– 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.

Posts tagged “Q&A

Q&A: war memorials at St Cross Church

There are four WW1 memorials in St Cross Church, Holywell – two also record information about the fallen in WW2.

St Cross parish War Memorial

WWI fallen: AS Adams, FF Hunt, EV Giles, CB Wren, TW Haydon, EH Freeman, HE Miller

St Peter’s-in-the-East parish War Memorial.

This was in the parish church of St Peter’s–in-the-East, which is now the Library of St Edmund Hall. It was brought to St Cross and placed on the north tower pier facing the St Cross War Memorial when St Peter’s was closed as a parish church. It is now permanently fixed in the south aisle next to the St Catherine’s Society memorial.

WWI fallen: R Andrews, J Balaam, C Butler, GRW Dickinson, H Griffith, RB Macan, E Rix, A Roe, AF Salmon, THS Townsend, MB Wilks, J Williams

WWII fallen: HC Nicholl-Smith

 

St Catherine’s Society War Memorial

For information about the Society, see the History of St Catherine’s College.

WWI fallen: RA Abrams,T Baker, EK Bonsey , EW Brooks, AC Burrows, T Cann, BM Carpenter, HF Clarke, HTS Cole, HC Crichton, F Dann, R Dell, WR Dibb, GRW Dickinson, HJ Dunn, Rev.VS Dunstan, KM Dyott, H Garth, Rev HJB Green, NGB King, C Lakin, C Lewis, DG Lloyd-Williams , DJ Macdonald, Rev GH Merrikin, WC Milne, JA Moore , JHC Morris, AC Neale, PLS Phipps, HT Pitcairn, GH Pollard, CB Shrewsbury, S Spencer, TG Thomas, TJB Trowman, CS Unwin, OT Walton, THH Ward, FL Warland, FWWhitlock, EE Wicks, SA Wilkes, HMWillimas, TPC Wilson THH Wood, AJ Wooldridge

WWII fallen: HF Banister, WAO Chandler, S Coshall, CGP Cuthbert, KG Hope, EWG Hudgel, PO Johnson, EA Legrand, EW McKeeman, AS Mitchell, GS Morris, HC Pugh , LF Sheppard, RWO Spender, JR Stephen, MD Thomas, BG Tillyard, CW Turner, ACA White, WD Paul.

Transcriptions and other information are repeated here, along with lists of the other known burials in the church. For more information about the war memorials and other commemorative inscriptions in St Cross Church, see JH Jones’ history of the building and parish. All surviving parish records, including burial records, are at the Oxfordshire History Centre. Balliol does not keep copies in the church.

Also at St Cross church is the WW1 memorial of the Balliol Boys’ Club; more information here, and all names listed here.


spam spam spam not lovely spam

Q: I’ve emailed you at least once in the past month and haven’t had a reply.

A: (searches every email sent or received ever) This is the first time I’ve heard from you. Could you forward me a copy of your previous message?

Q: Here it is:

From: enquirer@email.com
Sent: date
To: archivist [at] balliol.ox.ac.uk
Subject: Hello

Hello,

…..

A: (twigs, checks junk mail) Aha, it disappeared into the spam box because of the vague subject  line – lots of spam and e-swindles are titled ‘Hello my friend’ etc. Enquiries titled e.g. ‘I need your help’, ‘Looking for a relative’ or ‘Urgent response required’, though reasonable in e.g. a family history research query, will have the same problem. Subject lines left blank? Bin. Exclamation marks? Bin. All caps in the subject line? Bin. Using red/green/purple text? Bin. Sending to lots of different email addresses at once? Bin.

It’s increasingly important these days to make your archives enquiry email look genuinely addressed to a particular person about something particular. Institutional addresses are bombarded daily with zillions of spam messages, not to mention things with malware and viruses attached. Firewalls and spam-detection levels are raised accordingly, usually by the institution’s IT department rather than individual users who do not normally have that kind of control, so it’s easier for messages to be automatically junked without the intended recipient ever seeing them. Due to the increasing volume, hardly anybody ever checks their spam boxes for possible genuine messages.

Best to use something short, clear and specific, e.g. ‘[College name] archives enquiry’ or similar. Using the name of the person you’re writing to in the salutation will also help lower the spam score.

