The John Johnson collection: An archive of printed ephemera
See the John Johnson Collection: An Archive of Printed Ephemera
The John Johnson collection is widely recognised as one of the most important collections of printed ephemera in the world and generally regarded as the most significant single collection of ephemera in the UK. Containing 1.5 million items ranging in date from 1508 to 1939, it spans the entire range of printing and social history. It contains a high proportion of unique material which has remained hidden to researchers up until now and which will surface through this innovative digitisation project.
By their very nature, many of the items contained in the John Johnson collection were intended to be short-lived and disposable, and it was only because of the vision and dedication of John de Monins Johnson and his supporters that so many have been preserved to provide the unique record that survives today. This innovative joint enterprise between the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford and ProQuest Information and Learning will result in the digitisation of more than 65,000 complete items (well in excess of 150,000 images) from the John Johnson Collection and so provide a unique insight into our nation’s past. The collection offers direct access to rare primary source materials and evidence of our cultural, social, industrial, and technological histories. It is particularly valuable to anyone interested in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.
These lost treasures of everyday life will be digitised to the highest standards and made freely available to all teachers and researchers working in the UK’s HE and FE sectors, and to the general population via the 32,000 supported terminals in the UK’s 4,200 public libraries. Moreover, the rigorous and extensive metadata that will be specially created to accompany these digital objects will be searchable by anyone with access to the Internet. Until now, it has only been possible to make these materials available to a relatively small number of scholars owing to both geographical and physical constraints, and the fragility of many of the materials themselves which makes browsing the material a slow and often unwieldy process. The creation of expertly described, high-quality digital surrogates will expose these hidden resources to a far wider audience than could ever be achieved via any other means, and enable readers to find what they are looking for much more quickly and to work simultaneously on the same items.
In excess of 65,000 items will be expertly digitised in their entirety as a result of this project, which will result in more than 150,000 images and associated OCR data. Five major areas of the collection will become freely available to the UK HE and FE sectors, namely:
19th century entertainment material: falls into two distinct groups: theatre material and non-theatrical entertainment material. Both categories of material provide a wealth of insights into 19th century leisure activities, popular and high culture (especially the performing arts) and the development of different types of entertainment.
Booktrade material: examples include publishing material (eg prospectuses of books and journals) and bookplates. The former items will be of interest to anyone studying the history of the publishing industry; the latter will prove invaluable to those interested in the provenance of books, or in design history.
Noteheadings and Popular prints: these items provide a record of locations and landscapes, architecture, and popular tastes for artistic works and humour.
Crime, Murders, and Executions: these resources give insights into the judicial system and its punishments, notably the the application of the death penalty and of transportation. The Murders and Executions broadsides are currently much used for a variety of research.
Advertising: social and economic historians, historians of popular culture, trades and industries, students of typographic design and many others will find that these items provide an invaluable insight into the past.
Digitisation will be carried out by a dedicated production company, Capita Micromedia Solutions, in collaboration with ProQuest Informationand Learning, who have extensive experience of delivering scholarly historical resources over the web. Cataloguing of the digital surrogates will be undertaken by the specialist staff based at the Bodleian Library. They can draw on the extensive network of expertise, training, and systems support that forms a fundamental component of the library’s role as both a Library of Legal Deposit, and the UK HE sector’s largest and most sophisticated library service. Metadata will initially be captured in a dedicated bibliographic database that has been specifically configured to support the complex requirements of the John Johnson Collection, while offering full support for the extensive and detailed description of digital objects. The web-based application that will allow users full access to the metadata and enable the display and download of the images will be developed and hosted by ProQuest Information and Learning.
Any user, anywhere, will have unimpeded access to the high-quality cataloguing information and descriptive metadata that will be created during the course of this project. Members of UK HE and FE institutions, and anyone with access to a public library, will also be given full no-cost access to the entirety of the digital collection.
Oxford has already made a commitment to ensuring that any digital collections resulting from the institution’s own collections must remain viable and accessible in perpetuity – and we view this commitment as being on a par with our responsibility for preserving the wealth of print publications that we are fortunate enough to have acquired, and to continue to acquire, over a period of more than four centuries.
Download the project planDownload the final report