In 1749, the British antiquarian Robert Wood set out with James Dawkins, wealthy heir to Jamaican sugar plantations, and another prosperous young Oxford scholar named John Bouverie who would not survive the trip. They were joined, on the way, by the Italian draftsman Giovanni Battista Borra. The Hellenic and Roman Library holds what is known as “The Wood Collection”, part of which documents this trip. The collection includes diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks, and published works. The collection remained in the possession of Wood’s descendants until it was donated to the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies in 1926.

Wood’s records were part of the basis for his important 1753 publications of The Ruins of Palmyra which was the first major western publication on the site. In the Wood collection, there is a variety of material, but not all of Wood’s notebooks are known to have survived. The collection includes some original notebooks made during Wood’s travels (Wood collection nos. 10-12), but not those detailing his initial encounter of the site. These are preserved in a later text—the ‘Approach to Palmyra’—which can be found in the Wood collection, in notebooks written by Wood’s daughter, who copied or epitomized much of her father’s work, written in longhand in ink (Wood collection no. 18 and 18a, bound together). Small sketchbooks, mostly in pencil, of Borra’s drawings made during the voyage, including those of Tadmor-Palmyra, also survive in the archive (Wood collection no. 17).

The entirety of the Wood collection has been scanned is freely available for download from the collections of the Combined Classics library: The collection was scanned as part of a digitisition initiative, generously funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation. A catalogue of the collection is available.

Further engagement:

Baird, J.A., and Z. Kamash. 2019. “Remembering Roman Syria: Valuing Tadmor-Palmyra, from ‘Discovery’ to Destruction.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 62 (1):1–29. doi:10.1111/2041-5370.12090.

Butterworth, J.A. 1986. “Library Supplement: The Wood Collection.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 106:197–200. doi:10.2307/629660.

Wood and ceramic: introducing digital methods with the Classics Library special collections.

A SunoikisisDC session, with accompanying session page.

A Recogito document for annotation, created during a Digital Classicist session.