‘A photograph album rather than a snapshot’: the CLS Wellcome project

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the UCL Institute of Education is home to the national birth cohort studies, three of the oldest, largest and most important longitudinal studies in the world. Beginning in 1958, the studies have followed some 53,000 individuals throughout their lives and collected data that shows how an individual’s health, wealth, family, parenting, education, employment and social attitudes are linked and how these aspects affect outcomes and achievements in later life. Findings from the studies have contributed to debates and enquiries in a number of policy areas over the last half-century including: education and equality of opportunity; poverty and social exclusion; gender differences in pay and employment; social class differences in health; changing family structures; and anti-social behaviour. Their work has been described as ‘a photograph album rather than a snapshot’ and is fundamental to social science and policy research.

While the research data collected by these three studies has been preserved, digitised and reused by thousands of researchers, there has been little focus on how the datasets were created, managed and developed. The administrative archive of the three studies, which began in the 1950s, contains fascinating and important records that show how the studies were planned, the decisions made by the teams involved and how they grew and developed over time.

In January 2015, the IOE Archive began a Wellcome-funded project to sort, catalogue and preserve those rich administrative records and provide a fuller historical analysis of the studies for researchers in medical and social science. Over the next 18 months, the 2 archivsts working on the project, Kathryn Hannan and Kathryn Meldrum, will be working hard to repackage and preserve over 75 metres of material and create an on-line catalogue of the CLS archive. The project will also include outreach activities such as seminars, exhibitions and articles.

We will be keeping you up-to-date with progress over the next year and showing you some of the fascinating items to be found in this archive collecion.

The cohort studies and their outputs are described on the CLS webpage.

The project has been funded by the Wellcome Trust.




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