Bringing Archives to Early Career Historians: A New Partnership with Adam Matthew Digital

by | May 7, 2020 | RHS Work | 0 comments

Each year, the Royal Historical Society aims to support around 200 UK-based early career researchers (of any nationality) with grant awards totalling just over £60,000. COVID-19 is having a major impact on the scholars we would normally fund. Here, RHS President Professor Margot Finn outlines the first of two new RHS schemes, launched today in response to COVID-19: a partnership with Adam Matthew Digital offering free and full access for 12 months to the publisher’s digital collections of primary sources for 200 early career historians.


Early Career Historians and COVID-19

Four times each year, members of the Royal Historical Society’s Research Support Committee receive applications from early career researchers (ECRs) for funding to undertake research in UK or international archives, libraries and museums.  As a veteran of the Research Support Committee – which I served on when first elected as a Council member over a decade ago and more recently chaired as a Vice President of the Society – I can attest to the high quality of these applications.  The ability to travel to collections in person plays a vital role in developing not only ECR historians’ research but also their language skills, intellectual and social networks and inter-cultural understanding.  In addition, the RHS Research Support Committee also funds conference organisation and attendance within and beyond the UK for the next generation of historians.

Of course, we spend our funds supporting History ECRs in other ways as well: our article and book prizes, our New Historical Perspectives open access book series and our Marshall and Centenary Fellowships represent a substantial investment of time, labour and money.  These schemes can, and will, continue largely unchanged, coronavirus notwithstanding.

But although the RHS has kept our existing Research Grant funding schemes open during the pandemic, it’s obvious that travel and public health restrictions will be preventing a substantial volume of essential research in the ECR History community.  In this context, we’ve mobilised to identify alternative means of supporting historians during the lockdown and in the uncertain period that is sure to follow its eventual relaxation.  The last thing we would want to do would be to encourage ECRs to undertake research in archives and collections while it is unsafe to do so.  At the same time, as historians and both PhD and postdoctoral supervisors ourselves, we all understand how frustrating and anxiety-producing it is to be denied access to one’s sources.


A Partnership with Adam Matthew Digital

In this context, in partnership with Adam Matthew Digital (AM), I’m delighted to be able to offer free-of-charge access for 200 ECRs to the online manuscript, printed and visual primary source collections from the publisher.  Staff at Adam Matthew responded both very speedily and very generously to my initial query in April 2020 as to whether the RHS might re-channel some of the Research Support Committee’s labour toward identifying ECRs whose research would benefit from full access to the AM collections. The 200 twelve-month subscriptions Adam Matthew has kindly allocated to the RHS include not only the 8 million+ pages of primary source material in the Research Source Platform, but also over 70 thematic collections made available through 2019.

These subscriptions (unlike AM’s 3-month trial subscriptions) will include the ability to download materials for your own research use.  We’re confident that access to these resources will allow many History ECRs to make significant progress on their PhDs and early postdoctoral research, within the obvious limitations of life under COVID-19.

You’ll find full information about eligibility for this new RHS emergency scheme and detailed instructions on how to apply as well as selection criteria and processes on the RHS website.   A key part of the information you will need to provide in any application is a description of how the available Adam Matthew collections will advance your research.  Highest priority will be given to researchers who lack access to the AM materials but for whom one or more of the collections offer(s) a significant enhancement to research potential in the next year, regardless of the travel and social distancing restrictions we may all be living under.


Virtual Archives

Many of the materials AM offer in digital form come from archives and libraries to which ECRs we fund with Research Grants would routinely travel. If you are eligible to apply and decide to investigate the Adam Matthew collections, you’ll find that local, national and international archives and libraries are well represented.  In the UK, these include—to name just a few—the Birmingham University Library, the Bodleian, the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, the Edinburgh University Library, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (London), the John Rylands Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the SOAS Library and The National Archives (Kew).  Outside the UK, materials come from (for example) the National Library of New Zealand, the State Archives of New South Wales and the State Library of New South Wales.  US collections feature prominently as well, including the Folger Shakespeare Library and university libraries at Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Indiana, Princeton, Rutgers and Yale.

Topics included in the Adam Matthew collections range from medieval to twentieth-century history, with areas of strength including—but not limited to—Britain and the empire, China and East Asia, diplomacy and warfare, industry and trade (including global commerce and exploration), medical histories (including women and medicine), missionary histories (including Africa, India and the West Indies) and material on histories of race, slavery and abolition.

Latin America, East Africa, colonial America, Japan and Europe during the Black Death were all topics that surfaced when I surfed the collections.  So too did Spanish history writing about the New World, women’s suffrage in Britain and medieval travel writing.  The last mentioned of these modules draws its sources from over 25 archives and libraries, including the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Yale University), the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Bibliothèques/Mediathèques de Metz, Durham University Library, Glasgow University Library, the Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel), Lambeth Palace Library and Trinity College (Dublin).

We know that not all UK-based ECRs in History are in a financial, institutional or psychological position at the moment to concentrate on research.  The Royal Historical Society is also launching a new Hardship Fund for early career historians, designed to help mitigate that very challenging COVID-19 context.  The Council and Officers of the RHS do hope, however, that access to these new, free subscriptions to the Adam Matthew collections will assist a cohort of 200 History ECRs to advance their work from home during these unprecedented times of pandemic.

Margot Finn
President, Royal Historical Society

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