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The best introduction to the core, historic records of the University and the activities which gave rise to them is Heather E. Peek and Catharine P. Hall The archives of the University of Cambridge. A historical introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962). Catalogues of the University Archives are available to browse and search online as part of Janus, the internet resource for catalogues of Cambridge archives. The following list is by no means exhaustive:

  1. Cambridge University Press archives

    Cambridge University Press was established as the University’s own printing house in 1696, although the University had been authorised to licence printers since 1534, with the first book printed in 1584. The Press has been the Queen's Printers since 1989.

    Minute books, photographs, building plans, financial records, printing ledgers, art work, newspaper cuttings, and author correspondence files give evidence of the people and changing technologies of Cambridge University Press.

    Some treasures in the Press Archive include the Articles appointing Thomas Thomas as Printer to the University (1586), Press petitions to the monarch relating to printing privileges and disputes (from 1615), vouchers for payments made by University Printers (from 1696), minutes of Syndicate meetings (from 1696), agents' accounts for the delivery of books (1766), letters from authors to the Press (from 1873), estimates and orders records (from 1840), and a printed war-service list for staff (1939–45).

    The Cambridge University Press Archivist is working to improve the structure and detail of the current listing of the Press Archive, to complete the retrospective conversion of paper finding aids and to create descriptions from scratch for uncatalogued material. The resultant catalogue will greatly enhance access to the archives, which, at more than 500m, form the largest constituent part of the University Archives outside the records of the central administration and are unique among publishers’ records in their diversity and time span. Cambridge University Press generously agreed to fund this project, which began in January 2010.

    Records are being added to Janus, the webserver for catalogues of Cambridge archives. Please see the collection level description for more information about the size and scope of the archive. To understand how the records are arranged and catalogued, it is important to recognise that they fall within various categories and it may be necessary to search in more than one place to find the information you require. Papers created before the appointment of the first Curators (later Syndics) in 1696, will be found in the University Archives rather than the Press Archive (for example, the Letters Patent of 26 Henry VIII granting to the University the right to appoint three stationers within the University and to print all manner of books, 20 July 1534 is found in UA Luard 162). Internal administrative records created after 1696 are organised within a distinct Press Archive (Pr and CUP within Janus).

    Press records have been transferred to the University Archives on permanent loan at various dates from 1957 onwards.
    For enquiries relating to the Cambridge University Press archives, please contact Rosalind Grooms (rm260@cam.ac.uk), Press Archivist.

  2. Vice-Chancellor’s Court records

    This was technically the Chancellor’s Court, but was presided over by the Vice-Chancellor by the sixteenth century. From successive monarchs it accrued wide-ranging civil and ecclesiastical powers to try cases affecting University members and other ‘privileged persons’ in the areas of felony, probate, licensing, debt, morality and discipline. It could suspend from degrees and imprison, though any such sentence was ineffectual unless agreed to by a majority of the Heads of Colleges.
    The records provide a unique source for the social and economic history of Cambridge, for town-gown relations, and the internal development of the University. The exhibita files, 1540-1700, comprising material produced in court and established before the Vice-Chancellor as a record, or in the course of the University administration, are particularly rich and varied. The online catalogue summarises their contents and those of the Deposition Books up to 1660.
    The earliest and most important series of records of the court are the testamentary records. They comprise some 1550 original wills proved ca 1540-1765, five volumes of registers of wills, 1501-1765, as well as about 1300 inventories of testators’ possessions, 1498-1761, University Administration Bonds, 1534-1746, and other records relating to senior members of the University and to certain other ‘privileged persons’. Of particular interest to bibliographers are those inventories, numbering approximately 167, containing lists of books.
     

