Papers of Boris Semeonoff (1910-1998)

Scope and Content

The papers of Boris Semeonoff consist of thirteen notebooks containing Psychology and Education notes, two laboratory notebooks containing notes on Experimental Psychology and Experimental Education, a file containing a photograph of Semeonoff and a autobiography in typescript entitled Changing horizons: an essay in autobiography, and a thesis presented for the degree of B.Ed. 1933. The thesis is entitled A study of children's literary proclivities.

Administrative / Biographical History

Boris Semeonoff was born in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) on 20 March 1910 and arrived in Scotland at the age of four, in 1914, on holiday. With the outbreak of war that year, return travel to Russia was cut off and his mother, Anna Hering Semeonoff (b. 1883), became a teacher of Russian in the city. The young Semeonoff was educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, and then studied at Edinburgh University. He first graduated in 1931 with the degree of MA with honours in English Language and Literature, and then in 1933 with the degree of B.Ed. After that he was appointed to the staff of the Psychology Department in the University and continued his studies for the degree of Ph.D in Pyschology. This was awarded in 1936 for his thesis on Weber's Law in relation to the intensity of sound. Apart from the period interrupted by the Second World War, Semeonoff worked in the University's Psychology Department for the rest of his career. During the war he was involved in the selection of personnel for the Special Operations Executive and in the selection of army officers. In 1956, Semeonoff became a Senior Lecturer, and in 1964 he was given a Readership. Between 1958 and 1964, he edited the British Journal of Psychology, and during this period the journal achieved an enhanced international position. Research on the assessment of personality dominated his later years, and this work had been grounded on his wartime experience in the Services. Influential titles were written on the subject, including Projective techniques (1976). Earlier he had edited Personality assessment: selected readings (1966). Throughout his career, Semeonoff did much to nurture the development of British psychology, and he was a member of the council of the British Psychology Society, a president of the Society, and honorary life member. His interest in sound was not only evident in his psychological research but also in music as a leisure activity. He wrote on this too, notably Record collecting: a guide for beginners (1949). Semeonoff retired in 1980 and died in Edinburgh on 2 August 1998.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

The papers came to from the estate of Boris Semeonoff, March 1999. Accession no. E99/08.


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Burnett, John H. (et al.). The University portraits. Second series. Edinburgh: Eyre and Spottiswoode Ltd., 1986. (2) Obituary. University of Edinburgh Journal. Vol.37. No.4. Dec. 1998. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Graduates' Association, 1998. (3) Obituary. The Scotsman. 10 August 1998.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.