound volumes to 4 thick files of individual items, not including
    •  14 files – up to 200 items per file, not including
    •  61 individual items from a single letter to a bound volume, not including
    •  24 medieval ms codices
  • No of non-research visitors: ca. 55
  • images created: 1100
  • events: Anna gave the first Bruce’s Brunch talk (Balliol Chaplain’s weekly lunchtime seminar) of the academic year; Librarians hosted English Faculty 18th Century Seminar with a display of rare books; Librarians hosted Oxford Brookes publishing course students.

Some of the enquiry topics received in October:

  • advice re archives cataloguing and preservation
  • advice re student/volunteer projects in archives
  • requests for permission to quote from or publish images of archival material
  • requests for (new) digital images of medieval manuscripts
  • college portraits and paintings, including mural paintings
  • stained glass in Chapel
  • records of college livings and related estates/property
  • C19 overseas students at Oxford
  • Balliol men who were German casualties in WW1
  • Balliol JCR Presidents
  • Biographical research re / info on Balliol or related archives of
    • C18 and early C20 College servants
    • G Moberly (Balliol 1822)
    • GO Roos (Balliol 1887)
    • F Oppenheimer (Balliol 1890)
    • AB Muir (Balliol HT 1915)
    • Shoghi Effendi (Shogi Hadi Rabbani in Balliol’s records), Balliol 1920
    • EF Webb (Balliol 1926)
    • DM Davin (Balliol 1936)
    • MR Hardwick (Balliol 1945)

guest post – manuscript fragments in early printed books

As part of Balliol College’s project to survey the use of manuscript fragments in its early printed book collection, I have had the pleasure of spending many hours systematically inspecting each book in search of these hidden treasures. Currently only a fraction of the way through the collection, we have already found fragments in over 35 early printed books, testifying to the frequency of the practice.

These fragments, found in books ranging from 10cm-40cm in length, appear in many forms. Some are full page flyleaves or pastedowns, many are stubs which give support to the inside covers, others are cut into strips and used to reinforce sewing supports beneath their coverings. One small book of multiplication tables has used a document complete with notary mark and curved edging as its cover, repurposing a serious legal record as something creative and even decorative – from legally binding to mathematical binding!

It’s easy to see why manuscript fragments were favoured for this type of work. In a period where texts were transitioning from parchment to paper, the difference between the two materials in terms of durability must have been marked. Combined with the availability of manuscripts, and the value apparently placed on print (as a new and exciting technology) over commonplace manuscript texts (such as we see in the fragments), recycling parchment in this way was a very practical way of strengthening bindings and protecting the paper pages.[1]

The types of texts being used in the early printed books in the collection are various. The majority so far have been in Latin, with some in English and at least one in French. Most are from the 14th and 15th centuries, but some fragments seem to be as early as 13th century. In terms of content, there are legal documents, personal letters (how our curiosity has been piqued by the sad tale of the man whose wife has left him with 3 children to care for!), ecclesiastical texts, musical notation, and what appears to be a homily emulating the enraged style of the 10th century Archbishop Wulfstan.

One of the aims of the project is to photograph these fragments to make them available online. This poses a number of challenges.  The early printed books themselves date from 15th and 16th centuries and are, as one would expect, fragile. The spines will not lie flat without causing damage which, when one simply wants to read the text, is no problem at all, but when the use of the fragments is to strengthen the very structure of the book, careful thought needs to be given to how to access fragments  tucked away down towards the fragile spine. In a number of instances, photographs have simply not been possible for this reason.

Conversely, the condition of some of the bindings have actually enabled us to see the fragments better, as some have deteriorated to leave fragments exposed. One of the frustrating things for the curious medievalist is the suspicion that leaves of medieval texts have been used in a binding, but having no way to access them.[2] When later binding is found in poor condition, a curious mix of reactions occurs: a clear desire to protect the book, combined with mischievous delight at what might be revealed. In these cases, it is often that a parchment spine has cracked or disintegrated, or that pastedowns are now lifting.

In all cases, the photography of these fragments is tricky. To photograph stubs, the book must be supported on foam blocks and opened at a suitable angle depending on the flexibility of the spine. The parchment itself is not smooth, and the camera can struggle to focus on the right part of the book. In order to take a picture of useable quality, some contortion is generally needed, trying different angles with the camera whilst carefully holding down fragments with a pair of bone holders. Seasoned yoga practitioners and the addition of a third or fourth hand are desirable attributes!

