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Archives and special collections

Birkbeck Library holds a range of archives and special collections, which include papers, books and bibliographies. They relate to individuals associated with Birkbeck or to books given as gifts or purchased by the College. For a general overview of archives and how to make use of them, please see the guide, Using archives, special collections and images in your research.

Birkbeck College Archive

This collection comprises the surviving institutional records of Birkbeck, University of London, dating from its foundation as the London Mechanics' Institute in 1823 to c.2015. Much of the material derives from the central running of the university, being minutes of its governing bodies and their committees, financial records of its administration, prospectus, calendars and annual reports. There are also programmes of events and texts of addresses and lectures given at the college, a full series of press cuttings and some photographs.

The earlier history is better represented than the post-1950s. There is little biographical information about students apart from their degree results and a small run of early admission and payment registers. Nor is there anything in the way of personal papers of either the university's senior or junior members.

For more information please visit the Birkbeck College Archive on the Archives Hub. 

For enquiries please .  For anyone wishing to consult material in the Birkbeck, University of London Archive, including Birkbeck staff and students, please  to make an appointment.

The David Bohm Papers

David Joseph Bohm FRS (1917-92) was a Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck from 1961 to 1987. He has been described as one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the twentieth century and he contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind.

Some material is available via open access, please visit the David Bohm Archive on the Archives Hub, while other materials are available to view by appointment. Please for advice and information on this archive.

Sir Bernard Crick Archive

The papers of Professor Sir Bernard Rowland Crick (1929-2008), Foundation Professor of Politics at Birkbeck from 1971 to 1984, were donated to the College by his family after his death, in December 2008. With financial support from the School of Politics and Sociology, the Faculty of Lifelong Learning, the Library, and the College Development Fund, the archive has now been catalogued by a professional archivist. 

Who was Sir Bernard Crick?

  • Bernard Rowland Crick was born in London in 1929. He gained a First in Economics at University College London (UCL) and completed his doctorate (1950-52) on ‘The Origins and Conditions of the American Science of Politics’ at the London School of Economics (LSE). 
  • Bernard went to North America and taught in a number of universities, including Harvard (1952-54), McGill (1954-55), and Berkeley (1955-56). He returned to the UK in 1956 and taught at LSE as an assistant lecturer and, later, as a senior lecturer. 
  • He published one of his key texts, 'In Defence of Politics’, in 1962, in which he outlined his views of politics. 
  • In 1965, he was appointed Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Sheffield University. He became the Foundation Professor of Politics at Birkbeck in 1971, setting up the School of Politics at number 10 Gower Street. 
  • Bernard sat on and chaired a number of committees, including the Political Studies Association and the Hansard Society. He was a political adviser in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention in 1974 and Chairman of the British-South Africa Conference. He was the joint editor of the Political Quarterly from 1966 to 1980. 
  • In 1997, he became chairman of the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools and he later advised the Labour government on devising the citizenship tests for immigrants to the UK. 
  • In the late 1970s, Crick embarked on a biography of George Orwell, which was published in 1980.
  • He was knighted in the 2002 New Year’s honours list for 'services to citizenship in schools and to political studies'. 
  • Sir Bernard was married three times and had two sons from his first marriage to Joyce Morgan, a senior lecturer in German at UCL. 
  • He took early retirement in 1984 to live in Edinburgh and died there in December 2008. 
  • Obituaries:

What is in the collection?

  • The collection arrived in four metal filing cabinets (16 drawers of files), as well as a further 13 storage boxes and a large metal trunk, entitled 'Bernard Student Stuff'. 
  • Now the collection has been repackaged it amounts to 100 archive boxes and several hundred archive files. 
  • The collection is currently being stored in Birkbeck Library on Malet Street, London. 
  • The collection has been arranged into six series of records:
    • Family and personal: school certificates, appointment diaries and biographical information (1944-1970s). 
    • Correspondence: both personal and professional with a number of academics, politicians, artists, students, family and friends (1940s to 2008).
    • Politics, societies and associations: papers covering Bernard's political and educational interests including the Labour Party and Citizenship education, as well as his advisory positions and chairmanships of a number of associations (1960-2007).
    • Tours and conferences: lecture drafts, notes and conference agendas for organisations both in and outside of the UK, many concerning tours in the United States (1970-2004). 
    • Literary: manuscripts, cuttings, publishers' correspondence, and drafts of key texts (1950s-2000). 
    • George Orwell biography: research notes, interviews and cuttings relating to Crick's biography of George Orwell (1970s). 

How was the collection processed?

  • Firstly, the collection was surveyed. This meant establishing what was in the collection by creating a box/file list of titles and then assessing how to preserve these files (i.e., what boxes and folders would be most suitable, did the files need specialist cleaning or other treatment, etc).
  • Then the collection was arranged: firstly, by thinking about how Sir Bernard kept and arranged his records; and how best to make the collection an accessible resource for all, while also maintaining the original order. A total of six series were created, to reflect his interests and record-keeping activities. 
  • Finally, the collection was catalogued and repackaged by looking at the content of the collection and describing the records within each file. Records were removed from their files and put into archival-quality folders and boxes. The cataloguing was completed in accordance with internationally recognised archival standards. 

Accessing the collection

Medieval books

Birkbeck owns four medieval books (three manuscripts and one incunabulum). Dr Giacomo Giudici wrote descriptions of these books in June 2017, which are available below.

  • The Birkbeck Hours (sine numero) is a small book of hours from northern France (c. 1400). This book was given to the College in 1977 by the widow of Dr Charles Fox, a lecturer at Birkbeck who later became a distinguished mathematician at Concordia University in Montreal. 
  • The Ordinances of Siena’s Lay Fraternity of St Jerome and St Francis are the rules and customs of the Capitoli della Compagnia di S. Girolamo of Siena, dated to the early fifteenth century. This book was purchased by the College in the 1950s, probably to be used as a teaching aid. 
  • Sententiae Sapientiae is a manuscript of a work of the same name, attributed to Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Seneca, which once belonged to the Monastery of St Zeno, Verona (c.1450). 
  • Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius (sine numero) is a skin-bound volume, describing a history of the Trojan War, printed at Venice, 1499. 

Watch a video about the rediscovery of these rare books, Rediscovered: Medieval Books at Birkbeck. An exhibition of these books was held at the Peltz Gallery - Capsule: Inside the Medieval Book (26 June to 28 July 2018).