Research Resources

This is an introductory guide to the very wide range of research resources available for the study of contemporary British history (broadly-speaking modern British History from 1945 to the present). It is aimed at undergraduates and postgraduates (both research and taught masters students) at the University of Bristol, though I hope it should be useful to others as well. It has a bias towards political history and its starting point is the assumption that, as well as available archival papers, when researching contemporary British history one can (and should) also draw on the wealth of other primary sources that are available: e.g. newspapers and magazines, political pamphlets and speeches, party manifestos, opinion polling, contemporary academic writing (\particularly by social scientists), memoirs and biographies, parliamentary publications (green papers, white papers, reports of select committees, etc.), reports of royal commissions, government statistics, newsreels, radio and television programmes, film, drama, novels, etc., etc..

Any suggestions for further links and information that might be included in this guide will be gratefully received. Likewise, if you find that any of the links don’t work please let me know by emailing details to me at Don’t be shy – if you don’t tell me about a stale link it may never get fixed.

Use the Fastlinks to jump straight into introductions to these resources:

Note: many (though far from all) of the links provided here are to sites that require a subscription. For University of Bristol students this means using a computer on the university network or re-configuring your personal device to pick up UoB subscriptions (either by using the UoB ‘proxy server’, or the UoB ‘Virtual Private Network’, or the UoB ‘Student Remote Desktop‘). You may also have to install Acrobat Reader if you don’t already have it. Help for those accessing external electronic resources is available.

Reference Books and Libraries

Obviously, you will find a wealth of useful published sources (including videos and DVDs) in the University Library (UoB ASSL). Use the Library catalogue to locate them. The ‘Information and Advice‘ pages on the library website contain useful pointers to getting the most out of the library. There is also a useful guide to research resources and support for Historians.

Bibliographies (on-line)

Any research project requires you to construct your own reading list and there are a number of aids to help you do this:

  • Google Scholar is comprehensive, easy to search and offers citation links (see section on the Internet below for tips on how best to use it). But see warning below in Academic Journals section.
  • The Bibliography of British and Irish History (BREPOLIS) is a searchable online catalogue of writings on British and Irish history that includes details of more than 400,000 books and journal articles.
  • History Online is a mine of information about the discipline including details of UK academics, theses, books and journals, and funding opportunities
  • The International Bibliography of Social Sciences indexes 3 million bibliographic references to journal articles and to books, reviews and selected chapters dating back to 1951, with links to works which have cited each entry.
  • An even larger bibliographical database, covering all fields of enquiry, is Mimas’s Web of Science. This covers the period since 1900. It too has the ability to link to works that have cited the piece in question.
  • For postgraduates,Index to Theses, History Online’s Index of Theses, and the British Library’s EThos Electronic Theses Online Service [UK] will be of interest. The latter indexes over 250,000 theses and offers free online access to those already digitised, plus somewhat slow and expensive digitisation of other theses (basically, the first person to request digitisation of a thesis is the one who bears the cost, thereafter it’s free).

Bibliographies (printed)

These are now very dated, but I do still use them occasionally as they are well-organised.

  • Keith Robbins, A Bibliography of British History, 1914 – 1989 (Oxford, 1996). [ZDA566 B58]
  • R.C. Richardson and W.H. Chaloner, British Economic and Social History: A Bibliographical Guide (Manchester, 1996). [ZHC253 C43]
  • Peter Catterall, British History, 1945-1987: An Annotated Bibliography (Oxford, 1990).  [ZDA592 C36]
  • Stephanie Zarach, British Business History: A Bibliography (London, 1994). [ZHD2356.G7 B86]

Other Reference books worth consulting

  • David Butler and Gareth Butler (eds.), Twentieth Century British Political Facts, 1900-2000 ( London, 8th edition 2000) [Statistics JN231 BUT]
  • International bibliography of Historical Sciences [Serial Z6205.I5]
  • Keesing’s Record of World Events [Serial D410.K4]
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Reference DA28 OXF. An invaluable way into the lives of significant dead Britons. Available online.
  • Dictionary of Labour Biography [multi-volume [HD8393.A1 DIC].
  • There is much other useful primary source material in published collections in the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library such as H Jones and L. Butler (eds.), Britain in the Twentieth Century: A Documentary Reader, Vol 2, 1995 [DA566.7 BRI] and many others.
  • Other useful reference books are discussed below.

Other libraries

  • Bristol Central Library has an excellent collection of local history material.
  • All students are eligible to apply for a reader’s pass to access the British Library.
  • In vacations, most university libraries will let undergraduates consult their books and hard copy journals on presentation of your Bristol ID card.
  • Research postgraduates are eligible to use the SCONUL Access scheme for borrowing and reference use of other academic libraries.
  • If you want to search other university library catalogues I suggest using COPAC which allows meta-searching of the catalogues of many libraries, though unfortunately not Bath or UWE, which you have to check directly.

Academic journals

Warning about Google Scholar. Probably the easiest way of finding scholarly journal articles is using Google Scholar. But be warned that Google indexes the version to which it has access. That may not be the same version that your library has paid for. If you get asked for money when trying to access an article via Google you should check if the library actually has a subscription first – UoB students via the ASSL list of eJournals. If found, follow the link there and search the journal for the article you are looking for.

Journals of particular relevance to the study of contemporary British history are listed below.

Political historians will also find articles of interest in some political science journals such as

More generally, academic journals can also be very useful primary sources for the contemporary historian since the writings of political scientists, sociologists, economists, etc at the time can tell us much about the way Britain developed in the postwar period, and about how those developments were seen at the time, or shortly after. Examples of such journals include:

Useful online collections include:

Other electronic academic journals

Most of UoB’s subscriptions to academic journals include internet access (and many are online only). This has the great advantage that when someone else is looking at the paper copy of the issue you want you can still access it. There is a list of eJournals  to which UoB subscribes.

Electronic databases available online

The UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library subscribes to other electronic resources that you may also find useful (to find out more look at its catalogue).

