Conference Summary

Religious Archives Group Conference 2014

Religious Archives and Universities

The theme for 2014 RAG Conference was ‘archives and universities,’ and it explored various aspects of the relationship of the two – from using archives to research the history of academic study, to teaching students the benefits of using archives in academic research, to the keeping of archives in universities.

The conference was held in Pusey House, Oxford, and began with a short introduction to the library and archives of Pusey House by the principal, Rev George Westhaver. George spoke in particular of the current archive improvement projects.

Next to speak was Emma Walsh of Regent’s Park College. Emma chose the title, ‘The art of juggling whilst wearing many hats,’ to reflect the wide variety of tasks in her role as College Librarian. There are 3 libraries and archives in the College each with its own particular focus. Emma chose to concentrate on the Angus Library and Archive which holds one of largest collections of original Baptist documents in the world. Emma spoke of their successful funding bids including a three year Heritage Lottery Fund project to improve access and outreach which they are mid-way through. This funding is being used to fully catalogue the archive, to create teaching resources for schools, for exhibitions and talks, for digitisation and for training local churches in caring for their records. Emma then spoke of the many ‘hats’ that she wears in her role – caring for collections, managing staff, sitting on various committees, development projects etc – and the tensions that come with this.

Following this, Philip Thornborow, Liaison Officer for Methodist Archives, spoke of the reasons for, and benefits and tensions involved in, having the Methodist archives outsourced and the current review of their archive policy. The Church’s archive is on indefinite loan to the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester while the records of the Methodist Missionary Society are held in SOAS. The Church recently established ‘Methodist Heritage’ which works to preserve Methodist heritage and to use it for contemporary mission. Methodist Heritage oversees the relationship with the universities and its website acts as a portal for all Methodist heritage including archives. Recently, the Church began a review of how it cares for its records taking into account changes that have taken place in the last 30 years e.g. in communications, funding, audience etc. They are currently renegotiating the original deposit agreements to future-proof and harmonise them. They have identified several key aims that they want for their archive in the 21st century: (i) accessibility (ii) digitisation (iii) continued professional care (iv) to continue to keep their collections with other complimentary collections.

Following this, we heard from Mark Burden, David Wykes and Isabel Rivers of the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies about the Dissenting Academies Project. The dissenting academies developed after the 1662 Act of Uniformity to provide dissenting students with a higher education. This Project was established in 2006 to provide a comprehensive, archive-based history of the dissenting academies from 1660 -1860. It has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Council and has resulted in (i) Dissenting Academies Online and (ii) A History of the Dissenting Academies in the British Isles, 1660-1860. Mark spoke first of his research for A Biographical Dictionary of Tutors at the Dissenters’ Private Academies, 1660-1729 and in particular about finding documentary sources which would give a picture of how the tutors taught. David then discussed his research on the various transformations of Manchester College from 1786 to the 1850s and Isabel finished by describing her research on the Wesleyan Theological Institution, Southern Branch, Richmond.

Following lunch and the RAG AGM, Clare Brown from the Lambeth Palace Library spoke about the Greek Manuscript Cataloguing Project, a partnership between the Library and the Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway to produce a detailed analytical catalogue of the Library’s Greek manuscripts. From 2003, students from the Hellenic Institute have been visiting Lambeth to study these manuscripts resulting in the first complete inventory of the collection. In 2012, with funding from the A.G. Leventis Foundation, they began the cataloguing project. Clare spoke of the technical challenges and processes involved in cataloguing the manuscripts. For example, at the time of the bid, the Library’s CALM software could not have displayed the Greek unicode. With good IT knowledge on the project team, they were able to find a suitable solution. The information is now captured on Excel spreadsheets and stored as XML. It will be published online as a downloadable PDF in August. This catalogue will shed new light on these manuscripts andenhance their accessibility.

Next, Ellie Prigeon, a qualified archivist and a part-time lecturer at the University of Leicester, described how her collaboration with the Oxfordshire History Centre gives her students an introduction to archives and works to break down any intimidations that they might have at using archive services. Each year Ellie sets an assignment which requires the use of original sources. The students are taken to the Oxford History Centre where they are shown how to identify relevant items on the catalogue, call up items and to see what type of material the archive holds that might be use to their studies. Ellie has found this to be a valuable exercise in helping her students to see the value of archives and giving them the confidence to use them.

Through an interesting range of presentations, the 2014 conference explored the long and varied relationship between archives and universities. The conference was both enjoyable and interesting and a great opportunity to meet with others working in similar repositories and to learn from the challenges and successes of the projects presented.

Jenny Delves, Archdiocese of Southwark

A summary of the final paper is available as part of the conference Wrap Up

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