Here you will find definitions for terms which are used in this website or which you may encounter if you conduct any further research.
The definitions are limited to an archives context.
As a verb, it refers to the consultation of archival documents or surrogates, usually in a reading room.
Access to archival documents can be restricted by the donor/owner, the archivist or by legislation. For example, to see certain copies in the Hayward Bequest (T.S. Eliot’s collection at King’s College Archive Centre) requires permission from the owner of the originals. Certain records such as minute books are closed for a certain number of years. Some files are closed due to Data Protection, which means they are not available to readers until the relevant people have died.
This term is used to describe a batch of material at the point when it reaches the archives, or the act of bringing it into the archives. This means that one collection can contain several accessions, for example the papers of Rupert Brooke at King’s College Archive Centre.
Some cards and papers can contain acid which slowly damages archival documents. To preserve archival documents, archivists place them in acid free packaging.
See ‘accession’. Accrual usually refers to regular accessions, for example minutes of College committees.
This is a part of an archival catalogue which contains administrative or biographical details, intended to help put the collection into context.
Autograph letter signed
Somebody who used to be a student at a particular school, college or university. Alumni is the plural.
Information has been added to this document after it was completed. This happens at some time before it becomes an archival document, and it might even have been added by the original author, such as a handwritten PS to a typed letter.
In the context of Cambridge, the Apostles were a secret debating society whose name reflected the fact there were originally twelve members. New members had to be invited and were referred to as ‘embryos’. Members included philosophers GE Moore and George Macaulay Trevelyan, Rupert Brooke and his friends Edward Marsh and James Strachey (see the Biographies page). Some of the Bloomsbury group, such as John Maynard Keynes, EM Forster and Lytton Strachey were also members. At their meetings, they would read papers (essays they had written) and discuss them.
Autograph postcard signed Appraisal This is the process by which archivists decide what to keep and what to destroy.
The word ‘archive’ can be used in various ways (see section 1). Throughout this website, we shall consider the word ‘archive’ to mean ‘a collection of documents created or gathered by one person or institution and selected for long-term preservation as evidence of their activities.
This is a person who looks after archives, catalogues them and provides access to them. To become an archivist requires special training.
This is the process and result of analysing a collection in order to determine how it should be catalogued. There are a number of principles archivists have to consider when doing this, including provenance and original order.
A record is authentic if it is what it claims to be, for example, an autograph letter signed is authentic but a later transcription is not an authentic letter. This should not be confused with reliability.
This refers to the person who created a record. This term is often used in relation to copyright.
This is something which a person wrote about themself. This should not be confused with biography.
This means that a document was handwritten (not typed or dictated) by the author. This should not be confused with a signature.
A bequest is an accession which somebody left to a repository after they died, usually in their will.
A collection which is bequeathed is one which was left to a repository when somebody died, see bequest.
This is the part of the book (or other volume) which holds the pages together. Books can be bound in various different ways.
This is something which an author wrote about somebody else. This should not be confused with autobiography.
This was a group of friends which included writers (Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster), artists (Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry) and other intellectuals (including Lytton Strachey and the economist John Maynard Keynes). The group were highly influential, the intellectual celebrities of the early twentieth century. To find out more about some of these people, see the Biographies page.
This can refer to a) a volume or b) making an appointment, for example planning a visit to a reading room.
Anything with a ‘spine’, for example books.
This is the slip readers use to request documents in a reading room. It usually includes carbon copies, so you should press hard when writing them, to ensure the text appears on all of the separate parts.
Sometimes a copy can be made while somebody is writing or typing, simply by using certain types of paper, which form layers. The copy or copies produced on the lower layer(s) is referred to as a carbon copy.
This is the information, whether on paper or online, which allows readers to search for items and which provides the reference numbers required to order them.
This is a copy of a primary source, which somebody (usually a legal professional) has indicated is an exact copy of the original, for example by signing it.
This is usually used to indicate that a date has been estimated and means ‘approximately’.
