Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts

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2014 Annual Record report

We are nearing completion of a third successful year of having the Historic Collections Centre at St Cross Church open for academic research, manuscripts workshops, research seminars, talks and tours, exhibitions, open days and many other activities.

During the period June  2013 – May 2014, 87 individuals have carried out research in Balliol’s manuscript collections at St Cross, and there have been 812 additional remote enquiries.
The Oxford Open Doors weekend in September 2013, plus the concurrent Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust’s Ride & Stride event, brought more than 550 people to St Cross; we look forward to opening the doors to both events again in September 2014.

The College’s 750th anniversary exhibition at St Cross, curated by Dr John Jones, presented a personal view of the college’s history through archival documents and artefacts. It was visited by approximately 400 people during private group viewings and public opening hours in September and October. A number of archival images from the exhibition are on display throughout 2014 on the temporary kitchen building in the Garden Quad. Special collections material also supported presentations by current Fellows in Classics, English and Physics during the 750th Anniversary Weekend in Broad Street.

The Unlocking Archives series of talks about research in Balliol’s special collections included 8 events in the anniversary year. The first talk, in which I discussed the 18th and 19th century trade and diplomacy networks between England and the eastern Mediterranean as shown in the Urquhart, Morier and Mallet papers at Balliol, has already resulted in further discussion and research visits. Holly James-Maddocks presented a fascinating picture of medieval book culture, patronage and production in Oxford, with new insights into related manuscripts at Balliol, Merton and Exeter. Especially appropriate in this anniversary year of the first ascent of Mount Everest was Dr Stephen Golding’s (University College, Radiology) talk about his new discoveries about the life and climbs of George Mallory, made during his research for the first history of the Chalet des Anglais, scene of more than a century of Balliol (and latterly New College, Univ and Rhodes House) vacation reading parties. In July, Dr Ross McKibbin (St John’s) demonstrated that although Harold Nicolson’s diaries are much-edited and by far Balliol’s most-studied modern papers collection, there is still much to be discovered in them. Balliol’s small but extremely important cluster of Welsh manuscripts was highlighted in Prof Ceri Davies’ (Swansea) discussion of the Historiae Britannicae Defensio  (published 1573) by John Prise. Dr Ian Mertling-Blake (Balliol 1965) illustrated ‘the Archaeology of the Book of Kells’ with reference to the magnificent facsimile edition he has given to the College, as well as original poetry. Dr Lynda Dennison (Continuing Education, CMRS) ended the year, appropriately, with a description of her years as a researcher for the first Oxford Colleges fascicule of the Index of images in English manuscripts from the time of Chaucer to Henry VIII. Unlocking Archives continues as an occasional series, open to all, with each talk supported by a display of some of the Balliol material being discussed.

Balliol’s 750th was not the only anniversary commemorated in special collections this year – following an invitation from the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Anna and Fiona participated in their annual Browning Day programme on 7 May (Robert Browning’s birthday) as representatives of the first international partner in the Browning Letters Project. The project, hosted and supported by Baylor and initiated by the Armstrong Browning Library with Wellesley College’s Special Collections, aims to provide free access to high-quality images of all of Browning’s surviving letters.

A particularly good development this year has been a rise in Balliol tutors’ use of the special collections for teaching: Hannah Bailey, Elena Lombardi, Kylie Murray, Adam Smyth and Daniel Tyler have all brought seminar groups to St Cross for hands-on workshops. We have also been working with Kate Kettle to design and implement more schools access and outreach activities at St Cross: so far groups of pupils have learned about historic book bindings, explored early printed maps and monsters, hunted for clues to piece together a story from archival documents and discussed degrees of literacy while identifying languages and scripts in manuscripts.

A major project at St Cross since January 2014 has been a systematic condition survey of all the medieval, early modern and oriental manuscript books in the collection – some 489 in all. A professional conservator from the OCC studio by Jowett Walk works with a member of the library team to examine, evaluate and document all aspects of the binding and text block of each manuscript in turn. Such a systematic close look at every manuscript is a rare opportunity for those who look after them to get to know the collection well. The Oxford Conservation Consortium studio had previously done similar work for two other colleges and had devised a comprehensive survey template, which was reformatted as a database for Balliol. This has speeded up work and has already proved useful for e.g. checking a manuscript’s physical condition before consultation by a researcher. The survey has given conservation and library staff invaluable experience and understanding of the collection, and the data will help to shape our conservation treatment priorities for years to come, thus making the most of the OCC subscription. We are on track to finish by the end of the summer, and will be hosting a display of some of the treasures – and traumas – we have been looking at.

Details of more of the year’s events can be found on the Archives & MSS blog, link below

Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre is open to any visitor or researcher by prior appointment with the Archivist. As part of the 1914-18 commemorative events, an exhibition drawing on the college archives and focussing on ‘town’ and ‘gown’ members of the Balliol Boys’ Club during the First World War, curated by Anna Sander, will be held at St Cross in September.

  • Anna Sander, archivist and curator of manuscripts



Enquiries about the archives can be directed to Anna by post or by email at
Enquiries about living old members should be directed to the Development Office.

- John Jones and Anna Sander

You do not need to request permission to download or print one copy of any of the images on these pages for your personal private study or research purposes.
You do need to request permission in writing to use any of these images for any publication in any format, including any use on a website.

The archives and manuscripts of Balliol College are open by appointment to enquirers in person at the Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell.
Enquiries should be sent in writing (email or post).
There is no charge for Archive enquiries, but donations for Archive purposes are always appreciated.
Updated 13.x.14
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