Yesterday's Future: the University Archives project

University College, from John Latimer, Annals of Bristol, Vol. 7 (1907)

Special Collections, housed in the University of Bristol Arts and Social Sciences Library, is responsible for the identification, preservation and exploitation of the archives of the University.  The archive is the corporate memory of the institution: just as an individual’s memory is an edited narrative of their life, so the University’s archive depends upon selection of records from the vast quantity created by academic and administrative departments to reflect its functions and activities over time.  These range from the minutes of its governing bodies and deeds of the properties it has owned and occupied to the papers of its academic staff and records of student organisations.  Most of the archive is paper-based, supplemented by photographic and audio-visual materials, as well as a small number of artefacts.  Looking forward, Special Collections will be dealing with an increasing quantity of born-digital records.

The archive has built up over time by the ad hoc transfer of material identified as having historical value: office moves and staff leaving often prompt contact with Special Collections from those concerned about disposing of records.  We also have established contacts with some administrative sections whose staff are aware of the archival value of their records and make regular transfers of material.  We want to encourage this, second, planned, type of transfer, for purposes of storage space and workload planning, as well as ensuring appropriate records reach us as soon as their business use is over and that they are not needlessly accumulated in office space.  This is the last stage of good records management practices outlined by the Secretary’s Office.

The Yesterday’s Future Project.

A three-year project, based in Special Collections, to ensure a more organised flow of material into the archive has recently commenced.  

Project Archivist, Karen Anderson, has been tasked with:

  • establishing processes to facilitate the acquisition of University archives by Special Collections
  • documenting and cataloguing newly-acquired University archives
  • improving documentation and catalogues of existing University archives
  • supporting the work of researchers to help capture, document and disseminate the history of the institution

Following the initial planning stage, the Project Archivist will be following up information from the Information Asset Register and corporate Retention and Disposal Schedule to investigate known accumulations of records which may have historical value.  If you hold such material, please see the Archives transfer procedure (PDF, 93kB) and do not hesitate to contact the Project Archivist (; x17715): this is especially important if you intend immediate disposal of records.  If identified for transfer to the archive, records will be made available for research, subject to closure restrictions on sensitive and personal information.  Special Collections liaises with the Information Governance Manager to ensure that these comply with all relevant Data Protection and other legislative requirements.

Online Archive Catalogue

Contains descriptions of many of our archive collections.

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