This refers to a group of records which share particular characteristics, for example one series of minutes or correspondence.
Items which are closed are preserved by archivists but are not accessible to readers. After a certain number of years, they may be made available. That is their closure period.
This is a heraldic design by which families or organisations can be identified. Such designs often appear in archival records, as well as in architecture.
This is a document each repository has which helps them to decide what documents to select for long-term preservation as archives.
This is a group of archival records which have been grouped together. These documents are listed together in the same catalogue. Unlike a fonds, these records don’t have to share the same provenance. Sometimes an ‘artificial collection’ is created, for example in the case of the papers of Rupert Brooke, which were received in several accessions.
When collections are recatalogued (often because of significant new accessions to a collection), a concordance is drawn up. It shows, for each new reference number, any old reference number that document had, and vice versa.
Conservation is the process of repairing damaged documents, not to be confused with preservation.
A conservator is somebody who provides expert advice on preservation and also carries out conservation work.
See ‘Scope and content’.
Context is the additional information required to interpret documents. If you only heard half a conversation, you might not understand it. The same is true of archival documents. The additional information you have can influence how you understand what is recorded in the document.
When the word ‘copy’ is used in a catalogue, it indicates that the record is not authentic but that the information it contains is the same as that provided in the authentic document. For example, the papers of Rupert Brooke contain transcriptions of his letters. These are copies.
Copyright is a law which requires people to gain permission before copying or sharing records. This expires after a certain amount of time, often 70 years after the death of the author.
The owner of copyright is usually the author(s) or their heirs.
A copyright work is something which is in copyright. There are different types of work, such as literary (written), artistic and musical. One archival record may contain more than one copyright work, for example a letter may also include a drawing.
Creative Commons is a way that people can share copyright works and give consent for other people to use them under certain circumstances (usually non-commercial, i.e. for personal use rather than business use). Such permission may only be given by the copyright owner and will be indicated by a Creative Commons logo.
This is the term used in archival catalogues to indicate the person who created the collection or accumulated the records. For example, papers written by T.S. Eliot and held at King’s College, Cambridge, are referred to as the Hayward Bequest because the creator of the collection was John Davy Hayward, not T.S. Eliot.
The responsibility for looking after records which are in one’s physical possession. A repository might not own all of the records it looks after but they are all in the custody of the archivists.
Data Protection is a law which tells us what information we are allowed to keep and share about other living people. It ensures a certain level of privacy.
In an archival catalogue, the dates refer to the creation of the record, not always the same as when the events which it describes took place.
Since 1861 there have only been two Deans at King’s College, Cambridge. The Dean responsible for students’ academic life is now referred to as the Lay Dean.
Usually long-term loan of archival material to a repository by a donor. This is different to a gift, as material which is on loan is still the property of the donor.
See ‘Level of description’
Scan or photograph a document and save that image, which might be used as a surrogate or put online.
This is the study of the form of a document, rather than its content. For example, you would be able to identify that something was a letter without reading it, just by looking at the way it is written – the address at the top, the signature at the end etc.
A document is something which contains information or records events. A document is only a record if it records events. Archivists tend not to keep documents unless they are records.
This is the person who gives a donation to a repository.
Evidence is anything which allows you to find out about past events. Different records may provide different perspectives of events but they are still considered evidence, which is one reason that we need to interpret records and consider their context.
Evidential value refers to the qualities of a record which make it a record of particular events.
This is an element of all archival descriptions and tells users how much material the description covers. For example, whether a file contains one letter or 300 letters.
The Fabian Society is a socialist organisation established in 1884. The Labour party has a strong association with the Fabian Society, members of which are referred to as ‘fabians’.
A facsimile is an exact copy of a record.
A fascicle is a bundle of individual records which have been bound together, because they belong to the same class of records.
A Fellow of a Cambridge college is a senior academic, with the most senior being called the Master, Head, or Provost of the college. In Brooke’s day you could be made a Fellow simply by submitting a dissertation, you didn’t have to have a PhD (post-graduate degree).
