Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association

BOOK REVIEWS

Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association (2010), 35, (123), 68–93.

Abstract

BOOK REVIEWS Edited by Professor William Gibson Elizabeth Shepherd, Archives and archivists in twentieth century England. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. Pp. xiv + 245. £60. ISBN 9780754647850. This thoroughly-researched, clearly-structured and well-written book fills an important gap in the literature, providing the first substantive overview of archives and, particularly, the archive and records management profession in twentieth-century England, with a retrospect of the Victorian foundations (Wales, Scotland and Ireland are out-ofscope, but there are incidental references, mainly on training). After an introduction which largely sketches international archival trends (arguably better merged into the conclusion, to augment the existing, pp. 217-18, comparative analysis of English and overseas progress), Elizabeth Shepherd offers us four pairs of chronologically-arranged narrative chapters. These explore, in turn, the development of political and legislative contexts, archival institutions (especially in central and local government), professional bodies (including the British Records Association) and education. Each chapter ends with a summary and a guide to sources (besides footnotes). There is some repetition between chapters and there are generally no metrics. A large cast enters and leaves the stage; as they are rarely household names, nor consistently feature in the index, a biographical appendix of key players would have been valuable. Cumulatively, the evidence Shepherd assembles explains why, by 2003 (her terminal date, marking the creation of The National Archives and the eve of the Archives Task Force’s report), the archival domain had achieved a lower profile and impact, and less integration, than sister professions of libraries and museums. The statutory framework for archives is shown to have been weak, Government policy was piecemeal, the sector was small and fragmented, the Public Record Office interpreted its brief narrowly, professional leadership was conservative, a few strong-minded individuals exercised protracted inf luence, there was much parochialism (including reluctance to embrace records management), effort was dissipated through overlapping organizations, the academic research base was negligible and published outputs minimal. Perhaps wisely, Shepherd hedges her bets on what the immediate future holds for archives, although she seems to support the amalgamation of professional bodies (pp. 167, 169, 215). The 2009 Government strategy on publicly-funded archives appeared too late for her to mention. The book ref lects extensive primary and secondary research. The bibliography lists 273 titles, but only five post-date 2004, betraying the work’s origins in the author’s London PhD thesis of that year. One significant omission is Sarah Horton’s Aberystwyth PhD thesis (2005) on the evolution of local authority archive services in England and Wales; other recent publications can be traced in the Royal Historical Society Bibliography. An impressive array of manuscripts has been consulted and it is to the credit of the professional bodies and universities concerned that they have opened their archives for Shepherd’s inspection, ‘warts and all’. There is some dependence on reminiscences, but the Society of Archivists’ oral history project (1996–2000), preserved in the British Library Sound Archive, has not been fully exploited. Finally, Archives - October 2010.indb 68 04/10/2010 15:39:55

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