  3. Student Records

    Guidance is available on how to search for alumni in the University Archives. The most significant records series are as follows:

    Matriculations, 1544 (gap 1590-1601) to present day
    Ordo Senioritas, 1498/9-1746/7 and triposes from 1747/8 to present day. Published in The historical register of the University of Cambridge and Supplements
    Supplicats. These were certificates signed by college praelectors testifying to qualifications, residence etc. of candidates for degrees, 1568-1870
    Subscription books. Candidates for degrees were required to sign their acceptance of the royal supremacy and of the formularies of the Anglican Church, 1613-1833 (interrupted between 1641-60), 1833-70 (subscriptions to modified formula)
     

  4. Records of University clubs and societies

    This is one of the largest and most popular groups of records within the University Archives, comprising the archives of over 140 clubs and societies. The oldest archives are those of the Zodiac Club probably founded in 1725 for purposes its twelve members (each taking a sign of the Zodiac as an alias) were forbidden to reveal but which seem to have included conviviality and mutual self-advancement. The documents do not shed much further light on these activities, being of an administrative nature, but do confirm the importance of senior members in many of the earlier University societies. There is then a jump in the collections to the early nineteenth century, with the Cricket and Boat Clubs, Garrick and Ray Clubs, for sportsmen, thespians and scientists respectively, and the University Musical Society. The later nineteenth century offers a further and considerable variety of sports and recreational societies, from the new craze for bicycling to the long-established art of change ringing, and the documentation of University activities continues almost to the present, with the records of Cambridge University Amnesty International, starting in 2004.
    These archives provide important insights into the life of the University over the centuries. The minutes of the Chit-Chat Club (1860-1897), a similar institution to the better-known Apostles with some overlap of membership, reveal what were the favoured topics of the ‘rational conversation’ it was founded to promote. They also demonstrate how many societies went into decline on the departure of prominent members (in this case, M.R. James, Provost of King’s). Interestingly, a prospective member of the Friday Club, a senior members’ dining society, was refusing to join even in 1868 because the club permitted smoking. To counter any impression of the exclusively sybaritic, inspection of the papers of the Cambridge University Social Services Organisation will reveal many of the voluntary and charitable activities undertaken by students in the 1970s under the aegis of this co-ordinating body.
     

  5. Archives of the Footlights Dramatic Club

    The archives of the Footlights Dramatic Club comprise a diverse collection of material relating to productions and performances, such as scripts, photographs, posters and programmes, as well as news cuttings tracing celebrated members' careers after Cambridge and photocopies and notes of related records elsewhere.
    The first production of the Footlights Dramatic Club was in May Week 1883, when a group of undergraduates put on a musical comedy - a burlesque  - called Orlando Furioso by William Barnes Rhodes.  From 1892, the Club began the unbroken tradition of presenting an original show for May Week, composed thereafter of any combination of burlesque, comedy sketches, satire, songs and instrumental music. Women first appeared in a production in 1932 and again in 1957.  From 1959 they were regular players, and accorded full Club membership in 1964. Performers down the decades have included Jonathan Miller, David Frost, Peter Cook, John Bird and John Fortune (of Bremner, Bird and Fortune on Channel 4), ‘Pythons’ John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle, Clive James, ‘Goodies’ Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Germain Greer. Recent graduates include Matthew Holness (star/creator of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace on Channel 4), David Mitchell and Robert Webb (of Peep Show on Channel 4) and Olivia Colman (of 2012, Rev., Accused and The Night Manager on BBC). Since the mid-1980s, the Club has in addition produced a Spring revue. In between revues, Club members have experimented with new material at informal performances called Smokers. The May Week revue first transferred to London in 1910. Since the 1950s, it has been usual to follow the Cambridge run with performances in London, the South East and the Midlands, at the Edinburgh Festival and occasionally overseas. Revues have also been recorded for radio and television.  In 1970, the Footlights put on the first of what has become the annual pantomime. This archive has proved to be as popular with students of theatre and comedy history as with TV production companies sourcing visual records of the many actors, satirists and comedians who cut their teeth in Club productions.

For enquiries please contact Jacqueline Cox (jc10021@cam.ac.uk), Keeper of the University Archives.