Social Science blog

28 March 2014

Introducing: Chatham House Online Archive

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library, writes:

Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics

One of the most rewarding things about working for the British Library is the chance to select new materials and resources to add to our collections. At the start of this year, I’ve been excited about one of our new digital acquisitions: the Chatham House Digital Archive. This brings together hundreds of thousands of pages of published and unpublished research on international affairs, from the founding of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) up to 1979. From next year, this coverage will extend to 2008.

Researchers and others interested in international affairs, diplomacy and world politics and trade will find much of relevance and interest – including material that has previously been hard to find and access. Perhaps most exciting is the digitisation of transcripts, and in some cases audio recordings, of public meetings (those not held under “Chatham House rule”) – which include speakers such as the historian Arnold Toynbee, Dr David Owen (speaking in 1977 on nuclear non-proliferation), Lord Trevelyan, and Hugh Mackintosh Foot, ambassador to the United Nations (1964- 1970). One of the strengths of an archive such as this is that it records debate and analysis of events as they are unfolding. The long time period covered, means that this includes inter-war diplomacy, the founding of the United Nations, Cold War international relations, the role of NATO, and Britain’s position in Europe.

The Royal Institute of International Affairs had its origins in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, where British and American delegates discussed the idea of an institute to study foreign affairs as a way to prevent future wars. The British Institute of International Affairs was founded in 1920, becoming the Royal Institute in 1926. The name ‘Chatham House’, by which it is better known today, comes from the building it has occupied in London since 1923. The house, on St James Square, is named after a previous occupant, William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham. Today, the Institute is one of the leading think tanks in the world on international affairs, hosting events and conducting research on international security, health, economics, energy and the environment, and law.

As well as the speeches and meetings, the digitised archive includes all the published books and journals of the Institute, including International Affairs, Documents of International Affairs (1928- 1963), Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy, Refugee Survey (1939-1945), and British Commonwealth Relations Conferences (1933- 1965).   

The digital archive is available now in our Reading Rooms at St Pancras, London, and Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

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