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History Department, University of Exeter
Historians of empire have long suspected that documents from the colonies were transferred back to Britain during the last days of imperial rule, only never to enter into the public domain. It was no small surprise therefore when in April 2011 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), under pressure from a high court judge, admitted that it had a secret archive of nearly 9,000 files from 37 colonies. Perhaps the biggest surprise from the ruling was how easy it was for the FCO to keep these documents hidden from historians for so long.
The FCO claims that it was simply unaware that these files existed. Historians, however, are sceptical of this claim. As David Anderson points out, it is easy for an archive to misplace one document or one file but it is harder to lose what amounts in the case of the ‘migrated’ colonial archive to over 100 linear feet of files.  Indeed, the subsequent ‘discovery’ of a further 1.2 million Foreign Office files held at the same site has only served to further undermine the FCO’s claim that it had misplaced or forgotten about the migrated archives. [continue reading]