The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies was founded in 1879 to advance the study of Greek language, literature, history, art and archaeology in the Ancient, Byzantine and Modern periods. It has done this ever since by various means, chief among them being the annual publication of the prestigious Journal of Hellenic Studies and, since the 1950s, Archaeological Reports, and more recently by Argo, a bi-annual authoritative yet accessible magazine.
The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies was founded in 1910 to promote the study of the history, archaeology, literature and art of Italy and the Roman Empire, from the earliest times down to about A.D. 700. It publishes two journals, the Journal of Roman Studies and Britannia, as well as a bi-annual on-line newsletter, Epistula, and an expanding series of monographs specialising in the archaeology of Roman Britain.
Both Societies offer wide-ranging programmes of events, including conferences, lectures, museum and site visits; and grants to support research at all levels, including books for schools, bursaries for students, as well as major grants for important new research. However, a key objective of both Societies from the beginning has been the formation of a library and provision of facilities for study to those working upon the subjects promoted by the Societies.
Foundation of the Library
The Hellenic Society
Shortly after the Society was founded, in 1880 one book case was purchased to contain ‘such books and MSS as the Society might collect’. With the appointment of a Librarian and Library Committee, the holdings grew, rapidly augmented by books sent for review, numerous gifts from the British Museum, universities, publishers and private donors, and grants from the Society, and by 1904, George Macmillan, the founder of the Hellenic Society, was able to report Library holdings of about 2,600 volumes. He commented that ‘it seems probable that it is now one of the best Libraries of its kind in this country from which books can be borrowed by members’. Drawings, plans and photographs were added, and in 1890 a collection of lantern slides was started (see the examples to the right from the Stillman Archive). This expansion of materials encouraged the Society to move in 1909 from its original location in the offices of the Royal Asiatic Society to new premises at 19, Bloomsbury Square.
The Roman Society
At the inaugural meeting of the Roman Society in 1910, Francis Haverfield (Professor of Roman History, University of Oxford) expressed the hope that the collection of books acquired by the new Society would be united with those of the Hellenic Society to establish a Joint Library for the mutual benefit of both sets of members. The Roman Society immediately joined the Hellenic Society in its new premises in Bloomsbury Square. The collection, now some 12,000 volumes, quickly outgrew the space here and in 1924 moved to 50, Bedford Square with a twenty-five year lease. A letter to The Times of 23 February 1929, inviting donations to the Jubilee Appeal Fund of the Hellenic Society, and endorsed in a leading article, helped to raise £2,500. However, the growing collection of books, photographs, drawings and prints, the termination of the lease, and high costs, meant that it was necessary to find a new home for the Library collection.
The Institute of Classical Studies
In 1951, the Hellenic Society’s President, T.B.L. Webster (Professor of Greek, University College London), began to plan, as part of the University of London, an Institute of Classical Studies (ICS), as a centre for postgraduate studies and a meeting place for UK and overseas scholars. A key element would be a good library. The ICS was to be housed in a new building at 31-34, Gordon Square. Bloomsbury. This situation perfectly complemented the position of the Societies who possessed the requisite library but were in danger of having nowhere to house it. The Joint Library now became part of a Combined Library with the ICS, and the new Library, now containing about 30,000 volumes, was formally opened on 29 April 1958 by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, then Chancellor of the University.
The Library now strengthened its holdings in archaeology, history, epigraphy and papyrology. Importantly, it also began to address gaps in its collection, finding the best editions of classical authors, and filling the breaks in periodical series, including those due to the war years. The growth of the collection, an increase in numbers of readers, and the demand for more librarians led to the need for more space, and the Library moved to new larger premises within the South Block of the University of London’s Senate House in 1997.
After some reconfiguration, the Library is now housed on the third floor of the South Block and following a series of MoUs, a twenty-five year Agreement was signed with the University of London in April 2016. This Agreement governs the operation and management of the Library and safeguards its accommodation by the University of London.
1879 – Foundation of the Hellenic Society
1880 – Purchase of the first bookcase
1904 – The collection numbers 2,600 volumes
1909 – The Library moves from the Royal Asiatic Society to 19, Bloomsbury Square
1910 – Foundation of the Roman Society, and formation of the ‘Joint Library’
The collection reaches 12,000 volumes
1924 – The Library moves to 50, Bedford Square
1929 – Fundraising appeal is launched as part of the Hellenic Society Jubilee Appeal Fund
1953 – Formation of the ‘Combined Library’, with the ICS (founded in 1951)
1958 – The Library moves to 31-34 Gordon Square and is opened by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
The collection reaches 30,000 volumes
1996 – The Library moves to the South Block of Senate House
2016 – Signing of 25-year Agreement with the University of London
2017 – The Library collection reaches over 150,000, including 22,000 periodicals, and rare books