People tend to think that archivists like old stuff. This is true, but it’s not the whole story. Actually archivists like objects and places where the past, present and future join up. It’s obvious and satisfyingly immediate with very large things like castles and steam engines and the Roman Baths, but it can sometimes take a little more work with archives.
In the Library’s Archives & Research Collections we hold the minutes of the ‘preliminary’ meeting of the All England Women’s Hockey Association that took place in Brighton in 1895. These scruffy, handwritten, rather unimpressive notes document the moment that women’s hockey in the UK changed from a pastime for well-to-do Victorian ladies into an organised sport. In other words, they are where Olympic gold for GB women in Rio 2016 became a possibility. That moment over a hundred years ago, when something amazing was started, is not formally recorded anywhere else.
Not all beginnings are so neatly defined. The University of Bath was founded by royal charter on 25th October 1966, but can trace its ancestry through numerous predecessor institutions, in Bristol as well as Bath, back to 1856. In 1963, before a campus site had even been secured, architects commissioned by Bristol College of Science and Technology produced a conceptual drawing of what the University might look like; it’s a portrait of the University before it was born and is affectionately referred to as the ‘amoeba’ for obvious reasons. At the time, readers of the University’s first development report were reminded:
“It is no longer valid, if it ever was, to think of a university as a static thing; it is a living, growing organism in which ever more rapid changes in academic and social demands must be able to find expression in the buildings themselves.”
The drawing was always intended as a good place to start rather than as a final destination, but as a beginning it contained all that the yet-to-be University might one day become and, despite fifty years of expansion and change, I think the amoeba is still just about recognisable in the campus we know today.
Birthdays are a good time to look back and take stock with a view to moving forward. Over the last half century the University has grown from a single-celled organism filled with energy and potential into a fully-functioning, complex and sophisticated entity. It’s fitting that the next stage in the University’s development will include the construction of a new building to house the Milner Centre for Evolution.
Happy Birthday University of Bath and many happy returns!