Nine successful years in Archives

Retirement for Scotch Archivist Dr Jim Mitchell means writing full-time on a wide range of topics.


Dr Jim Mitchell retired in December after a very successful nine years as Archivist, during which the school Archives were transformed, and order brought to an area which had been chaotic and nomadic, living out of boxes and moving several times over the years.

Jim attended Scotch from 1957 to 1964, and then studied for Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and PhD degrees at the University of Melbourne. He travelled overseas, studying in Paris for his PhD and later working as a curator of eighteenth-century books at the British Library in London.

In the 1970s and ’80s he taught History at Melbourne University. He returned to Scotch in 1997 to begin researching and writing the school’s sesquicentenary history, A Deepening Roar, which was published in 2001. The following year, Jim was appointed as Co-Archivist with Dick Briggs (’58), whom he soon succeeded as Archivist.

Jim set about transforming the Archives. He revived and expanded the role of volunteers, giving them set tasks and always looking to increase their ranks; much of what he achieved he firmly attributes to his volunteers’ support and hard work. He added an extension to the Archives building and took over an adjacent building. Hundreds of metres of compactus shelving were installed. An Assistant Archivist was appointed.

Items were sorted and stored so that they could be re-found – photographs and documents were sorted by year or topic, and placed in proper archive-quality acid-free boxes. Professional conservators were engaged to help preserve photographs and clothing. Bookshelves bulged with books by or about Old Boys, and with old textbooks.

Greatscot _dec 2011_75a

The small-scale filing-cabinet-based system of files on Old Boys, created by inaugural archivist Geoff Tolson (’41) was expanded with the aim of creating a file for every Old Boy, staff member, School Council member, benefactor, or other person related to Scotch. To help this happen, Jim devised pro-forma letters which volunteers wrote and mailed, tailored according to whom they were addressed. For example, past staff are asked not just about their biographical details but also about what it was like to teach at Scotch. So far, 7,707 files have been created.

Jim assembles a list of the 25 oldest Old Boys for publication in Great Scot. This list is the tip of a larger list, and when writing to older Old Boys, he now notes that they are, for example, the ‘712th oldest Old Boy’.

In 2010, Jim compiled a book of Scotch Collegians’ poetry, Flosculi Australes (‘southern’ – or Australian – blossoms’) to be presented annually to Year 12 school leavers.

He leaves to explore writing full-time on topics that range from military history (the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion), through a nineteenth-century Irish gentlewoman’s dairy, to reflections on representations of the Annunciation.