Researching former ANU staff and students

Family history sources at the Australian National University Archives

What sort of information about your family might be found in the archives of a university? You might be able to find records about a family member who was a member of staff or a student, or a member of the Council or a similar body.

A brief history of the ANU

The Australian National University Act established a national research institution in 1946. The first Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Douglas Copland, was appointed in 1948, and the research schools were established with academic staff, many recruited from overseas, and postgraduate students. See the timeline from the early years to the present.

There are several predecessors to the University. The Canberra University College (CUC), which was established primarily to provide undergraduate tuition for public servants, held its first classes in 1930. It was a college of the University of Melbourne, so although the students were in Canberra, their degrees were awarded by the University of Melbourne. The CUC and the ANU amalgamated in 1960, so this was when the ANU first had undergraduate students.

The Commonwealth Solar Observatory established in 1924 was transferred to the ANU as the Mt Stromlo Observatory in 1957. The Australian Forestry School (established 1926) became part of the ANU in 1965 as the Forestry Department in the School of General Studies. The Canberra School of Music (1965) and the Canberra School of Art (1976), which amalgamated in 1987 to become the Canberra Institute for the Arts, transferred to the ANU in 1992.

Records about staff

When did they arrive at ANU? Which area did they work in?

  • From 1954 to 1970 the dates of appointment and promotion of ANU academic staff were included in the annual Calendar. Names of full-time academic staff and senior general staff (administrative, library and technical) were also published there. The CUC calendars (1932-1960) have similar information.
  • Information about research and teaching was published in Annual Reports for both the CUC and ANU. From 1962 onwards, more detailed information on the work of each department appears in unpublished reports to the ANU Council.
  • The ANU Archives retains personnel files for those staff at Professorial level.

What did they do at ANU - apart from their research or teaching?

  • Some staff also served on committees such as the University Council, the Board of the Faculties and the Board of the Institute of Advanced Studies and their predecessors. Committee records such as minutes and agenda papers cover the work of the many committees and similar bodies in the university.
  • The Calendar lists members of some committees, as do the early (pre-1962) published annual reports.
  • Other contributions to the ANU community, reports of research breakthroughs and cultural events are covered in The ANU Reporter and other earlier publications such as the News. 
  • In the late 1990s, 45 people were interviewed for the University's history project. The interviews, which are transcribed and indexed, reflect on the personalities of leading ANU figures, as well as their contributions to the development of the University. The index includes references to many other staff members.

What other sources contain information about former ANU staff?

  • The Archives holds many photographs of individuals and groups, which were taken for publicity purposes.
  • The Archives holds the personal papers of a number of research and administrative staff.
  • The papers of other staff have been placed in institutions such as the National Library of Australia or the Basser Library in the Academy of Science.
  • The making of the Australian National University 1946-1996 by SG Foster and MM Varghese (Allen & Unwin, 1996) is the main published source. It is the 50th anniversary history of the ANU and contains many illustrations and endnotes to source material.

Records about students

What did they study?

Student record cards held by the Archives document the student's academic progress, including the names of the individual subjects they studied. For a certified academic transcript, see ANU academic transcripts.

When did they graduate?

The programs for graduation ceremonies list all those graduating at each ceremony by Faculty or School. Prizewinners are named in the programs and you can also find articles in The ANU Reporter on students who received prizes. The Calendar published the names of graduates of the University until 1972.

Where did they live?

Prospectuses and other promotional information about ANU feature descriptions and photographs of University House and the halls of residence.

What contribution did they make to student life?

  • The ANU student magazine, Woroni, reports on student political and social life.
  • Orientation handbooks, published by the Students' Association, comment on the facilities for students and what students can expect to find at ANU.
  • The Archives holds the records of the Forestry Students Union, and some student societies, such as SCUNA, the Choral Society.
  • The Archives has photographs of some students at official events, protests and during Bush Week, some of which were published in The ANU Reporter.

Files of students who achieved prominence in later life, such as Prime Ministers, politicians, judges and writers, are also retained in the Archives.