The photographs get labelled and uploaded to Balliol’s Flickr account for interested parties to view. Medievalists can examine the texts and try to identify them; book historians can see further examples of binding techniques from the early modern period; and we can also perhaps use these fragments to tell us something about how the texts that they came from were valued during this time. Whilst many of the texts that we are discovering might be understood to be commonplace (the legal documents, for example, or other texts which appear to be unremarkable in terms of appearance), some were clearly prized at the time of writing. The musical notation of 470d13, for example, is decorative, using red and blue inks for initials, and the script is in a neat gothic hand. Care was obviously taken in the writing of this text, but by the time of binding, the value of the early modern work (Cunningham’s Cosmographie) was deemed to be far greater. Of course, this does not necessarily indicate that Cunningham’s work was intrinsically more important than the medieval one: it could be that the rest of the medieval text had deteriorated beyond reasonable use as a codex, or that some other flaw had been found in it, making this particular version redundant. What these fragments do tell us is what texts were available to the binders at the time and how the material was repurposed.

It would be interesting to survey the use of these fragments, identify them and see what (if any) correlation could be found between the types of text and the individual book binders (this would involve examining a far larger collection than Balliol’s alone), but by increasing the accessibility of these fragments through this project, further research on this interesting topic can contribute to wider understanding of the phenomenon.

 – Annaliese Griffiss, Michaelmas term 2017. Follow Annaliese’s archival adventures on Twitter @aglaecwif!

[1] Whilst the vast majority of the fragments are on parchment, there are also examples of paper manuscripts being used as flyleaves as well.

[2] Though Erik Kwakkel has experimented with the use of x-rays. https://medievalbooks.nl/2015/12/18/x-rays-expose-a-hidden-medieval-library/

Photos of the manuscript fragments discovered so far, with descriptions, are appearing on our Flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/sets/72157683085214934/ and descriptions of the fragments with links to their host volumes’ SOLO catalogue entries are also at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Ancient%20MSS/msfragments.asp


Patronal Festival – service at St Cross

A service of Evening Prayer will be held in the chancel of St Cross, Holywell, to mark the Feast of the Holy Cross on Sunday, 17 September 2017 at 5pm

Everyone is welcome

Celebrant: the Revd Dr William Lamb, Vicar of the University Church

St Cross is a daughter church of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, High Street. The recently restored Grade I listed building has been home to the Historic Collections Centre of Balliol College since 2011; its Chancel is preserved for occasional services.

St Cross is at the corner of St Cross Road and Manor Road, next to Holywell Manor and across Manor Road from the English & Law Faculty building. Directions: http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f


#mss2017 Case 10: MS 396

 


Guard-book (hardbound fascicule volume) containing five leaves of an early 14th century noted Sarum Breviary, written in two columns of 28 lines with large red and blue flourished capitals. 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, who was checking College records on behalf of a Mr Richardson.

In addition to the obvious holes in the parchment, the unknown early C20 conservator observed that the material was damaged and fragile throughout, and applied a then popular method known as silking, or chiffon repair: a fine silk gauze was glued to both sides of the parchment. This was considered less invasive than the other method available at the time, which covered the damaged area with translucent paper.

Detail of MS 396, darkened and contrast enhanced to show layers of silking – more visible where the parchment has been lost, but present over both sides of the full page.

Silking certainly reinforced the parchment while leaving the text and music largely visible from both sides, but it is hard to tell now how much of the brown discoloration may have been caused by the adhesives used in the silking process. The glue still gives off a distinct smell, but it would cause more damage to the leaves now to remove the silking than to leave it in place. The leaves are reasonably safe to consult as they are, so no further intervention will be made for now.

A breviary is one of the liturgical books used for the Office, the cycle of daily church services other than the Mass. It includes the text and musical notation, shown here in square black notes, known as neumes, on a red four-line stave. A direct descendant of this system, which indicates mode, pitch and relative note length, is still used for traditional Gregorian chant. Are these manuscript fragments related to any of the other pieces of liturgical manuscript recycled as binding waste in Balliol’s administrative records and early printed books, or elsewhere in Oxford? A question for future research…

More about Silking

More about medieval musical liturgical manuscripts


Annual Record – MS 116

Balliol MS 116 f68r (detail)

Further details about the illustration in the Archivist’s report, Annual Record 2017:

The manuscript of which this illuminated initial is part is Balliol MS 116, a 13th century copy of Eustratius’ In Ethica, a Greek commentary on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics whose translation into Latin was an important later work of  Robert Grosseteste (c.1170–1253), the prominent and prolific scientist, theologian, and bishop of Lincoln. While teaching at Oxford 1225-1231, Grosseteste became rector of the parish of Abbotsley in Huntingdonshire (now in Cambridgeshire). A century later, the young Balliol College acquired the advowson of this parish, which it still holds.

In this illustration on folio 68 recto (detail) showing unusual relevance to the adjacent text, two tiny winged grotesques converse inside a foliate initial D at the beginning of Book IV, ‘Dicamus autem deinceps de liberalitate’ (‘Moreover, let us speak next of generosity.’) The illumination measures 30 x 30 mm (just over an inch square) as enclosed by the blue square border. More images of this manuscript can be viewed online.

