18 november 2009

Queen’s Anniversary Prize for museums, libraries and archives

University | Arts

Queen's Anniversary Prize logo

Oxford University’s museums, libraries and archives have been awarded the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize in recognition of their outstanding quality and their high public benefit.

It is the seventh time in just eight awarding rounds that Oxford has been successful, and means that the University has been awarded more Queen's Anniversary Prizes than any other institution.

The Prize, announced on the evening of 18 November at St James's Palace, London, is given in acknowledgement that Oxford’s collections are an asset for the University, the community and the nation, and represent and safeguard areas of international heritage which are of pre-eminent quality and status.

The tens of millions of objects in Oxford University’s collections form one of the largest and most important repositories in the world. The award is for seven University collections: the Ashmolean Museum, the Beazley Archive, the Bodleian Library and University Library Services, the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, the Museum of the History of Science, the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the University Museum of Natural History.

The seven collections not only support world-class teaching and research, but are free and accessible resources for the general public, welcoming over two million visitors annually.

They also reach out through a series of award-winning education programmes, as well as sending their works of art, books, specimens and staff to schools, shopping malls and more traditional venues such as exhibition galleries. In the digital age, they are broadening their global impact to every continent.

We are delighted with this national recognition of the value and quality of our collections.

Professor Andrew Hamilton

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: 'We are delighted with this national recognition of the value and quality of our collections. They are at the heart of Oxford’s research and teaching, but they are also a national and international resource for everybody, preserving this and other countries’ heritage. Through visits, the web, and extensive education and outreach programmes, the public shares fully in these collections and benefits from centuries of investment by the University and its generous benefactors.

'While we celebrate this well-deserved success, we are also aware of worrying storm clouds on the horizon, concerning government funding for university museums and collections. Overall ten million pounds of public money is at stake. We hope very much that the review currently taking place of university museum funding will come to the right conclusion – that this is a thoroughly good and beneficial investment and that cutting it would be entirely short-sighted and counter-productive.'

As well as providing public access, the collections support the teaching and research work of the University. Their 1,000 staff members undertake research, publishing hundreds of scholarly papers, and serve as professors and lecturers, as well as supporting research within the University’s departments and institutes. The staff are also engaged in teaching, giving hundreds of lectures and thousands of hours of tutorials.

The seven collections are:

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy, a public institution since 1683 and the world’s first university museum, has collections spanning the civilisations of east and west, charting the aspirations of mankind from the Neolithic era to the present day. Its purpose is to serve as a resource for scholars and to awaken a lively interest in material culture from across the globe in visitors of all backgrounds and ages. A new £61m redevelopment has recently been unveiled to universal acclaim.

The Beazley Archive, Classical Art Research Centre, curates valuable paper and electronic resources relating to the art of ancient Greece and Rome and its collection and reception since antiquity. It provides teaching resources for University undergraduates, and research materials supporting graduate research students and scholars. Its digital presence is designed to serve a world-wide range of users, from the general public to those in education and research.

The Bodleian Library and University Library Services have been in existence since 1602. They meet the information needs of students, scholars, and researchers and maintain and develop access to their collections as a national and international resource. The collections span more than a millennium of the human written record, including monuments of history such as four engrossments of Magna Carta, 10,000 medieval manuscripts, a Gutenberg Bible, Handel’s conducting score of the Messiah, Islamic scientific texts, and Mary Shelley’s own manuscript notebook of Frankenstein, with proposed amendments from Percy Bysshe Shelley. Twentieth-century acquisitions include the papers of five Prime Ministers and Franz Kafka’s literary manuscripts, while 2008 saw the donation of Alan Bennett’s diaries and creative writing. A £75m renovation of the New Bodleian Library, planned for 2010–2013, will transform it from a forbidding book fortress to a modern special collections library with exhibitions galleries, a café and an auditorium.

The Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, whose mission is to promote learning and glorify nature, is the oldest botanic garden (1621) in Britain and Ireland. Harcourt Arboretum’s original plantings date from 1835 and the Botanic Garden took over management of the collection in 1963. The oldest tree in the Botanic Garden is a yew, planted in 1645. The tree is important today as a source of the drug Taxotere™ that is used in the treatment of breast, cervical and ovarian cancer. Cuttings from the Garden’s yews are used for this purpose.

The Museum of the History of Science has the world’s finest collection of early scientific instruments up to about 1700 and is also strong in later periods. Its early strengths – there are some 160 astrolabes – mean that it has a broad cultural range, including one of the world’s great collections of Islamic scientific instruments.

The University Museum of Natural History houses the University’s scientific collections of entomological, geological, mineralogical and zoological specimens, in all over 5.78 million specimens. They include the earliest surviving British natural history specimens, insects and other animals collected by Charles Darwin, the only surviving Dodo soft tissues, the Tsetse Fly collected by David Livingstone, and the first scientifically described remains of dinosaurs. Its mission is to assemble, preserve and exhibit the University’s natural history collections and to promote research, teaching and public education in the natural sciences based on them.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the world’s half dozen greatest collections of ethnography and world archaeology. It is celebrated for its period atmosphere and for the unusual organisation of its displays, in which artefacts are arranged by type and purpose rather than by cultural origin. In 2007 a major new extension was opened, providing research space for scholars from around the world, while the Museum’s entrance redevelopment, completed earlier this year, has helped double the number of visitors the Museum receives.