British Diplomatic Oral History Centre

 

The Churchill Archives Centre hosts the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme (BDOHP). Established in 1995 by Malcolm McBain, a retired Diplomatic Service Officer with the approval of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The BDOHP interviews former diplomats or other officials who have played a significant role in events bearing on international relations.

This really is a fantastic resource. Researchers can scan through an alphabetical list of contributors (scroll down the page or click on the Janus web server link), attached to each is a very useful resume of the diplomat’s career,  see image below. You can then view the transcript by clicking on the diplomats name, for example,  ‘BYATT, Ronald Archer Campbell (b.1930)‘. Once in the transcript you are presented with a contents page which very clearly lists the posts held by the diplomat with relevant page numbers where the post is discussed in the transcript.

byatt

The transcripts of the interviews make fascinating reading, they are not only a rich resource for historians but also a window into the machinery of government of the time. Just dipping in to Byatt’s recollections when working for the Foreign Service in Havana,  there is a fascinating personal insight into the Cuban Missile Crisis, with gems such as:

‘Our Glaswegian archivist, Rob Cappie, was held up to wait for a huge missile on a low-loader to lumber out of the Havana dockyard on to the main road. This, we were told subsequently, was the first definite confirmation that the Soviets had intercontinental missiles in Cuba.’

Purpose-built in 1973 to house Sir Winston Churchill’s Papers, the Churchill Archives Centre is home to the papers of almost 600 important political, military and scientific figures from the Churchill era and after. Contemporaries of Winston Churchill sit alongside major political, military and scientific figures such as: Margaret Thatcher, Ernest Bevin, John Major, Neil Kinnock, Admiral Ramsay, Field Marshal Slim, Frank Whittle and Rosalind Franklin.

Researchers can access the collections by an alphabetical list of contributors or subject guide. You can keep up to date with their news at their twitter account @ChuArchives

 

Hannah Chandler, Official Papers Librarian, Bodleian Libraries

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection

The Foreign Office was created in 1782 and merged to become the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1968. The historical library collection of the FCO was transferred to  Kings College London in 2007 on permanent loan. The collection comprises of over 80,000 items to include photographs and manuscripts. For the historian this is an excellent primary resource. As the FCO was the department responsible for the conduct of relations with nearly all foreign states they are a window to Britain’s colonial past covering subjects such as slavery and the abolition of, railways, expeditions, diplomatic relations and war.

The majority of the collection is housed in the Foyle Special Collections Library. Anyone can view the collections though if you are not a member of Kings College a prior appointment is advisable. The collection is not lending but copies can be supplied and readers are allowed to use their own cameras. Approximately 50% of the collection is not catalogued but the library team welcome enquiries about subject coverage and will locate relevant material for viewing.  For material that is catalogued the main library catalogue can be used.

The records of the department and staff itself are held by The National Archives who also hold substantial collections of FCO material.

For a quick overview please see the introductory leaflet.

Hannah Chandler, Bodleian Libraries Oxford