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Percy Manning Workshop

6 November 14 -- jsuess
Mike Heaney talking on Manning's life - picture by Alison Petch

Percy Manning Workshop, 3 October 2014, Pitt Rivers Museum

Contributed by Mike Heaney

The purpose of the day, funded by ASPIRE, was to help shape what we might do in 2017 to celebrate the life and work of Percy Manning (1870-1917). His extensive legacy is scattered across three different institutions in Oxford, and his interests were so extraordinarily wide-ranging that it can be difficult to see and appreciate the man as a whole.

His centenary represents a tremendous opportunity to bring together libraries and museums in the University, and to reach beyond the University to the City and the County; every community in Oxfordshire is represented somewhere in the collections. They cover archaeology, history, the built environment, material culture and the customs, beliefs and way of life of Oxfordshire people.

The invited attenders were a mix of those who have worked with the Manning collections and other interested parties such as Oxford University Department of Continuing Education (OUDCE), the Oxfordshire Buildings Record, the Oxfordshire Local History Organisation and the Museum of Oxford.

The morning opened with a review of Manning’s life as a man of independent means in Oxford, and his wide network of contacts both as a prominent member of several societies and more widely. We looked at the scope of his collections in each of the three holding institutions and his use of intermediaries to collect on his behalf.

The afternoon was devoted to themes running through Manning’s collections, starting with the topographical and his pioneering archaeological survey of Oxfordshire, including his annotated large-scale maps of the county. The archaeological archive is kept by the Ashmoleanand has benefited from Lottery funding in the Preserving and Enhancing access to Historic Oxfordshire project and is now being upgraded as part of the Archaeology of East Oxford project (Archeox) with OUDCE. Collaborative community research and online transcription. The division of material between Ashmolean and Bodleian is sometimes idiosyncratic, but the Bodleian collections are much less accessible, as users have to rely on a summary printed catalogue and an online description merely at the collection level. There is much material of village life and seasonal feasts, as well as more traditional antiquarian interests such as church monuments. Parts are arranged topographically, other parts thematically.

Further presentations focused on specific elements: the truncheons and pottery in the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers, the brass rubbings in the Ashmolean and their associated documentation in the Bodleian (Manning’s notes cover every brass in the county); seasonal activities such as morris dancing (in whose revival Manning was a significant figure) and mumming, and sports and pastimes.

The day highlighted the relative invisibility of the collections and the need to link the institutions – e.g. there are clear links between the archaeology and folklore of sites. The Bodleian needs most work in both respects. Manning’s era was a key time in the development of the disciplines, this would merit further research - what was Manning’s influence on others? The wide range of his interests means that even those who have used the collections often do not appreciate the breadth of material available. There is great scope for community involvement in enhancing our access to the collections. Manning’s annotated maps remain essential sources often enabling us to piece together scattered evidence.

Feedback from the event has been enormously positive and opens up further possibilities for action. In addition to the museum and library displays already planned, there are suggestions for an OUDCE seminar in 2017, another, more research-oriented, workshop/conference, and publicity material to promote the collections, the displays and the locations in the city and county relevant to Manning. 

ASPIRE’s funding of the event has been enormously helpful in stimulating interest in Manning and opening avenues to improve access and engage the public.

“I really enjoyed the event on Friday”

“Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in the Manning Workshop, which I found very interesting, and indeed entertaining”

“Thank you for organising such a fascinating day on the very industrious Percy Manning.”

“Thank you for a most interesting day yesterday - I learned a lot!”

“I found the day very enjoyable and enlightening. I strongly endorse the idea of an exhibition and other celebrations in 2017, and also of further work to develop knowledge and use of the Manning collections.”

“Thanks for a very interesting day. If a volunteer to do some interim listing on the Bodleian material sounds like a good idea, I could put out some feelers...”

Related Activity:

Watch Dr Alison Roberts, Curator, European and Early Prehistoric Collections, Ashmolean Museums, talk about the Percy Manning Archive crowdsourcing project at the Oxford Univeristy Museums Lightning Talks, September 2014

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