When you request a document, someone has to bring it out of the strong room. This is called fetching the document(s).
This refers to a level of description in archival catalogues. It is a grouping of items which relate to the same subject or activity. A file can vary in size and should not be confused with a physical file.
Finding aids are the things readers use to identify what records they are interested in. These include catalogues and index cards.
The word ‘folio’ is derived from folium, which is Latin for leaf. It has a few meanings but the most common one is a sheet of paper, usually bound into a book or other volume. A folio contains two pages, usually referred to as recto and verso, the front and back of the piece of paper. It is different from an opening, which is two facing pages.
This is a law which allows people to gain information about public bodies, for example government departments.
This is the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated. It is often studied in relation to famous families or monarchs. For example, the coat of arms for Henry VI (founder of King’s College, Cambridge) includes a symbol called the fleur-de-lys, to show that he was also the King of France.
An heir is somebody who inherits property (whether physical or intellectual) after another person dies.
Hierarchies are systems in which things are arranged in different levels. An archival catalogue is hierarchical because it contains different levels of description, for example the collection, series and items.
The Historical Manuscripts Commission was created in 1869. It published information on the location and nature of records, highlighted their value in historical research and advised on their care. In 2003, The National Archives (TNA) took over the work of the HMC.
These are all of the records which archivists keep in a particular repository.
If a manuscript is ‘illuminated’, it is decorated with hand-drawn coloured illustrations or patterns, often in the borders or on the first letter of a paragraph. Illuminations are usually hand-drawn and can feature rich colours, such as gold. Non-coloured patterns of the same type are called ‘decoration’.
This is an early printed book, usually printed before 1501.
This is a document, for example a list or spreadsheet, which makes it easier to find particular items of information. It is often more detailed that an archival catalogue, because it extracts information from the records.
These are cards kept in a reading room to allow readers to find records. They aren’t used very often any more, as most repositories have archival catalogues, on paper and/or online.
See ‘Access points’.
The author of a record has certain rights, such as copyright. Even if they do not own the records, they may still own those rights. If they are employed by an organisation when they create the record, that organisation may own these ‘intellectual property’ rights. When they die, their heirs may receive the intellectual property rights, which expire after a certain number of years. Although records may be in the custody of a repository, the archivists do not own the intellectual property.
This is the act of reading a record, thinking about its context and forming opinions about the contents of the record.
This is the lowest level of description in archival catalogues. Whereas a file contains several items, an item is indivisible and usually relates to an individual occurrence of a particular activity. For example a letter, even if it has several pages, is an item.
See ‘National Archives, The’
A keyword is a word used to search a catalogue, if you choose not to browse the hierarchy. Depending on the word you search for, this can give many search results – sometimes too many! You might choose to carry out an ‘advanced search’ and add dates etc. to limit the number of results you receive.
This refers to old finding aids. Legacy data may still be useful, as it can add more context to a collection. If a catalogue has been updated, legacy data allows users to see what has changed and judge whether the records are still reliable.
This is the copyright and other intellectual rights which an author leaves behind when they die.
A literary executor is somebody who looks after a literary estate.
This is similar to a literary executor; however, an author’s literary trustees are a group who look after their literary estate.
Matriculation is the process of being registered as a member of the University.
Medium refers to the form in which information is recorded, for example whether it is a letter, a notebook or a photograph. The medium may even be digital.
This is a type of microform surrogate which is stored on a reel of film and viewed on a microfilm viewer. These are commonly found in libraries and archives.
This is a type of microform surrogate which is stored on a flat sheet of film about the size of a postcard and viewed on a microfiche viewer.
Microfilm or microfiche.
‘Minutes’ are notes taken at a meeting, so that there is a record of what was said. These are often collected and bound together in a ‘minute book’.
Term avoided now but still appears in older catalogues.
MS stands for ‘manuscript’.
