Oxford University students undertake online research about the 17th Century Morley Library at Winchester Cathedral

July 1, 2021

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As part of a micro-internship, three students from Oxford University have spent the last week undertaking online research about the worldview and identity of Bishop Morley and other 17th Century figures through the book collection and Blaeu globes housed in the Morley Library at Winchester Cathedral.   

The three students; Sarah Townsend (2nd year undergraduate, English Literature and Language), Nic Nicolaou (1st year undergraduate, English Literature and Language) and  Grace Sullivan (MSc Archaeology) have opened up lines of study into the collection of rare and under-explored books which have the potential to provide insights into seventeenth-century England. 

Bequeathed by Bishop Morley of Winchester, books in the library include a 1611 King James Bible and first edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, alongside Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (Zurich, 1551-87) and Leonhart Fuchs’s De Historia Stirpium (Basel, 1543). The books on the shelves are complemented by two globes, one terrestrial and one celestial, purchased in 1685 from Willem Janson Blaeu, the distinguished Dutch cartographer. 

Sarah Townsend said, “So far, I’ve enjoyed studying 18th century library catalogues and analysing what a collection of prayerbooks, political pamphlets, and bibles might reveal about their owner. Was Morley tolerant of different religious groups? Did the books he was reading influence his political loyalties? As a student interested in 17th century theology and religious conflict, these are all questions that I consider particularly important. It has been a privilege to undertake research on a largely understudied collection of books, and I hope that our findings will help cathedral visitors feel connected to the rich history of Bishop Morley’s library.”

As well as opening up avenues for further, funded research, the micro-internship will deepen the collaboration between Winchester Cathedral and the University of Oxford, and provide a valuable opportunity for students to explore the real-world impact of historical research.  

Nic Nicolaou said, “As someone interested in textual studies, it’s been a real treat to have the opportunity to work with the remarkable wealth of books in the library’s archives, having discovered some lesser-known titles with fascinating and underexplored stories, as well as canonical works from my favourite authors. I’ve also really enjoyed learning about palaeography through my attempts to decipher the catalogue’s 17th-century handwriting and the process of bookbinding, both of which have helped me deepen my understanding of the history of the book. Despite the short timeframe, I hope that we can help provide a springboard for further research and that the work we’ve begun can be used to get more people engaged and excited about the striking set of books within the cathedral.”

The project was co-supervised by Canon Roland Riem and Alison Evans on the Cathedral’s side, and on the University’s side, Dr Oliver Cox (Heritage Engagement Fellow, University of Oxford), with additional support by Professor Nandini Das (Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture at TIDE Project Director) and Dr Lauren Working (Post-Doctoral Researcher, TIDE Project). The TIDE project is a 5-year European Research Council-funded project that looks to advance new ways of using the past to explore contemporary questions about English heritage and identity. 

Canon Roland Riem said, “We have always appreciated the Morley Library as a marvellous capsule of the 17th Century, but we have not till now addressed the question of what the parts of the collection gathered in Bishop Morley’s time, as well as the two globes which have recently been conserved, have to say about the self-understanding of the people of that era. We are so grateful for the questions that our three micro-interns have begun to raise through their diligent research.” 

Grace Sullivan said, “To have access to such a diverse and eclectic range of materials, as can be found in the Morley Library, is a unique opportunity, with the ability to facilitate a more well-rounded perspective of 17th century society. My own participation has included looking through the catalogues to establish some of the library’s most unusual works. This work has even been relatable to some of my own interests in medieval hospitals, treatment, and medicine, which has in turn enriched my knowledge of the later medieval/post-medieval period! Hopefully, the work that we are doing now will be able to contribute to further research of the library materials and maybe even aid in future projects and exhibitions exploring its resources.”

The work carried out as part of the micro-internship will help to pinpoint other areas of interest about the Morley Library, which will then be researched by a wider group of Oxford scholars to contribute to future discoveries and findings.