Information Studies


Gatekeepers to the Profession: archival education at UCL

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Predecessor initiatives in London University

The teaching of palaeography in the University of London, as an adjunct to historical research, began in 1896, when Dr Hubert Hall of the Public Record Office (PRO) held classes at the School of Economics. In 1908 he was appointed Reader in Palaeography and Economic History. University College (UCL) also considered establishing a lectureship in palaeography, but instead in 1919 the colleges agreed to transfer palaeography to King’s College, London, where the University Chair in Palaeography remained. In the 1920s Hilary Jenkinson of the PRO lectured in sources of English history at King’s and became Reader in Diplomatic and English Archives in the 1930s. Specialist aspects of palaeography developed within the University to support disciplines such as English, French, Oriental languages, archaeology and egyptology as well as history, librarianship and archives.

In 1919, an initiative by the Library Association (LA) and UCL, supported by the Carnegie Trust, led to the establishment of the first British School of Librarianship. Jenkinson taught palaeography and the study of archives to library students. He also taught palaeography at Aberystwyth library school and palaeography and archive administration at the LA summer schools, in conjunction with David Evans. A succession of distinguished scholars taught palaeography to librarians at UCL including V H Galbraith (1926-1937), Charles Johnson (1933/1934), S C Ratcliff (1937-1947), L C Hector (1947-1960), J E Fagg (1954-1957) and E W Denham (1957-1973). Palaeography and Latin finally ceased to be a compulsory part of syllabus for Librarianship in 1959, although palaeography continued to be offered as an optional subject.

In the rebuilding after the second world war, education and social policy had a high priority. Although economic conditions were difficult, universities expanded and many offered scientific training for historians. Gradually a demand for qualified professional archivists was created in local record offices and business archives and the work of the professional organisations and government bodies (especially the National Register of Archives) encouraged county councils to establish record offices and to recruit archivists. The International Council on Archives (founded 1948) and its predecessor bodies increased awareness of the profession in Europe. The British Records Association (BRA) and the Master of the Rolls Archives Committee both recommended the establishment of archival training.

British Records Association’s scheme

The BRA discussed professional education and the need to ‘organize Archive work as a profession’ in the 1930s. A summer school in palaeography and archive administration was proposed and H M Cashmore, chairman of the LA summer school in Birmingham, was asked to include palaeography and archives in 1937: Jenkinson and David Evans gave classes. The School of Librarianship at UCL also suggested ‘a short School’ in local archive work in 1937, which was turned down by the BRA because it thought few students would attend a ‘special course involving several days stay in London and a fairly elaborate programme’.

The BRA also considered offering a ‘Diploma for Archivists’ but concluded that any qualification would need to ‘be generally accepted as conferring real distinction on the holder’. The BRA might award a diploma to candidates taking examinations at a university, as the LA diploma was offered to candidates at UCL. However, Miss Joan Wake (Northamptonshire’s archivist and on BRA Council) ‘thought that it would be better to wait till the Association itself was in a position to grant such a Diploma’ and Council decided ‘that no further steps be taken’.

In 1941 the BRA appointed a committee ‘to investigate the possibility of developing and organising a Repair Service for English Archives’. It reported that repair training should be considered together with the training of archivists, so in 1944 Council agreed to approach the School of Librarianship at UCL about teaching archive science and the PRO about a scheme of ‘Learners’ on attachment to the Repair Department. Two schemes were drafted: one, by Douglas Cockerell, on a ‘Suggested centre for teaching the repair of archives’ and one, originally by Mrs E H Hunt in response to an approach by Bristol University, for training archivists.

The archive training school would provide expertise in ‘Archives and Collections and Documents’, research into technical issues, ‘summary instruction’ about archives for ‘the Clergy, Law Students, Clerks, Library and Museum Staffs etc.’, and a thorough education for archivists in ‘the principles of Archive Science ... the theory and practice of Archive work and with some actual experience of Archive Repositories and their administration’.

The proposed Diploma would take between one and two years for graduates or those ‘of graduate standing’. The syllabus comprised twelve areas: palaeography of English archives (medieval and post-medieval); languages (including medieval Latin, Anglo-Norman French); transcription and translation; diplomatic; English constitutional and administrative history; sorting, listing and indexing; research methods; publishing and reproduction of archives (including ‘microphotography’); organisation of an archive office; archival materials and storage; organisation of archives of other countries; and practical work in a repository (including repair and binding). It should be run in conjunction with the PRO and the BRA and ‘conform to their standard of requirements’, while being offered in a School ‘attached to and housed in a College or University’. Some considered that the Board of Education was not likely to support a university scheme. Others suggested that a Central School of Archives be set up under the PRO instead. However, Jenkinson believed that the scheme ‘must ultimately be associated with an academic body’, although the BRA insisted that the full-time lecturer ‘should also be a practical Archivist’, supplemented by academic staff, PRO and local archivists.

Further discussions within the BRA refined the schemes and made suggestions about the ideal location of the proposed School (including an Oxford college or the LSE). Additions to the syllabus were suggested: Welsh language, economic history, Anglo-Saxon. Although originally several university history departments were to be sent the scheme, in the event discussions were only opened with UCL.

