RepositorySpecial Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Ref NoEUL MS 61
Extent3,000 glass plate photographs approx (in 21 large boxes), plus reference prints in 17 folders of some parts of the collection. Also one box of periodicals and three boxes of related papers.
TitleGlass plate negatives and photographs from the Library of the Imperial Institute, London
DescriptionThis collection of photographs was primarily used for teaching purposes by the staff of the Imperial Institute, and were mainly taken by amateur photographers during the 1920s-1930s. The photographs cover an extensive range of subjects and activities from all parts of the former British Empire, with an emphasis on India and the African continent. A number of photographs feature scenes of everyday life, but many more relate specifically to work, industry and the exploitation of regional resources. Not all of the photographs in the original collection Imperial Institute have survived. Some of the negatives are known to have previously formed part of the so-called 'Picture Talks' and 'Lantern Slides' series: the files of R.V. Hatt, Librarian of the Empire Lantern Slides Library relating to acquisitions, talks and lectures, 1930s-1950s, are included with the collection.

Correspondence relating to the deposit of the collection at the University, 1970s, is also contained, in addition to papers relating to the preparation and publication of Golant's pamphlet about the collection, 1980s, together with other manuscript drafts on the significance of the unpublished records of the Institute (including the photographs), c 1981.
Admin HistoryThe Imperial Institute was founded in 1887 'as a monument to the emerging imperial sentiment'. It acted partly as an educational instrument, with extensive gallery spaces promoting the Commonwealth, but was also an important research base for the Empire, exploring the potential for industrial commercial operations in the Dominions and Colonies. The Institute was sited in a building in South Kensington, London, and was purpose-designed by Thomas Colcutt (1840-1924) in a similar style to the other major museums of the area. One wing of the Institute was sold to London University in 1899. The administration of the Institute changed frequently throughout its history, coming under the remit of the Board of Trade in 1903 (following the 1902 Imperial Institute (Transfer) Act), the Department of Overseas Trade in 1925 and the Ministry of Education in 1949.

The building of the Institute was destroyed between 1957 and 1965, after the closure of the Institute in the mid 1950s. The rear galleries were demolished in 1957, the east galleries in 1962 and the west wing in 1965. The only remaining part of the original structure is the Colcutt Tower (now the Queen's Tower), which was saved from demolition and became free-standing in 1968. This now forms part of the site of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, which was expanded on a large scale during the 1950s. Following the Commonwealth Institute Act in 1958, the Commonwealth Institute was established to continue the work of the Imperial Institute, with the new building opened on a new site on Kensington High Street in November 1962. Since the closure of the exhibition galleries in the late 1990s, many of the Institute's artefacts have been transferred to the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol.
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialOther records relating to the Imperial Institute are held at The National Archives (PRO 30/76 and ED 26) and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Library and Archive. Some of the records held at The National Archives are held on microfilm at Special Collections, and were copied for Exeter University Library in c 1976-1977.

Copies of the Bulletin of the Imperial Institute previously held in this collection are now available in Special Collections (RC P 630 B74), covering 1900s-1940s [with substantial gaps]. Complete runs of the Bulletin for the Imperial Institute, 1903-1948, are held at Birmingham University Library, Liverpool University Library and at the Wellcome Trust Library.
Access ConditionsUsual EUL conditions apply.
ArrangementThe original order of the collection was apparently by country, in order of name before independence (where listed). Originally each plate was housed within a paper identification envelope, although these were not kept on accessioning the collection (a card index of the information included was retained). The original order of the collection now seems to have become disordered prior to the transfer of the collection to Special Collections.
Finding_AidsA simple card index is available, listing each photograph in reference order (X001-X1647). It would appear that this card index does not cover the entire compass of the collection.

A rough guide to part of the collection appears in the back of the pamphlet 'Image of Empire: the early history of the Imperial Institute 1887-1925', by William Golant (asst. lecturer in history 1964-1967, lecturer in history 1967-1987). Golant does not appear to have had access to the entire collection when this list was made, although additional unlisted and unnumbered photographs were also held at another site of the Library. At least half the collection is entirely inaccessible due to the lack of finding aids.
Creator_NameImperial Institute (1887-1950s); later the Commonwealth Institute
Mgt_GroupVisual culture papers
Historical papers
DS/UK/211Imperial Institute; 1887-1950s1887-1950s
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