Rothschild On-Line: Victor Gray, Director of the Rothschild Archive, Introduces a New Website That Will Prove a Invaluable Resource for All Students of Economic, and Social History, and More Besides. (Frontline)

Article excerpt

ROTHSCHILD is ONE OF THOSE names that echoes through many chambers of history. As the world's leading bankers in the nineteenth century their history is intertwined with that of most European countries and many further afield. As some of the most ambitious patrons and collectors of art, they have left their mark on the history of collecting. As builders and occupiers of some seventy mansions, from Buckinghamshire to Naples, their architectural legacy is a source of constant study and their visitors' lists a subject of great interest. As philanthropists, they have contributed to the development of medical and social care in many corners of the world. As natural historians they have published hundreds of papers in scientific journals. They have built railways and bridges, from Rio de Janeiro to Japan via Hungary and South Africa.

Small wonder, then, that the family and their multifarious enterprises remain the subject of constant study by a range of historians straddling a wealth of disciplines and approaches.

Communication has always been an important priority within the family. It was their network of couriers, second to none and used by European royal families, which gave them a significant business advantage over competitors in the nineteenth century. The Rothschild Research Forum is the latest response to the technological opportunities of the age, seized just as enthusiastically as was the pigeon post 200 years ago. The expectation is that the Research Forum will generate a new energy and pace of development in the area of Rothschild research and perhaps provide a model for other tightly focused fields of historical study.

The Forum is the latest initiative to emerge from the Rothschild Archive Trust. The Trust was established in 1999 to develop for educational purposes the rich and varied archives which have accumulated in the central Rothschild Archive, located in the City of London within yards of the site where Nathan Mayer Rothschild first set up a merchant bank in the early years of the nineteenth century.

The Forum also represents a new collaboration with another great centre of Rothschild research, Waddesdon Manor, the Renaissance-style chateau built by Ferdinand de Rothschild on a Buckinghamshire hill amid magnificent gardens. Waddesdon's exceptional collections of fine art and furnishings delight some 200,000 visitors a year. Catalogues of those collections have become one of the great reference points for art historians, and the team at Waddesdon is actively engaged in research into the history of collecting.

The Rothschild Research Forum lies at the core of the Rothschild Archive's website and is a concerted attempt to harness the potential that the web now offers to scholarship, providing a `virtual space' in which to exchange news, views, opinions, theories and the results of recent work.

The Forum, accessible online from the beginning of May, can be approached from the Archive's website: www.rothschildarchive. …