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Researching British History: Primary Sources

Guide to resources on British history for the students in Hist 101

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Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources?
Collection of Primary Sources
Government Documents
Magazine Articles


What Are Primary Sources:

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."
(American Library Association, Reference and User Services, History Section)

Newspaper Archives

The Times Digital Archive  (1785-2006)
The Times of London has covered all major international events from the French Revolution to the War in Iraq. The Times Digital Archive makes 221 years of this highly regarded resource available for students and researchers of 19th-, 20th-, and early 21st-century history, literature, culture, business, art & architecture, and more. Every complete page of every issue is full-text searchable.

Collection of Primary Sources

Empire Online
This database includes approximately 60,000 images of original manuscripts and printed materials covering the period 1492-1962. It is organized into five sections covering varying aspects of the colonial experience: Cultural Contact 1492-1969; Literature and Empire; the Visible Empire; Religion and Empire; and Race, Class, Imperialism and Colonialism.

*There are also many collection of primary sources available on the web which could be useful for research on British history.  Here are a few examples:

The Cabinet Papers
"Digitized UK Cabinet Papers for 1915-1977. Papers can be downloaded for free from the National Archives."  

Internet Library of Early Journals
"ILEJ is a joint project by the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford, conducted under the auspice of the eLib (Electronic Libraries) Programme.The project has digitized selected twenty-year runs of three eighteenth- and three nineteenth-century journals and placed the images online at the site. Journals include: Annual Register (1758-78), Gentleman's Magazine (1731-50), Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1757-77), Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (1843-52), Notes and Queries (1849-69), and The Builder (1843-9)."

Pamphlet Collection
"Partially digitzed collection of 19th and 20th century pamphlets from the British Library of Political & Economic Science. The collections dealing with social policy and transport history are the two collections most fully digitized."

Hansard Parliamentary Debates (1803-2005)

Information from Hansard, the Official Report of debates in Parliament (Lords sittings, Commons sittings, Westminster Hall sittings, Written statements, Lords reports, Grand Committee reports)

Howland Fabian Society Collection

John Snow Archive and Research Companion

London Gazette

The Builder, 1843-1852

The Punch Project

Dictionary of Victorian London


** Also check the section on Web Resources.  Many web sites devoted to British history may include primary sources.