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The history of the PIC and the archives

The PIC archives are housed at the Wellcome Library, Euston Road. The collection level link can be accessed online from the hyperlink below.

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A brief history of the PIC, with research projects and timeline

On 16 February 1935 Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool, and Chairman of the Positive Eugenics Committee, delivered the Galton Lecture of the Eugenics Society entitled ‘Eugenics in the Light of Population Trends’. Carr-Saunders drew attention to the falling birth rate and concerns over the fertility of married women and a decline in the size of the family. He argued that ‘some organisation, with the whole population situation under review and desires to construct an adequate programme, should examine all the proposals made to deal with these difficulties, and weave them into a coherent population policy¹.’ As a result, the Council of the Eugenics Society met on several occasions between June 1935 and June 1936 to discuss the formation of a research body – the Population Investigation Committee (PIC).

The first meeting of the PIC was held 15 June 1936. Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders was elected Chairman of the Committee, C.P. Blacker the General Secretary, and David Glass the Research Secretary. It was decided that the PIC should be independent from the Eugenics Society and those organisations who had appointed representatives to the committee. One of the first publications of the new committee discussing the concerns facing the population was published in 1936 entitled The Future of Our Population?

Today, the activities of the PIC revolve around their journal Population Studies, which provides the bulk of the Committee’s income, with surplus income subsidising masters scholarships in demography for UK students. However, the original purpose of the PIC, as stated in its first annual report, was ‘to examine the trends of the population in Great Britain and the Colonies and to investigate the causes of these trends, with special reference to the fall of the birth-rate².’ Its remit was research, not the formation of policy. As such the PIC had a prominent role in several national surveys to investigate the medical, economic and social factors affecting changes in the population.

Research activities involving the PIC include an examination of vital statistics; studies of foreign population policies; the Maternity Inquiry of 1946 in collaboration with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which developed into the National Survey of Health and Development; the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947 in cooperation with the Scottish Council for Research in Education to examine the trend of intelligence in children aged 11 years old; a national survey concerned with marriage and divorce in 1959-1960; a study of the British Peerage from 1603-1938; and a national survey of fertility and birth control practice in 1967-1968.

As well as involvement in research projects, from 1947 the PIC began to publish Population Studies as the first English language journal exclusively concerned with demography. Whilst the PIC was actively involved in research, the Journal often reported the results. In 1963, David Glass, then Chairman of the PIC, applied to the Ford Foundation for a grant to fund a postgraduate demographic training programme in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) with special reference to students from developing countries. The grant was approved and the first students began their studies in September 1965. Between 1965-1978 more than 200 students completed the programme. Although LSE took over complete responsibility of the programme in 1980, some staff continued to divide their time between the Population Studies department of LSE and the PIC.

The records of the Population Investigation Committee have been catalogued through a grant from the Nuffield Foundation and are now available for consultation in the Wellcome Library (Ref. SA/PIC). The papers are a testament to the influence and contribution of the Committee and its members to the field of demography. They not only demonstrate the social context and development of the PIC, but they contain detailed information relating to research projects which continue to have significance for the study of epidemiology today.

For more detailed information on the significant events and research activities involving the PIC see the documents below.

1 A. M. Carr-Saunders, 'Eugenics in the Light of Population Trends', Eugenics Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Apr 1935, p.18.
2 Population Investigation Committee, First Annual Report, January 1st 1937 - December 31st 1937 (Wellcome Library, SA/PIC/B/1)