Thursday 27 January 2011

Business Archives

Last week Archive staff attended the launch of the National Strategy for Business Archives in Scotland. A significant proportion of our records were either created by or related to businesses, so the strategy is something that we welcome.

Dundee was once the most important centre of jute processing in the world and our records relating to the textile industry are one of the largest such collections in Europe. As well as the companies which manufactured and imported jute, we have the archives of several engineering companies and other related industries.
Jute Industries Group Newsletter. 1966
The focus is not just on Dundee, but also on Dundee's international links with particular strengths lying in the records relating to India. Dundee played a prominent role in the manufacture of jute in Bengal for well over a century and it was not until 1976 that the final company managed from Dundee withdrew from Calcutta.
Bundles of jute being taken to be pressed in India

The business collections do not only concern jute. We have records of companies which were played a major role in the everyday lives of Dundonians such as the department store G. L. Wilson. Other businesses with an international impact are represented such as the fascinating collection of the Alliance Trust, currently the largest generalist investment trust by market value on the London Stock Exchange. One major aspect of the trust's business that is particularly well documented in the records is the mortgage business, which was centred on agricultural areas of the western United States (especially Oregon, Idaho and Texas). The company also established a successful business leasing mineral rights of properties in Texas and Oklahoma to prospectors, as well as investing in a number of other ventures in the UK and further afield.

The business collections we hold are used by a wide range of researchers from economic and social historians to those interested in family history as well as researchers looking for evidence of contemporary ownership and rights. We strongly support the aim of the National Strategy to 'ensure that business archives in Scotland continue to be valued, representative of economic activity and innovation, accessible to all and supported and developed by strong networks and partnerships'.

Friday 21 January 2011

Featured again

Our programmes are once again being featured on the University's homepage. If you'd like to know more about the Centre for Archive and Information Studies, the Masters degree programmes or CPD courses we offer in archives, records management, digital preservation, information rights or family and local history, or the opportunities we provide for doctoral research in any of these areas then please email us at or see our website.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Travelling the World - An Exhibition by Museum Services

Santa Maria Maggiore by Ian Eadie, 1937
A new exhibition of artworks and artefacts from the collections held by Museum Services and depicting different countries and cultures from around the world is currently on display in the University's Tower Foyer Gallery. Most of the paintings and drawings used in the exhibition are by Scottish or English artists who travelled to new places for inspiration, experiencing changes of landscape, people and climate. Some are realistic depictions whilst others are intended to give impressions of a place or experience. Included are nineteenth century views of the Middle East by David Wilkie and David Roberts and Italian watercolours from the 1930s by art student Ian Eadie.

In the display cases are objects and works of decorative art which have come to the University from countries across the world, many presented by other higher education institutions. They symbolise the University's many international connections, past and present, including artefacts from China, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Spain and Croatia.

The exhibition runs from 8 January - 26 February 2011 and admission is free. For more information please see the Museum Services website.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

The CAIS stand for WDYTYA? Live
We'll once again be at 'Who Do You Think You Are? Live' next month, which will be our fifth consecutive appearance at the UK's premier family history event. It takes place at Olympia in London 24-27 February and we'll be meeting attendees and finding out about their family or local history research and the sources they have used, and discussing the archival sources and research techniques that might help them go further in finding out about their past. Come and see us at Stand 708.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Nuts, Peat and Anthrax

Archive Services holds a number of unusual collections. For the past six months I have been cataloguing the collection of Robert H S Robertson. At first sight this appeared to be concerned with mainly with nuts and their by-products but it soon became clear the Robertson was an early pioneer of recycling and re-use of materials.

The collection is made up of magazine articles, research documents and correspondence. Robert H S Robertson was a fascinating man who gained an MA in geology, mineralogy and chemistry at Cambridge. After graduating, he spent several months mapping Dicksonland in Spitsbergen, and even has a glacier, Robertsonbreen, named after him.

In 1933 he was appointed chief chemist to the Fuller’s Earth Union Ltd in Surrey, where he worked for nine years and some of the records that are deposited with us relate to this time. He then went onto work as a consultant where he attracted respect for his research on clay minerals, became chairman of the British Clay Minerals group and was seen as the leading authority in this area.

Booklet about the Irish peat bog known as the Moving Bog

Robert H S Robertson was fascinated as to how biological science and industry could work together to create new processes and products and this is reflected in the many documents contained in the collection. With this interest in mind he set up the Resource Use Institute in 1969. The Institute was made up of friends working in similar fields as Robertson and was dedicated to the sustainable management of physical resources in particular peat. The company was based in Highland Perthshire, but with members who were widely scattered around the world and the business correspondence and files in the collection demonstrate this. There are a considerable number of records in the collection relating to Scottish and Irish peat production and land management.

