SOAS University of London

The School Archive at SOAS

The SOAS Corporate Archive cares for the unique records created by the School, seeking to preserve and provide access to them for reasons of institutional memory and broader historical research and public interest.

The Corporate Archive is physically and conceptually distinct from the SOAS Archives and Special Collections, but the School Archivist works closely with the Special Collections team, including in the provision of physical access to School Archive material in the Reading Room.

For more information about the Special Collections services available in the Library, including updates around opening hours, please visit their webpage. You can also follow @SOAS_SpecColl on Twitter and SOASSpecialCollections on Instagram.

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Significance and key records

The SOAS Archive is historically significant, not only in terms of the history of SOAS itself, but also in the context of the development of higher education in the UK, and the development of Middle and Eastern Asian and African Studies internationally.

Key collections include Annual Reports, Calendars, Minutes of the various governing bodies, Admissions Registers, Student Indexes, Students’ Union publications, core personnel files for notable former staff, building plans, photographs and recordings, as well as record collections produced by SOAS academics in the course of their teaching and research at the School.

Management and development

The Archive is managed by the School Records Manager and Archivist who is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Answering internal and external enquiries
  • Listing and cataloguing new material
  • Arranging internal transfers of material to archive
  • Liaising with donors and managing donor relationships
  • Planning articles, tours, talks and exhibitions
  • Carrying out long-term strategic planning for the future of the Archive.

This role also administers the SOAS Records Retention Schedule and supports staff in applying it to ensure that SOAS records are managed appropriately throughout their ‘lifecycle’ – from creation or receipt through to destruction or to permanent preservation within the Archive. The role works closely with the Special Collections team to ensure appropriate resources for the storage, cataloguing and future management of records selected for permanent retention.

Access to material

A considerable proportion of the archive remains to be fully catalogued; however, we can often answer enquiries relating to uncatalogued material and arrange for access to be given or images to be provided where appropriate. Enquiries regarding the collection can be made to the School Archivist via

Efforts continue to sort, list and catalogue the records already received, and to support staff in the identification and transfer of further material in line with the Retention Schedule.

Newly catalogued material will be added to the online catalogue periodically.

Images of selected historical SOAS publications are also being made available in digital format on SOAS Digital Collections. Annual Reports and Calendars from 1939 – 1945 are the most recent additions.

Public domain photographs of key people, events, places and SOAS buildings are available via the SOAS Picture Archive.

Access to material can be facilitated in the Special Collections Reading Room in the Library via prior discussion and arrangement with the School Archivist.

History of the archive

The first efforts to collect and preserve the records of the School’s history can be dated to around the late 1950s. In his short history of the School published in 1967 the third Director of SOAS Sir Cyril Phillips (for whom the new 1973 Library building was named) acknowledges his debt to a Miss Doreen Wainwright “who has brought into existence the nucleus of an archive on the history of the School, which we trust will be kept alive and up-to-date in the years to come.”

This nucleus was added to gradually over the following years as further work was done on securing and cataloguing materials and finding a suitable long-term home for the growing collection in the Special Collections strongrooms in Denys Lasdun’s new Library building.

Efforts re-focussed in 2012 with the appointment of a dedicated Centenary Archivist. In preparation for the centenary of the School’s establishment, first admissions and official opening in 1916, it was recognized that much of SOAS’s written heritage remained unidentified and dispersed across the estate. The Archivist was tasked with identifying and securing further School records of potential historical value and making them available, particularly in support of School Historian Ian Brown as he researched his new history of the School.

Today we continue to build on this work to establish the archive as an accessible and valuable asset at SOAS.

Our current activities including working with the Special Collections team to assess new acquisitions of personal papers, planning the digitization of our hard copy publications and capturing our online ones for posterity, contributing to upcoming exhibitions in the Library, and helping to mark future upcoming anniversaries for SOAS, such as that of the Library in 2023.

Further information on the history of SOAS and the many activities marking ‘SOAS at 100’ is available on the Centenary webpage.

You can view the SOAS Centenary Timeline – "Remembering the past, shaping the future" and listen to Dr Ian Brown discuss the writing of his School history The School of Oriental and African Studies: Imperial Training and the Expansion of Learning below.

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History of SOAS

Page last updated: May 2021