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BSA SPHS Image Collection


When the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies (SPHS) was founded in 1879, it laid out three fundamental “ rules” or objectives for the Society. Rule I promoted the Greek language, Rule II dealt with the compilation of images and Rule III encouraged travel to and archaeological work in antique lands. It was Rule II that was ultimately responsible for the formation of the SPHS image collection.

Rule II was a reflection of 19th-century initiatives by learned societies and museums to form image collections. These collections were originally compiled as reference collections, a product of a Victorian desire for categorizing and documenting, a way of controlling knowledge of the visible world particularly in the wake of the expanding British Empire. Photographs were ideal for this task as they were considered at the time to have the power of authentication as accurate and objective visual data. The SPHS’s remit was to form a collection of images of Greek lands and its antiquities in a variety of formats outlined in Rule II, ultimately prioritising photographs.

The SPHS photographic collection was amassed between 1891 and 1967 through the donation of images. It contained negatives, both glass and film in a variety of sizes, photographic prints and glass lantern slides as well as both original and copy negatives. It was designed as an image reference collection where images could be duplicated either as prints or slides and sold or lent to members. Index cards with small contact prints served as finding aids for the collection.

The Society of the Promotion of Hellenic Studies donated a selection of the SPHS photographic collection to the BSA in 2003. The SPHS images that now constitute the BSA SPHS Image Collection were selected by identifying donors who had connections with the BSA and images of topographical interest, particularly in areas where the BSA was known to have explored. The remainder of the extant SPHS collection went to the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archives (MIET-ELIA) in Athens, Greece while a small selection was kept by the SPHS in London. 

Documentation for this collection consists of 5 Negative registers (held in the SPHS offices in London), the published catalogues or accession lists of lantern slides in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, the Minute Book: December 1949-January 1983 for the Photographic and Filmstrip Committee of the SPHS (held in the SPHS Library in London) and information contained on extant index cards. 

The BSA SPHS Image Collection has been arranged into Series and Sub-series as follows:

Series 1: SPHS Negatives (BSA SPHS 01): A collection of glass and film negatives in a variety of sizes, roughly corresponding to quarter, half and full plate sizes.

Series 2: SPHS Prints (BSA SPHS 02): A collection of photographic prints divided into two sub-series: prints and prints pasted onto index cards.

Sub-series 1: SPHS Index Cards (BSA SPHS 02/01): Small photographic prints attached to 16.5 x 11cm index card with SPHS catalogue number and brief caption. Originally part of the SPHS photographic library card catalogue.

Sub-series 2:  SPHS Individual Prints (BSA SPHS 02/2): A collection of photographic prints of various sizes, often pasted to card or thick paper with catalogue number and sometimes a brief description. Often duplicates from the negative collection.

Series 3:  SPHS Slides (BSA SPHS 03): A collection of old format lantern slides in the standard 3.25 inch square (c. 8cm square) size. They were often duplicated from the negative collection. The first slide catalogue for the Hellenic Society appeared in the JHS in 1897 and again in 1904 and in 1913. Updates of new accessions were published regularly until 1936.

Images of Mycenae in this collection are represented in Series 1- SPHS Negatives and Series 2/Sub-series 1: SPHS Index Cards