Some examples of useful online databases for the contemporary British historian include:

The web

The ubiquitous Google is probably most people’s idea of where to start when searching the web but Google Scholar is better if you want to search across a range of scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts, and also papers held on university web sites. It also provides details of citations against journal articles and papers. For tips on how best to define Google searches see the Google Cheatsheet.

But there’s a problem with Google and scholarly journals – the links provided by it to a given article are based on Google’s subscription, which may not be the same as that used by our University. If you find you are being asked to pay for access then you may well have fallen victim to this problem. In which case, access the article manually by going to the journal via the Library’s ejournal portal.

Those new to scholarly studies in history on the internet may benefit from looking at the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library’s Internet Links for Historians.

Useful portals offering ways into internet resources in History include

Be aware that, with the exception of peer-reviewed academic journals and academic databases the broader internet is often unreliable – and apt to be somewhat (often very and sometimes extremely) partisan. Remember, a search may turn up lots of references but there is no quality control that ensures the accuracy and truthfulness of what you are reading. The web should be used in addition to not instead of other resources. Exercise discretion. If you’ve never heard of the site are you sure you can you trust it? Even if you have heard of it, don’t think this necessarily guarantees there are quality controls, or that it provides information at an appropriate level. Citing Wikipedia in an essay looks poor, for instance, because there is little editorial control of content and it is not always reliable; instead you should use it, if at all, as background to your search for material. Likewise, Spartacus or the BBC are far too basic for an undergraduate to be using, though some do so and receive lower marks as a result. In terms of non-subscription material on the web, educational sites (e.g. those ending or .edu in the USA) are probably better than most, but even here you need to be careful.

For a good range of links see:

Media sources

Guidance on using news sources

  • Stephen Vella, ‘Newspapers’ in Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 192–208. D16 REA [also available as an eBook]

Newspapers and periodicals (international, national and local):

  • The Times is available online from several sources covering different date ranges. The Times Digital Archive has issues from 1785 up to about 5 years ago. More recent issues are accessible via the News tab of Lexis Library.
  • The Guardian and Observer digital news archive runs from 1791 to the present. Check the ASSL eJournal listings for a link to our subscription
  • The Daily Mail digital archive runs from 1896 to the recent past. More up-to-date issues can be accessed via Lexis Library.
  • The Telegraph Historical Archive, 1855-2000, includes the Sunday Telegraph from 1961. More up-to-date issues are on Westlaw.
  • The Financial Times has good coverage of political developments as well as business and economics. Back numbers via Newsbank.
  • Other national and local newspapers
    • UKPressOnline provides an online archive of the Daily Mirror, Daily / Sunday Express, and Daily Star. UoB does not currently subscribe to it, though hopes to shortly, but personal access is not that expensive and certainly cheaper than a train to London. NOTE, to gain personal access you will need to use a computer that is not on (or linked to) the UoB network (otherwise it will treat you as an institution without a subscription).
    • More recent editions of nearly all national and many local newspapers (beginning from various dates since the mid-1980s but generally available from the mid-1990s) can be accessed online via Lexis Library or the Westlaw NewsRoom (click their ‘News’ tabs).
    • The British Newspaper Archive in partnership with the British Library offers online access to a wide range of local and regional newspapers, but unfortunately not many of them in the twentieth century.
    • The British Library Newspaper Archive has whole runs of the full range of national (and selected international) newspapers, magazines and periodicals. Though the Bodleian Library at Oxford also has a number of newspaper holdings.
  • The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Report 1974–1996 was the USA’s principal record of political and historical open source intelligence for nearly 70 years. It monitored, recorded, transcribed, and translated intercepted radio broadcasts from the UK and other foreign governments, official news services, and clandestine broadcasts from occupied territories.
  • Also on the international front, some access to databases of key titles (e.g. the New York Times) can be obtained via the Library’s online database portal. Those with a Bristol City Library membership card can also access online a range of more recent issues of key publications via Newsbank
  • For those interested in the 20th century before 1939, British Periodicals can be a useful resource.
  • Back-issues in hard-copy and microfiche are held in the Bristol City Library of:
    • Bristol Evening Post
    • Western Daily Press

Back-issues of the following weeklies and monthlies can be found in the serials collection of the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library or online:

  • The Economist (good for political news and social comment as well as finance and economics). [Serial HC10.E3] (The Economist Digital Archive covers 1843 to 2007. Later issues via Westlaw).
  • The Illustrated London News [hardcopies to 1970 available at Folio Serial AP4.I]. The online edition is not subscribed to by UoB but is available online if you have a card issued by a subscribing library such as Bristol Libraries.
  • The Listener (which carried articles of general cultural interest as well as those relating to radio and TV).
  • Picture Post (highly influential weekly news magazine, the UoB ASSL has copies from 1938 until the early 1950s).
  • Punch (a humorous and satirical magazine that was published until 1992)
  • New Society (for a sociology / social policy perspective, 1962-88 – at which point it was absorbed into the New Statesman). Retrievable from store on demand.
  • New Statesman (for a Left perspective). [Serial AP4.N37] (available online in different collections: 1913-88,and 1991-date).
  • Spectator (for a Right perspective) in the library’s serials collection from 1828 to 2009. More recent material via the Spectator website.
  • Time Magazine online archive

Some more overtly political journals on the left:

  • Labour Weekly (to 1988, not in UoB ASSL but available at the British Library and the LSE)
  • Labour Monthly (1923-76 available on line, hard copies in ASSL store)
  • Marxism Today (1980-1991)
  • Militant (1964-97, not in UoB ASSL but available at the British Library and the LSE)
  • New Reasoner (complete 1957-59)
  • Morning Star (from 1930, originally published as the Daily Worker, not in UoB ASSL)
  • New Left Review [hard copies since 1960 at Serial HX1.N4]
  • Plebs [not in UoB ASSL]
  • Prospect (since 1995)
  • Red Pepper (since 1994, not in UoB ASSL)
  • Socialist Commentary, from the Socialist Vanguard Group (1934-78, not in UoB ASSL)
  • Socialist Register: an annual publication founded by Ralph Miliband and John Saville in 1964 as ‘an annual survey of movements and ideas’ from the standpoint of the independent new left’ [Serial HX1.S59]
  • Tribune (since 1937) [Not in the ASSL but its website promises the return of its online archive ‘soon’).
  • Universities & Left Review (1957-59)

