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Primary sources

Historical government documents

These resources are historical primary sources of publications from UK and US governments. For current publications see the Government documents and official publications resource guide.

Cecil Papers

The Hatfield House Archives is a collection of almost 30,000 documents gathered by William Cecil (1520–1598), Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil (1563–1612), first Earl of Salisbury. The elder Cecil was one of Elizabeth I’s closest advisers. The collection includes many 16th and 17th century state papers, grants from the Crown, legal documents, treaties, correspondences, and political memoranda. A subscription resource from ProQuest.

China and the Modern World

Sourced from archives across the world, in particular the British Library, the Foreign Office via the UK National Archives and the Second Historical Archives of China, these collections offer monographs, manuscripts, periodicals, correspondence and letters, historical photos and ephemera covering a 180-year period of Chinese history, from the later period of the Qing dynasty to the radical political and societal changes from which has emerged the China of today.

Colonial Law in Africa, 1808–1919

Originally known as the “Government Gazettes” each item contains the colonial laws for the year in which they were published. Coverage includes the Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War and the First World War. A subscription resource from British Online Archives.

Colonial State Papers, 1574–1757

This resource offers over 7,000 manuscript papers and 40,000 bibliographic records concerning English activities in the American, Canadian, and West Indian colonies between the 16th and 18th centuries. A subscription resource from ProQuest.

Confidential Print Middle East 1839–1969

Of relevance to social, economic and political research, Confidential Print was a Government series aimed at preserving the most important papers generated by the Foreign and Colonial Offices. An Adam Matthew Digital subscription resource sourced from the UK National Archives.

Confidential U.S. State Department Central Files, Asia, 1960-1969

Major topics covered include tensions between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, the U.S.’s Two Chinas policy; the Cultural Revolution in China; US military assistance to Vietnam; food supply to Vietnam during the war; student protests in Japan. Part of the History Vault platform from ProQuest.

Declassified Documents Online, Twentieth-Century British Intelligence

Spanning 1905–2002, this collection of reports and declassified security files documents the activities of diplomats, security service agents (MI5), the armed forces and politicians in intelligence gathering across the British Empire. A GALE resource offered in partnership with The National Archives.

Digital national security archive

This sizeable archive presents over fifty collections of extra-governmental reporting on, amongst many other topics: US diplomatic relations with other nations as key players in 20th century world events; the US side of the nuclear arms race; the Cold War; intelligence reporting by the CIA to the US President; the Cuban missile crisis; US policy towards Central and South America. Recent additions to the Library’s DNSA portfolio include:

  • Module 53: U.S. nuclear nonproliferation 2, part 1: From atoms for peace to the NPT, 1954–1968
  • Module 54: U.S. policy toward Iran: From the revolution to the nuclear accord, 1978–2015
  • Module 55: The President’s daily brief: Nixon, Ford and the CIA, 1969–1977
  • Modules 56 and 57: Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Parts 1 and 2: The Pentagon and US foreign policy, 2001–2006
  • Module 58: CIA covert operations IV, the Eisenhower years 1953–1961

DNSA is a subscription resource from ProQuest.

Documents on British Policy Overseas, 1898–1990

Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents representing British diplomatic history throughout the 20th century. Includes the following sub-collections:

  • British Documents on the Origins of War (1898–1914): Materials related to the Anglo-German tensions leading to World War I.
  • Documents on British Foreign Policy (1918–1939): Addresses post-war settlement, re-armament, and growing tensions in Europe, Africa, and the Far East.
  • Documents on British Policy Overseas (1946–present): Covers topics such as atomic energy, the Korean Conflict, and the Cold War

Foreign Office Files for India Pakistan and Afghanistan 1947–1980

This resource has material covering the post-independence political and social history of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Content ranges from independence and partition, to the India-Pakistan wars. Includes content on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Kashmir, and other frontier regions. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Foreign Office files for the Middle East 1971–1981

Drawn from diplomatic correspondence, minutes, reports, political summaries and personality profiles, this resource supports examination of Middle East policies, economies, political relationships, conflicts and significant events in the 1970s and the political figures of that time. Contains complete runs of Foreign Office files for key events. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP) 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries

This resource comprises digitised transcripts of UK Parliamentary debates. A ProQuest subscription resource.

House of Lords Parliamentary Papers, 1800–1910

Available at the same site as House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, where the archives for each house of Parliament can be searched simultaneously or individually using filters in the advanced search feature. A ProQuest subscription resource.

Kenya under colonial rule, in Government reports, 1907-1964

A collection of papers from the colonial government in Kenya documenting the British to colonial rule in the country. British colonisation exploited Kenya’s natural resources, with native farmers forced onto marginal, infertile land and making them work on European-owned farms and plantations. This resource also covers the period the East Africa Colony, the Mau Mau uprising, and Kenyan independence in 1963. A British Online Archives resource.

Macmillan Cabinet Papers 1957–1963

Sourced from the National Archives, Macmillan Cabinet Papers provides complete coverage of the Cabinet conclusions (minutes) and memoranda of Harold Macmillan’s government. The documents cover Britain's relationship with the EEC, Anglo-American ties, the Cold War, decolonisation, and issues of public and political morality. A subscription resource from Adam Matthew Digital.

Military intelligence files : land, sea and air, 1938–1974

Intelligence reports from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force covering the Second World War and the Cold War offering insights into international relations and military history during this time. A British Online Archives resource.

Public Petitions to Parliament, 1833–1918

Petitioning Parliament was one method by which pressure aimed at creating political change and legislative review was brought about by ordinary members of the public. This resource covers many social and political topics such as petitioning for tax reforms to the extension of the voting franchise and supports the “bottom-up” approach to the study of history. A subscription resource from ProQuest.

Secret files from World Wars to Cold War

Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War provides access to British government secret intelligence and foreign policy files from 1873 to 1953. Sourced from The National Archives, these documents – from signals intelligence reports to government-directed policy and strategy – range from the period of Appeasement through to the early Cold War. The content is international in breadth and scope, spanning four key 20th century conflicts, with a spotlight on the Second World War. A Taylor & Francis subscription resource sourced from the National Archives.

State Papers Online

This resource is a collection of digitised United Kingdom state papers from the 16th and 17th centuries. Presented here are Domestic, Foreign, Borders, Scotland, and Ireland State Papers with the Registers of the Privy Council and other State Papers now housed in the Cotton, Harley and Lansdowne collections in the British Library. A subscription resource from GALE consisting of:

US Declassified Documents Online

This resource offers previously classified federal records from the 20th and 21st centuries bringing together the most sensitive documents from all the presidential libraries and several US executive agencies. A subscription resource from GALE.

Uganda under Colonial Rule, in Government Reports, 1903–1961

This resource is a collection of annual departmental reports showing how each area of the colonial government of Uganda developed over the first 60 years of the 20th century. A subscription resource from British Online Archives.