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Archive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science


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The archives of the Association cover all aspects of its work over most of the 150 years of its existence, with the records of the annual meetings predominating. Over one third of the papers (Dep. B.A.A.S. 130-282) relate to these meetings, the bulk of them ephemeral printed material. For the first sixty years only formal papers, like minute-books and ledgers, survive to supplement the papers of the annual meetings. Only from the early years of the twentieth century do files of back-up papers and correspondence survive, and even then they are by no means comprehensive.

The archive is divided into three main series, beginning with general papers concerning the administration and work of the Association, followed by papers relating to Annual Meetings and minute-books and files of the Sections (A-M and X) and of the Division for the Social and International Relations of Science (D.S.R.S.). Press-cuttings and photographs are grouped together in the fourth series.

The first series includes correspondence about the foundation of the Association, records of the inaugural meeting and early lists of members. At the inaugural meeting powers of supervision and legislation were vested in a General Committee, minutes of whose meetings survive from 1831 to 1962. Papers of the Council (established in 1832 to discharge the administrative functions of the Association) and various of its sub-committees are described next, followed by financial records. Papers of four Secretaries of the Association survive in the archive, including some (Dep.B.A.A.S. 59-63) of the first Secretary, John Phillips (1800-74), and of O.J.R. Howarth from the 1930s. Two more recent Secretaries are represented with subject files of Sir George Allen, mainly 1958-63, and a chronological series of out-letters of Sir Norman Wright, 1963-8. Subject files of Secretaries' correspondence generated by the Association's involvement in public affairs and by its work with other societies and institutions follow. Section I concludes with papers relating to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin, given to the Association in 1927.

The second series begins with four notebooks of John Phillips, which record arrangements for the annual meetings from 1832 to 1835. These are followed by three volumes of signatures of some of the people attending annual meetings, and general papers concerning various aspects of the organisation of the meetings. The bulk of the section (Dep. B.A.A.S. 146-280) consists of ephemeral printed material - invitations, tickets, proceedings, programmes and the like - arranged chronologically, 1831-1965, with gaps in the series before 1859 and after 1939.

The third series describes papers of the Sections of the Association and of the D.S.R.S. There are minute-books of all the Sections except M (Agriculture). The earliest are those of Section B (Chemistry) and Section C (Geology), which start in 1837. Few of the runs of minute-books are complete. Only Sections A (Maths and Physical Science), F (Economic Science and Statistics) and G (Engineering) have minute-books which cover the 1870s and 1880s. Files of correspondence and papers, mainly concerning research projects recommended for financial grants, survive for all the Sections from the first decade of the 20th century to the 1940s.

The fourth series, press-cuttings, is arranged chronologically. The earliest date from 1832; the rest form an incomplete series from 1859 to 1972. Photographs of individual members of the Association and of groups at Annual Meetings comprise Dep. B.A.A.S. 445-52.

An invaluable history of the Association by O.J.R. Howarth, based on its records, was first published in 1921, and expanded to mark the centenary in 1931 as The British Association....: A retrospect. The early papers were used by Jack Morrell and Arnold Thackray in Gentlemen of Science: Early Years of the B.A.A.S. (Oxford, 1981). The same authors printed several of the letters from Dep. B.A.A.S. 1 in Gentlemen of Science, Early Correspondence (Camden fourth series xxx, 1984).


  • Creation: 1831-1972


45.3 Linear metres (453 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. Dep. B.A.A.S. 1].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

Dep. B.A.A.S 1-453

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 12567


The Archive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science cover all aspects of its work over most of the 150 years of its existence, with the records of the annual meetings predominating.

Biographical / Historical

The British Association for the Advancement of Science was founded in 1831 at an inaugural meeting organised by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. About two hundred men of science attended, their main aim to strengthen the relationship between science and the public interest. Every year since its foundation (with the exception of 1917 and 1918) the Association has held an annual meeting to focus public attention on scientific research. At each annual meeting papers on a wide variety of scientific subjects are read and circulated. From the early years different branches of science came to be represented by different Sections of the Association (known as Sections A to M, with a Section for corresponding societies - Section X - to coordinate the relations between the Association and other scientific societies). Increasing concern about the social and international repercussions of scientific developments led to the formation in 1938 of a Division for the Social and International Relations of Science, which held its own conferences from 1939 to 1946.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The archives of the Association were deposited in the Bodleian in 1977.

Archive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Turner
1987, EAD version 2017
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom