Lifetime Achievement Award lunch, 30 June 2015

Historian Sir Keith Thomas and Archivist Patricia Methven honouredby All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History

Historian Sir Keith Thomas and Archivist Patricia Methven honoured by All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History has honoured the work of historian Professor Sir Keith Thomas and archivist Patricia Methven at its annual awards lunch on 30 June 2015 at the House of Commons to celebrate outstanding lifetime achievement. The lunch was organised by the Archives and Records Association of the UK and Ireland (ARA), which acts as the Group's secretariat.

The archivist and historian, with their guests, joined members of both houses, the former Group Chair, Dr Hywel Francis and his wife Mair, representatives from the Royal Historical Society, ARA and The National Archives at the lunch, which was hosted formally by Lord (David) Clark of Windermere, co-Chair of the Group and prominent, long-standing supporter of the archives sector.


Photograph shows, from left, Patricia Methven, Lord Clark and Sir Keith Thomas. Photographer: Simon O'Connor for the ARA.

Sir Keith Thomas is a distinguished historian of early-modern British history and publisher of seminal works on the period. He was a pro Vice-Chancellor at Oxford and a former President of the British Academy, among numerous senior roles. Patricia Methven – one of the UK's most respected archivists - retired recently after over 30 years at King's College, London. She also took on numerous senior administrative roles in UK archives sector and internationally in a distinguished career.

Chris Skidmore, MP, the incoming Chair of the Group, introduced the work of Sir Keith Thomas. Students of early-modern British history know him best as the author of two major works: 'Religion and the Decline of Magic' and 'Man and the Natural World'. Both were based on recently-available archive material in the 1960s and reinvigorated the early-modern social and cultural period to life to students at the time. Chris reminisced about Sir Keith's impact on him personally as a student. He also mentioned Sir Keith's prominence at the 'business end' of history, as a former delegate to Oxford University Press, general editor of Past Masters and Oxford Studies in Social History and as Chairman of the British Library Advisory Committee for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Chris also extended a warm welcome to Keith's wife Valerie.

Sir Keith thanked Chris and the All Party Group warmly for the honour of the award. He commented that it was very good for his morale " be commended by an MP who is himself a distinguished historian. At the tender age of 34, Chris Skidmore has already written as many books as I have, and his brilliant studies of Edward VI, the battle of Bosworth and the death of Amy Robsart pretty certainly have a wider popular appeal than my books do."

Sir Keith also recalled the enormously-valuable role that archivists have played throughout his career, for example how he had come across key documents in unexpected places that had had a profound influence on his research. He also compared favourably the user-friendliness and professionalism of archive services these days compared to earlier years!

Lord Clark praised Patricia Methven's contribution to the archives sector and her expertise in handling the diversity of the large King's archive collection and her career as a leading example of the dedication – often unsung - of the archivist community. He also welcomed the presence of Patricia's son, Aaron, to share in her award.

Patricia said that she was "touched and honoured" to receive the lifetime achievement award. She spoke on what she sees as the four cornerstones of the archive profession going forward: preservation, provenance, partnership and passion. She referred to the need to augment traditional archivist skills with new approaches to 'born-digital' information:

"To do this as individuals we need to be very clear that we have enough understanding of how records are created and transformed through IT systems and services... An unusable data dump is still a dump whether counted in terabytes or numbers of boxes in an abandoned cellar."

On provenance, Patricia urged innovative thinking in the digital era: 

"The challenge is to ensure that the elements which describe provenance - the contextual information and sometimes the diplomatic - are retained in close proximity to the information... (W)e need to ditch any desire to force users to search on-line catalogues as if they were printed books."

This was the fifth All Party Group annual lunch to honour the work of archivists and historians. In 2011, the Group honoured Eric Hobsbawm and Lord (Hugh) Thomas; in 2012 Lord (Asa) Briggs and Sarah Tyacke CB; in 2013, Professor Jose Harris and Gerry Slater; and in 2014, Lord (Kenneth) Morgan and George Mackenzie.

Notes for editors:

In addition to the above-named, those present at the lunch included:

From the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History: Lord Bew, Secretary; Lord Boswell (Vice-Chair), Lord Aberdare (Treasurer), Tristram Hunt, MP (Vice-Chair) and Nick Thomas-Symonds, MP (incoming Vice-Chair).

Guests included: Professor Peter Mandler, President, The Royal Historical Society; Clem Brohier of The
National Archives; ARA President, Caroline Williams; ARA Chair, David Mander; and ARA Chief Executive, John Chambers.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History has nearly 80 members. It was established in 2010 and will be co-Chaired from 1 July 2015 by Chris Skidmore, MP and Lord Clark of Windermere. The Group aims to support the archives sector and promote the study of history. The Group has a regular programme of visits and hosts an annual lecture.

The Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) is the membership body for archivists, records managers and conservators. It currently has around 2300 members and is growing. ARA provides the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History.