University College, University of London

During the war many academic activities were severely curtailed. London University’s evacuation scheme dispersed UCL Faculties around Wales and to Oxford and Cambridge in 1939: the Faculty of Arts went to Aberystwyth. Some departments, including the School of Librarianship, were suspended. Attempts to restart the School in 1944 were halted on the resignation of the Director, J C Cowley, and his subsequent death in enemy action. A new Director, Raymond Irwin, was appointed to re-open the School in 1945. Nine new library schools also opened around the UK. Irwin reported that ‘the demand for places was stimulated by the flow of students from the Services and the provision of grants … many libraries have been replenishing or expanding their staffs, and successful students have found little difficulty in obtaining suitable posts after training’. The School provided a convenient home for the BRA’s proposed Diploma in Archive Administration.

Three separate initiatives in archival education occurred in 1947. At University College London, archive studies was initiated alongside library studies by Jenkinson and the BRA. At Liverpool University, the newly appointed Professor of medieval history, Geoffrey Barraclough, established a Diploma in the Study of Records and Administration of Archives. In Oxford, the Bodleian Library and the History Faculty introduced the Bodleian Library training scheme for archivists. Lord Greene, Master of the Rolls, considered that the educational developments ‘marked an epoch in archive work in this country, for it meant that a new profession had come into existence’.

London University Diploma in Archive Administration

Jenkinson, as BRA Secretary, wrote to the Provost of UCL, D R Pye, in August 1945, making two proposals for the revived School of Librarianship: one to establish ‘a School of and Diploma of Archive Science’ and a second ‘for an experimental Repairing Centre’. Jenkinson’s approach was well received. With limited resources and little accommodation UCL only seriously considered the archive diploma, not the repair workshop. Although Jenkinson’s reports to the BRA continued to refer to both schemes, it was clear early on that the repair shop would not be established. Archive conservation as a separate study was not subsequently reconsidered by UCL.

At UCL the School of Librarianship Committee discussed the schemes in 1946 and the Diploma in Archive Administration began its progress through College and University bureaucracy. A syllabus Committee including Irwin (Director of the School), Galbraith, Jenkinson, S C Ratcliff, and J Wilks (College Librarian and Assistant Director of the School) began work. College Committee approved the draft syllabus, which comprised six courses plus three weeks practical experience in an ‘approved repository’. The syllabus combined subjects proposed by the BRA with courses in librarianship (general bibliography, urban, county and school libraries and university and special library administration). The teaching lasted one year for graduates: part-time students might also be admitted. The syllabus had a close link with librarianship and was academic and scholarly.

The University of London Board of the Faculty of Arts considered the new Diploma in November 1946. It accepted that although librarianship students studied palaeography, the demand by county record offices for trained assistants required a new course in archive administration. However, archivists needed ‘some knowledge of general librarianship’. The Board proposed restricting entry to Arts graduates (as opposed to graduates in any field), an increase in Latin and French teaching and the addition of a modern European language. The University’s Academic Council approved the institution of the Diploma, to be examined for the first time in 1948, and the change of the School’s name to the School of Librarianship and Archives. The University Senate gave the final approval in June 1947. The University Diploma in Archive Administration was instituted and the first British School of Librarianship and Archives created. Jenkinson gave the inaugural lecture The English archivist: a new profession on 14 October 1947.

Initially, the Diploma took two years to complete, mirroring the Diploma in Librarianship. Part I was the taught course of one year but the Diploma was not awarded to the student until ‘he has been employed in full-time paid service in an approved repository for a period of not less that twelve months.’ The successful completion of the work experience year was outside the control of the University and by 1952-53, Part II of the Diploma was supplemented with a thesis, which was to be a ‘Descriptive List, or Index of, or other work upon, an original Document or class of Documents in a Local or other Archive Repository, Muniment Room or Library’ usually in the employing repository. By 1965-66 the thesis requirement was dropped, but students still required a year’s approved work experience until 1967-68. After an initial surge of interest (31 archive students graduated between 1947 and 1950), numbers settled at around 5-7 annually. About 100 archive students had graduated by 1960. In the 1960s numbers rose to about 10-12 annually.

In 1953 lectures on local record office work were added, although the main teaching of palaeography, diplomatic, administrative history and archive administration was still provided by PRO staff. A G Watson joined the School’s full time staff in 1954 as a lecturer in bibliography and began to teach archive students a course in printed materials and sources for the study of archives, as an alternative to studies in special librarianship. By 1965 Watson was also teaching palaeography and in 1969 he was appointed as the first tutor to archive students. He later became professor of manuscript studies and director of the School. Two long serving members of staff, Ia Thorold (later McIlwaine) and John McIlwaine, both of whom supported the overseas archives students in particular, joined in the 1960s. Although UCL offered a professional archive qualification, for over two decades it relied entirely on part-time lecturers from the PRO to provide archive expertise. Archive students did not have a dedicated tutor until 1969 and a full-time academic whose primary interest was archives (Professor Jane Sayers) was not appointed until 1977.


Based on E J Shepherd, (2004) PhD in Archive Studies, University of London Towards Professionalism? Archives and Archivists in England in the Twentieth Century, Chapter 7: Archival Education, 1880-1980. All references to sources are in that text. Published as Elizabeth Shepherd, Archives and Archivists in 20th Century England Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2009.