LIS 580 British Studies
Oxford Bodleian Library and Merton College Library
June 7, 2016

Bodleian Library Oxford
Our guide to the Bodleian Library was the enthralling Naomi.
The first room we were allowed to enter was the Divinity School Hall. Used in 1424 as the lecture hall for the Divinity students it has great glass windows to allow in natural light and incredible acoustics so that all could hear clearly the lectures and philosophical debates. This was the heart of the University. Here pupils sat exams and some honored persons' bodies were laid in state before interment here (including Robert Dudley's wife Amy Robsart).

Divinity School. It was used as the infirmary in the Harry Potter films.

We then climbed the stairs to the Duke Humphries medieval library. This is a working reading room and we were asked to be very quiet as there were people working and studying there. Right outside the room is the Benefactor's Board that notes some of the great benefactors to the library. Under their names is the Latin "plurimi pertransibunt , et multiplex erit scientia" which means "many shall pass by, and knowledge shall be multiplied" from the Book of Daniel (12:4). Cromwell is counted as one of the benefactors as he protected the library from being destroyed by sending soldiers to protect it during the English Civil War. This was a very magnanimous and progressive gesture as Oxford has always been a Royalist University and town.
Books had been chained to prevent their theft. They are no longer chained but because they are so old many (60%) are boxed. The boxes are stained to match the color of the original bindings. This library is a Grade 1 Listed building, which means that it is of historical significance. Not only is the outer building Listed, but it is Listed on the inside, which means that the Univesity is tasked with keeping the historical integrity of the interior of the library and its contents.
Duke Humphries, younger brother to Henry V donated his collection approximately 300 manuscripts to the Library. He had amassed his collection while fighting for his brother and England at Agincourt and on the Continent. The collection included Illuminated texts, texts on natural history, philosophy, and classical texts. In 1549 the majority of the texts were destroyed in an effort to rid the University of all things Catholic. The library was left bereft of books and in disrepair.
It is here when Thomas Bodley entered the scene. He had fled with his family as a child during the Catholic reign of Mary 1 to Protestant Europe. His family returned to England when Elizabeth ascended the throne. He studied at Magdalene College . It is during this time that he discovered the library in disrepair, a memory that would move him in later years. He became a professor of Greek and a Fellow of Merton College. He was given permission by the  University and the crown to study abroad. After  some years he was appointed an ambassador for Elizabeth at the Hague. When he was allowed to retire at the age of 54 he returns to Oxford. In his retirement, he decided to dedicate himself to restoring the library. He wrote a beautifully worded and humble letter to the Chancellor of the University in 1598. "Dear Chancellor, You won't know me...". He wrote of that empty and damaged room and how he would like to pay for a librarian and furniture and books to restore it. He ended the letter with "Your humble servant, Thomas Bodley". A year later the Duke Humphrey's Library was filled and furnished with the bookshelves (which were a new invention) that are now there. Bodley had not only donated his own volumes but also had convinced others to donate. The donations were requested as bound copies as opposed to loose signatures. They also contained Ancient Greek, Egyptian papyrus, and Chinese scrolls. The library has the largest collection of Hebrew manuscripts this side of Isreal. Bodley did not stop there. He approached the Guild of Stationers, the only people lawfully allowed to print by the Crown, and asked them to donate one copy of everything they printed to the library so that everyone could have access. This was the precursor to what the Library of Congress and the British Library now do.
Bodley continued to work with the Library and his Librarian Thomas James until his death. But his good works did not end there. Right before his death, he had sent another letter with plans for what is now known as The Old Schools Quadrangle. He said that his estate would continue to fund this project but only as matched monies. So if the rest of the University Fellows and Alumni would fund the first two levels then the third level would be "on Bodley". He continues to be honored today as the great founder of the Library at Oxford.
Non-sequitur: Tolkien is said to have been grading papers in the reading room when he came across a blank page and a hobbit came out of his pen.
We were shown the Convocation House and told that this is the ceremonial heart of the University. Here Parliament has convened on no less than four different times.

Convocation House
Finally, we entered the Chancellor's Court. Appointed by the Crown, the Lord Chancellor was once the highest law at Oxford, both University and City. He would preside over rulings in cases.
Naomi made this tour incredible. She was an engaging and vibrant storyteller. She led us and gave us all "parts to play" which made it all the more fun. Kim was made the head of the Stationer's Guild and Ariel was made Lord Chancellor!
We ate at the Congregation House. Dating from 1320, this is where the ruling body of the University used to meet. It was adjoining the University Church of St Mary the Virgin.
                 Congregation House

Merton College Library

We were shown through the Chapel first. Originally began in the 1270's the Chapel at Merton was originally meant to be a Cathedral. The stained glass windows are not the originals, those did not survive the Reformation. The Victorians did replace much of the glass and the ornate lectern and woodwork reflect the return to opulence from that time.

When we moved on to the Merton College Library we were treated to the Treasures of Merton College.
The Library screens were designed by Christopher Wren. 
 The idea of bookshelves was a novel idea imported from Italy.

The Merton library is the oldest continuously working library in the world. Initially designated for use by post-graduate students it contains mostly collections of Theology, Medicine, and Law needed by those worthies. In 1484 undergraduate students were allowed to visit the library and the collection was expanded to include the liberal arts and sciences.
Along with the books, the collection has a set of items that are part of the collection.
This globe reflects the geographic knowledge of the time. Notice the swath of incomplete North America.
This chest contained part of the donation made by Sir Thomas Bodley to Oxford.
An Astrolabe

We also toured the grounds of the College.

Kim, Stacie, and I hung out on the lawn in front of Christ Church.

My phone likes to make me special effect pics. Here is a black and white version of a picture I took of the main entrance.

We made a special friend.


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