Research resources for the study of contemporary British history

This is an introductory guide to the wide range of sources available to those researching contemporary British history (broadly-speaking modern British history since 1945). It is aimed at undergraduates and postgraduates (both research postgraduates and those taking the contemporary history pathway of the MA in History) at the University of Bristol, though 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 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..

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

[Note: many of the links provided below are to sites that require a subscription. For University of Bristol students this means using a computer on the university network or reconfiguring your own computer 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]

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

Reference Books and Libraries

Obviously, you will find a wealth of useful published sources (including videos and DVDs) in the UoB Arts and Social Sciences 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 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 increasingly comprehensive, easy to search and offers citation links (see section on the Internet below for tips on how best to use it).
  • The Bibliography of British and Irish History is a searchable online catalogue of writings on British and Irish history that includes details of around 400,000 books and journal articles.
  • History online has databases of historical abstracts of 40,000 books and articles.
  • I make quite a lot of use of the International Bibliography of Social Sciences which includes details of journal articles, books and book chapters.
  • An even larger bibliographical database, covering all fields of enquiry, is Mimas’s Web of Science. This also has the ability to link to works that have cited the piece in question.
  • For postgraduates, the UK & Ireland 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)

  • 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) is an excellent though now very dated introduction to the literature. [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]
  • Anthony King and Robert J. Wybrow (eds.), British political opinion, 1937-2000 ( London, 2001) [HN400.P8 BRI]
  • Oxford Dictionary of national biography [Reference DA28 OXF. Also available online.
  • Dictionary of labour biography [multivolume HD8393.A1 DIC]. Apparently there are plans to make entries available online - see the project website
  • The British imperial calendar and civil service list, latterly The Civil Service Yearbook, is useful if you want to identify civil servants in post in a particular year. [Serials JN107.B8 & JN106.C5]
  • There is 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

Journals of particular relevance to the study of contemporary British history are listed below. All are in the UOB Arts and Social Sciences Library. All are also available online, though some have more years available than others. Note that in all my unit websites you can click through to the full text of journal articles where this is available online.

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

Academic journals can also be 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. Examples of such journals include:

Useful online collections include:

Other electronic academic journals

Most of UoB's subscriptions to academic journals also include internet access (and many of our journals 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. More details are on the library web pages at

Electronic databases available online

The UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library has other electronic resources that you may also find useful (to find out more search MetaLib via

Some examples of useful online databases include: 

  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is an outstandingly useful source of biographical data (and includes details of where personal papers are held). There is an informative guide to getting the most out of it.
  • Who’s Who is available on the CD-Rom network and in annual printed volumes; it is also available online but only if you have a card issued by a subscribing library such as Bristol Libraries, since UoB isn't a subscriber to the online version unfortunately.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary can be useful for its etymologies, allowing you to trace the first use of a word and its changing meaning over time.
  • Digimap is a very useful source of historical Ordnance Survey maps.
  • British History Online is a large digital library of printed primary and secondary sources, though is very limited for the period after 1900.
  • The Institute of Historical Research's Reviews in History is a very useful (though far from comprehensive) database of book reviews. For political history see also Political Studies Review book reviews and Political Review Net.
  • Matthew White's Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century has some fascinating maps, many of them interactive, showing shifts in government, living conditions, demography, etc.
  • The Europa portal provides access to a wealth of EEC/EU related information including treaties, statistics, official documents such as those publiched by the European Commission and European Parliament, and Eurobarometer public opinion surveys dating back to 1973. Also useful is the research platform of the Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l'Europe.
  • LSE host the Fabian Society online archive which includes online access to many Fabian Tracts (note, at the time of writing clicking on links to particular tracts does work but each takes about a minute to load).

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.

Those new to scholarly studies in history on the internet may benefit from looking at:

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 internet is often unreliable - and apt to be somewhat (sometimes very) 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 tends to be pretty basic and not always reliable; instead you should use it, if at all, as background to your search for material. Likewise, Spartacus Schoolnet is 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 E-pub]

Newspapers and periodicals (international, national and local):

