Ian Cawood is spending semester two at Keble College, Oxford. Here, he gives us an update on his progress, findings and his time in Oxford.
A day researching in Oxford, even a bitterly wintery day, is never a poor experience. After negotiating the complexity of Oxford University’s wifi system (thank you Steve) and a coffee to warm me up, I wandered over to Keble College’s library to do a bit of secondary reading for my current research project. On the way, I encountered one of the garden staff smoothing out the lines on the main lawn (see attached picture). Perhaps we need someone to do this at Newman?
Just as at Newman though, it is exam week at Oxford, and the library was heaving with students, so I wasn’t able to sit in Herbert Butterfield’s lovely upstairs reading room, but I managed to find a nice spot downstairs by a window near the college clock which kept reminding me how fast time flies when you are reading and idly musing on the bigger questions in history. I also discovered that Keble has an excellent collection of constitutional history in my preferred format – yes, big dusty books. Although it seems a bit odd to go to Oxford to read a Cambridge historian’s work, I hit paydirt almost immediately with Peter Mandler’s Aristocratic Government in the Age of Reform, perhaps the only one of his books I hadn’t read. Mandler writes an excellent account of how the Factory Inspectorate was accidentally the progenitor of the modern state bureaucracy, largely due to in-fighting between factions of the Whigs and the need to head off the discontent of the workers’ factory movement, which would only get worse once the New Poor Law was unveiled. Just as the intellectual juices were flowing nicely, however, the clock struck and it was lunchtime. The other books were returned to their shelves (as I am a good citizen) but they will be there tomorrow awaiting more inspection.
Lunch was in the Senior Common Room, which I am very lucky to be able to use, and I met several staff including Keble’s Victorian literature specialist, who was probably a bit shocked when I immediately starting quizzing him on the depiction of altruism in mid-Victorian writers like Gaskell and Collins. We discovered a mutual fascination with Dickens and I think I ended up inviting him to come and see the Birmingham Midland Institute, where Dickens was famously president in the 1850s. Then, to my surprise I encountered a Keble Fellow who I had taught at A-level 20 years ago, who introduced me as ‘the teacher who is responsible for my career as a 17th century specialist.’ I wasn’t quite sure if I should have apologised or not.
After coffee in an SCR room decorated with the original Victorian wallpaper and a lot of catching up, I braved the driving rain and squelched my way down Parks Road, past the ‘cathedral of science’ which is the Oxford Natural History museum and Wadham College. I enjoyed the privilege of presenting my new Oxford University card (valid for 10 weeks only), having all the doors to the Weston Library swing open and penetrating the monastic quiet of the Manuscripts reading room.
I am putting the finishing touches to a journal article I’ve been invited to write on the impact of the 1918 Representation of the People Act on politics in the West Midlands and was consulting the papers of the Conservative Party Archive. I might have pointed out that it should be the Conservative and Unionist Party Archive, but I am getting tired of the funny looks I get when I keep saying this. As it turned out most of the papers I wanted to see today were available in microfilm and so I found myself in front of a microfilm reader exactly the same as the one in the local history collection at Newman. With the difference that the one in Newman has been set up better than the one in the Weston Library, so I had to keep putting my glasses on to read the screen. And by browsing the microfilm collection for the first time, I discovered a large collection of Liberal and Labour election materials as well, so I can keep coming back to use these. Heaven for a political historian –everything in one place and no need to wait 2 hours for each item to be brought out of the strongroom!
While the College libraries (and no doubt the Radcliffe Camera – my destination for tomorrow) are packed to the brim with pale-faced undergraduates, the manuscripts rooms were deserted, as the weather kept scholars indoors and only the fool-hardy (or Northern) ventured out.
Sadly, time marched on, and I had a train to catch. Luckily it will all be waiting for me again tomorrow. What did I learn today? Always make sure your shoes are waterproof before going out.