COSEELIS Conference 2012

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stop the presentation of the report on the 2012 COSEELIS Conference; although illness and the madness of university induction weeks have done their best. Here is Susan Halstead’s account:

COSEELIS Annual Conference, 28-29 June 2012.

This year’s COSEELIS Annual Conference took place in the tranquil surroundings of Harris Manchester College, Oxford. While the Committee was in session the Fellow Librarian, Sue Killoran, conducted a tour of the college library built by Sir Henry Tate of Gallery fame. The Chapel, with its exquisite windows by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, also attracted much interest, although neither artist is actually buried there.

After an excellent lunch proceedings began with a lecture entitled To Christ’s With Love: Alexander Coates, Nadezhda Ladygina and the Christ’s College Darwin Archive by Dr Muireann Maguire (Wadham College, Oxford). Coates was a Russian of German descent, despite his English sounding name. Dr. Maguire described his marriage to one of his students, Nadezhda Ladygina, who was a support and partner in all his enterprises, which encompassed comparing the behaviour and cognitive processes of young primates with that of their small son and his endeavours to establish a museum devoted to Charles Darwin. She discussed in this context his correspondence with Christ’s College, Cambridge, and her recent discovery that despite an apparent silence by the college, archive material existed to prove that documents he had sent had been gratefully received.

There followed two presentations on Slavonic studies and library collections, chaired by Graham Camfield (LSE). Catriona Cannon, the Associate Director of Collection Support at the Bodleian library, presented its new storage facility at Swindon, noting that there had been no decline in the volume of printed materials despite growth in electronic resources. Other challenges included the rejection of proposals to build storage at Osney and copyright laws affecting the digitization of post-1877 material.  Managing and developing the collections at the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford

Susanne Cullen and Neil Smyth (University of Nottingham) spoke on Remembering Distinctive Collections: Russian and East European Collection Development at the University of Nottingham.  They commented on the need to deal sensitively with academic staff and the question of limited shelf space for low usage material, for example Polish which, although not taught at Nottingham, was required by PhD students. They explained the operation of the Collaborative Collection management agreement and the dilemmas facing librarians involving exchange such as that with the National Library of Serbia. Remembering Distinctive Collections: Russian and Slavonic (University of Nottingham)

Dr. Jurgen Warmbrunn, (Stellvertr. Direktor – Leiter der Forschungsbibliothek, Marburg) then spoke on The new open access repository for East European “OstDok” – a new role for libraries in high-quality publishing in East European studies. This project involved the digitization of 10,000 printed titles in the Humanities and the provision of copyright-free eBooks on demand. It also made German research on Eastern Europe available to the countries in question, exemplified by close collaboration with the Osteuropäisches Institut, Regensburg, and institutions in the Czech Republic on Czech and German material, and the Historical Dictionary of Sport. Jurgen demonstrated the processes of browsing and uploading tools, and outlined plans for extension beyond German to harvest multi-lingual material and make it accessible while respecting the complexities of German copyright law.

Europeana: new resources for Slavonic research was presented byJanet Zmroczek  (Head of European Studies at the British Library).She surveyed the involvement of archives, museums and libraries in the realisation of Jacques Chirac’s vision of a virtual European library, and a selection of the special Slavonic projects which formed part of it.  Prominent examples were the access to material on Mickiewicz facilitated by the cooperation of relevant Polish bodies, and Judaica Europeana, where information on the Jewish presence and heritage in Eastern Europe was made available through collaboration with the Jewish Historical Institute and Jewish archives in Warsaw and Budapest.

Following vendor presentations chaired by Mel Bach (Cambridge University Library), there was a display in the college library of Hungarian material associated with the Socinian heresy, reflecting the college’s Unitarian heritage. Selected by Nick Hearn (TABS, Oxford) with assistance from Professor Robert Evans, the exhibition featured early books from Transylvania and Raków including catechisms and tracts by Fausto Sozzini, and a unique first edition of Balász Orbán’s description of the Szekely region (1869-71).  After admiring these, we enjoyed a reception in the Library, followed by a memorable conference dinner and the chance to explore the more informal aspects of Oxford life.

The AGM took place the following morning, followed by three presentations on new technologies in the work of COSEELIS and its members. Wojciech Janik (SSEES) discussed The Polish eBook market and its influence on Polish studies in the UK, offering insights into the growth of this area, its effects on Polish reading habits and potential uses for academic research and teaching in the UK. Together with Gerald Watkins (University of Birmingham) he then introduced the new COSEELIS website and its newsletter functions, demonstrating how new technology could assist the Council’s internal communications as well as the wider scholarly community. The session concluded with Mel Bach’s presentation Soviet design for life: Catherine Cook’s collection on display at the Cambridge University Library Centre, July-December 2012. She described the challenges involved in creating both a virtual exhibition and a physical one in the Cambridge University Library. Her account of the zeal and enthusiasm which Catherine Cook expended on amassing her impressive collection of Soviet ephemera in the years preceding made us eager to see the exhibition for ourselves.

After lunch there was the opportunity in the afternoon to explore either the print collections in the Ashmolean or the Pasternak Trust’s premises in Park Town. Like many other museums, much of the Ashmolean’s holdings are not on display, so it was a privilege to see selections from the Braikevitch and Pasternak collections and topographical material from the Talbot Collection. Leonid Pasternak’s grand-daughter Ann Pasternak Slater regaled us with details of the artist’s final years in North Oxford where his home became a dom-muzei in the Russian tradition. We were allowed to wander freely through the rooms, including Pasternak’s studio where he died in 1945. Paintings and drawings displayed included studies of Pasternak’s family, a portrait of his cat, and impressions of Tolstoy.The atmosphere was so intimate and lovingly preserved that one almost expected Pasternak to walk in and pick up his brush at any minute.

Much hard work went into organizing the conference which several delegates said was the best they had attended. Mary Bone and Maureen Pinder deserve special mention for their expert dealing with bookings and payments. Katya Rogatchevskaia created a new role as official photographer, capturing many of the moments which gave the conference its unique quality.  Above all thanks is due to Nick Hearn, whose patience, skill and commitment to the whole enterprise, and response to all the demands of planning such an event have richly earned our appreciation.

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