Silencing the Music

picture of a medeival music manuscript
MS 95 f.6v – a fragment of a 15th century antiphoner (a book of the responses sung at different parts of a Catholic church service. The manuscript was subsequently used to cover other manuscripts)

One of the most disappointing aspects of coronavirus restrictions for a small group of students and staff at the University of Lincoln has been the postponement of our participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Scheme (UROS). UROS has been running since 2016, and offers undergraduate students and members of staff a unique opportunity to collaborate on a summer research project. The application is written jointly by students and supervising members of staff, and successful applicants are given a grant to fund their research, which takes place over the summer.

Early in 2020, the Special Collections Librarian (Claire Arrand) and the Academic Subject Librarian for music (Hope Williard), collaborated with two undergraduate students, Megan Lomas and Valerie Arindra, to prepare the first ever UROS application put forward by the library. In her role of looking after the manuscripts of Lincoln Cathedral library, Claire had noticed the manuscript collections contained a significant amount of printed music and music manuscripts, which was incompletely catalogued and thus very difficult for performers, scholars, and students to access and use.

Together we made a plan to change this. Our project, ‘Distant Music: Uncovering the Music of Lincoln Cathedral Library’, involves investigation into Lincoln Cathedral’s incompletely catalogued manuscript and printed sacred music. Much is known about William Byrd, the outstanding English composer of his time and his surviving material held in the Wren Library but other Lincoln Cathedral composers have never been documented. Historic printed music is obviously valuable but the manuscript collection may reveal hidden treasures.  

Our aim is to describe what is in the collection and make it publicly available via the UK and Ireland database of music collections, Ceciliawhich is a catalogue of music collections found in libraries, museums, and archives, created by the International Association of Music Librarians in 1999. The Cathedral music collection ranges in date from the 1590s to the 1970s but the lists are not digitized. Uultimately, we hope that greater knowledge of the collection will make it more accessible and result in music being studied and played, which has not been heard for hundreds of years. 

Exchequer Gate home of part of Lincoln Cathedral Library

Coronavirus posed an unexpected challenge for the project. Megan and Valerie were due to prepare a collection-level description of the early music collections of Lincoln Cathedral Library, to potentially open-up the collection to other students and researchers but we ran into difficulties figuring how this could safely work. The music collections are housed in Exchequer Gate, a 14th century building. Exchequer Gate has small rooms, stone spiral staircases, no possibility of ventilation and no way of social distancing. Moving the collection is not feasible and the Cathedral Library is still closed to readers. While librarians and researchers have rightly celebrated the potential of research with digitised collections, research like ours has been unable to continue.

a music manuscript labelled organ book services
One of the many unexplored items in the collection.
a music manuscript
A manuscript from the collection










Needing to work with the collections directly, we had planned to have weekly project meetings in Exchequer Gate for the duration of the project. We had also hope to undertake research into the provenance and background of composers, pieces of music, and manuscripts at the University Library.

photograph of a young woman wearing glasses
photograph of a young woman with blue hair










Megan and Valerie are both classically trained musicians with 30 years of theoretical, and orchestral experience between them. This will no doubt prove valuable in this research, especially when cataloguing, and providing descriptions for each score in detail.

Although we are disappointed with the delay, we remain hopeful for the future. The music manuscripts and printed music will still be safe in situ, Cecilia ready to include the resulting information, the project is ready to start and two keen students are raring to go. Covid 19 is all that is preventing this happening and the hope is that the students can complete this project next summer, after their hard work on the successful application.

There has been a choir at Lincoln Cathedral for more than nine centuries and 2020 would have been an ideal time to explore and disseminate information on the music collection. Hopefully the silencing of ‘Distant Music’ will only be temporary. 

Uncatalogued music–we can’t wait to find out what this might be

Music images courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral. Post written by Claire Arrand and Hope Williard.

Online Resources for Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month and the library will be celebrating with a series of posts on resources for the study women’s history. We would love to hear your comments and questions about the posts: please tweet us @GCWLibrary, email us at, or tell us your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the post.

Why use online resources to study women’s history?

In my previous post, I introduced two of the library’s databases for studying women’s history. These databases are available by subscription–the University Library pays for them, and all staff and students at the university are able to access them. In this post, however, I will introduce some databases that are freely accessible to all. There is no one reason for using an online database as opposed to one built by subscription. Historians who study women’s lives have (and still do) push back against the stereotype that there’s no evidence for women of the past, which has led to a concern with gathering and sharing sources to enable research. Sometimes research touches on the concerns of past or contemporary communities and so researchers want it to be freely available to all who are interested, or sometimes research involves participants and investigators outside of the university and so for practical reasons an online resource is best. Online resources can be built with or by primary and secondary school students and teachers in mind. And sometimes an open access online database is simply the best resource available for a particular subject you are interested in!

Continue reading “Online Resources for Women’s History”

Black Musicians in the John Johnson Collection: the Bohee Brothers by Hope Williard (Part 2: How to Search the John Johnson Collection)

In using the John Johnson collection to put together this post, I found it fascinating to use the ‘Browse’ function.  Upon clicking that tab at the top of the page, you are taken to an expandable menu featuring the five main collections:

    1. Nineteenth century entertainment: This includes both theatrical and non-theatrical performance. It can be used to study both the history and development of different forms of entertainment, as well as high and popular culture
    2. The Booktrade: Bookplates and publishing materials, useful to those studying the publishing trade as well as trying to look at the dissemination of different kinds of information during these periods
    3. Popular prints: This includes landscapes, topography and artistic works.
    4. Crime, murder, and executions: This includes broadsheets and pamphlets. It is useful for historians who study crime and punishment and well as historians of certain kinds of printing (such as woodcuts)
    5. Advertising: This section of the collection contains a wide variety of advertisements and can be used to study economic and social history as well as consumerism.

Continue reading “Black Musicians in the John Johnson Collection: the Bohee Brothers by Hope Williard (Part 2: How to Search the John Johnson Collection)”

Black Musicians in the John Johnson Collection: the Bohee Brothers by Hope Williard (Part 1: What is the John Johnson Collection?)

This is the first in a series of four posts about using library collections for the study of black history, literature and culture, in Britain and abroad. We would love to hear your comments and questions about the posts: please tweet us at (main library twitter), email us at, or tell us your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the post.

James Douglass Bohee (1844-1897) and his brother George (1857-1930) were among the earliest black musicians to record their music. Even though these recordings are seemingly lost today, we can use the John Johnson Collection, a digitised archival collections to learn more about their performances and careers. Part 1 of this post explains what the John Johnson Collection is and part 2 explains how to use it. In part 3, I explore the evidence of the Bohee Brothers’ lives and careers found in the John Johnson Collection.

Continue reading “Black Musicians in the John Johnson Collection: the Bohee Brothers by Hope Williard (Part 1: What is the John Johnson Collection?)”