Thursday, 10 June 2010

International Archives Day

Wednesday 9th of June was International Archives Day.

The day celebrates the international role and importance of archives and it seemed appropriate to reflect on the collections held at Dundee University which have international significance. About 10 % of the material in the archives relates to the Indian subcontinent. Dundee was once a major centre of jute manufacture which resulted in the link between the city and West Bengal, where jute is grown. Dundee companies set up several jute mills in the Kolkata area and sent many Scots to the area to provide managerial and technical expertise. The records that have survived, and that are now in the University Archives, particularly the annual managers’ reports, the correspondence and the photographs, offer a unique insight into the development of the industry in India and of the dramatic changes in Indian society as the country moved from colonialism towards independence. Researchers from a variety of countries including India, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States have come to Dundee to consult these documents.

The photographs of Michael Peto have attracted a great deal of interest across the world. The Beatles, Nelson Mandela, C.S. Lewis, Rudolf Nureyev, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nikita Khrushchev are just a fraction of the myriad of famous names from politics, the performing arts, literature and music captured by Peto’s lens. We have sent copies of the photographs showing Nelson Mandela during his 1962 visit to London to Mandela himself, and Peto’s images of C.S.Lewis have been used for a number of publications across the world, including reprints of Lewis’s books in South Korea, Sweden and the United States. Last year the National Costume Centre in France used some of Peto’s dramatic photographs of Nureyev for a major exhibition, while photographs of a young Ian McKellen performing Edward II can be found on the actor’s own American-based website.

Some of our collections originated abroad, thus explaining their international links. An example is the series of drawings depicting scenes from the American Civil War which were at one time in the possession of a soldier from the New York Infantry who fought in the war. We also have a collection, mainly of photographs, relating to the life and work of a family of medical missionaries in Tiberias. The Sea of Galilee Medical Mission was initially established when the area was under Ottoman control, and the involvement of the Torrance family continued through the British Mandate and into the early years of the State of Israel. The Torrances were keen photographers and apart from typical ‘Holy Land’ images the collection contains photographs of the hospital staff and of patients, as well as of local Arabs and Jews going about their daily business. Many of the images of the patients show medical conditions that are often quite harrowing.

Sometimes the international connection is not so obvious. Our Glasite and Sandemanian collection is an example of this. When the Presbyterian clergyman John Glas was deposed as minister of the Tealing church in the early 18th century almost all of his congregation continued to support him and eventually formed a separate church. This became known as the Glasite church and congregations were formed throughout Scotland. His son-in-law, Robert Sandeman, established what became known as Sandemanian churches in England and eventually across the Atlantic in Connecticut. The most famous member of the Sandemanian church was the scientist Michael Faraday. Although the church no longer exists some American churches trace their descent from the Glasite church and in recent years academic researchers have come here from places such as Oklahoma and California just to consult the collection. The image below is of an 18th century letter from the New England Sandemanians.

Other records in the Archives cover Caribbean pirates, Polish officers, American POWs, Hitler Youth, and the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Dundee may be a relatively small city but over the past centuries its history has been linked to so many places across the world that its importance can be measured on a global scale.

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