Religious Archives Group Conference, Pusey House, Oxford, 8 May

Religious Archives Group Conference, Pusey House, Oxford, 8 May 2014
Religious Archives and Universities
The Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies
The Dissenting Academies Project
The Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies is a collaboration between Dr
Williams’s Library, London, and the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary
University of London, established in 2004 by Dr David Wykes and Professor Isabel
Rivers. Its objectives include promoting the use of the Library’s unique holdings of
Protestant nonconformist and dissenting books and manuscripts, and encouraging
research into and dissemination of these materials, by means of funded projects,
conferences, studentships, fellowships, and publication (in print and online).
The aim of the Dissenting Academies Project is to provide a comprehensive, archivebased history of the dissenting academies in the British Isles for the period 1660 to
1860. It was set up in 2006 and funded from 2008 to 2013 by the Leverhulme Trust
and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The funding has made possible the
employment of four postdoctoral research fellows, two research assistants, and a
technical assistant, who have created the databases. The AHRC has also funded four
collaborative doctoral students associated with the project, whose publications on the
Centre’s website derive from their archival research.
It has two outcomes: 1) the ongoing Dissenting Academies Online (published on the
Dr Williams’s Centre website), consisting of two fully searchable databases:
Database and Encyclopedia and Virtual Library System. 2) A History of the
Dissenting Academies in the British Isles, 1660-1860, in preparation, with over 30
contributors (to be published by Cambridge University Press).
The research is based on manuscript and print sources in over seventy repositories,
including Dr Williams’s Library, Bristol Baptist College, Harris Manchester College,
Oxford, the John Rylands Library, Manchester, the National Library of Wales, and
Castle Hill United Reformed Church, Northampton. Database and Encyclopedia so
far contains records of c.230 academies, 700 tutors, 4,300 archival sources, and
10,000 students; over 60 academy histories and over 150 tutor biographies have been
published, with many more being written and edited. It is now possible to make
chronological, regional, and denominational (Congregational, Presbyterian, Baptist,
or Methodist) or theological comparisons of academy size, subjects studied, kinds of
student, entry requirements, qualifications of tutors, students’ subsequent careers, and
student and academy funding. Virtual Library System contains catalogue entries for
over 20,000 academy library books in seven leading Baptist, Congregational, and
Presbyterian academy libraries in England, including Bristol Baptist College,
Manchester College, Homerton Academy, Coward College, and Lancashire
Independent College, and records of library loans made to over 600 borrowers at
Bristol, Manchester, and Homerton.
Three members of the Project will discuss the databases and their own research on the
Dr Mark Burden, who is a Visiting Fellow of the Centre and a former AHRC
Collaborative Doctoral Award holder, will talk about his research for A Biographical
Dictionary of Tutors at the Dissenters’ Private Academies, 1660–1729, published
online at
Dr David Wykes, Director of Dr Williams’s Library, will talk about his research on
the various transformations of Manchester College from 1786 to the 1850s.
Professor Isabel Rivers, Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature and
Culture at Queen Mary, will talk about her research on the Wesleyan Theological
Institution, Southern Branch, Richmond.