he question of the enduring nature of "the women's voice" which I raised at the start of my survey continues to engage me, and I believe it will be a while before it can be addressed with even a hope of certainty about the answer. Those institutions in England which have become "mixed" suggest various possible permutations. For me, Emily Davies and her efforts on behalf of women, which began at Hitchin and continued through an illustrious century, continue to inhabit the ambience at Girton. The "tone" of Lady Margaret Hall, approaching 20 years as a coeducational college, strongly suggests its first century of dedication to women's education. That tone seems to have vanished nearly completely from the University of London at King's College, though considerably more of it remains at Queen Mary and Westfield and Royal Holloway and Bedford New Colleges, as at St. Hugh's at Oxford. Also at Oxford, at St. Anne's, the beginnings struck me as submerged but visible. The merits of single-sex education vs.coeducation will probably be long debated in England as in the United States, and the topic deserves the debate, but my chief interest for the purposes of this survey lies in questioning to what extent the existence, support and function of archival resources at these institutions (as at any institutions) color the institutional memory and affect current direction and, perhaps, the philosophy which underlies education in general and gender studies in particular. It seems to me that the colleges for the education of women in England offer a particularly promising laboratory, during the next 50 years, for the examination of that question. The resources exist, and for the most part are being preserved, to support both specific and comparative studies.
The consideration of comparative studies raises another question that became more persistent as I moved from one location to other and grew increasingly aware that archivists do not connect in England through the regional organizations which play such a crucial role in the development (including my own) of many archivists in the United States. Membership in the national professional organization of the U.K., as compared to the Society of American Archivists, seems to be considerably more tightly drawn, with credentials in archival education required of those who seek to join, - and "archival education" is not the amorphous program, broadly outlined, that it may be and often is in the United States. It is rather something quite specific, taught at quite specific locations - King's College and University of Liverpool, to name two that came to my attention tangentially to the focus of my study. Those who function as archivists but are not graduates of a program of archival education appear to function as a separate paraprofessional organization, and there are no bridges to facilitate movement between the two "cultures" that I became aware of such as those created in the United States via librarianship and history (especially American Studies).
Since the profession as we practice it here continues to wrestle with questions of identity and of "qualification" (i.e. education, certification, other?), it could be very interesting to examine a parallel group which has defined itself and put aside questions which we confront, if not having actually addressed them. Some questions come immediately to mind related to the trade-offs in each system. With reference to the archival profession in the U.S., what evidence exists that an unclear professional identity affects the function of those who are "archivists"? Might not open communication and exchange among those practicing the profession at a variety of levels and coming to it from a range of disciplines be worth the resultant lack of professional definition? Looking at archivists in the U.K., whose professional identity is far less ambiguous than ours, and what I perceived as relatively infrequent communication among them, I wondered if and how cooperative arrangements develop, and how new practices and policies evolve? What mechanisms exist to create bridges to those practicing with different claims to qualification, but whose problem-solving may have broad application? And the question of the standardization of practices confronts both groups. How does it develop in both cultures and what are the mechanisms for implementation, in each?
I have puzzled why, given the decided advantage of being able to converse in a common language and read each other's literature without translation, we have not in the past created more opportunities for discussion of these and other issues. I have, if not a conviction, at least a suspicion that they will be sought in the very near future by archivists whose importance to the preservation of institutional memory has become less of an abstraction in a world where "communication" and "memory" itself are being actively redefined.
Archival Resources revisited 2013
My 1992 summary of archival resources relating to colleges for women in England raised some questions which were not answerable at the time: e.g. the status of oral histories at Girton and St. Hilda's, the period for which official records remain closed at Newnham, etc. These and other lacunae are indicated in the text by "..." or more straightforward symbols ("?").
Researchers searching online today for the colleges in the study can get to information about them without ferreting out arcane sources, or wondering if a lucky guess about whom to contact will open the door to relevant materials. Using Google as a search engine, I found that answers are now readily available through web sites for the individual institutions, together with descriptions of holdings and instructions for contacting staff, many of whom hold archivist positions established since the time of my 1992 visit.
Direct search by name of individual institution, promising as it is, can suggest a transparency more apparent than real, as I found when I attempted to access the history of women at the University of London, using "University of London" and "women" as access terms. Neither produced the most authoritative and comprehensive treatment of the subject which I have found to date: "The University of London and Women Students" by Jacqueline Banerjee, published in The Victorian Web. (Internal evidence suggests that it was published in February 2007.) It establishes the presence of women at the University as early as 1830 , twenty to forty years earlier than I traced it in my 1992 paper, and tracks the development of their status from that date on. It belongs first on any list of Recommended Reading for that subject.
Wikipedia, another phenomenon since my study, provides entries which are quick pathways to historical context for each institution. Some are comprehensive, others are in earlier stages of development, some need obvious editing, but they are worth checking as they evolve and provide links to other sources. For example, the Wikipedia category of "Former women's universities and colleges in the United Kingdon" (some "defunct", some "now functioning as coeducational institutions") is evidence of a sea change in approach.
Other access points, unpredictable 20 years ago, further simplify today's research; I will mention only one here. "Oxford College Archives" supplies, in list form, by college name, "basic information" for those archives without their own web site, including contact information, opening hours, conditions of access and some descriptions of holdings.
I noted in the summary to my 1992 paper the absence of organizations through which archivists (or any professionals filling that role) could connect. That apparent professional isolation seems to have yielded to a network of support. To take another example from Oxford, the Oxford Archivists Consortium (OAC) was established in 2001. Beyond that, the United Kingdom Web Archiving (UKWA) Consortium was established in 2005, and relinquished its role in 2010 to the Digital Preservation Coalition, which continues the mission of "selective archiving", with results available publicly and expanded membership welcomed through "public nominations…via the UKWA website".
While locating archival resources for the study of women's colleges in England is overall a much more direct process than I followed 20 years ago some changes may introduce complications. For instance, New Hall at Cambridge was re-named Murray Edwards College in 2008. Searching under "New Hall College Cambridge Archives", however, continues to lead effectively to the renamed institution.
St. Mary's College at the University of Durham, which I found somewhat precariously poised as a single sex institution, admitted men students in 2005, relatively late in the move to coeducation among other schools I visited, including Somerville College at Oxford, a notable "holdout" until admitting the first men students in 1994. Construction activities at the Durham University Library between Oct. 2012 and the winter of 2013, may have disrupted access to the Archives and Special Collections, although contact information continues to be readily available on the Library web site. While the voice of "women at Durham", of such concern to Joan Kenworthy, principal during my visit, seems a bit muffled at the moment in the online description of Library holdings, perhaps it will emerge again as the records of St. Mary's are re-settled in the new locations provided.
Last modified 27 November 2016