  • The Times is available online from several sources covering different date ranges. Check the ASSL eJournal listings for a link to our subscription
  • 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 can be accessed via the ASSL eJournal listings
  • The Financial Times has good coverage of political developments as well as business and economics. Unfortunately we no longer have a subscription to it either via Westlaw NewsRoom or Lexis Library, and have never had access to the FT Digital Archive going back to 1888. Until things improve I'm afraid you will have to use the British Library Newspaper Archive, or for recent years .
  • Other national and local newspapers (e.g. at the national level, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph Independent, Sun, Daily Express, Mirror, Sunday Mirror)
    • 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. 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 national and local newspapers (beginning from various dates since the mid-1980s and generally available from the mid-1990s) can be accessed online via Lexis Library or the Westlaw NewsRoom (click their 'News' tabs).
    • Newsbank has access to the Daily Mail (from 1998) and to a number of other newspapers from around this time. UoB doesn't subscribe to it, but you can gain access if you become a member of Bristol Libraries.
    • 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.
    • To view whole runs of the full range of national (and selected international) newspapers, magazines and periodicals you need to go to the British Library Newspaper Archive. Though the Bodleian Library at Oxford also has a number of newspaper holdings.
  • On the international front, some access to key titles can be obtained via MetaLib. Those with a Bristol City Library membership card can also access online a range of more recent issues of key publications via Newsbank. Then of course, there are the newspapers' own websites (e.g. The New York Times has articles since 1981).
  • Keesings World News Archive (1831 to date) can be useful for chronologies.
  • For those interested in the 20th century before 1939, British Periodicals can be a useful resource.
  • Back-issues in hard-copy 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 1843-2003. 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). [Folio Serial AP4.P5]
  • 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 two collections: 1913-88 and 1988-2000)
  • Spectator (for a Right perspective). [Also in hard copySerial AP4.S6 with older issues retrievable from store on demand]
  • Time Magazine online archive

Some overtly political journals:

  • Labour Weekly (to 1988, not in UoB ASSL)
  • Labour Monthly (1921- in store, from 1971 available on line)
  • Marxism Today (1980-1991)
  • Militant (1964-97, not in UoB ASSL)
  • New Reasoner (complete 1957-59)
  • Morning Star (from 1930, originally published as the Daily Worker, not in UoB ASSL)
  • New Left Review [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[NOTE: This journal is now defunct and its archive has disappeared along with its website. If anybody knows if it is still accessible electronically please let me know.
  • Universities & Left Review (1957-59)
  • Crossbow (issues since 2011 online at The Bow Group, not in UoB ASSL)

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:

  • Encounter (1953-90), highbrow writing popular on the centre left funded, it turned out, by the CIA). [Serial Store 5777a]
  • History Today [Serial D1.H55]
  • Horizon (a literary magazine published in London, between 1940 and 1949). [Store 14/0]
  • London Review of Books [Serial AP4.L65] (LRB archive, 1979 to date, available online).
  • New York Review of Books [Serial AP2.N4] (1963-date, available online) .
  • Times Higher Education Supplement [Serial LA637.T5, with back issues at Microfilm LA637.T5]
  • Times Educational Supplement [Education Library] (TES online archive has material from 2002 to date)
  • Times Literary Supplement [1902-1976 at Folio Serial AP4.T58; 1977 to date at Microfilm AP4. All issues to 1999 on CD-Rom. Issues for 1902-1990 are also online at the The Times Literary Supplement Centenary Archive; the TLS archive provides online access to material from 1994 to date.

Other periodicals:

  • Spare Rib - the feminist magazine is availble 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. A complete list is available.

Newsreels, TV, and radio news

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


And there are 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:

Useful works on British electoral politics include:

  • The Nuffield British general election studies (which 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 (Basingstoke, 2007) provides a good introduction and to some of the issues such as class dealignment and the emergence of 'valence' politics. [JN956 DEN]
  • Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, British electoral facts, 1832-2006 (Aldershot, 2006) 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). [JN955 BUT]
  • B. Särlvik and I. Crewe, Decade of Dealignment: The Conservative Victory of 1979 and Electoral Trends in the 1970s (Cambridge, 1983). [JN961 SAR]
  • H. Clarke et al, Political Choice in Britain (Oxford, 2004) . [JN956 POL*]
  • A. Heath et al, Understanding Political Change: The British voter, 1964-1987 (Oxford, 1991). [Statistics JN1037 UND]

For those interested in public opinion, the UoB ASSL 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, 1832-2006 (Aldershot, 2006). [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]

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.

A certain amount of time-series data is available online courtesy of the major opinion pollers: ICM (which I find the most useful), Mori, Gallup and, for the very recent past, YouGov. There is very useful BBC interactive guide to opinion polls since 1983 (though note the polls are displayed separately for each pollster unless you select the 'Poll of Polls', and not all of them go back to 1983).

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.) in Conservative & Labour Party conference decisions 1945-1981 (1982). [JN1129.C72 CON]
  • Reports of the annual Trades Union Congress. [Serials HD6661.T7] The TUC has a slightly clumsy but usable archive of TUC annual reports which allows full text searching of (at the time of writing) all reports up to 1968.

Political speeches

British Political Speeches provides a useful if incomplete selection.

Prime ministerial speeches are 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
    Margaret Thatcher statements, 1945-1990
    are available on CD-Rom. See also the Thatcher Archive and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation (the latter has a large online subset of the CD-Rom's speeches, interviews, and statements). 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. 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 Labour's website since 2005. At the time of writing, Blair's speeches recorded on the website of The Office of Tony Blair relate solely to his role in the Middle East since June 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' speeches) after 28 June 2007 are on the 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 Labour's website that encompass the Brown years and include 'political' speeches made by him as leader of the party.
  • David Cameron
    Diligent examination of snapshots of the Conservative Party's website taken by the UK Web Archive will turn up many of Cameron's speeches as leader of the party. His speeches as Prime Minister are on the No. 10 website.

