Skip to main content

Primary sources

Archives and archival papers

Archives are collections of documents or “records” that have been selected for permanent preservation because of their value as evidence or as a source for historical or other research. Records are created by the activities of organisations and people; they serve an active purpose whilst in current use and some of them are later selected and preserved as part of an archival collection. (Definition from the National Archives)

African Diaspora, 1860–present

From resource’s own description: “allows scholars to discover the migrations, communities, and ideologies of the African Diaspora through the voices of people of African descent. With a focus on communities in the Caribbean, Brazil, India, United Kingdom, and France, the collection includes never-before digitised primary source documents, including personal papers, organisational papers, journals, newsletters, court documents, letters, and ephemera.”

Archives of Sexuality and Gender: International Perspectives on LGBTQ Activism and Culture

Archives of Sexuality and Gender: LGBTQ history and culture since 1940, Part I

Archives of Sexuality and Gender: LGBTQ history and culture since 1940, Part II

Over a million pages of archival material on sexuality and gender with material on sexual, political, social and legal issues in pamphlets, posters, newsletters, manuscripts, monographs representing LGBTQ communities internationally.

Avalon Project

This Yale University Law School project gives free and open access to a full text collection of documents relating to world history. It has a US focus (including relations with other nations) with some non-US documents. Most documents date from 18th century to present, but some pre-18th century documents are included. It also includes a section on 20th century history.

Black Abolitionist Papers

This collection of documents covers 1830–1865, and presents the international impact of African American activism against slavery, via the writings of the activists themselves during the Pre-US Civil War period.

Black Thought and Culture

This resource comprises around 100,000 pages of non-fiction material by leading figures in last 250 years of African-American arts, politics, religion, entertainment, sport and culture. This collection includes writings by Paul Robeson, Booker T. Washington, Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston among many others. Topics covered include black nationalism, segregation and the Jim Crow laws, The Black Panthers, the Civil Rights movement. A subscription resource from ProQuest.

Border and Migration Studies online

A collection of documents, videos and images representing personal and institutional perspectives relevant to the growing areas of border and migration studies. Over 30 worldwide border areas are covered, notably the US/Mexico border, the European Union and Israel.

British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries (Second edition): 

Letters and diaries spanning over 400 years, many by renowned women writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Fanny Burney, Queen Victoria and George Eliot. Includes 4,000 facsimile pages of previously unpublished manuscripts.

British Online Archives: British Labour Party Papers, 1968–1994

Compiled by the Parliamentary Labour Party this collection of minutes of minutes of party meetings, Liaison Committee meetings, and Parliamentary Committee (Shadow Cabinet) meetings documents Labour in power (Wilson and Callaghan governments) as well as the post-1979 years in opposition.

British Online Archives: Caribbean Colonial Statistics from the British Empire, 1824–1950

Statistical records, arranged by year, for the Caribbean under British colonial rule, the core of which covers the period 1839-1938. In addition to population returns, the material covers education reports, prison records, land grants, imports and exports.

British Online Archives: Colonial Africa in Official Statistics, 1821–1953

Following the 19th century “Scramble for Africa”, Britain came to exercise colonial rule over the largest portion of the continent. Subsequently, each of the thirteen British colonies was required to compile and submit to the Colonial Office an Annual Blue Book report primarily covering economic development as well as demographic, ecclesiastical, and public records. The standardisation of reporting across all territories allows cross-database comparisons to be made on a range of topics including the slave trade.

British Online Archives: Power and profit: British colonial trade in America and the Caribbean, 1678–1825

Based upon the British Naval Office shipping lists for 1678–1825, this collection illustrates how both commodity and human cargo was moved in a triangular fashion around the three points of Empire: Britain, its colonies and the profitable markets in Europe and the Americas. The lists include, amongst other details, the name of the vessel, where it was built, the name of its home port and colony, details of the vessel’s construction, the name of the owner(s).

British Online Archives: Slave Trading Records from William Davenport & Co., 1745–1797

William Davenport was a Liverpool merchant and slave trader. Prominent in this collection held by Keele University are his company’s trading invoices and accounts for each of its ships. These papers record the cargoes carried and thereby show what the colonies involved were trading and what their commodities were worth.

British Online Archives: Slave Trade Records from Liverpool, 1754–1792

Over the course of the 18th century, Liverpool became Britain’s most profitable slave-trading port. Immense fortunes were made from trading slaves to the Americas prior to abolition in 1807. This resource presents documents such as slave ships' logs, financial documents, order papers, and private correspondence from leading figures involved in the industry.

British Online Archives: Secrecy, Sabotage, and Aiding the Resistance: How Anglo-American Cooperation Shaped World War II

A large collection of papers on the British Special Operations Executive and its US counterpart the Office of Strategic Services featuring British and American security services intelligence used to mount covert and resistance-style operations in Axis occupied countries. Covers the period of sabotage and guerrilla warfare activities under Operation Jedburgh from its inception in June 1944 to the end of the war in Europe.

