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Commonwealth Studies: Archives

Key resources

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection held at Kings College London, comprising over 60,000 volumes

India Office Records and Private Papers administered by the British Library

The National Archives - Colonial Office records

The Royal Comonwealth Society Library, Univesity of Cambridge

Archives Hub provides descriptions of archives held in over 150 UK universities and colleges.  Circa 700 Oxford Commonwealth Archives are listed

National Register of Archives is an essential tool for locating manuscripts and archives in the UK

Mundus Gateway is a web-based guide to more than 400 collections of overseas missionary materials held in the UK

Libraries and Archives Canada - amalgamation of the National Archives of Canada ane the National Library of Canada

National Archives of Australia

TROVE - National Library of Australia

Australian Parliamentary Debates (back to 1901)

National Archives of New Zealand

Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand

CAMP - Guide to newspapers and archives

National Archives of South Africa located in Pretoria

African Archives and Libraries - list generated by Stanford University, providing key locations for African Archives

Africa: Manuscripts and archives held at the British Library

Commonwealth archives in the Bodleian Libraries

The Weston Library has circa 4000 manuscript and archive collections relating to the Commonwealth and Africa and is particularly strong in material relating to the history of British colonial administration. In addition to the papers of Cecil Rhodes, the Anti-Slavery Society, the Fabian Colonial Bureau and the Anti-Apartheid Movement the Library has been the principal recipient of material gathered by the Oxford Colonial records project and the Oxford Development Records Project.

How to find archives in Oxford

The principal finding aid for locating Commonwealth archives held in the Weston Library is through the Online catalogue for Western MSS. Hardcopy catalogues, for collections which only have collection-level descriptions online, are available in the Charles Wendell David Reading Room where archives can be ordered from the stacks for consultation.

Commonwealth and African archives card catalogue (now digitized). This is an index of all Commonwealth and African collections which were catalogued up to July 2014 and is the only finding aid for small collections. The index cards are arranged by name (A – Z) of the person or organisation which created the collection and by region of the world/country. The shelfmark can be found at the top right of each card. ‘Handlist’ indicates that a more detailed hardcopy catalogue is available, some of which can now also be found online.

See also the 20th Century International History Archives guide to access African history and politics archives in Oxford.

 Colonial Office and Foreign Office Confidential prints

The Colonial Office Confidential Print online catalogue covers over 1000 documents from 1848 to 1915 pertaining to Africa. Selected correspondence, memoranda and other documents were copied for internal use in the Colonial Office and in some cases circulation to the Cabinet and brought together to form this collection. The documents range from a single page to a substantial volume, many containing maps. The collection is held at the Weston Library.

The Foreign Office Confidential Prints online catalogue is also available.  This is an important set of primary source documents numbering 10,600 documents and spanning the years 1827-1914. From the 1820s papers of significance began to be distributed to officials in the Foreign Office, Cabinet and other departments as Confidential Print. They provide a window to Britain’s colonial past, covering subjects such as slavery, railways, expeditions, diplomatic relations and war, from Abyssinia to Zanzibar.


India Office Records map collections, British Library - of particular interest is the 1750 -1950 official large-scale survey of South Asia.

Melville Herskovitz Library of Africana, Northwestern University, has digitised copies of 113 maps of Africa from 16th to the 20th centuries.


Royal Commonwealth Society Library Photograph Collection, University of Cambridge, contains over 70,000 images dating from the mid-1850s to the mid-1980s. They document developments ina wide variety of fields including medicine, education and industry.

Images of Empire, British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.  This is an online resource of still and moving images on the Brisih colonial period.