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History: Primary sources

A guide to finding information in history. Includes links to key resources and sources of help.

Using primary sources

You will need to access primary sources, such as archives, as part of your research for projects or your dissertation. The University holds various primary source materials, ranging from the Record Society publications to the University of Reading's Special Collections Service. These sources, along with online archives to which the Library subscribes, are described in more detail on this page. Also see the 'Websites' page of this guide, where some freely available online primary source material on the web has been highlighted.

University of Reading Special Collections - archives, rare books and more...

Two students looking at a rare bookThe University’s Special Collections are available to all students in the University. The collections include rare books, manuscripts, records, letters, photographs, maps and drawings. Use the search box below to find specific items on the Enterprise catalogue.


The Special Collections Service is based on the London Road campus, in the same building as the Museum of English Rural Life. Items from the Special Collections cannot be borrowed, but they can be consulted in the reading room. You’re advised to plan ahead and contact Special Collections prior to your visit, so that the material is ready for you for when you arrive.

The following collections are relevant to students of History:

The following collections are relevant to History of Art students:

If you would like to use Special Collections for your dissertation, see the Dissertation Subject explorer for your subject for example topics.

Locating archives elsewhere: UK

When searching beyond our Library, the following online sources may be useful.

Locating archives elsewhere: overseas

If you are looking for records kept overseas, try the following sites.

Parliamentary publications

The UK Parliament and other national and regional assemblies and parliaments around the world typically publish official papers on their activities, providing a potentially rich resource for research into political and legislative processes.

The Library holds an extensive historical collection of UK parliamentary papers, much of the content of which is now also accessible electronically; current and recent parliamentary publications are ordinarily available online. For more information, read:

Online primary source material - subscribed content