I have just come back from a week at Kew where I have immersed myself in the historical collections at The National Archives (TNA). I was one of fifteen (MA and PhD students) fortunate enough to be accepted on the fully-funded AHRC ‘Archival Research Skills for Historians: Modern British Programme’ which the Institute of Historical Research advertised. And what an eye-opener it was! We had lectures and some very challenging group exercises which culminated in a group presentation on the last day. The warm up ‘speed dating documents’ game we did on our first morning provided a quick overview of the different types of documents at TNA. I found many collections are relevant not just to the history of education, but also to the sociology, politics and philosophy of education as they undoubtedly extend our understanding of the period of study.
During the course of the week I also found out about the best ways to search the various series/collections using ‘Discovery’, the TNA’s cataloguing system. This is a crucial requirement to make the most of TNA as not all the materials are catalogued to item level (a box may be listed but not the contents, for instance) and the detail of the catalogue records vary – some are incredibly detailed whilst others will have very short entries. Further, since less than 5% of the collection is digitised, you do need to have this know how to unearth the treasures in this unique national resource. The ‘Research Guides’ are essential and provide a good starting point as they refer users to ‘Registers’ (subject and numerical indexes) compiled by clerks working in the various government departments. I hope the information below will highlight the key collections for educationalists.
The new Open Government Licence makes it easier to reuse public sector information. In terms of the archives, it will simplify the process we go through in order to make research copies of items that come under Crown Copyright, of which we hold a lot. I’m sure it will also be relevant to resources in the Official Publications collection. To explain how it works The National Archives have produced a UK Government Licensing Framework for public sector information .