Some more overtly political journals on the right:

  • Crossbow (issues since 2011 online at The Bow Group, not in UoB ASSL. Earlier issues at the British Library, LSE and a couple of other university libraries – see COPAC).
  • Salisbury Review (hard copies in the ASSL Serials Collection)

Back-issues of specialist newspapers and periodicals can also be useful for the study of contemporary history. Examples in the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library include:

Other periodicals:

  • Spare Rib – the feminist magazine is available online at the British Library for the years 1972-93
  • Ron Unz has a very wide range of twentieth century American and (some) British magazines available online (e.g. The Bookman, Policy Review, Labour Monthly) .
  • A range of both general and specialist professional publications (e.g. the Bookseller, Cosmopolitan, Computer Weekly, Ecologist, Farmers’ Weekly, Good Housekeeping) since the 1980s and 90s can also be accessed online at Bristol Libraries if you become a member.

Newsreels, TV, and radio news

Archival news footage (newsreel, TV and radio) is increasingly available. See the audio-visual section below.


The BBC Written Archive and a few cuttings archives. See UK Archives below.


There are several compilations of 20th century British political manifestos edited by F.W.S. Craig [JN1121 BRI]. The originals are also available in the Special Collections Department of the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library . Richard Kimber’s excellent Political
Science Resources
website at Keele University provides access to a wealth of politics web-based politics data and links on Britain and other countries. In the British context, particularly notable are its:

Videos of selected Party Political / Election Broadcasts since 1951 are at BFI ScreenOnline and you can find others if you truffle about on YouTube.

Useful works on British electoral politics include:

  • The Nuffield British general election studies provide detailed analysis of each British general election since 1950 – generally David Butler and Anthony King as author [JN 955 BUT / JN 966 BUT].
  • David Denver, Elections and Voters in Britain (3rd edn, Basingstoke, 2013) provides a good introduction issues such as class dealignment and the emergence of ‘valence’ politics. [JN956 DEN]
  • Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, British Electoral Facts, 1832-2012 offers detailed analyses of candidates, votes and seats won at every general election since 1832, and masses of other general election data. It is particularly good on the post-1945 period. [Statistics JN1037 BRI, also various earlier editions]

There is also a wealth of data relating to general elections and public opinion on the website, of the British Election Study (BES) and in various publications derived from it – e.g.

  • D. Butler and D. Stokes, Political Change in Britain: The Evolution of Electoral Choice (Basingstoke, 1974).
  • B. Särlvik and I. Crewe, Decade of Dealignment: The Conservative Victory of 1979 and Electoral Trends in the 1970s (Cambridge, 1983).
  • A. Heath. et al, Understanding Political Change: The British voter, 1964-1987 (Oxford, 1991).
  • H.D. Clarke et al, Political Choice in Britain (Oxford, 2004).
  • P. Whiteley, et al, Affluence, Austerity and Electoral Change in Britain (Cambridge, 2013).

For those interested in public opinion, our University Library has a number of printed collections of poll data which are fascinating:

  • George H. Gallup (ed.), The Gallup International Public Opinion Polls: Great Britain, 1937-1975. 2 Vols. (New York, 1976). [Statistics HN400.P8 GAL]
  • Roger M. Jowell and G. Hoinville (eds.), Britain into Europe: Public Opinion and the EEC, 1961-75 (London, 1976). [HC241.2 BRI]
  • Anthony King (ed.), British Political Opinion, 1937-2000: The Gallup polls (London, 2001). [HN400.P8 BRI]
  • Rallings, Colin and Thrasher, Michael, British Electoral Facts, 1832-2012 (Aldershot, 2012). [Statistics JN1037 BRI]

However, you should beware of the pitfalls of reading opinion polls, on which see:

  • Robert M. Worcester, British Public Opinion: A Guide to the History and Methodology of Political Opinion Polling (Oxford, 1991) [JN956 WOR*], especially Part II.
  • Anja Kruke, ‘Opinion polls’ in Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 192–208. D16 REA [also available as E-pub]

A certain amount of time-series data is available online courtesy of the major opinion pollsters (YouGov is particularly generous in making its data available) but I often make the UKpollingreport blog of YouGov director Anthony Wells my first stop as it has both current data and some excellent archival material.

The UK Data Archive has some historic opinion poll data – for example that of the British Institute of Public Opinion (Gallup) Polls 1938-1946 (for which there’s a rudimentary index), Database of Selected British Gallup Opinion Polls, 1958-1991 and other Gallup poll and survey data. To make use of these datasets you must first register with the site, further information is then supplied giving instructions on usage.

Annual conference reports

  • Labour Party annual conference reports are in the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library serials collection. [Serials JN1129.L31.L3]
  • Conservative Party annual conference reports. [Serials JN1129.C71.C6]
  • Decisions taken at the major parties’ annual conferences are documented in F.W.S. Craig (ed.), Conservative & Labour Party conference decisions 1945-1981 (1982). [JN1129.C72 CON]
  • Reports of the annual Trades Union Congress. [Serials HD6661.T7] The unionhistory website has a slightly clumsy but usable archive of TUC annual reports which allows browsing and full text searching of all reports up to 1968 (at the time of writing). Reports from 1997 are on the TUC website.

Political speeches

British Political Speeches provides a useful if very incomplete selection.

