Completing the NIAB archive

Things have been quiet on this blog of late, and for a very good reason. At the end of September I packed up my suitcase and moved to Cambridge.

I wore only one of those ties during my entire two month stay in Cambridge.

I wore only one of those ties during my entire two month stay in Cambridge.

There I lived with a number of very kind people who offered me room at a knock-down price, so that I might work on the archive of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany on a daily basis, to complete cataloguing and arranging the material. I was tempted to blog about the experience at the time, but decided not to (on the grounds that every second spent blogging about describing the archive material was a second not describing the archive material). As I have now completed the archive handlist, which you can access from the NIAB Historical Archive website ( ) what follows is a short report on my efforts.

Firstly, after being given considerable advice from Geoffrey Browell of King’s College London special collections, I arranged for an archivist from the University of Cambridge to come and take a look at the materials and assess the way I had organised them. Over the past three years I have been through every single file, and arranged them according to ten different collections. Jacqueline Cox from the Uni was kind enough to come and spend an hour with me, offering advice on what I had done and what it might cost to store the material at a professional standard. It soon became clear that we were not going to be able to afford to spend the kinds of money involved, so this helped me to readjust my aims for the project. She also pointed me in the direction of ISAD(G), the international standard for archival description. I used this, and JANUS minimum levels of description (Title; Reference; Year; Extent and Medium; Description;) to begin the cataloguing process. By the way, cataloguing is probably the wrong word, but it saves saying ‘describing’ over and over again.

I then got on with it.

My desk in the NIAB archive room. Nice view, innit.

My desk in the NIAB archive room. Not too shabby.

A few hundred labels, dozens of boxes and 500 odd file descriptions later, and its done. So, those of you with interests in the history of genetics, plant breeding, agricultural science, statistics, the relationship between science and the state, British science in the C20th (or some other interest that is not so directly obvious) now have a brand new resource at your disposal. More about the materials in the archive and how to access them can be found in the archive handlist downloadable from the NIAB Historical Archive website. All that remains for me to say is a massive thank you to Tricia Cullimore who has helped me enormously throughout the past three years, and whose encouragement and work on the archive over the past few months has been invaluable. Cheers Tricia!


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