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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 SOAS
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Date(s): 1903-2000
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
View subfonds/series records
Extent: c240 linear feet
Name of creator(s): School of Oriental Studies
SOAS | School of Oriental and African Studies


Administrative/Biographical history:

In the early 20th century teaching of Asian and African languages in London was inferior to provision in other European capitals, being distributed among the colleges of London University and other institutions. This unsatisfactory situation was addressed by the Reay Committee which reported in 1908 recommending that the teaching should be concentrated in a single school and should be broadened to include the history, geography, culture, law and literature of Asia and Africa as well as including a major library. The Report also recommended that the proposed school should be part of the University of London. A Committee of Management was established in 1913 and the School of Oriental Studies received its Royal Charter in June 1916, admitting its first students in the following year. At that time it was housed in Finsbury Circus in the former building of the London Institution. Construction of the first phase of the current premises, within the main University of London campus, began in 1938, when the present name of the School of Oriental and African Studies was adopted, and they were fully occupied by 1946. This move reinforced the importance of the academic role of the School which in the early years had been secondary to the practical teaching also required by the School's Charter, although a Departmental system had been introduced in 1932. War with Japan in 1941 had also shown the need for training in Asian languages and the School responded by inventing and delivering crash courses for service personnel. This influenced the establishment of the Scarborough Commission which reported in 1946 recognising the School's central position in Asian and African Studies and recommending a programme of expansion. However the School's post-war development was curtailed by public economies.

During the later 1950s the School concentrated on extending its accommodation, increasing its undergraduate numbers and developing the study of modern Asia and Africa with the establishment of new Departments of Geography, Economics and Politics. An Extramural Division was also established which took Asian and African Studies into schools and teacher training. Another innovation in the 1960s was the creation of five Area Centres to facilitate cross-disciplinary research and organise the new one-year taught MA courses. Development of postgraduate courses offset the decline in undergraduate numbers due to the development of higher education in Asian and African countries and a reorganisation of the undergraduate courses ensured that the 1960s was a period of growth. The new building, with the Library as its central feature, opened in 1973 but the following decade brought cuts in university funding and the School was further hit by the implementation of full-cost fees for overseas students which necessitated a major restructuring. Eventually the University Grants Committee (UGC) were persuaded to commission a report on the needs of business and government for Asian and African Studies. The resulting Parker Report of 1986 highlighted the decline in provision in the university sector but the increasing demand from government and business for expertise and proposed measures to redress the balance. A further boost for the School was the introduction of non-formula funding to protect its work in the early 1990s. In 1995 the Brunei Gallery and Teaching Block was opened; the School also acquired the former Faber & Faber building in Russell Square and opened its first student residence in 1996. By this time the School had a student population of more than 2,500 and considerable distance learning provision.


Scope and content/abstract:

Archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 1903-2000, comprising Charter of Incorporation, 1916, and other documents relating to the development of the School, 1903-1947, including Interim Report & Appendices Regarding Proposed School of Oriental & African Languages in London, 1911; minutes of the Governing Body, 1913-2000, and principal Committees, 1916-2000; appointments of Directors and Secretaries; Grant of Charter of Arms; School Development Policies, 1945-1990s, and papers relating to the Bloomsbury site, 1944-1945; general correspondence, 1916-2000; staff records, 1916-2000; student records, 1916-2000, and course files, 1970s-2000; students' union papers, 1957-1972; press cuttings, 1909-1917; picture archive, 1916-2000, including photographs, prints and drawings.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As indicated in Scope and content above

Conditions governing access:

The major part of the institutional archives, comprising most administrative, registry and personnel records, remain with the creating departments within the School (see sub-fonds entries for further details) and may not be available. It is advisable to contact the Archivist, SOAS Library, in the first instance.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies are not usually supplied of material remaining with the creating departments.

Finding aids:

Descriptions of the sub-collections of records of administration, personnel and registry are also available online.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Generated and retained within the School.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Source: "A Short History of SOAS" in SOAS Calendar, 1998-99, pp104-108. Compiled by Janet Foster as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Jan 2001

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