Annual Open Day, February 2014

By Special Collections, SOAS Library|27th February 2014|Teaching & Learning|4 comments

Every year we open our doors to staff and students at SOAS and invite them to come along to our Archives Open Day to learn more about our collections, how to access them and how we care for them.

This year’s event took place on February 26th, and, despite competing with the first rays of sun that we have seen this year, proved to be a big draw, attracting over 80 visitors.

Susannah Rayner, Head of SOAS Archives and Special Collections, giving a talk to a group of visitors. Copyright SOAS

When deciding what material to put on display we try to give as representative a selection as possible. This is not always easy as there are so many interesting things to choose from! As well as including a range of manuscripts and rare books, among other things, we included minutes, photographs and bibles from some of our missionary collections, (London Missionary Society, Methodist Missionary Society and Presbyterian Church of England), as well as a sample of pamphlets, correspondence and papers from some of the key NGO archives we look after such as War on Want, the Movement for Colonial Freedom, Christian Aid and the Western Sahara Campaign.

Poster for meeting of the Western Sahara Campaign, 1995. Copyright SOAS Archives

We also highlighted our business collections with some papers, photographs and artefacts from John Swire & Sons (import export merchants), Hedgeland (Chinese Maritime Customs) and Oswald (tea trader) who were all active in China, as well as including some material relating more broadly to China.

Tea room of John Charles Oswald, tea trader in Foochow, c. 1900. Copyright SOAS Archives

As well as giving a broad overview of the types of material we hold, we also like to create a feature display which changes every year, focussing on one particular collection, theme, or region in more detail. This year the focus was on Madagascar, and papers relating to its people and culture and included papers relating to the work of the London Missionary Society, Malagasy refugees, photographs and portraits of people and places as well as examples of the Lamba clothwhich is the traditional garment worn by both men and women in Madagascar –  a textile highly emblematic of Malagasy culture.

For the first time we were also able to include items relating to the history of SOAS, such as photographs, prospectuses and minutes and we are grateful to Adele Picken, SOAS’s Corporate Records Manager and Archivist for choosing such an interesting range of papers from the School’s collections.

As well as being able to browse a display of material from our collections, visitors were also able to sign up to take part in hourly behind-the scenes tours of the archive stores led by the archivists. The tours are always popular and this year was no exception with every tour being over-subscribed!

The tours offer a good opportunity for us to talk about the collections in some more detail, as well as highlighting the services that we can offer and the ways in which we look after, preserve and manage collections.

Feedback about the day has been good – a common suggestion seems to be that people would like us to do more of these open days. We’re hoping to do the next one slightly earlier in the academic year (sometime in the first term) so watch this space!

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About Special Collections, SOAS Library

Broadly speaking, our collections reflect the British interaction with Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the last 250 years, and include archives of missionary societies, NGOs and campaign groups, and business organisations, as well as papers of individuals, including diplomats, campaigners, and academics. If you have any questions, or comments, please get in touch! email: tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4180


  1. Pingback: Swire Archives Project: Additions to the Collection | SOAS Archives

  2. We are hoping to hold our next Open Day in Term 1 of the next academic year. Watch this space!

  3. Very disappointed I missed the open day, when is the next one?

    1. That’s great, thanks very much

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