Archives Catalogue: Introduction
The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA) was founded in 1884 with the support of leading Victorian scientists and establishment figures, with Thomas Henry Huxley as President, E. Ray Lankester as Honorary Secretary, and the Prince of Wales as Patron. The MBA is an independent research organisation and a registered charity and its aims are to promote scientific research into all aspects of life in the sea, including the environment on which it depends. The Plymouth Laboratory opened in 1888 and enjoys an international reputation for excellence in research, both by its resident scientific staff, and by the many British and overseas visiting workers. The MBA receives grants from the research councils and from private foundations enabling it to run a research programme in basic marine science, and to maintain national and international links.
The Archives Collection includes documents and records relating to the early history and development of the Association and its Laboratory, the research programmes, staff, visiting workers and membership, the buildings, ships, library, aquarium, Journal, finance and administration, together with personal and scientific papers, letters, notebooks and documents, illustrations and photographs. The material in the Collection reflects the history not only of the MBA, but also the origins and early history of British marine science.*
Since 1993 efforts have been made to identify, sort and list archival materials which should be preserved, to catalogue and make them accessible. In 1994 and 1995 British Library contributed towards the costs of the work through its scheme of grants for cataloguing and preservation, and a grant from the Pilgrim Trust in 1996 supported the preparation of this Catalogue.*
The archives are listed on a microcomputer database, using Unesco CDS/ISIS software, with data structures compatible with international standards for archives management. A related database lists almost 800 MBA staff and Council members 1884-1990.
The pre-1960 institutional material has not survived as part of a cohesive filing or records system, but consists of sets of often tenuously related documents rescued from earlier files, and from the Spring cleaning activities of former directors, administrators and secretaries, or from bomb damage in March 1941. Nevertheless, efforts have been made to arrange the documents in the order and system under which they were originally created and used.
This catalogue is derived from the Archives database which holds fuller information than has been selected for this printed Catalogue, and which is maintained in the Library. The arrangement is in three sections: the first contains institutional papers relating to the Association and the Plymouth Laboratory, arranged by office or department of origin; the second lists personal and scientific documents of members of the Plymouth staff and researchers having close links with the Association, and the third section lists the correspondence of Edward Thomas Browne (1866-1937) a visiting researcher, authority on Medusae and hydroids, and benefactor of the Association. The database permits the hierarchical linking of records, and the institutional section of this Catalogue consists of main entries broadly describing a set of documents followed by sets of subsidiary entries giving greater detail, the subsidiary entries being indicated by a vertical line in the left margin. Each entry includes a code in square brackets indicating the physical location of material within the Archives Collection, e.g. [MD3.2]; [PBD7].
For background historical information on the MBA, users are recommended to consult the paper: Southward, A.J. and Roberts, E.K. One hundred years of marine research at Plymouth. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 67, 465-506, 1987.
The publication of this Catalogue marks the end of the first phase of work with the archives. The work is ongoing, and we hope that holders of MBA-related material will deposit it with the Library for preservation in the Archives Collection. The work could not have reached this stage without the encouragement and support of past and present members of staff. I thank particularly the MBA Director and Secretary Professor Michael Whitfield, David Moulder, Linda Noble and members of the Library staff, Professor Alan and Dr Eve Southward, Dr Gerald Boalch, and not least, Mrs Wendy Kennedy, who rescued and preserved a substantial number of early files and records which had been consigned to a rubbish skip by an over-zealous temporary secretary.