Clement Attlee's ‘Indian Books’

In the first of two posts to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence, Alex Jubb explains how his internship led to him learning about the Library's collection of books once owned by Clement Attlee.


This will be the first of two blogs written about an internship undertaken with the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP). The first post will discuss how this internship came about, the first stages of the internship, and the internship's successes. The second post will develop the narrative that I have unearthed whilst progressing through the internship.

The accessories book, available in the Borthwick
Archives, open on just one of the many
pages of Attlee's donations
Every summer, IPUP offer part-time internships 'intended to give graduate History students an
opportunity to develop their skills, experience and CVs in various employment contexts.' I was lucky enough to be offered an internship closely associated with the History Department and the University Library's Special Collections. The University Library holds a vast array of hidden wonders within its collections; many of which are catalogued without copy specific details, leaving these particular books difficult to locate even if an avid historian tries to find them on the University's databases. Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom immediately following the end of the Second World War, donated many books to the Library in the early 1960s. Attlee was one of the most important figures in orchestrating the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947. As a result of this, in his vast collection of books he had obtained many works on Indian and Pakistani affairs. Attlee donated over 100 of these works to the Library, and I was to play a role in finding these works on the Library's shelves, listing them, and ensuring that they are widely advertised and explored thoroughly by other researchers, not just myself through improved catalogue records, and promotion via social media and exhibitions. This was primarily because this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Indian Independence Act, and is fresh on the minds of many eminent scholars and historians.

It is only known that these works originally belonged to Attlee through the exploration of the University's 'Accessions Book'; a book detailing all of the books, articles and other items donated to the Library over a two year period between 1961 and 1963. I spent a day working with this book in the Borthwick Reading Room, transferring the data from the book onto an electronic spreadsheet. It soon became obvious that there was minimal detail on the accessions book, and from a quick search of several of the books using 'Yorsearch', the University of York's online catalogue,  it soon became evident that these details were also missing from the online catalogue. Publishers were missing, first names of many authors were missing, and the title of the book and date of publication were often incomplete. To the outside world, and to most within the University itself, there was no indication that these were donated by Attlee. Only the accessions book had this crucial information. This lack of information was initially quite worrying, but a day spent collating all of the relevant works from the accessions book allowed me to 'fill in the gaps'. This was a long and arduous process, but one that will be of use to future researchers of Attlee and the independence stories of India and Pakistan. Many of these works have authorial inscriptions to Attlee, Attlee's family crest and bookplate, and other notations made by Attlee himself. These works are not known to scholars and biographers of Attlee, and by sharing the database of these works that I have now created it is hoped that this information will soon be out in the public domain via the online catalogue.

The accessories book, held in the Borthwick Archives, showing Attlee's donations.
This new research into Attlee's donations will also lend itself to the creation of an exhibition within the University Library. This exhibition will showcase several of the books that have been researched, and will be the first step to bringing Attlee's relationship with the University to life.

Clement Attlee with his instantly
recognisable smoking pipe
Being given the chance to work alongside both Sarah Griffin, the Rare Books and York Minster Librarian, and Mark Jenner, one of the University's Research Champions and also a Reader in Early Modern History, has certainly been something that I have really appreciated. The works that I have looked at within this internship were initially unknown to me, but I now have a much clearer understanding of the immense wealth of material that the University has within its collection. A simple use of the Library catalogue might highlight the location of a particular book but, at present, it is not always possible to tell via this method just how important an individual the book belonged to. This opportunity has been something that I have relished; it has provided me with inspiration for future avenues of research, and invaluable experience of working within the Special Collections Department of an academic institution. Not only will this be of great use in future when I am searching for jobs and deciding which career path to follow, but has provided me with a newfound set of skills; I am now confident in working on a project where the narrative has not been created and is not necessarily easy to come across. The second part of this blog will discuss the 'narrative' and story of Attlee's donations to the University, particularly focusing on his relationship with India and Pakistan. This relationship can be told through the information within the accessions book and Attlee's donated works, and the story is an interesting one indeed.



Photo of Clement Attlee used under a Creative Commons licence from Wikimedia Commons. All other photos taken by Alex Jubb.


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