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Oxfam donates archive to the Bodleian Libraries

25 February 2013

Oxford-based international development charity Oxfam has announced it has donated the organisation’s archive, spanning the past 70 years, to the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. Now, with a substantial grant from the Wellcome Trust, a four-and-a-half-year project is underway at the Bodleian to catalogue Oxfam’s extensive records.

Oxfam is a global humanitarian, development and campaigning organisation working with others to overcome poverty and suffering in more than 90 countries around the world. Founded in Oxford in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, the group's first meeting was held in the Old Library of the University Church, St Mary-the-Virgin, close to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Oxfam's work has helped shape the profile of international aid in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Oxfam's enormous archive fills nearly 10 000 boxes of materials, covering all areas of the organisation's work across policy, practice and procedure. The archive primarily consists of paper-based records but also encompasses digital materials, film and video, audio recordings of reports from the field, and oral histories. It includes:

  • 34 000 'project files' documenting core activity between 1955 and 2005, giving insight into approaches taken and issues addressed, from agricultural development to water and sanitation provision and primary health care.
  • Documentation associated with projects, including Overseas/International Division Directorate correspondence, correspondence with international staff, country reports, and records of programme administration and operations.
  • Council and Executive minute books and documents tracing the organisation's early years, which reveal its rise, expansion and growing influence.
  • Oxfam's advertisements for campaigns and appeals.

Oxfam's archive provides a unique insight for historians and researchers into humanitarianism and international development work, showing how perspectives on this work have changed over the decades, including the shift in international development policies. It reveals the many local issues faced in regions where Oxfam led its initiatives and details the growth of the organisation and the inevitable challenges of leading humanitarian work in a changing political landscape.

The archive will also be of interest to those studying in the areas of organisational development, global medicine and public health, the medical humanities, philanthropy, advertising, and the voluntary sector.

Funding of more than £360 000 from a Wellcome Trust Research Resources grant will enable the cataloguing of the archive so that a full description of its contents can be made, creating a freely available online catalogue, accessible to all researchers.

Sarah Thomas, Bodley's Librarian, said: "We are delightedto be entrusted with the archive of such an important organisation and one so linked with Oxford. The archive will be an essential resource for a range of scholars, complementing our existing holdings in the areas of science, medicine, history and development."

Karen Brown, Chair of Oxfam, said: "The archive is a unique record, not just of the evolution of Oxfam but of the international aid movement and its role in society. It is wonderful that the Wellcome Trust funding has enabled us to work with the Bodleian to preserve material and make it available to the public. I hope it inspires future generations to continue striving to overcome poverty worldwide."

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, commented: "The Oxfam archive will offer a valuable resource to researchers studying a broad range of important issues, from the evolution of famine relief programmes to the role of health education in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The archive promises fascinating insights into an internationally renowned charity that has had a major impact on our world."

Image: Broad Street shop, mid-1960s. Credit: Oxfam.

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