Papers of James Houston Baxter

Scope and Content

Baxter's papers throw light on his wide interests, including medieval philology, ecclesiastical history, medieval music and, pre-eminently, archaeology (including papers and photographs relating to his excavations of the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors in Istanbul, 1935-37. The papers include correspondence 1897-1971, accounts, research, business and other papers, and photographs including glass negatives. There are also Davidson and Baxter Company papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Professor James Houston Baxter (1894-1973), Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of St Andrews, 1922-1970, last Regius Divinity Professor in the University of St Andrews.

Baxter was a native of Canonbie, Dumfriesshire and attended Glasgow University where he graduated in Classics. He moved to Aberdeen to serve as assistant to the Professor of Humanity while he was completing his B.D. After a year as parish minister of Ballantrae in Ayrshire he was appointed to the Chair of Ecclesiastical History in 1922 at the early age of 28. As a university teacher Baxter won immediate recognition for his erudition, his lucidity of exposition and his capacity to inspire his students with his own high standards of scholarship and his enthusiasm for his subject. He covered a variety of subjects in his academic life, including classical and medieval Latin, the Early Christian Fathers, Byzantine archaeology, and the ecclesiastical and political history of the later Middle Ages and beyond.

He edited Select Letters of St Augustine, and the Bulletin du Cange, and prepared a Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources (London, 1934). He also wrote a History of the Church, 312-800 and produced the Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree, a brilliantly annotated edition of the letter-book of Prior Haldenstone of St Andrew discovered by Baxter in Wolfenbttel in Germany for which he was awarded the D.Litt by the University in 1930. In 1926 his interest in the town of St Andrews was evidenced by his production of A Bibliography of St Andrews. He served as an elder of the Town Kirk, a rotarian and member of many town and gown organisations.

Within the university he was active in Court and Senate and their committees, and he worked in the development of Adult Education and for the Alumnus Association. He represented St Andrews on the Board of the Trustees of the National Library, the Scottish Records Commission and the Scottish Dictionaries Council. He received honours from France, Belgium, Holland and Italy including the honorary degrees of D.D. (Glasgow), Dr. Univ. Louvain and LL.D (St Andrews) and he was F.R.S.E.

In 1935, a team of archaeologists working under Baxter's direction made what is widely regarded as the most important 20th century discovery in Byzantine Archaeology. The University of St Andrews had become part of the project in Istanbul through the involvement of university benefactor Sir David Russell. Russell's friend the neo-Christian mystic Wellesley Tudor Pole passionately believed in the existence of the Lost Library of Justinian in a sealed vault under part of the Great Palace site. Russell persuaded his close friend Principal Sir James Irvine as well as Baxter to initiate the "official" archaeological dig necessary to explore this possibility. Although inexperienced as an archaeologist, Baxter was an important academic on a European scale which gave a good standing to the application. On the very first day of a dig in the area of the Great Palace of the Byzantine emperors, they struck Byzantine marble paving. Baxter wanted to pursue the official dig and there was a tension over whether to concentrate here or on the lost library. These excavations took place between 1935 and 1938 before being cut short by the onset of the Second World War. Baxter's connection with the project was finally severed in 1942 and the excavations were brought to a conclusion in the period 1951-1954.

Sources: RG Cant, 'Professor Baxter', in Alumnus Chronicle, 61, June 1970, pp. 13-14; Obituary in Alumnus Chronicle, 64, June 1973, pp. 69-70.



Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply for access to original photographic material.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist with archaeological references taken from descriptions of the papers of Sir David Russell, catalogued by Meic Pierce Owen, 2001-2003.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Special restrictions apply to photographs.

Custodial History

Transferred to the ownership of the University library and accessioned in 1973.

Related Material

GB 227 ms38515/5/107-108, Papers of Sir David Russell relating to the Istanbul excavations, 1935-1942.