July 22, 2015, by Emma Lowry

University archives: anniversaries and immortality

Anniversaries, such as the foundation of the Malaysia Campus, remind us how crucial it is to collect photographs, letters, reports and interviews that document milestones in the life of the University.

Here, Sarah Colborne, from Manuscripts and Special Collections, reveals how record keeping at Nottingham has evolved over the decades and the implications for collecting material for the archives in the digital age.

The University of Nottingham’s Department of Manuscripts was established in 1958, but the first College Librarian, G. Ellis Flack (1893-1978), had been diligently collecting records – created by the institution and manuscripts relating to the local area – many years before. It is thanks to the foresight of Flack and his successors that we have such rich holdings today.

IMG_9437 Senate Minute Books

Caption: Senate Minutes of 1957-8 describe the functions and responsibilities of the new Department of Manuscripts and its staff.

These include the papers of the Willoughby family of Wollaton Hall, and the papers of the Dukes of Newcastle who owned Nottingham Castle and the Park Estate; both are collections which have been designated as being of outstanding national and international importance.

Report of the proceedings against the parties charged with burning Nottingham Castle ... tried at the Special Assize holden at Nottingham, 4-14 January 1832'

Caption: Illustration from the report of the proceedings against the parties charged with burning Nottingham Castle, 1832 (EMSC Pamphlet Not 1.H64 REP)

Our records relating to the early days of the University show how one of our most famous alumni, David Herbert Lawrence, performed as a trainee teacher (finishing in 1908 with the best marks of any of the men in his final year).

DH Lawrence

Caption: D.H. Lawrence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1922 (La Wb 1/2)

However, D.H. Lawrence has not always been popular with the University (perhaps something to do with him eloping with the wife of the Professor of Modern Languages). Luckily the University archivists took the long view (it’s what we’re trained to do), and continued to develop the Lawrence collections (of first editions, annotated manuscripts, letters) which now attract scholars from all around the globe.

The University records (minute books, letters, reports and publications) tell the story of the early beginnings of University College Nottingham, in 1877 (which from 1881 was based at Shakespeare Street in town), and the early development of University Park from 1920 onwards.


Caption: Laying the Foundation Stone of University College Nottingham buildings at Highfields Park (University Park Campus) 1922 (UMP/2/1/2)

Unfortunately, coverage of the more recent development of the University is not nearly as comprehensive. Partly this has been because  the use of personal computers has meant that clerks are no longer employed to organise the records created by a particular office.

Although the University now employs a records manager to help staff identify the official records that should be transferred to the archives for permanent retention, there is no central management system to organise the creation of new documents. This means that every department and campus tends to store its own records, so it very hard to find out what records exist.

As a result we have very little material in the University archives which tracks the foundation and development of the China and Malaysia campuses, or even Jubilee and King’s Meadow, making it difficult to tell the story of the University’s growth into a truly international institution.

Where gaps in the official records exist, archivists can turn to the papers of alumni and former employees. These allow a more nuanced story to be told about what it was really like to work and study here, for example:

Photograph of Bob Oldroyd, Khan and Lynne Tucker standing on the site of the future Malaysia campus of the University of Nottingham

Caption: Former librarian Robert Oldroyd and  colleagues visit the site of the Malaysia campus before construction work started (From ACC 2170)

The University of Nottingham is now celebrating its 15th anniversary in Malaysia, so if you were involved in the early days of teaching, studying and research out there, we would love to collect the materials (photographs, emails, letters, reports, etc.).

Not only will they offer new, personal reflections on those times, they will also help secure this chapter in the story of Nottingham’s heritage for centuries to come.

Your documents will join the early records of our institution, to be used and enjoyed, not just for this anniversary campaign, but by the researchers of the future. Surely a better way of guaranteeing your immortality than some expensive anti-wrinkle cream…?!

Please email Manuscripts and Special Collections with details of the items you would like to add to the collections at mss-library@nottingham.ac.uk or call us on 0115 9514565. Find out more about our holdings at www.nottingham.ac.uk/mss. You can find a selection of photographs from the University-related collections in our Historic Collections Online image database.

Sarah Colborne is Archivist (Collections) with Manuscripts and Special Collections, which is part of Libraries, Research and Learning Resources.

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