IN THE Old Library of Oxford’s University Church, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief met for the first time on October 5, 1942.

Now, after seven decades, Oxfam tackles suffering in more than 90 countries, and its entire archive has been donated – in nearly 10,000 boxes – to the Bodleian Library.

Following a £360,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust, a four-year project is under way at the Bodleian to catalogue the extensive records collection and make it freely available online.

The archive covers all areas of the Cowley-based charity’s work.

A few boxes are being worked on at the Bodleian’s office on the Osney Mead industrial estate in West Oxford, while the majority are stored at the library’s book depot outside Swindon.

The grant will fund a complete online catalogue of the archive contents.

As well as paper records, the archive includes film, video and audio recordings of reports from locations around the globe.

Bodleian project manager Susan Thomas said: “This is a priceless archive and lots of academics who want to use it have already contacted us.

“It’s probably the largest and most complete archive of any international development agency.

“This is on a scale we don’t normally deal with – the archive which comes closest in terms of size is the Conservative Party’s, which was donated in 1978 and consists of about 7,000 boxes.”

One of the archivists who will work on the project is Chrissie Webb, from Oxford. She is currently employed by the Bodleian on the Saving Oxford Medicine project, which aims to record key sources for the recent history of medicine in Oxford.

She was Oxfam’s first corporate archivist from 1994 to 2009, and will catalogue the collection with current Oxfam archivist Antonia Hassan.

Mrs Webb said: “From the early 1960s, the archive was stored at the Summertown offices and then it was transferred to the Bicester storage depot in the early 1990s.”

Oxfam human resources director Jane Cotton, who is responsible for the archive, said: “There is no point in this material being hidden away in Bicester where it is not accessible to anyone.

“Once it is online, the archive will be available to everyone, and that will help to get Oxfam’s message across.

“Ideas from the past can be used to help fundraise for the future – some of this year’s Christmas cards were vintage reprints from the 1960s.”

Clare Matterson, director of medical humanities and engagement at the Wellcome Trust, said: “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.”

Oxfam run a series of events throughout last year to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

More than 700,000 people have fled their homes as a result of the conflict in Syria, and Oxfam is appealing for help.

To make a donation to the charity visit


  • Among key documents are 34,000 project files, documenting the charity’s activities between 1955 and 2005.
  • The whole collection is currently stored in nearly 10,000 boxes.
  • Memorabilia includes Oxfam advertisements and collection boxes.
  • Books and documents trace the charity’s early years, revealing its rise, expansion and influence.