So last week, I started this series with the intention of it being a fairly fluffy series of things, looking at the Admiralty Manuals I have in my collection, and talking a little bit about the changes between the editions (particularly in the seamanship manuals).
However, once I started thinking about it and writing that post, I realized that i needed to get more context in order to present my commentary properly. After all, there’s no point in discussion the differences between the volumes of the different versions of the Manual of Seamanship, if I can’t provide a good context for all the other manuals and documents (and i didn’t understand when I started how many documents and manuals there were/are in the BR series- or the OU series, for that matter).
What We Know
We know that in 1942 the OU (Official Use) series of documents was superseded by the BR (Book of Reference) series, and that the BR series is for documents that are either freely available, or restricted. We also know that there were other document series as well.
We also know that in the period I have studied most in depth (1660 to 1749) that the Royal Navy began to develop standard documents- Instructions to Lieutenants, Instructions to Commanders, etc etc- and began to print them so they could be handed out. Standard forms for pay books, logs, muster books, same deal. Standardization.
Where I get utterly lost, is in the middle 190 years. It seems, not entirely unfairly, that historians have been interested in the documents produced, not in the series or the process of numbering/cataloguing/framework etc.
As far as I can understand, or from the questions I’ve been bouncing off people for a day, nobody seems to have actually studied the origins of the Royal Navy’s document control practices- and when i use that term I mean, treating the documents- as objects- not individual copies, but giving the documents an individual number, in a series. And having Versioning control (eg all previous editions must be destroyed- though thank god they weren’t or else I couldn’t look at them).
So: The List of the Questions1
- Is ‘Document Control’ the term I’m actually supposed to be using for this concept or do I need to use some other term? What term do I need to try to search for if I can manage to find committee minutes or something to try to find the origins?
- When did the Royal Navy implement Document Control?
- What about the RNAS/RAF?
- How about the Army?
- How about the British Government in general?
- Has their been more than one scheme?
- When did the OU series start? Evidence from the National Archive’s holdings suggests 1915 but what about before then? My 1908 Manual of Seamanship Vol I doesn’t have an OU number attached to it. What about early versions of the Manual of Navigation or other documents?
- Are there any complete lists of the series or documents? I’m less interested in say, the staff appreciations of various battles than I am in detailed maneuvering information about WW1 destroyers, but that’s just me. (but I’m very interested in the turning information of WW1 destroyers).
- How does the Royal Navy’s document control look at books for sale to the public vs books just for internal use?
- At what level was the decision to publish and sell documents made?
- At what level was the decision to practice document control made?
- How many documents did the RNAS/RAF/Army publish say 1900-1970ish?
- How did document control related to the creation of the Public Record Office/archives?
I think that should be a good place to start when it comes to getting the context. I’d love to find documents talking about changes to the various manuals- like I found with the Regulations and Instructions from 1748, but I’m not holding my breath. Also, it’ll be impossible in the forseeable future for me to go to Kew and look at things so i have to hope that *somebody* has published something about this.
I have started with going to the National Archives website and trying to pull down lists of everything they have in ADM 275 (the OU series) and ADM 234 (the BR series), and I’ll attempt to have a good look at this data- but 275 has over 300 entries and 234 has over a thousand entries, so that’s a lot to try to crunch in my head, but I’ll try. And It’s clear Kew doesn’t have complete runs of these manuals- they only have copies of one version of the Manual of Navigation (including the secret restricted volume and I’ll be so angry if they deaccession that). So I’m guessing my next post in this series will be breaking down that data. I hope you’ll come along for the ride, and if you have any suggestions/information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.