Prime ministerial speeches can also be found in collections as follows (there are no collected speeches for Eden, Macmillan, Home, Heath or Callaghan – just a few random texts to be found on the internet and if you want more you have to go to their private papers):

  • Winston Churchill
    Selections of Churchill’s speeches after 1945 were published as The sinews of peace : post war speeches (London, 1948), Europe unite: speeches 1947 and 1948 (London, 1950), In the balance : speeches 1949-1950 (London 1951), Stemming the tide: speeches, 1951 and 1952 (London, 1953).
  • Harold Macmillan
    A very small selection of Macmillan’s speeches can be found on British Political Speeches but there is no full published collection.
  • Harold Wilson
    Selections of Wilson’s speeches were published as The New Britain (Harmondsworth, 1964), Purpose in Politics (London, 1964), and Purpose in Power (London, 1966).
  • Margaret Thatcher
    See the Thatcher Archive and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation‘s online archive of Thatcher speeches, interviews, statements and other papers. Printed collections: Let our children grow tall: selected speeches 1975-1977 (London, 1977); In defence of freedom : speeches on Britain’s relations with the world 1976-1986 (London, 1986); The revival of Britain: speeches on home and European affairs 1975-1988 (London, 1989); The collected speeches of Margaret Thatcher (London, 1997).
  • John Major
    Major’s website holds all his speeches. A selection of Major’s speeches was also published shortly before he ceased to be prime minister: Our nation’s future: keynote speeches on the principles and convictions that shape Conservative policies (London, 1997).
  • Tony Blair
    Some of Tony Blair’s speeches can be found in Tony Blair, New Britain: my vision for a young country (London, 1996); and in Paul Richards (ed.) Tony Blair: in his own words (London 2004) along with assorted extracts from pamphlets and press articles . Blair’s prime ministerial speeches (i.e. ‘non-political’ speeches not specifically relating to the Labour Party) used to be on the No. 10 website but were deleted after he left office (shades of Stalin v. Trotsky there!). However, TNA’s UK Government Web Archive holds archived copies of the Office of the Prime Minister site so you can still access them. Unfortunately the Labour Party deleted Blair’s ‘political’ speeches made as leader of the party from their website as soon as Gordon Brown became leader, though many of them can be found reproduced online (BBC news and the Guardian are good sources) and the British Library has gathered snapshots of the Labour Party website since 2005. At the time of writing, Blair’s speeches recorded on the website of The Office of Tony Blair relate solely to the years since 2007.
  • Gordon Brown
    Brown’s speeches made pre-2007 are in Gordon Brown, Moving Britain forward: speeches, 1997-2006 (London, 2006) [DA591.B77]. Speeches made by Brown as prime minister (i.e. not ‘party-political’ speeches) after 28 June 2007 are on TNA’s UK Government Web Archive which holds archived copies of the Office of the Prime Minister site. Again, the British Library has snapshots of the Labour Party’s website that encompass the Brown years and include ‘political’ speeches made by him as leader of the party.
  • David Cameron
    At the time of writing, Cameron’s speeches as prime minister (i.e. not ‘party-political’ speeches) are on TNA’s UK Government Web Archive which holds archived copies of the Office of the Prime Minister site. His ‘political’ speeches can be garnered from the British Library’s snapshots of the Conservative Party website.
  • Theresa May
    Access May’s speeches in the same way as those for David Cameron.

For the Labour Party, G. Rosen, Old Labour to New (2005) is a useful compendium of speeches by key Labour figures.

Speeches made in Parliament by MPs and Peers are recorded in Hansard – see ‘Parliamentary sources’ immediately below.

Parliamentary sources

The Parliament website is a useful guide to its operation and its ‘Publications and Records‘ page is a useful way into its sources.

Hansard details parliamentary debates in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and proceedings (though not the reports) of Select Committees. It is available in the following forms:

  • Hansard via the Parliament website is useful but though its search is functional it is still lacking in many ways such as issues around boolean search terms and the lack of click-through links in the graphic representation of debates over time. Still, it’s probably the best we have at the moment, though there are other means of getting at Hansard:
  • Hansard on UK Parliamentary Papers covers 1802-2005 and has a decent search function.
  •, has so far as I can tell the full text debates in both Houses (including ministerial statements and with oral and written answers to members’ questions) from the 1880s to about 2005 – but the search function, which used to be wonderful, seems no longer to function usefully.
  • Hard copies of Hanswrd are held in the UoB ASSL [Serials collection JN500.A3]. Note that each volume contains an index. Committee proceedings and debates are published in separate volumes

Government bills and policy papers presented to Parliament (‘Command papers’ aka white papers and green papers), and other reports to Parliament (e.g. by Royal Commissions and Parliamentary select committees) are available online at UK Parliamentary Papers (dating back to 1715). More recent papers (from 1955) can be obtained from Public Information Online. There is a useful summary of what is held where provided by the ASSL

Minutes and reports of parliamentary select committees to the early 21st century can also be obtained from UK Parliamentary Papers . From 1997 they can be found on Public Information Online and at

All Acts of Parliament since 1987 (and some from 1837 to 1986) are available online at the UK government website . Lexis Library has the full text of all Acts. But be warned, they can sometimes be pretty impenetrable, being written in a species of legal English that to the uninitiated seems to bear little relationship to English as we commonly understand it! Since 1999 explanatory notes have been provided, though these can sometimes also be pretty hard to follow. There is a useful House of Commons guide to tracing Acts of Parliament.

Other useful sources:

  • A basic overview of the operation of British government and how it has changed since the end of the Second World War can be found in Knight, Nigel, Governing Britain since 1945 (London, 2006). DA589.7 KNI
  • House of Commons Research Papers and House of Lords Library Notes can be useful sources of historical information on topics of more recent political interest.
  • The annual Dod’s Parliamentary companion contains details of MPs, Peers, Parliamentary select committees, and so on. [Serial JN500.D7].
  • A very useful digest is Who’s Who of British Members of Parliament: A Biographical Dictionary of the House of Commons, Based on Annual Volumes of ‘Dod’s Parliamentary Companion’, and other sources. Vol. 4, 1945-1979 (vols. 1-3 cover the periods 1832-1945). [Reference JN672 WHO]. The subsequent period is covered by Members of Parliament 1979 – 2010 (London, 2011).
  • If you are on the trail of current MPs and members of the Lords for interviews then Vacher’s Quarterly is useful for contacts details, including email addresses. [Serial JN500.D71]
  • For the years after 1988, Andrew Roth’s Parliamentary Profiles offer detailed and often acute accounts of politicians’ social and political life [Reference JN672 WHO]. He tends to be hated by many of those profiled, which I take to be a good sign.
  • Short biographies of (dead) former cabinet ministers and other influential politicians are included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Ref. DA28 OXF]. Also available online.