Cohune nuts being shelled

Robertson also set up a company called Organic Products with American associates Bill McDow and Cary Winfrey. The company aimed to create new industries to produce organic products in particular the cohune nut-cracking project in South America. The company was concerned with putting the by-products of nuts to new uses. The collection contains correspondence relating to the Organic Products Company and its projects.

This remarkable collection contains documents which provide information for researchers working in many scientific disciplines. There is even some correspondence between Robertson and officials relating to Gruinard Island near Ullapool that was contaminated by anthrax. It is also a collection which demonstrates how scientists were beginning to search for renewable resources. We aim to have the collection fully catalogued soon and available for researchers.

Keren Guthrie, Senior Archives Assistant

Thursday 6 January 2011

Call for Papers - International Council on Archives: Section on University and Research Institution Archives (SUV) - Conference 2011

The next conference of ICA:SUV will be held 12-16 July 2011 at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The theme of the conference is 'Best Foot Forward: Inreach and Outreach for Archivists'. In addition to their external role of service to research communities, institutional archives have always had at least two internal functions: the familiar role of providing institutional accountability and transparency, and the somewhat less familiar one of helping their institutions with fund-raising and visibility to the public. Given the current economic uncertainty, awareness and promotion of the critical role that academic and scientific archives can play is of growing importance for addressing both internal and external communities. Focusing on University and Research Institution Archives, this conference will examine current inreach and outreach activities and programmes, assessing their strengths and areas for improvement and will suggest new directions for the international archival community.

The 2011 Conference Programme Committee invites you to submit proposals for the SUV annual conference being held in Edmonton, Canada from 12 to 16 July. Within the following themes we seek individual or panel proposals. Our aim is to encourage discussion and debate throughout each session. Proposals should be analytical, not descriptive, and should reflect the changing nature of inreach and outreach activities which are being used in archives to promote their institutions and their fund- raising activities.

Panels of up to three speakers, or individual presentations, on the themes below will be considered. Synopses of 250 to 300 words for each presentation, which should aim to last for a maximum of 20 minutes (sessions of three speakers should last for no more than 1.5 hrs) should be submitted to by 7 February 2011. If you are submitting a proposal for a complete session, please provide a description of 250-300 words for the session as a whole in addition to 250-300 word synopses of each individual presentation.

The Programme Committee welcomes proposals relating to the overall theme of ‘Best Foot Forward: Inreach and Outreach For Archivists’ with particular but not exclusive reference to the following sub-themes:

  1. Inreach and Outreach Activities and Programmes. For example, what inreach activities and programmes have been implemented by archives and archivists to enhance institutional internal profile and fund-raising; what were the strategic objectives; what were its successes; what could have been done differently to have enhanced the experience and its value; how were the objectives met; who were the most important partners in ensuring success; how were outcomes and impacts measured; what lessons were learned? Please note: proposals which simply describe activities will not be accepted.
  2. New Directions in Inreach and Outreach. For example, what does current research and the archival literature say on trends in these critical activities; what skills or aptitudes are needed by archives and archivists for success in this area and where and how are these skills best acquired; how do archival education programmes deal with inreach and outreach themes; have archival education programmes given inreach and outreach adequate coverage in their teachings of theory and practice?
  3. Traditional Roles of Archives. For example, how can our traditional roles in institutional accountability, transparency and memory be used to enhance institutional profile and fund-raising; how can the role of the archivist in negotiating the challenges of freedom of information, privacy concerns and intellectual property rights be used to enhance our value to our parent institutions and consequently their profile and fund- raising?
  4. Integration of Archives. For example, how can university and research institution archives integrate themselves with the basic functions of their parent institutions? How can university archives better integrate themselves into the teaching, research and community service functions of the university?. How does the archives become directly involved in teaching, research and institutional administrative functions and the recruitment of new students and faculty? How can university archives support archival education programmes or courses in their institutions? How can university archives influence the way digital records-keeping is taught in computing and library science courses?

Further information about the conference, the process by which proposals should be submitted see the 'Proposal Submission Guidelines for ICA-SUV Annual Conferences' available at: For a description of the process and the criteria which will be used to adjudicate proposals, see “Annual Conference Review Committee Guidelines” available at:

For information on bursaries go to and follow the link to the conference web site which will be posted shortly.

Should you have any questions please contact:
Programme Chair, Bryan Corbett at or
SUV Secretary, Patricia Whatley at

Sharon Alexander-Gooding, University of the West Indies, Barbados.
Heather Briston, University of Oregon, United States.
Deirdre Bryden, Queens University, Canada.
Simon Chu, University of Hong Kong, China.
Bryan Corbett, University of Alberta, Canada (Chair).
Kathryn Dan, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Anna Domalanus, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland.
Margaret Law, University of Alberta, Canada (Ex-Officio, Local Arrangements).
Patricia Whatley, University of Dundee, United Kingdom (Ex-Officio, SUV Secretary).