BPS History of Psychology Centre Website

AHP has just been informed that the British Psychological Society‘s History of Psychology Centre has launched a new website. The website, and the content available thereon, is in its initial stages. Eventually, the History of Psychology Centre website will include a fully searchable online catalogue of the BPS’s archival holdings. One feature already present on the site is “Mystery photographs” which asks visitors to the site to help identify unknown individuals in photographs in the BPS’s archival collection.

The current incarnation the BPS’s History of Psychology Centre has been controversial. A particular bone of contention has been the Society’s 2006 decision to divest itself of its archival material. Rather than house this archival material in a space allocated to the History of Psychology Centre in the Society’s London offices, the decision was made to divide the BPS’s archival materal among a number of other independent repositories. This decision led prominent historian of psychology, and former director of the History of Psychology Centre, Graham Richards to resign from the BPS in protest.

Although the History of Psychology Centre was only formally created in 2002, and not officially opened until 2004,

the Centre’s origins extend back to September 1956 when a short-lived ‘Public Relations Subcommittee’ agreed a proposal from John C. Kenna to appoint an Honorary Archivist. In November 1956 Kenna himself accepted the post, ethusiastically accumulating a considerable quantity of material and recording interviews with eminent British psychologists. When, in 1979, Dr A.D.Lovie succeeded him, the collection included, besides the Society’s internal archives, such material as the Charles Spearman archive, Child Study Association minute books, and numerous photographs. Under Dr Lovie it expanded further, major additions being the J.C. Raven, Charlotte Wolff, Leslie Hearnshaw and Henri Tajfel archives (the last being the largest).

In 2001, with the centenary of the BPS, the Society’s focus turned to its history and attention was drawn,

to the poor situation in Britain compared with several other countries, where catalogued archives were long-established. Ingrid Lunt, the Honorary General Secretary, keenly supported by the President, Vicki Bruce. took the initiative in proposing moving the archives to London. Following a working party recommendation the Society agreed to create the present Centre. Graham Richards was appointed as Director and took up the post in September 2002.

The current incarnation of the Centre as service oriented organization, with projects such as the website, is a relatively new development:

During 2007 the Centre underwent a significant shift away from being a physical repository of archive material towards becoming more focused on research promotion and public outreach. To this end, various partnership arrangements were put in place and some of the Centre’s more peripheral holdings were given to institutions that could make better use of them.

The distribution of the BPS’s archival holdings and the partner organizations of the History of Psychology Centre include:

The Wellcome Library: where the BPS’s main archives are located. The Wellcome Library houses both the papers of individual psychologists as well as historical documents related to the BPS itself.

Science Museum: where the BPS funds a position of BPS Curator of Psychology, as well a series of outreach events and exhibitions.

Senate House Library: where the BPS’s library is housed.

Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine @ University College London: where seminars in the history of psychology and psychiatry.

The Grace Rawlings Visual Archive and the John C. Kenna Audio Archive, which include the Society’s oral history project recordings, continue to be housed at the History of Psychology Centre at the BPS’s London office.

The Society’s collect of Psychological tests are now held at the History of Psychology Centre’s Leicester location.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.

2 thoughts on “BPS History of Psychology Centre Website

  1. The American Psychological Association also seems to devalue our field’s historical records. It recently made a decision to cut back its funding of the Historical Archives maintained at the University of Akron in Ohio (USA).

  2. I hope blog readers won’t take away a wrong impression by references to the BPS deciding to ‘divest itself of its archive material’ and to dividing the material among ‘independent repositories’. Some might read this as our having got rid of the physical archive, or having let it pass out of our control to other organisations. The fact is that the main archive collections formerly held in the basement of the Society’s London premises in less than ideal conditions and accessible usually only by appointment have been moved to the Wellcome Library, a convenient central London location where the material will be kept to the highest archival standards and will be accessible to all during the Library’s usual opening hours, and will soon (we’re still working on this bit) be listed both in the Library’s online catalogue and in our own online catalogue. The collection still belongs to the Society and will continue to be developed as before; and we still employ a full-time professional archivist. In achieving this improvement in access and curatorship, the Society has not cut back on any direct funding for its archive activities.

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