The original will be on display during the Michaelmas exhibition of Balliol’s medieval manuscripts at St Cross.

MS116-f068raBalliol MS 116 f.68r, full page, measuring 225 x 340 mm, close to the modern A4 (210 by 297 mm) or North American 8 1/2 x 11″.

More about each of Balliol’s medieval manuscript books

RAB Mynors’ catalogue of the manuscripts

Explore images from across Balliol’s archives and manuscript collections


OAC meeting

Oxford/Cambridge/City of London Archivists’ Meeting

4th July 2017, St. John’s College, Oxford

Five Centuries of Oxford College Architecture

10.30     Arrive; coffee

11.00     Session 1

Chair: Michael Riordan

Julian Reid (Corpus/Merton), ‘The best-laid plans: designing a Tudor college’

Robin Darwall-Smith (All Souls/Jesus/Univ.), ‘Benefactions, fund-raising, Civil War and
Commonwealth: University College tries to build a quadrangle’

12.00     Tour of St. John’s College

1.00        Sandwich lunch

2.00        Session 2

Chair: Robin Darwall-Smith

Judith Curthoys (Christ Church), ‘The great rebuilding: Christ Church ups its game’

Oliver Mahony (LMH/St Hilda’s) and Anne Manuel (Somerville), ‘The “Wrennaissance” – colleges for women at Oxford’

3.00        Tea

3.30        Session 3

Chair: Judith Curthoys

Richard Allen (St. Peter’s), ‘St Peter’s Unbuilt’

Michael Riordan (Queen’s/St. John’s), ‘The Beehive: conservatism and radicalism in post-war St. John’s’

4.30        Closing remarks

Chair: Anna Sander

5.00        Formal finish, followed by informal adjournment to the Lamb & Flag

* * *

Closing remarks

Thanks to Mike for organising an excellent day, St John’s College for generously hosting us, the speakers who among them represent 12 colleges as present employers and even more in their previous experience, and our visitors from London and the Other Place.

I was asked to mention themes connecting the papers throughout the day – there have been plenty, and several have already been noted by the speakers. We’ve been taken all over Oxford and through the ages from C16-21, from cockloft to cellar by way of the piano nobile, through all levels of architecture and college society. We’ve seen a gamut of budgets, ambitions, intentions and degrees of success. There have been contrasts between monastic and secular foundations, and those built for men and women. There have been considerable insights into the history of fundraising – and coping with benefactions.  We have heard about new buildings on old premises, old buildings repurposed, ancient buildings hidden behind modern faces, and old buildings swept away altogether to make way for new ones. And some that have remained only dreamed-of spires.

I have particularly appreciated the unusually wide range of record formats we’ve seen today from all periods: accounts, plans, sketches, drawings, architectural models, letters, minutes, stained glass, photographs, receipts, stone carvings, woodwork, sculpture and skeletons. And of course, in many cases the buildings themselves.

Through every college’s history of wizard wheezes and financial flops, I think the day showed that across time and despite wide differences in other factors, the main influences on college building projects have been politics internal and external, money and the lack of it, and perhaps most of all, personalities.


termly report Trinity Term 2017

TT17 Week 6 HT (June) Library Committee

Archivist’s report

This paper reports on the Archivist’s work February – April 2017.

A) Enquiries, researchers & visitors

February

  • Enquiries: 62
  • Unique users: 8
  • Seats occupied: 15
  • Collections consulted:  medieval mss, George Malcolm, David Urquhart, Persian & Turkish mss, Jenkyns papers, college records
  • Visitors (non-research): 60+

March

  • Enquiries: 92
  • Unique users: 12
  • Seats occupied: 12
  • Collections consulted: medieval mss (4), Greene-Reid papers, Persian & Arabic mss, Malcolm, Morier Family and RBD Morier archives, Monckton papers, college records (2)
  • Visitors (non-research): ca40

April

  • Enquiries: 60
  • Unique users: 4
  • Seats occupied: 7
  • Collections consulted: oriental MSS (2), western medieval mss, college records
  • Visitors (non-research): 55+

Period totals/2017 running totals

 

  • Enquiries: 214/298
  • Unique users: 24/32
  • Seats occupied: 34/43
  • Visitors (non-research) 155+ / Ca 160

* * *

A handful of research topics, by researchers in person and remote enquirers, from the reporting period:

‘I research horizontal tree diagrams in the margins of manuscripts of the Lombard’s Sentences, among others. I want to see if these copies have some interesting marginalia, and if there are to note the folio numbers and perhaps take pictures or order images. I am interested especially the one that perhaps contains Rufus’ notes. The other volume is to satisfy my interest in the indexing procedure of the tabulae.’