These are the papers of a particular organisation or institution, especially those which are proof of what the institution owned. King’s College Archive Centre contains the College Archives and Personal Papers. The College Archives used to be called Muniments. We would not use that term for the Personal Papers though.
The National Archives is the official archive for the UK Government. It holds a significant collection of public records and offers advice on how records should be looked after. In 2003, they took over the roles of the Historic Manuscripts Commission and the Public Records Office. The National Archives is based in Kew, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.
When talking about photography, the term ‘negative’ refers to the image which used to be created on the film, before cameras took digital images. In negative images, light parts of the image look dark and dark parts look light. Negatives are used to produce photographic prints (physical photographs).
The Neo-Pagans (as Virginia Woolf named them) were a group of friends which included Rupert Brooke. Many of them went to a progressive public school called Bedales and had parents who were academics. They are notable for their love of the outdoors and their Fabianism. The Neo-Pagans were not members of the Bloomsbury group but there were close associations between the two groups.
An objective researcher is one whose preconceived ideas or opinions do not influence their interpretation of the records.
If something is on ‘open access’, it means either (a) readers are able to fetch it themselves (usually in a library setting) or (b) that there are no access restrictions on it (but the repository staff still have to fetch it for you).
This is an authentic record, rather than a copy.
This is the order in which records were originally created and stored. Where possible, archivists try to reflect this in the arrangement of catalogues.
An orphan work is a copyright work, the owner of which is not known or for whom you have no contact information.
A page is a side of paper, not to be confused with a folio.
This is the study of old handwriting.
People used to write on parchment, before paper became popular. It is made from specially treated animal skins, usually from a cow or calf.
This usually refers to the papers collected by a particular individual. In the case of Rupert Brooke, they are assorted papers relating to him, rather than those collected by him.
A photocopy is a copy created by a photographic process on a photocopying machine (e.g. a Xerox machine), which scans a document and then prints a copy.
This is an image created using a camera. Now photographs tend to be digital but when photographs are described in archival catalogues, they tend to be photographic prints.
This refers to something which happens or continues to happen after somebody’s death. Examples include the publication of a book after the author has died and the giving of awards to those who are dead, as recognition of their work.
An earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.
Preservation is the process of protecting documents from damage, not to be confused with conservation.
A primary source is a record created at the time of the event, or by witnesses to it. Archival records tend to be primary sources. This is not to be confused with secondary sources.
Printing is a process for reproducing text and images using a master form or template. Traditionally, this was done using a printing press. Now, it is more likely to be done using a computer and printers. Printed materials usually exist in multiple copies all the same, even if only one copy survives now.
In its literary sense, ‘proof’ refers to a preliminary printed copy of a publication, sent to the author for approval. Proofs in personal papers are often u.
Provenance can mean the history of who has owned or had custody of the record(s), and so it is evidence used to judge the reliability of the records, but it is usually used as shorthand for the Principle of Provenance which says that documents received from the same source should be kept together.
This is the most senior academic at King’s College, Cambridge. At other colleges, they refer to this position as the Master or Head.
The Public Records Office (PRO) was a repository created by the government, in 1838, and its duty was to ‘keep safely the public records’. This meant looking after records at the Public Record Office itself as well as advising on public records held elsewhere, including any record offices which hold public records throughout England. The National Archives took over this role in 2003.
Something is published if it is made available to the public, usually in such a way that many people can access it. This includes putting images on social media, as well as printing books for sale in bookshops or online. It is particularly important to get permission before sharing copyright works in such ways. Archives don’t tend to keep anything which is published, unless it has a particularly interesting provenance or is annotated.
If very few copies of a book exist or if a particular copy was owned by a noteworthy person that book may be considered a rare book and would be kept in the ‘Rare Books’ or ‘Special Collections’ department of a library.
A reader is somebody who carries out research, of any type, in a reading room. They usually have to register (show identification and sign a form) on their first visit to a particular reading room.
Reading rooms are special rooms where people view archival records, under the supervision of an archivist or archive assistant. Readers aren’t allowed to remove records from these rooms.
