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Pitman Collection

A large collection relating to the history of shorthand, writing systems, orthography, and spelling and educational reform comprising archival documents and books from the early 19th century to the mid 1980s.

This collection is based on the private 'library' of Sir Isaac Pitman, the inventor of Pitman's shorthand, transferred as a gift to the University of Bath in 1970. The records of the Initial Teaching Alphabet Foundation, and associated correspondence and papers, were donated by Sir (Isaac) James Pitman, grandson of Sir Isaac, in 1977. Supplemental donations from the Pitman Company and private individuals, including members of the Pitman family, were received throughout the 1980s.

The Pitman Collection is not yet fully catalogued. A brief guide to its contents is given below.


Shorthand and phonography

Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897) was born in Trowbridge. He trained and worked as a teacher but is best known for the invention of a stenographic system of shorthand. Pitman's phonography or 'writing by sound', still used in some offices today, was commercially successful as well as widely popular and internationally renowned.

The papers of Sir Issac Pitman include material relating to his first appointments as a teacher, the design and development of his new system of shorthand writing, the establishment of a Pitman family business based on shorthand instruction and promotion, and the management of an expanding phonographic printing and publishing empire.

Sir Isaac Pitman's comprehensive collection of shorthand-related books and journals is also held in the Library and Learning Centre.

Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA)

Sir (Isaac) James Pitman (1901-1985) was born in London. After graduating from Oxford, he joined the family business founded by his grandfather, Sir Isaac Pitman. He was MP for Bath between 1945 and 1964 and served on the boards of several large public companies as well as working as a campaigner for spelling reform. He was Pro-Chancellor of the University of Bath between 1966 and 1981.

The papers of Sir James Pitman relate primarily to the initial teaching alphabet (ita), a phonetically augmented alphabet designed to minimise the discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation which can cause problems in the early development of reading skills. In 1963 Pitrman established the Initial Teaching Alphabet Foundation which aimed to realise the teaching potential of ita throughout the world. By September 1970 it was estimated that ita was being used in approximately 4000 schools in the UK and in a wide range of teaching projects in North America, Australia and Africa.

George Bernard Shaw and the New British Alphabet

As a result of his growing interest in the phonetic reform of the alphabet and his connection with the work of Sir Isaac Pitman, Sir James Pitman was invited to become a trustee under the terms of the will of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).

His duties in this capacity included involvement in the administration and judging of a competition, devised by Shaw, to design an improved, more economical alphabet. Over 400 entries from all over the world, ranging from published texts to single sides of writing paper, are documented in the collection which also comprises material relating to the transliteration of shorthand notes by Shaw and disputes arising from conflicting interpretations of his will.


Not all the material in this collection may yet be available for consultation. Enquiries should be addressed in the first instance to the University Archivist.

Please note that a significant proportion of the collection is written in shorthand.

Size: 7300 items (approx).

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