If you are repeating a previous email enquiry that may have gone astray, include a copy of the first attempt, with headers (From, To, Date, Subject), in your next one. Email delivery and search functions aren’t perfect and do break down, and it may help, if not to find your first email, at least to let the archivist know when it was sent and what the original query was about.


Q&A: the Register

When using the Balliol College Register images online, I am confused by sets of usually 3 initials in parentheses, following the Balliol years in the education section of many entries. What do they mean?

Initials in parentheses are those of that student’s Balliol tutor(s). You can find a list of tutors’ initials just before the Index, and then use the Index to find that tutor’s own entry.

College Register 2nd edition 1833-1933

College Register 3rd edition 1900-1950


a query

How can I access a copy of George F. Kennan’s Reith Lecture of 1957? Many thanks.

Thank you for your enquiry re Reith lectures of GF Kennan (George Eastman Professor at Balliol College 1957/8). If you Google ‘kennan reith lectures’ you will see that the BBC has made audio and full transcripts available online.


reading closely

tcd1An interesting enquiry from last year, demonstrating that the internet is a brilliant research tool, but that like any source it needs careful interpretation, and that not all immediately available information is correct or complete.

The enquirer requests information on William Hussey 1867-1939, son of Thomas Hussey of Kensington, stating that the images sent with the enquiry, of a Ladies’ Challenge Cup medal,  clearly show that WH rowed for Balliol when they won that particular race in 1891.

The enquirer has probably searched for something like ‘ladies challenge cup 1891’ and found the Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladies’_Challenge_Plate for the Henley Regatta’s Ladies’ Challenge Plate race, won by a Balliol crew in 1891, and concluded that Hussey must have been part of this crew.

In fact the medal shows nothing of the kind, and a closer look reveals quite a different story.

First I checked whether William Hussey had indeed been a member of Balliol – the college registers are not 100% infallible, but they are pretty good. No result, so back to the medal for other clues. A little more scratching around online revealed several things that didn’t add up to support the Henley & Balliol assumption:

  • Date: Henley is always held over the first weekend in July, but 1 July 1891 was a Wednesday. (thanks Time and Date!)tcd2
  • Race name: the Ladies’ Challenge Plate race at Henley has never been known as the Ladies’ Challenge Cup – it is the only Henley trophy that isn’t the Something Cup.
  • Winner name: the LCP is an Eights race, not an individual one, so even if each member of the winning Eight had a commemorative medal, it would not be inscribed ‘won by [any single name]’. Cf. Henley commemorative medals at http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/18783/lot/59/, a particularly nice find after searching for images of the LCP medals for visual comparison.
  • Double-checking with another source – even supposing everything else was somehow wrong, we have a photograph of the Balliol Eight that did win the LCP in 1891; the rowers were: Rofe, Rawstone, Darbishire, Mountmorres, Fielding, T Rogers, Farmer, F Rogers, cox Craig-Sellar. Not surprisingly, no Hussey.

So if it was not at all connected with the Henley Royal Regatta or Balliol’s win there in 1891, what is this medal? Balliol-based evidence stops here, but ‘we have no further information about this’ seemed a bit abrupt when most of what I had already found out was from non-Balliol sources anyway. Besides, by this time I wanted an answer to the puzzle, if I could find one!

Look at it again – the intertwined letters on the medal look like T C D, in a distinctively Irish style, and Trinity College Dublin’s Regatta does include a Ladies’ Challenge Cup race. But to check up further, one might try looking at the club’s own site: http://www.tcdlife.ie/clubs/boat/archive.php. The answer is probably in Raymond Blake’s book, In Black and White: A History of Rowing at Trinity
College Dublin
. My research ends here; I can’t spend any more time on this enquiry, and the answer won’t add to knowledge of the Balliol archives.

And there are still questions: why should the medal read TCD when TCD’s boat club has been known as the Dublin University Boat Club since 1847? Is the DUBC (TCD) Ladies’ Challenge Cup race rowed by singles or eights? Is there any evidence at all that this is a rowing medal?

It’s rare that answers to archival enquiries are either complete or absolute – often, the best we can hope for is to add another interesting piece to the puzzle, or point in another direction.


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 £50 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!