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Enhancing our Special Collections: Brittain & Mill

A project by: Somerville College


WE RAISED £17,085

from 46 donors

This project received pledges on Thu 27 Jun 2019
Help us purchase two items for our Library's Special Collections

Help Us Build up our Special Collections 

Somerville College is lucky enough to own a number of special collections of books and papers belonging to prominent individuals. Perhaps the two collections that we are best known for are the John Stuart Mill library and the Vera Brittain Collection. We would now like to purchase set of four unpublished letters for the Mill Library and a first edition of Brittain's poetry 'Verses of a VAD' from 1918 (her first publication) and six items of correspondence written in the 1960s concerning her talks for The Centurion’s Arms Club at St Martin-in-the-Fields. In all, we need to raise £15,000 to purchase both the Brittain and Mill items. 

the history of our collections and connections

John Stuart Mill Library  

 The John Stuart Mill Library (given to the College in 1905 by Mill’s stepdaughter’s niece) has been the subject of a major project over the last four years to preserve, promote and research the marginalia found in the collection. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have been able to repair more than 80 volumes in the collection, catalogue the marginalia and spread the word about the collection through a series of seminars and lectures. In 2018 for the first time, we were able to locate and purchase two books that had belonged to Mill in France and two letters written by him, hitherto unknown. These items have generated further interest from researchers and we are now being offered the chance to acquire a set of four unpublished letters written by Mill (1836-1838) concerning articles in the London and Westminster Review , a periodical he was instrumental in editing. They are important as they cast light on Mill’s philosophy for the journal and his relationship with fellow radical journalist Albany Fonblanque. They are not included in Mill’s published works and are therefore of significance to Mill researchers.

The Vera Brittain Collection

After McMaster University, Somerville is home to the largest collection of original Brittain material in public hands. The Vera Brittain collection was given to the college in 1999 following the death of Brittain’s friend and biographer, Paul Berry. It comprises his correspondence with her, many photographs and a large amount of material (original and copies) gathered by Berry and Mark Bodtridge in the preparation of her official biography Vera Brittain: A Life (1995 Chatto and Windus). In recent years additions have been made to the collection through the generous gifts of Baroness Williams of Crosby, Vera Brittain’s daughter. Now the College has the opportunity to make further additions with this first edition of her poetry Verses of a VAD from 1918 (her first publication) and six items of correspondence written in the 1960s concerning her talks for The Centurion’s Arms Club at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The college is committed to increasing the depth and breadth of our Special Collections, as it works towards enhancing its reputation as a centre of excellence for scholarly researchers and receiving increasing numbers of visits and enquiries from around the world. Acquiring these items will only encourage more researchers to use the facilities of the library and archives and allow these unique items to be appreciated and studied by a wider audience. 

A couple of our current students remark on what the collections mean to them:

Vera Brittain and Somerville -Pak Hei Hao (History, 2016)

The opportunity to work with original material in college such as the Vera Brittain collection has been one of the most fascinating and intellectually unique opportunities that I have experienced as an undergraduate historian here at Somerville. This summer, I will be fortunate enough to be working with the College Archivist under the auspices of the Vera Brittain collection on material recently made available to the college by the generosity of Baroness (Shirley) Williams of Crosby. This opportunity is something that would be impossible without the wealth of original material held by the college. Speaking both as a proud Somervillian and a student of modern history, I believe that Somervillians past and present, the College, and the university as a whole would greatly benefit from growing the Vera Brittain collection providing a proper reflection of the life and work of one of Somerville’s most distinguished alumna.

The John Stuart Mill Collection at Somerville -  Joanna Raisbeck (DPhil Medieval and Modern Languages, 2014) 

Somerville College Library holds an unparalleled collection of books owned by the pre-eminent Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill, which once were part of his London Library.

The collection is not only significant to researchers interested in John Stuart Mill but is also important for the history of the college. The volumes from the collection – which increased the library’s capacity by one third – remained on open shelves for some sixty years and proved to be an invaluable study resource, since students at the college were initially unable to access the Bodleian and other libraries. Since its inception almost four years ago, the John Stuart Mill Project has aimed to conserve, preserve and promote the items in the collection, as well as supporting Professor Albert Pionke’s (University of Alabama) painstaking work on digitising the marginalia. There is still plenty to be discovered about John Stuart Mill – the marginalia project itself, along with work by the historian Frank Prochaska, has already revealed how scathing Mill could be about writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. And to this end, the Project also aims to expand the collection. Since spring 2018, a series of acquisitions have been made to purchase books that belonged to and letters by John Stuart Mill. This series of acquisitions is an ongoing process. Help from crowdfunding would support the Project and is a fantastic way of strengthening this unique collection as an essential resource to furthering knowledge and research on Mill.

help us succeed!

To kick-start this hugely important project, we have kindly received a matching fund donation of £5,000 from an generous friend of the John Stuart Mill Library. This gift will match pound for pound up to that amount, making your gift go even further!

We hope you will support us with a gift, but you can also support us by spreading the word and sharing this project with anyone who will think it's a great idea.   Please donate by clicking the ‘donate’ button, where you can make a gift by credit/debit card. Please contact the Development Office at development.office@some.ox.ac.uk if you want to make a gift from abroad, or if you have any questions.

Find us here

To read more about the College's Special Collections, visit us on our website. We also have a JSM facebook page, which contains regular updates. To learn more about Vera Brittain and Somerville, please visit 'Somerville Stories'.