In the latest of the Special Collections A-Z we look at J for Jewish archives. The Special Collections holds a considerable volume of Anglo-Jewish archive material, yet one of the questions we are asked frequently is why should this be the case. We will look a little at the background that led to the development of Southampton as a repository for Jewish archives.
The prominent Anglo-Jewish figure Claude Montefiore, was Acting President of University College, Southampton, 1910-13, and then President, 1913-34. He was a key supporter in the development of the institution during this time and part of his book collection was donated to the Library. The presence of this material was one of the attractions for Revd Dr James Parkes when he was seeking a home for his own library and archives. The Parkes Library on Jewish/non-Jewish relations arrived at the University of Southampton in 1964. This collection has formed the nucleus of a significant and ever expanding printed Special Collection and been the magnet that has drawn other collections to the University.
It was the arrival of the Anglo-Jewish Archives collections in 1990, however, which transformed the scale and breadth of the holdings, adding some 5,000 boxes to the Special Collections existing holdings, and making it a significant centre for Jewish archival material.
The Anglo-Jewish Archives collections that came to Southampton in 1990 had been created as part of the Jewish Historical Society of England in the 1950s and were housed but not owned by University College London. Although, unlike their American counterpart the American Jewish Archives based at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinatti, they were considerably underfunded, the AJA were very successful in collecting and also surveying material. Their success meant that they outgrew their temporary accommodation and resources and by the 1980s were in need of rehousing and additional resources. Indeed, in the 1980s there was a growing concern of the threat of a “vanishing heritage” of the destruction or disappearance of archival material. There were a number of initiatives to deal with this, especially in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. In Manchester, its Jewish Museum was opened in 1984, whilst in Liverpool and Birmingham partnerships were developed between local record offices and Jewish heritage projects. Working in collaboration with the Merseyside Jewish Community Archives, a community archivist helps co-ordinate collecting and encourages its cataloguing and use, while the Liverpool Record Office provides archival storage and access. In London the Museum of the Jewish East End and in Glasgow the Scottish Jewish Archives were formed in the late 1980s. In both heritage preservation and archive collection were part of their initiatives but in both these cases, unlike Liverpool, there was no formal partnership with local record offices.
Another initiative was guidelines for the Anglo-Jewish community on the preservation of material and recommendations for depositing archives produced by the working party on Jewish archives. This working party was formed following a British Library symposium to discuss Jewish archives in 1988.
As part of these recommendations, a framework was set up amongst UK archives and libraries to provide a home for Jewish archival material. As part of this London Metropolitan Archives became the repository for material of London based organisations, while Southampton took on the role of collecting material relating to Anglo-Jewry.
In the decades since 1990, the situation with regards to archives of the Jewish community in the UK cannot be separated from the developments of the designated repositories, particularly London Metropolitan Archives and the University of Southampton. London Metropolitan Archives has become the repository of archives of a range of London based Jewish organisations, including those of the Office of Chief Rabbi, the United Synagogue and the Board of Deputies. The Special Collections has built on the core collections acquired by the Anglo-Jewish Archives from the 1950s to 1990 expanding them in both size and range. The collections at Southampton have grown several fold since 1990 and now fill more than 3km of shelves.
The newer collections might still include those from the Anglo-Jewish elite, such as the Swaythling or Waley Cohen families, but they also include papers of refugees such as Eugene Heimler, the Adler family from Vienna or the Van der Zyl family or material of Rudi Kennedy who was used as a slave labourer under the Nazi regime and led the fight in the UK for compensation, increasing the range of voices to be heard. Organisational collections have expanded to include a range of liberal and reform communities and communal organisations. And we have given home to papers of pressure groups, such as those who fought for the cause of Soviet Jewry Conscience and the “35s” or the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry or for social justice such as the Jewish Council for Racial Equality.
For further information on the holdings at Southampton do look at the Archive Catalogue and the Browse Collections feature which brings together information on the range of Jewish archival material we hold. Special Collections also has contributed to Yerusha, an online catalogue providing extensive information on European Jewish archival heritage. It features more than 12,000 in-depth archival descriptions from 700 European archives, libraries, and museums in 27 countries.
And next week’s blog shines a spotlight on one of the newer Jewish archive collections with K for Kochan, focusing on the collection of the academic Lionel Kochan.