Parliament has its own archive. This does not, of course, include government papers – see below.

The Electoral Commission maintains the official register of political parties and their finances: parties’ annual accounts and information on donations, loans, and election campaign spending. The data goes back to 2001.


Government Papers

Government papers are wide-ranging, as our the sources from which they may be obtained.

Th unpublished papers of government (i.e. of the civil and military services, ministers’ private offices, etc) are subject to release under the 20-year rule (the transition to which, from the former 30-year rule, began in 2013). Two years-worth of records will be transferred to The National Archive each year during the 10-year period of transition (more details on the TNA 20-year rule page). Note that some departments (e.g. the Treasury) are at the time of writing not even managing to hit the 30-year threshold.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001
1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002

The vast bulk of this material is not available online and must be consulted at the National Archive in Kew, though some (mainly full cabinet minutes and memoranda) are. More details of this are to be found in the discussion of TNA below in the Archives section). Note that documents for a given year are released when the file within which they are contained is closed – which may be some years later (typically but not exclusively on a change of Government or, in the case of No. 10, of the Prime Minister).

Government publications

Government publications published for discussion in Parliament are Parliamentary Papers and can be accessed as described in the preceding section. Other government publications are more complex to obtain. The UoB ASSL has a guide available.

Government statistics can be obtained from National Statistics – see the ‘Statistics’ section below.

The Gazette (formerly known as The London Gazette) is the official record of the UK government. Here you will find notices published by the government and the Crown including honours lists and bills receiving royal assent).

Who’s who in government?

When working with government records it is essential to be able to identify the authors and recipients named in documents. Here the annual Civil Service Yearbook (until 1970 the Imperial Calendar) is invaluable. It also gives you a clear view of the way in which government departments were structured in a given year. Back numbers to 1974 are available online at Public Information Online, and those for 1963-73 are here (UoB subscription) Before that you have to consult hard copies in the Library.

Memoirs and diaries

Memoirs and published (and unpublished) diaries can be useful sources. Use the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library catalogue to locate them. But note that memoirs must, perhaps more than any other form of primary source, be read with an eye on the purpose behind their production. Bear in mind the tendency of those writing them to seek to portray themselves in the best light and assess their content in the light of other primary sources. For guidance, read David Carlson, ‘Autobiography’ in in Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 192–208. D16 REA [also available as an eBook].

Oral history

If you are interested in doing oral history interviews the Oral History Society should be your first stop. It has a very good guide to resources and publications as well as an excellent advice section. It is, however, very much aimed at social historians. For those interested in political interviews, T. Wengraf, Qualitative Research Interviewing (London, 2001) is social sciencey but useful

Audio and visual sources

There is an increasing amount of historical audio/visual material available online – photographic libraries, newsreels and film clips, cartoons, archive sound recordings, and even some televisual material – much of it drawn from much bigger archives that you can visit in person. I list some of the more useful of these here. However, if you come across any more I would be interested to hear about them.

Those wanting a physical archive could do worse than consult the national film and theatre archive at the British Film Institute and holdings of the British Library Sound Archive – the former has BBC TV material, the latter BBC radio recordings. Scripts and other working papers of the BBC are at The BBC Written Archives Centre in Caversham, a suburb of Reading (contact them in advance). The UoB Arts and Social Science Library also has a Visual Materials Collection comprising videos and DVDs (mainly films, but also some documentary material).



  • British Cartoon Archive at Kent University has a searchable database of over 150,000 cartoons. It’s a really useful resource.

Still images

  • Alamy – a commercial photo library
  • Associated Press commercial picture library
  • British Library: Images Online has a large number of images from the British Library’s collection.
  • Country Life Picture Library
  • Getty Images is an unparalleled photo library with a wealth of historical images, including the Hulton Picture Archive (see MediaPlus below for free access to a subset of the collection).
  • Google image search is OK, but only really for images with no copyright issues
  • Life Magazine photo library
  • Magnum Photos – mostly paid for but a large subset of historically important photojournalism from this premier photo agency is available free via our subscription to ArtStore.
  • Mary Evans picture library is an excellent source of downloadable historical images without watermarking.
  • MediaPlus has 100,000 videos, images and sound recordings, including an 8000 images subset of Getty Images without watermarking.
  • National Portrait Gallery has several hundred portraits of national figures dating from the 16th century to the present day.
  • Shutterstock image library has well over 100m royalty-free images. Some of them are of historical interest.
  • Art history / history of architecture / historical photographs databases include Artstor and others to be found via the Library’s Electronic Database portal.


Newsreels and video

  • BBC ‘On this day’ has sound and vision for key events by anniversary
  • Box of Broadcasts enables one to record and watch TV and radio, create clips from new and archived broadcasts and download them (over 2m programmes from 60+ channels going back the 1990s).
  • The Independent Radio News (IRN)/ London Broadcasting Company (LRC) radio archive consists of 7,000 reel-to-reel tapes in a collection that runs from 1973 to the mid-1990s. This digitised collection focuses on the most noteworthy content – approximately 3,000 hours of recordings relating to news and current affairs.
  • News on Screen has newsreels from 1910-1983 of Pathe News, Gaumont British News and British Movietone. Much of the Pathe material is also on YouTube.
  • Chronicle provides access to digitised copies of BBC news and current affairs material covering Northern Ireland and The Troubles

Other moving images

Archival Sources

Only a very small proportion of historic papers have been digitised. Useful printed guides to the location of archival papers relevant to contemporary historical research include:

  • Chris Cook, The Routledge Guide to British Political Archives: Sources Since 1945 (London, 2006). [Reference JN1121 ROU]
  • Chris Cook and David Waller, The Longmans Guide to Sources in Contemporary British History. Vol 1: Organizations and Societies and Vol. 2. Individuals (Harlow, 1994), the latter including papers in private possession. [Z2016 LON]
  • Cameron Hazlehurst and Christine Woodland, A Guide to the Papers of British Cabinet Ministers, 1900-1964 (Cambridge, 1996). [Z2020 HA]

When searching for personal papers, papers of institutions, political parties, campaigning organisations, companies, etc. the following online databases are invaluable starting points:

For the study of labour history, and of the history of fascism and anti-fascism in Britain, see the website of the Society for the Study of Labour History (it’s a particularly useful way into relevant archives). There’s no exact equivalent of the SSLH for the Conservatives but the website of the Conservative History Group is worth looking at. See Liberal History if you’re interested in the history of either the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats.

