Past projects

The Bodleian Libraries take part in a wide range of special projects which aim to strengthen the links between the Bodleian and local communities. We work with artists and musicians to interpret our collections in creative ways.

Ballads at the Bodleian: songs of life & love

As part of the 2018 Oxford Folk Weekend, local musician and choir leader Cat Kelly worked with Alex Franklin from the Bodleian's Centre for the Study of the Book to explore our collection of Broadside Ballads.

Cat chose six songs from the archives to reinterpret and arrange for community choirs. From an awkward misunderstanding between sweethearts to Flora the valiant sea captain, the songs touch on universal themes of love, nostalgia, and the ageing process.

Singers from Rising Voices, Village Voices, Sounds Fun and Chipping Norton Singers learned these songs and visited the Bodleian to take part in printing workshops, where they typeset the lyrics to create a new printed broadside. Cat also worked with adults with learning disabilities to share the songs and traditional printing techniques in an accessible way.

During the Oxford Folk weekend 2018, all the choirs will perform the songs in Blackwell Hall, along with members of the public, in a come-and-sing concert.

October 2017 – April 2018

Rumble Museum alternative exhibition guide

A ticket from a Suffrage demonstationYear 8 History students at Cheney School, which is also home to the Rumble Museum, developed their skills as curators and museum interpreters by creating an alternative guide the Bodleian's new exhibition, Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared.

During several classroom sessions and a visit to the Weston Library to work with the curator, exhibitions staff and our Education Officer, the Cheney students became experts on the inspiring women featured in the display. They also thought about how to create an engaging exhibition guide for the general public that tells the stories beyond the captions, and examined why certain people's voices are less likely to be preserved in libraries and museums.

A final Saturday session on the first weekend of the exhibition involved working with local artist Dario Utreras to print the finished guide on the risograph. Exhibition visitors will be able to borrow the alternative guides throughout the exhibition, and copies will also be added to the Bodleian's John Johnson Collection of Ephemera, where many of the suffrage items in the exhibition are also preserved.

February – March 2018

Redesigning the medieval book

The major exhibition Designing English: early literature on the page (2017) showed the page design of English literature in handwritten manuscripts and inscriptions from the first thousand years of written English. Featuring Old English picture books, early Tudor plays and manuals for handling swans, the exhibition drew attention to the writing of English in everything from stray notes scratched into Anglo-Saxon herbals to learned texts framed by illustration and gilded borders.

To celebrate the craft of the scribes, painters and engravers who designed the medieval pages that made English writing speak to people clearly and with authority, the Bodleian hosted a workshop for contemporary book artists, showing items from the exhibition up close and in detail, with guidance for participants from exhibition curator Daniel Wakelin, Professor of Medieval English at the University of Oxford. This was followed by an international competition that attracted more than 50 entries, some of which were chosen to go into a display, Redesigning the medieval book.

Printing a line

What if a line of text escaped the rectangle of the printed page? That was the fantastical vision behind ‘Printing a line’ in June, 2017. Artist Tamarin Norwood composed a text that could unspool as a stream of consciousness. Printer Richard Lawrence devised alterations to the common press (the style of press used by Gutenberg, Caxton, and Ben Franklin) which was designed to print single pages. The alterations enabled them to print of Norwood’s text in one continuous line on a roll of paper 38 feet long.


May – June 2017

Broadside Ballads/contemporary – feat. Lisa Knapp, Sam Lee, Nathaniel Mann

This project by Oxford Contemporary Music in 2016 was a collaboration with artists Lisa Knapp, Sam Lee and Nathaniel Mann. The folk musicians researched the Bodleian’s ballad collections and found political and social commentary in these early songs. Updated through modern eyes, but with a feeling for the traditional tunes, these became a concert that toured the UK.

Nov 2016 – April 2017

400 years of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

In a sonnet cycle of 154 poems, addressed to both female and male love interests, William Shakespeare described every shade of passion while mocking the tones of courtly love. The Sonnets continue to fascinate readers over 400 years after his death. The ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets 2016’ project invited printers around the world to produce one sonnet apiece, in any style and by any method of relief printing. The results form a multi-lingual, multi-media, and multi-dimensional collection.

The collection was presented to the Bodleian at an event in November 2016.

Jan – Nov 2016

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