British Online Archives: Tanzania and Malawi from colonial missionaries, 1857–1965

From the provider’s description: “The Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) was an Anglican missionary society established in the late 1850s. In 1965, the UMCA merged with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). This collection contains documents relating to the UMCA’s activities in Tanzania and Malawi during the period 1857–1965. The papers provide an insight into the spread of Christianity in Central Africa.”

China Trade Politics and Culture 1793–1980

This collection contains material from nine archives at the School of Oriental and African Studies and the British Library and covers events from the earliest English embassy in China to the birth and early years of the People’s Republic. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Colonial Missionaries’ archives

The British Online Archives contain primary material from the United Society Partners in Gospel (USPG) colonial missionaries. The USPG is a UK-based Anglican missionary organisation that operates around the world. During the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, the USPG went by the name of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG).

Communisms and the Cold War 1944–1986

This resource contains reports and other records compiled by the Communist Party of Great Britain's International Department between 1944 and 1986. This period begins immediately after the dissolution of the Communist International (Comintern) and ends shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. A subscription resource from British Online Archives.

Defining Gender 1450–1910

This advice literature from the mid-15th to early 20th century covers social conduct, power distribution within the family, consumption and leisure, ideas surrounding traditional gender roles, education of men and women and gendered perceptions of the body. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Disability in the Modern World: History of a Social Movement

A collection of primary and secondary source material documenting the disabled community’s history and contributions to society throughout the 20th century. Material includes contemporary periodicals, photographs, government documents, memoirs and diaries, advertisements, poetry. The publisher is working towards including around 125 hours of video material. This resource supports disability studies from the perspectives of, amongst other themes, gender, sexuality, employment, veterans of military service, class, race, legislation, campaigns and social activism. A subscription resource from ProQuest.

East India Company Modules I–V

The India Office Records from the British Library contain royal charters, correspondence, trading diaries, minutes of council meetings and reports of expeditions, among other document types. These chart the history of British trade and rule in the Indian subcontinent and beyond from 1599 to 1947. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Empire Online

Empire Online charts the rise and fall of European empires over five centuries, from European and non-European perspectives, starting with the voyages of Columbus. The material covers ‘empire’ from the British, French, Portuguese, and German viewpoints, as well as those of the indigenous peoples of Africa, India and North America. This resource is useful for research into colonial history, politics, culture and society. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Environmental Issues Online – Text resources

Environmental Issues Online – Video resources

A multimedia resource containing material from the 20th and 21st centuries covering environmental challenges, including climate change, water and air pollution, biodiversity, conservation, agriculture, deforestation.


EuroDocs offers access to a large range of European primary source documents (digitised manuscripts, literary texts, historical documents, newspapers, journals, legal and government documents) which are freely available online. Material can be browsed by country and then period.

First World War: Personal experiences and First World War: Propaganda and recruitment

Documents from national and other archives, including the British Library and Cambridge University Library, highlighting the voices and experiences of men and women who served in the First World War. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

History Vault: American Politics and Society

Archives of material from the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon presidencies as well as records from federal agencies. Covers a wide spectrum of issues of the time including civil rights, poverty, women’s rights, space exploration, the Watergate trials, the anti-Vietnam War movement.

History Vault: Civil rights and the Black Freedom Struggle

This History Vault collection contains digitised letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, diaries, and other primary source materials taken from the University Publications of America (UPA) Collections. It includes records of major civil rights organisations and personal papers of leaders and observers of the 20th century Black Freedom Struggle.

Our subscription includes the following:

  • African American Police League Records (1961–1988)
  • Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Organizational Records and Personal Papers, Parts 1 and 2
  • The NAACP's Major Campaigns—Education, Voting, Housing, Employment, Armed Forces
  • The NAACP's Major Campaigns—Scottsboro, Anti-Lynching, Criminal Justice, Peonage, Labor, and Segregation and Discrimination Complaints and Responses
  • NAACP papers: Board of Directors, annual conferences, major speeches, national staff files
  • NAACP papers: Branch department, branch files and Youth Department files
  • Black freedom struggle in the 20th century: Federal government records with Supplement

In addition, Black Freedom Struggle in the United States is an open resource containing free to access primary source materials documenting the US abolitionist and Civil Rights movements; the Jim Crow era of race discrimination legislation; African Americans and the US Civil War; contemporary documents and records on race and equality in the US. A free resource from ProQuest.

History Vault: International Relations and Military Conflicts

History Vault: Southern Life, Slavery, and the Civil War

A collection of contemporaneous records covering a significant part of the history of the American South. The Library currently offers the following parts:

History Vault: Women’s Studies

History Vault: Workers, Labor Unions, Progressives and Radicals

These are ProQuest subscription resources.

