One of the things I love most about teaching is the opportunity to engage with subject areas that neighbour my own research interests.
In recent years I’ve been fortunate to supervise dissertations by several students working in Oxford and, in supporting the development of their research, to gain a deeper awareness of some of the libraries in the university system there.
One of these dissertations was further developed into an article. The Bodleian’s Binders’ Book is just one of the many manuscript resources that record library practices in the Early Modern period. Such manuscripts have local interest within the city but an obvious significance in library history more widely.
Tonight’s library history seminar discussed another group of library records – the benefactors’ books maintained by most of the colleges from the early 17th century. The speaker, Dr William Poole ( New College), provided an introduction to these sources, which he sees as useful in connecting the history of intellectual ideas and the history of the book. He provided us with examples in which we can trace the vernacularization of scholarship; the shift from manuscripts donated as working documents to their donation as antiquarian objects (e.g. Books of Hours donated after the Reformation); the specialisation of particular college collections (e.g. Plant Science at Magdalen); and, from the 1630s, when the Anatomy School Museum was founded, the separation of non-book collections from books in libraries.
The influence of Bodley can be seen: the Bodleian benefactors book was begun in 1602 and displayed prominently, with clear instructions on whose names would be entered in it and whose would not. In 1604-5 All Souls’s benefactors book was begun. Bodley himself was influenced by practices at Leiden, a model for various practices at the university at that time.
The seminar demonstrated how provenance information can be of local significance while exemplifying techniques with wider application. The organisers recorded Dr Poole’s paper, and so I hope it will be available as a podcast soon – certainly it will be useful for Historical Bibliography students as an example of how provenance research techniques can be used by scholars.
If you could not make the seminar and are looking for resources on this topic, ahead of the podcast’s becoming available, here are some listed on Dr Poole’s handout:
Arthur MacGregor et al. Manuscript Catalogues of the Early Museum Collection, 1683-1886. (Oxford, 2000-2006).
Paul Morgan. Oxford Libraries Outside the Bodleian. 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1980).
Image: bookshelf at Christ Church, Oxford, taken on a visit during last year’s Rare Books and Special Collections Group Conference.