‘ I am researching the London property market at the time of the Great Fire of 1666 – and I am finding out about College property holdings in the Square Mile. I have published on various aspects of the City of London in the 17th and 18th centuries. ‘

 

 

‘I am currently preparing the publication of my PhD thesis on the mise en page and the illustrations in medieval manuscripts containing Aristotelian treatises, to be published by Böhlau Verlag, Cologne, Germany, later this year. I would love to include some illustrations of MS 253, a particularly densely glossed manuscript of Aristotle’s logical treatises and contains some very original depictions of teaching scenes. On your wonderful website, I found photos of excellent quality, and I would like to ask for permission to publish them in my thesis.’

  1. B) Arrangement & description and collection care

John Jones’ lists of papers of Julian Miller (Balliol 1957) and Arthur Hugh Sidgwick (Balliol 1903), both listed for the first time, are now online.

In response to specific external enquiries, I have checked, ordered and numbered several files of the David Urquhart and Morier Family archives, and added item-level descriptions for all items to the online catalogues (files run to 50+ items). It is unfortunate that the physical items were not numbered when the papers were catalogued in the 1990s.

Conservation: Housing of all the manuscript books is now complete, with many thanks to OCC and PADS. There are still some old boxes that need replacing, but this is not urgent, and can be done in tandem with planned conservation of those individual manuscripts. Treatment of several manuscripts, notably MS 354 (Richard Hill’s commonplace book of ca 1510), continues in preparation for September’s exhibition.

C) Engagement

Social media

• Facebook: 937 Likes. Weekly updates, links to blog posts, notices of events, etc.

• Twitter: 1900 total Tweets, 1494 followers

• Blog: 17 new posts including several school group activities

Image management

• Oxfile (OUCS)– used 32 times Feb-Apr, total 290 times, to send images, externally and within college, across archival collections.

• Images created: 8000+.

  • Browning draft/printer’s proofs volumes (MSS 387-392) have been photographed in full
  • Images of all 10 volumes of Clark’s annual lists of Balliol members 1520-1822 are online – a key college history/family history/biographical research resource.

Outreach & Events:

• Antechapel displays and ‘Document in Focus’ features in Broad St Library, prepared by Anna, continue

February

  • • medieval mss display by Anna continued & taken down
  • • George Malcolm centenary exhibition by Giles Dawson opened
  • • Unlocking Archives talk by Monica Kendall on 18th century letters, Jane Austen and social history
  • • Unlocking Archives talk by Giles Dawson on George Malcolm’s centenary

March

  • • George Malcolm centenary exhibition continued, and taken down
  • • Unlocking Archives talk by Lucy Kelsall on the cataloguing side of the Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch project
  • • Library staff lead Into University group visit at St Cross
  • • display of newly acquired Jowett letters for Jowett Society launch event in Broad Street.

April

  • • temporary Prof Les Woods memorial exhibition by Jo Ashbourn open, and taken down
  • • Les Woods memorial event at St Cross
  • • Anna & Gabrielle present hands-on special collections
  • handling training workshop for Balliol English & History students
  • • Anna with colleagues staffing college archivists’ table at undergraduate History Thesis Fair

D) Future events

Summer schedule so far:

  • • Watford Girls’ Grammar school groups for a manuscripts activity (repeat visit)
  • • Wolvercote Local History Society, theme tbc by them (Old Member contact) [postponed]
  • • Bodleian archives & mss trainees for a careers talk (repeat visit)
  • • Oxford Research & Innovation Support Conference delegates for a general tour (recommended)
  • • Open Doors: St Cross will be open for Oxford Open Doors, weekend of 9-10 September, 12-4pm both days.

This will be the 7th year that Balliol has opened St Cross to the public for Open Doors, and hundreds of people keep coming! I hope the medieval mss exhibition, which will be launched for this open weekend and then continue throughout MT17, will be an extra draw this year.

 

 

 

 

F) CPD/training/staff

Anna CPD:

  • • attended meetings of the Management Committee of the Oxford Conservation Consortium in February and April
  • • attended Gerald Aylmer Seminar 2017 (London, IHR): ‘Strongroom to Seminar: archives and teaching in higher education’ (February)
  • • attended Teaching the Codex II colloquium on the pedagogy of palaeography and codicology (May)

We note with sadness the death of Prof Elliott Horowitz z”l (Oliver Smithies Visiting Fellow 2014-15) in March 2017. He had completed the beautiful and successful Hebraica & Judaica exhibition at St Cross in Michaelmas 2016, culminating in a day of fascinating talks by Oxford experts in November.

 

– Anna Sander, TT 2017 (June)