India, Raj and Empire

These National Library of Scotland manuscript collections document the East India Company from foundation in 1615 to independence for India and Pakistan in 1947. Agriculture and trade, society travel and leisure, and the Raj as British administration in India are amongst the topics covered by the documents in this resource. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Literary Manuscripts: Berg

The Berg Collection's Victorian holdings is a source for the textual analysis of Victorian literature. It includes unpublished poems, working notebooks, holograph manuscripts and drawings. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Literary Manuscripts: Leeds

This collection of digitised literary manuscripts of 17th and 18th century poetry from the Brotherton Library Special Collections includes early modern verse and source materials for both literary scholars and historians. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Literary print culture : the Stationers' Company archive 1554–2007

From provider’s website: “An important resources for understanding the workings of the early book trade, the printing and publishing community, the establishment of legal requirements for copyright provisions and the history of bookbinding”. Documents cover the Tudor period to the 21st century. An Adam Matthew Digital resource.

The Making of Modern Law: Trials 1600–1926

Contains documents – official and unofficial – for US trials over more than 300 years reflecting issues concerning the administration of justice, race, gender, and journalism. A GALE subscription resource.

Making of the Modern World Parts I & II

This resource is sourced from the Goldsmiths'-Kress Library of Economic Literature 1450–1850 and provides digital facsimile images of 61,000 works on economics, business and trade. Covers the history of Western trade, the coal, iron, and steel industries, the railway industry, the cotton industry, banking and finance, and the emergence of the modern corporation. It also covers the rise of the modern labour movement, the evolving status of slavery, the condition and making of the working class, colonisation, the Atlantic world, Latin American and Caribbean studies. A subscription resource from GALE.

Mass Observation Online

Mass Observation Online makes the Mass Observation Archive available in its entirety. Useful for social research this archive presents a record of everyday life in Britan as documented in diaries, surveys, questionnaires and photographs by those living it. Covers the original project, 1937–1950 and newer material collected since 1981. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Medical Services and Warfare Module I

Archives covering medical advances across conflicts, including documents from the Crimean War, the second Boer War, the American Civil War, the First World War and inter- and post-war periods. Of use to medical historians, it includes hospital records, medical reports and first-hand accounts which illustrate how warfare has shaped medical practice. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Nineteenth Century Collections Online

These collections contain large amounts of digitised material from a variety of original formats. Our subscription to GALE covers:

  • British politics and society
  • European literature, 1790–1840: The Corvey Collection
  • British theatre, music, and literature: High and popular culture
  • Asia and the West: Diplomacy and cultural exchange
  • Europe and Africa: Commerce, Christianity, civilisation, and conquest.

North American Women’s Letters and Diaries

Comprising 150,000 pages of letters and diaries, of which 7,000 are previously unpublished.

Popular Medicine in America 1800–1900

This resource highlights American popular medicine as represented by advertisements and popular texts. It offers visual primary source material, together with supplementary features designed to aid research and teaching. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674–1913

A fully searchable body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people relating to 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Prosecuting the Holocaust

Drawn from the National Archives (UK) and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum this collection contains information regarding the British government’s efforts to investigate and prosecute Nazi crimes during the period 1944–1949. A subscription resource from British Online Archives.

Queen Victoria’s Journals

An open resource of searchable scans of the original journal pages alongside a transcript.

Refugees, Relief and Resettlement: Forced migration and WWII

Features key material from the UK National Archives, The British Library, US National Archives and World Jewish Relief to create a record of refugee and displaced persons experiences, 1935-1950. A GALE subscription resource.

Revolution and Protest Online – Text resources

Revolution and Protest Online – Video resources

Assembled from archives and collections at the National Archives; University of London; Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University; and the WGBH Educational Foundation, this resource presents a wealth of documents with analysis and interpretation of political processes as part of revolutions, protests, resistance and social movements – from the 18th century to the present day.

Romanticism: Life Literature and Landscape

A collection of the working notebooks, verse manuscripts and correspondence of William Wordsworth and his fellow writers, digitised in full colour. Includes the annotated full manuscripts of Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Michael, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Dejection: An Ode. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Royal College of Physicians Archive

This archive contains an eclectic range of 14th to 19th century medical manuscripts. Personal papers of past fellows from the 16th to the 20th century provide glimpses into the personal lives and social concerns of many distinguished physicians. A subscription resource from Wiley.

Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice

A collection of primary and secondary documents from archives and libraries across the Atlantic world on themes such as urban and rural slavery; slave testimony; sprituality and religion; the Underground Railroad; freed slaves; the present day legacy of slavery. An Adam Matthew Digital resource.

Slavery and Anti-Slavery

This collection of company records, personal papers, newspapers and government records looks at slavery in terms of women and children, legal aspects, abolition movements and resistance to slavery. Emphasis is on slavery on both sides of the Atlantic; Emacipation movements and abolitionist debates; Institutional attitudes to emancipated former slaves. A GALE subscription resource.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600–2000

An extensive collection of primary sources for US women’s history including 130 document projects and document archives that present and interpret primary source documents. A subscription resource from Alexander Street.