Archives and libraries you might consider visiting in person (though I suggest contacting them in advance to ensure they are open and your documents are accessible) are listed below:

Archives in Bristol and its environs

Archives elsewhere in the UK

  • The Bank of England archive covers every aspect of its administration from 1694 to the present.
  • The BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham, Reading.
  • The Tony Benn Archives comprise the papers, audio tapes, video cassettes and some artefacts collected by Tony Benn over his lifetime but has disappeared since his death. If you know what has become of it please let me know.
  • The Bishopsgate Institute has a noted library which has a rich collection relating to the history of London and, more generally, the history of labour and socialism, of free-thought and humanism, of co-operation, and of protest and campaigning (e.g. the Labour History collection has over 5000 books and 6000 pamphlets).
  • Black Cultural Archives, Brixton, span a period of five centuries and comprise a wide variety
    of material reflecting the history of the African diaspora and the presence of Black people in Britain.
  • The Bodleian Library, Oxford. [Note: strictly speaking only open to undergraduates in Oxford University vacations, but open to postgraduates at all times. It’s a good idea to get in touch with them in advance.  Read the notes on admission before going – e.g. you need a letter of introduction]. The collection of the Bodleian’s Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts includes:
  • The British Film Institute (BFI) , London – see audio-visual section
  • The British Library, Euston Road, London
    • Has Britain’s most extensive book collection, not least because as a ‘deposit library’ it receives a copy of every book published in the UK (as do the University Libraries at Oxford, Cambridge, and the national libraries of Scotland in Edinburgh and of Wales at Aberystwyth, though none of these has a collection as extensive as that of the BL). See instructions for getting a reader’s ticket.
    • [Note that much of the BL’s more recent book collection is also available at the UoB ASSL via the inter-library loan system].
    • The British Library Sound Archive is also extensive, including a wide range of oral interviews and the BBC radio archive.
    • Since the early 2000s, the BL has also been taking snapshots of significant websites in its UK Web Archive.
  • The British Library Newspaper Archive has newspapers, magazines, periodicals (the latter including comics and even selected football programmes) from Britain and abroad.
    There is a reading room at St Pancras at which it is possible access facsimiles of a fairly large chunk of the collection on microfilm or in the digital collection.
  • The British Library of Political and Economic Science Archive at the London School of Economics contains, amongst much else:
    • Many personal papers of interest (e.g. those of Tony Crosland, Hugh Dalton, George Bernard Shaw, Manny Shinwell, Peter Shore, John Diamond, Walter Citrine, Merlyn Rees, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, George Wigg).
    • Personal papers of civil servants, politicians and journalists catalogued and made available by the Foyle Foundation Project and relating to the development of UK local government since 1945; the UK’s administration of World War II; UK involvement with Europe; Conservative Party policy and ‘one nation’ conservativsm; advocacy of disability rights.
    • The papers of a number of significant LSE academics (e.g. those of Brian Abel-Smith, William Beveridge, James Meade, Michael Oakeshott, Lionel Robbins, Richard Tawney, Richard Titmuss, Eileen Younghusband).
    • Papers of campaigning groups such as the Fabian Society, Gay Liberation Front (part of the Hall Carpenter Archive), Independent Labour Party (to 1978 – also available on microform at UoB), the influential think-tank Political and Economic Planning, and some CND-related material .
    • LSE has many other papers, e.g. of the Tory Reform Group; Society of Labour Lawyers; video tapes and transcripts of Brook Lappings Productions’ documentaries ‘The Seventies’ and ‘The Last Europeans’; 1958-75 notebooks of the Guardian journalist Alistair Hetherington; papers of the human rights activist Peter Tatchell; records of the Economic History Society;and papers of the Institute for Contemporary British History (1990-96).
    • LSE has a useful digital archive. For example, it hosts:
      • The Fabian Society online archive which includes online access to many Fabian Tracts.
      • The British Oral History Archive, which contains interviews, conducted in 1979-80, with key postwar figures from politics, the civil service and the armed forces which range back over their lives.
  • The Institute for Contemporary British History at Kings College, London holds regular oral history events in its ‘Witness Seminar’ Programme and publishes their transcripts, many of which are available online. Those that are not can be purchased, and some are in the UoB Library.
  • The Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge has an extensive collection of contemporary personal papers amongst which are
  • The online Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) has a very wide range of primary material on the N. Ireland ‘Troubles’ from the 1960s onwards.
  • Edinburgh University Special Collections has the archive of the Scottish National Party and many other papers.
  • Essex University has the Albert Sloman Library, in which you can find:
  • The Feminist Archive (North) at Leeds holds a wide variety of material
    relating to the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) from 1969 to the present.
  • The Feminist Archive (South) at Bristol, likewise, has material on the second wave of feminism (roughly 1960-2000).
  • Feminist Library, Lambeth, is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s.
  • London Metropolitan Archives at the Guildhall Library, London specialises in the history of London and especially of the City of London so it is good for the history of finance, e.g. the archives of the London Stock Exchange. Lloyds of London, City livery companies, and many financial sector firms.
  • Hull University Archives have the personal papers of the Labour MPs Hugh Dalton, Roy Hattersley, Austin Mitchell, John Prescott.
  • The Imperial War Museum has an unparalleled collection covering not just military but also social aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict involving Britain.
  • The Institute of Race Relations ‘Black history collection’ has posters, leaflets, flyers, newspaper cuttings, campaign materials and more than 160 journals from black community and grassroots groups.
  • The Labour History Archive at The Peoples’ History Museum, Manchester (whose catalogues can be searched via A2A) includes:
    • The papers of the Labour Party (including the PLP). [Note that the records of the Labour Party NEC, to 1967, and of its Research Dept to 1979 that are held in Manchester are also available on microform in the Library here at Bristol along with some other records. I have a dated guide to these available here but all the sources listed should still be in the library catalogue]
    • Personal papers of a number of Labour politicians such as Michael Foot, Judith Hart and Eric Heffer.
    • The Communist Party Archive, the catalogue of which can be searched at A2A.
  • Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA) at The Bishopsgate Institute in the City of London has over 200,000 cuttings taken from the non-gay press on all LGBT matters since the late Nineteenth Century.
  • London School of Economics library and archive, see The British Library of Political and Economic Science above.
  • Manchester University’s John Rylands Library has, amongst many other collections, the archives of the (Manchester) Guardian (1821-1970s).
  • The Mass Observation Archive at Sussex University, Brighton specialises in material about everyday life in Britain. It contains papers generated by the original Mass Observation social research organisation (1937 to early 1950s), and newer material collected continuously since 1981. [Note: we have access to the online collection here at Bristol].
  • Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry for records of:
    • The TUC and other trade unions, industrial relations institutions and actors [note that the ASSL at Bristol has some TUC archival material to 1972 on microform – see rather dated guide here but all the sources listed should still be in the library catalogue].
    • Confederation of British Industry and its predecessors (the Federation of British Industry and British Employers’ Confederation), and many other employers’ and trade associations.
    • The papers of many pressure groups and campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International , the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Howard League for Penal Reform, National Federation of the Blind, Release, and National Union of Students (though prior permission is needed for the latter).
    • Papers of the Ecology Party
    • Papers of a large number of individuals including the MPs Ernest Bevin, Richard Crossman, and Tam Dalyell; trade union leaders such as Frank Chapple, Frank Cousins, Clive Jenkins, Moss Evans, Jack Scamp, and George Woodcock; the sociologist John Goldthorpe; incomes policy expert Prof. Hugh Clegg; Geoffrey Goodman, the journalist and biographer of Frank Cousins; Bruce Kent; and Sir Victor Gollancz, the left-wing publisher and campaigner.
  • The National Archive Kew for all government records.
    • Your first point of entry will likely be the NA catalogue but I suggest having a look at TNA’s Research information page first.
    • TNA publishes a series of useful research guides to aid researchers
    • There are also several printed introductions TNA records that offer the researcher a route into the sometimes overwhelming quantity of records that it contains. These are strongly recommended and include:
      • Simon Fowler, Sources for Labour History (London, 1995). ]
      • John D. Cantwell, The Second World War (Kew, 1998).
      • B.W.E. Alford et al, Economic Planning, 1945-1951 (London, 1992).
      • Andrew Land et al, Development of the Welfare State, 1939-51 (Kew, 1992).
      • Paul Bridgen and Rodney Lowe, Welfare Policy Under the Conservatives, 1951-1964 (Kew, 1998).
      • Astrid Ringe et al, Economic Policy Under the Conservatives 1951- 64 (London, 2004).
    • Note that TNA’s Catalogue has a ‘Browse’ facility. Clicking on a given department brings up some not very interesting material on release dates. But clicking on ‘Full details’ gives you an overview of how the selected department’s records are arranged, and information about the department’s origins, and its changing functions and organisational structure over time.
    • About 5% of material held at the National Archives has been scanned and is available via the TNA catalogue, including
      • Cabinet Papers since 1915 released under the 30-year rule (i.e. CAB 128 & 199 Cabinet Minutes and Memoranda). Note that:
        1. Only the advanced search finds current file references, if you search under ‘Exact phrase’.
        2. There is a browse facility that I find useful
        3. If there is a e-version of a file be aware this is not apparent in NA catalogue search results.
      • CAB 195 Cabinet Secretary’s Notebooks are a fascinating insight into cabinet discussions. Their release along with more readable transcripts is ongoing – currently they are up to 1965.
      • Records released under the Freedom of Information Act .
      • And some other material (some of which is charged for).
      • I have my own copy of The Macmillan Cabinet Papers, 1957-1963 – digitised documents from the Macmillan premiership on CD-Rom (cabinet minutes and memoranda for these years that are now online, but also selected prime ministerial files [PREM 11], some of which are not). I can lend it to Bristol students if you are interested.
    • The UoB Library microform collection includes some TNA records (see dated guide here but the references in it are still good):
      • Home Intelligence reports on opinion and morale 1940-44
      • Papers of the Economic Section, 1941-61
      • Records relating to the Beveridge Report, 1941-45
    • The National Archives has a UK Government Web Archive which has regular snapshots of fifty selected government websites for those working on the very recent past.
    • PhD students may want to make use of freedom of information legislation in making requests for unreleased records. Guidance is provided on the FoI pages of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Useful pointers for the contemporary historian can also be found at the Research Information Network.
  • The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh has many papers relating to Scottish history with a good collection of modern political manuscripts (including the personal papers of Jo Grimond) and material relating to labour history.
  • The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth has a rich collection of papers relating to politics in Wales
  • The Parliamentary Archive which includes some personal papers and the papers of the Britain in Europe Campaign from the early-1970s.
  • The People’s History Museum, Manchester has
    • The Labour History Archive which holds the archives of working class organisations from the Chartists to New Labour, including the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain.
    • Personal papers of people active in the labour movement, e.g. Ian Mikardo, Douglas Houghton
    • A range of material related to organised labour including a very large collection of trade union banners, posters and other ephemera, and more than 70,000 photographic images covering labour history, the Labour Party and more general social history.
  • The Runnymede Collection (now at the Black Cultural Archives, Brixton) has a very useful cuttings database relating to race and racism in Britain, as well as the papers of the Runnymede Trust.
  • Sheffield Archives has the papers of David Blunkett.
  • Sussex University has the papers of the Commonwealth Party (including Richard Acland’s personal papers), the New Statesman Archive, and the Mass Observation Archive (see above).
  • The Thatcher Foundation has an extraordinarily rich array of digitised version of Margaret Thatcher’s papers available online for free, as well as other digitised material including the private office papers of her two most famous chancellors: Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson.
  • The modern manuscript collection at Trinity College, Cambridge has some papers of R.A. Butler.
  • The Wellcome Library has an unparalleled collection of material relating to the history of medicine.

Other Archives

There is a wealth of archival material relating to the UK that is held elsewhere and available online. Some examples are listed below. US archives in particular contain much UK-related historical material going back to the Second World War and a surprising amount of it is available online.

Statistical data

There are many official sources of statistics – e.g. OECD studies, IMF statistical data, etc. – which, again, can be found in the Statistics section of the Library. Also non-governmental publications – for example publications by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, or Angus Maddison’s invaluable The World Economy: Historical Statistics [Statistics HF1359 MAD].

Quite a lot of this and other data is available online, for example:

  • The Office of National Statistics has much statistical data relevant to the UK. But be warned that its web site (though improved since its disastrous ‘relaunch’ in 2011) remains somewhat hard to navigate and very much a means of delivering the latest updates on statistics rather than a research tool for deeper and more historical enquiry. Nonetheless, ONS provides different types of data of interest to the contemporary historian:
    1. Some of ONS’s time-series datasets go back to the late-1940s, and some as far as 1901 (though note that subsequent revisions mean that this data often differs from that published at the time, and sometimes those differences can be surprisingly large). You can browse them on ONS website. Though I still tend to use an archived page from Jan 2016 ‘Key economic time series data‘ as it’s easier to get at the most interesting material.
    2. Generlly, the ONS website generally has become much less useful for contemporary historians than it was in the past, scandalously so in my opinion. Much historic data appears simply to have been deleted. The result is that I find myself using archived copies of the NS website at the UK Government Web Archive.
    3. For people doing very detailed / granular analysis of the UK labour market the ONS Nomis database is a rich source that can be interrogated online.
    4. More generally, a number of key publications by ONS are of use (UoB ASSL has hard copies for earlier years) and remain an essential tool for the contemporary historian because they enable us to obtain estimates produced at the time (which can sometimes vary from later data by a surprising amount). The government’s Publication Hub is probably the best way into these publications pending improvements to the NS web site:
      • Balance of Payments (‘Pink Books’)
      • British Crime Survey is, for the period since 1983, a useful social history resource, being based on surveys of people’s reported experience of crime rather than on crimes reported by the police.
      • Economic Trends givens much useful summary economic data. Note, from 2007 this was superseded by Economic & Labour Market Review.
      • Family Expenditure Survey is also a potentially useful source, being a voluntary survey of a random sample of private households’ expenditure on goods and services, and household income.
      • General Household Survey (now called the General Lifestyle Module) likewise is a good source of data about social and economic change
      • Labour Force Survey and Labour Market Trends, excellent for anything related to employment and unemployment. Note: superseded from 2007 by Economic & Labour Market Review.
      • Pension Trends for anything related to old age income replacement / poverty.
      • Population Trends covers population and demographic information.
      • Social Trends has a wealth of information relating to social change
      • UK Economic Accounts (‘Red Books’). A key source of data on the economy – e.g. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Balance of Payments (BoP)
      • UK National Accounts (‘Blue Books’) provide detailed estimates of national product, income and expenditure for the UK. Some tables contain historic data. It covers value added by industry, full accounts by sector – including financial and non-financial corporations, central and local government and households – and capital formation.
      • Plus many other useful publications.
  • And for advanced researchers the UK Data Service provides access to, and crucially support for, a range of national and international economic statistical datasets, e.g.
    • Large-scale UK-wide surveys, such as the General Lifestyle (formerly Household) Survey and the Labour Force Survey, which are key data resources for understanding population structure and change for the UK.
    • UK longitudinal studies (such as the 1970 British Cohort Study, British Household Panel Survey, and English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
    • Census data
    • ‘A collection of qualitative data collected by social scientists going back into the 1950s
  • Measuringworth is an invaluable calculator for expressing past values in current values, or vice versa, for a range of indicators. I find the ‘Relative values – UK £’ page especially useful.
  • The Bank of England has a time-series datasets covering, for example, inflation attitudes and the Bank’ daily and weekly balance sheet.
    • Most useful, perhaps, is the BOE historical data archive which contains three centuries’ worth of macroeconomic data relating to the wider economy, money and banking. It is a key source for any UK economic historian.
  • The OECD website’s OECD.Stat pages have useful OECD time series data
  • The IMF website includes some useful IMF time series data
  • The World Bank has a rich collection of data about development in countries across the globe
  • The National Digital Archive of Datasets contains digital data from British government departments and agencies archived between 1997 and 2010, with some material going back to 1964. It also has opinion poll data (see above) and interesting social survey data (e.g. from Gallup).
  • is part of the government’s open data initiative. At the time of writing, most of the data was for the very recent past, but it is hoped to include time-series data, so this is worth watching.
  • There is fascinating data (back to 1983) about changing social mores available on line at the website of British Social Attitudes.
  • OurWorldInData has some fascinating economic data visualisations, along with the underling data.
  • Finally, if you are as interested as I am in the power of etymology to inform the study of history I thoroughly recommend Google’s ‘Ngram Viewer‘, which allows you to trawl the vast corpus which Google has built up via its book scanning efforts.

Introduction to basic economic concepts

You don’t have to be an economist to perform well on my units since they all concentrate on the politics of the postwar period, but since economic policy and performance is at the heart of much modern politics you will benefit from grasping a few basic facts about how the economy works, and about how it grows (and sometimes shrinks) and the effects this gives rise to. It would be better to do this sooner rather than later.

I suggest you begin with the Economist‘s glossary of terms, looking up the following terms

  • Growth
  • Inflation
  • Unemployment
  • Gross domestic product
  • Balance of payments
  • Exchange rate

I am happy to answer any queries you may have about economic policy or performance either in seminars or in personal (or small group) tutorials in my consultation hours.