This is any document which records events. Archivists only keep records, although they don’t keep all records.
This is sometimes referred to as a ‘call number’ or ‘shelf mark’. Every description in an archival catalogue has a reference number and this allows you to request items and cite them.
A record is reliable if the information it contains is likely to be correct, for example, an autograph letter signed is more likely to be considered authentic than a transcription. However, the transcription should contain the same information so might be considered reliable. Reliability should not be confused with authenticity.
This is a place where archival documents are stored, preserved and made accessible, as well as the people who work there.
Any method of copying documents so they look the same, or the same but in black and white. Includes photocopying, photography, roneo copying, but not carbon copies.
See ‘Closed/Closure period’
See ‘Access Restrictions’.
If an archivist takes an old catalogue, usually on paper, and types it into modern cataloguing software, this is called retro-conversion.
This is a particular type of reprographic technique, predating photocopying. Sometimes a collection will contain one or more documents as roneo copies.
Letters patent can be used for the creation of organisations or government offices, or for the granting of city status or a coat of arms. They are issued by the reigning monarch (king or queen).
This summarises the materials which are being described in a particular catalogue entry, in more detail than the title describes them.
This is somebody who creates a record but isn’t responsible for its content. For example, a scribe might be told what to write, or be told to copy something. In such cases, the author would be the person who told the scribe what to write.
Seals were once used to authenticate documents, at the point of creation, like signatures do now. They are made of wax, into which an impression is made. You can usually tell whose seal it is by the impression which it includes. Seals are still used in some legal settings, for example when the government passes a new law.
To look through an on-line catalogue for particular words or phrases. Not to be confused with browsing the catalogue.
See ‘Reading room’.
A secondary source is something written after the events it describes, usually after the author has read and interpreted primary sources. Published books, such as those kept in libraries, tend to be secondary sources. Secondary sources are more likely to be biased, with their authors deciding how to interpret the primary sources they use during their research.
This is a level of description in which related files or items are grouped together in a catalogue. The contents of a series usually relate to the same type of activity. A series can contain another series, which is referred to as a subseries.
This is used in transcription to indicate that something which might seem like a mistake appeared in the original record, for example spelling mistakes.
Records are often signed to indicate their authenticity. The signatures aren’t always of the authors, they can be of witnesses etc.
These are records such as registers of births, marriages and deaths, which were created due to legal requirements and which certain repositories are obliged to keep.
A strong room is a special room where archives are kept. It is secure and only the repository’s staff are allowed to enter it. Such rooms usually have air conditioning to ensure that the temperature and humidity are ideal for the preservation of archival documents.
These are other terms for strong room.
A subjective researcher is whose preconceived ideas or opinions might influence their interpretation of archival records.
This is an essential part of every catalogue description and gives a short summary of the contents.
See ‘National Archives, The’
Typescript letter signed
This is the process of copying all of the information from a record, or the result of that copying. The result can be handwritten or typed, as long as it includes the same information. A good transcription will include the same punctuation and even the same mistakes as the original record.
This is the process of converting information from one language to another, or the result of that conversion.
Brooke’s studies at King’s were looking toward his Tripos, which is the University examination by which students were granted degrees. He would have consulted the University Reporter publication to find details on the lectures that would be given towards the Classics Tripos exam. He would have attended relevant lectures with Classics students from all Colleges, taught by Classics Fellows of all Colleges, and he would have taken Part 1 of his Tripos after 2 years, and part 2 a year later.
This indicates that a record was typed rather than handwritten.
These are records which an organisation needs in order to continue its business. For example, King’s College’s vital records include the Founder’s Charter (which describes how he wanted the College to be and establishes our status as a charity) and Council minutes (where decisions about the management of the College are recorded).
This is something which is bound, usually resembling a hardback book. Although the word ‘volume’ is used in a similar way to the word ‘book’, books may contain more than one volume. This means volumes are defined as physical units, whereas books are defined as intellectual units.
This is another term for photocopy.