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Papers of Neil R. Ker, Reader in Palaeography, Oxford University

 Collection

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The papers include correspondence with owners and custodians of manuscripts, Ker's notes on manuscripts and other materials compiled in preparation for publication, photographs and photocopies of manuscripts, and personal papers.

Dates

  • 1921-2011

Extent

13.0 linear metres (78 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Material of a sensitive personal nature is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. 21050/1].
Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 21050/1-78

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 21050

Abstract

Papers of Neil R. Ker, Reader in Palaeography, Oxford University

Biographical / Historical

Neil Ripley Ker was born in London in 1908 and educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford, obtaining an honours degree in English language and literature in 1931. He completed his B.Litt. thesis on the manuscripts and palaeographical aspects of Ælfric's Homilies in 1933 and stayed in Oxford, beginning to give courses in palaeography in 1936.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Ker, as a conscientious objector, was assigned to work as a porter at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary. From 1937, he had worked with Christopher Cheney, Richard Hunt, R.A.B. Mynors, and J.R. Liddell on a project to catalogue all surviving books from medieval libraries in Britain. Publication of Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (London: Royal Historical Society, 1941) was followed by Ker's appointment as University Lecturer in Palaeography. In 1945 he was elected to a fellowship at Magdalen College, and in 1946 he was appointed Reader in Palaeography. From 1955 until his retirement in 1968 he was Librarian at Magdalen College.

Medieval Libraries of Great Britain was revised and augmented in 1964, and a further supplement to the second edition, containing Ker's work from 1964, edited by Prof. A.G. Watson, was published in 1987.

In the early 1950s, the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries asked Ker to describe medieval manuscripts in collections then uncatalogued. Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries appeared in 5 volumes. By the time of Ker's death in 1982, 2 volumes had been published (London, and Abbotsford-Keele). The third and fourth volumes (Lampeter-Oxford, and Paisley-York) were seen through the press by his literary executor, Prof. A.G. Watson in 1983 (Vol. 3), and Alan Piper in 1992 (Vol. 4). The final volume, of indexes and addenda, produced by Prof. Watson and I.C. Cunningham, was published in 2002.

Ker received honorary doctorates from the universities of Reading (1964), Leiden (1972), and Cambridge (1975), and fellowships of the British Academy (1958), the Medieval Academy of America (1971), and the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (1977). He was a gold medallist of the Bibliographical Society (1975). In 1979 he was appointed C.B.E.

Ker's publications include:
  1. Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (London: Royal Historical Society, 1941)
  2. Pastedowns in Oxford Bindings, with a Survey of Oxford Binding, c.1515-1620, Oxford Bibliographical Society Publications, Vol. V (Oxford: Broome, 1954)
  3. Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957)
  4. N.R. Ker, ed. The Parochial Libraries of the Church of England: Report of a Committee appointed by the Central Council for the Care of Churches to Investigate the Number and Condition of Parochial Libraries belonging to the Church of England (Faith Press, 1959)
  5. English Manuscripts in the Century After the Norman Conquest: The Lyell Lectures, 1952-53 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960)
  6. Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries (Oxford University Press, 1969-2002)

Arrangement

The papers were listed by Prof. A.G. Watson, Ker's literary executor, in a single sequence. They are arranged in this catalogue in five series - correspondence, papers relating to research and publications, papers relating to lectures and talks, reproductions of manuscripts, and personal papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the papers was donated to the Bodleian Library by Prof. A.G. Watson, Ker's literary executor, in 1982.

MS. 21050/78, Watson's correspondence concerning the dispersal of certain papers of Ker to institutions other than the Bodleian Library, 1982-2000, was donated by him in 2011.

MS. 21050/68, annotated typescript descriptions of manuscripts from the 'Latin' series in the John Rylands Library, Manchester University, and related correspondence 2009-2011 and n.d. [c.1960-1980], was donated by Prof. Richard Sharpe, literary executor to Ker in succession to Prof. A.G. Watson, in 2011.

Related Materials

Groups of Ker's papers were dispersed by his literary executor as follows:
  1. Magdalen College, Oxford: Ker's notes on Magdalen College manuscripts and early printed books and their bindings
  2. Merton College, Oxford: letters and other papers used by Ker for his memorial notice of Kenneth Sisam, published in Proceedings of the British Academy, 58, 1972 (1974)
  3. Exeter College, Oxford: letters and other papers used by Ker for his obituary for the philologist A.S. Napier, published in J.L. Rosier, ed. Philological Essays: Studies in Old and Middle English language and literature in honour of Herbert Dean Meritt (The Hague, 1970)
  4. Cambridge University Library: notes on and rubbings of Spierinck and Godfrey bindings in Cambridge libraries; notes on pastedowns in books bound in Cambridge; transcripts from Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.6.33, containing sermons by Parson Samuel Foster of Redgrave and Hinderclay (d.1680/81); notes on manuscripts in Cambridge libraries
  5. National Library of Scotland (at Ker's specific request): papers concerning the library of the Trotter family of Mortonhall near Edinburgh
  6. University of London Library: letters and papers concerning the publication of a 'lexique polyglotte' of palaeographical terms by the Comité international de paléographie latine in the 1970s, with comments by Ker, T.J. Brown, R.W. Hunt, E.G. Turner and others
  7. Lambeth Palace Library: notes on and rubbings of bindings on early printed books in the Library, c.1951, and papers concerning Ker's work as editor of The Parochial Libraries of the Church of England (Faith Press, 1959)
See also:
  1. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 2013, Typescript (carbon copy) of a lecture by Neil Ripley Ker on 'The Manuscripts of James P. R. Lyell', 1953
  2. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. misc. c. 360 and MS. Eng. misc. b. 192, Lists of books printed before 1800 in English parochial libraries, used by N.R. Ker in editing The Parochial Libraries of the Church of England (Faith Press, 1959)
  3. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 6579, fols. 93-95, Letters to Leighton Reynolds from Richard Hunt and Neil Ker, 1958-1964
  4. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 6579, fols. 96-98, Letters from Neil Ker to Roger Mynors, 1950-1972
Title
Catalogue of the papers of Neil R. Ker, Reader in Palaeography, Oxford University
Status
Published
Author
Finding aid prepared by Chrissie Webb
Date
2022
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Contact:
Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom