Sunday, 13 May 2012

Controversy over Catholic archive plans continues

Controversial plans are still being considered to split Scotland’s precious and internationally recognised Roman Catholic archive collection between separate facilities at Glasgow and Aberdeen. The proposal of the Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Trust is to close and sell the current Edinburgh based archive facility at Columba House, 16 Drummond Place, Edinburgh, which it is hoped will raise £1 million, money that will then help to offset the construction of a new episcopal centre in Glasgow.

The split of this collection goes against moves in 1958 to centralise the resources in one facility in order to make it more convenient for students studying the history of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church. As such, many within the academic community in the country are raising concerns about the plans, including Professor Tom Gallagher of the University of Bradford, Professor Tom Devine of the University of Edinburgh and Professor Charles McKean of the University of Dundee, as well as Dr Clive Field OBE, President of the Religious Archives Group.

As it currently stands, the proposal is that the more historic material from the 12th century to 1878 (the date of the Restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy) is to be relocated at the new Aberdeen University Library, whilst newer material (post-1878) will go to a new episcopal centre at Hamilton Road, Pollokshields, Glasgow. The Glasgow Archdiocesan Archives (www.rcag.org.uk/history_intro.htm) will still remain separate from those of the other dioceses. In addition, the Blairs Museum near Aberdeen (www.museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk/member/blairs-museum), which costs £100,000 per annum to run, is to stay open, despite the fact that the Edinburgh based Scottish Catholic Archives facility (www.scottishcatholicarchives.org.uk), which costs just £50,000 a year to run, is to be closed. With material also held at the National Library of Scotland and the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, prospective students are likely to need to see a lot of Scotland for their research should the plans go ahead. That’s great for the travel industry, but perhaps not so great for those on a student income.

In an ‘expression of concern’ over the proposals by Professor Charles McKean, circulated to the Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society on April 27th, he noted that “This proposal has been determined with a quite extraordinary lack of consultation with the growing number of scholars using this resource or with the community (as well as the nation at large), and it goes against the Church’s stated ambition to foster and encourage the understanding of the place of the Catholic Church in Scottish history”. The professor has also commented that to use the year 1878 as the dividing point is problematic, as many collections straddle this point in time. His strongest comment is the following: “If this move takes place, it is likely to stall the recent growth in Scottish Catholic historical research, and its integration in broader Scottish historical research. Our concern is that it will relegate it to where it used to be: a sideshow.”

The professor has suggested that a broad spectrum of individuals and organisations needs to now raise its voice about concerns over the plans, by writing to the following:
  • Cardinal Keith O’Brien, 42 Greenhill Gardens, Edinburgh, EH10 4BJ.
  • Abp Mario Conti: Curial Office, 196 Clyde Street, Glasgow, G1 GJY
  • The nuncio. Abp Antonio Mennini, 54 Parkside, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5NE.
  • The Scottish Catholic Observer (www.sconews.co.uk)
  • The Tablet (www.thetablet.co.uk)

Further coverage on this story, including Dr Clive Field's note to the Religious Archives Group and Professor McKean's full text to the FRHS in April, is available at www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=RELIGIOUS-ARCHIVES-GROUP;6c3786ac.1205

(With grateful thanks to two sources who have helped with the above story but who have asked to remain anonymous)

Chris

British GENES on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BritishGENES and Twitter @chrismpaton

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