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, of course, recorded in Hansard - see 'Parliamentary sources' immediately below.

Parliament and Government

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:

  •, 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 5 years ago.
  • Online access to Hansard for more recent years is available on the Parliament website. The easiest way to search it is to use 'Advanced Search'.
  • Hard copies of Hansard are held in the UoB Arts and Social Science Library [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), select committee reports, and other reports to Parliament (e.g. by Royal Commissions) are available online at House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (which contains documents dating back to 1715). It does not, however, come right up to date. More recent House of Commons papers are on the TSO website. You can also retrieve hard copies of such documents from the UoB ASSL store.

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 recent 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.
  • Former (dead) cabinet ministers and other influential politicians are included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Ref. DA28 OXF]. Also available online at

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


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 the 20-year rule (the transition to which, from the former 30-year rule) began in 2013. Two years-worth of records will be transfered to The National Archive each year during the 10-year period of transition (more details on the TNA 20-year rule page).

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 paper and must be consulted at the National Archive in Kew, though some (mainly cabinet minutes and memoranda) are available online. 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 acessed 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.

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 E-pub].

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. You might also find these guides useful:

  • L. Abrams, Oral History Theory (London, 2010) [An excellent and accessible introduction to the methodology of oral history].
  • R. Perks and A. Thomson, The Oral History Reader (London, 2nd edn. 1998).
  • R. Perks, Oral History: Talking About the Past (London, 2nd edn. 1995).
  • P. Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History (Oxford, 2nd edn. 1988).
  • A. Portelli, 'The Peculiarities of Oral History', History Workshop Journal ,12 (1981), pp. 96-107.
  • E. Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge, 1992).
  • M. Chamberlain and P. Thompson (eds.), Narrative and Genre (London, 1998), esp. ‘Introduction’ and A. Portelli, 'Oral history as genre'.
  • G. Prins, 'Oral history' in P. Burke (ed.), New Perspectives on Historical Writing (Cambridge 1991).
  • A. Seldon and J. Pappworth, By Word of Mouth. Elite Oral History (London, 1991).
  • T. Wengraf, Qualitative Research Interviewing (London, 2001) is social sciencey but useful for all that.

Audio and visual sources

There is an increasing amount of audio/visual sources available online - photograpic 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, but note that if you're an undergraduate you would best get a letter of introduction from your supervisor as they're not keen on being used as teaching resource). 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 90,000 cartooons . It's a really useful resource.

Still images


Newsreels and video

  • BBC 'On this day' has sound and vision for key events by anniversary
  • News on Screen has newsreels from 1910-1993 of Pathe News, Gaumont British News and British Movietone. Much of this is also on YouTube
  • NewsFilm Online provides a selection of news stories and programme scripts from the ITN/Reuters archives – some 3,000 hours of footagea selection of news stories and programme scripts from the ITN/Reuters archives – some 3,000 hours of footage
  • ITN Source archive
  • Newsreels database
  • Chronicle provides access to digitised copies of BBC news and current affairs material covering Northern Ireland and The Troubles

Other moving images

Archival Sources

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 (its document 'Sources for the History of the Parliamentary Labour Party' is particularly useful). There's no exact equivalent of the SSLH for the Conservatives, but the website of the PSA Conservatives and Conservatism group has some useful links. It is slanted towards the very contemporary but does include material relevant to the contemporary historian.

Archives and libraries you might consider visiting in person (though I would suggest contacting them in advance) include:

Archives in Bristol and its environs

  • The Special Collections Department of the University of Bristol Arts and Social Sciences Library includes the following:
    • Election addresses by candidates in British general elections since 1892 and in European Parliament elections since 1979.
    • The Feminist Archive (South) which has material on the second wave of feminism (roughly 1960-2000).
    • Papers of The National Liberal Club covering many aspects of local, national and international Liberal politics (including newspaper cuttings relating to the Liberal Party and SDP to 1992).
    • Political pamplets (to the mid-1970s) collected by The National Liberal Club.
    • The Penguin Books Archive (editorial records, papers of Allen Lane, record relating to the Lady Chatterley trial, etc.). Note that access requires permission from Penguin Books - email for further details.
    • Papers of publisher Hamish Hamilton.
    • The University of Bristol's own archive.
  • The University of Bristol Arts and Social Sciences Library also has a number of archival collections on microform including:
    • Selected materal from the archives of the British Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties
    • Archives of the TUC
    • Mass Observation Archive: File Reports, 1937-49
    • Home Intelligence reports on opinion and morale, 1940-1944
    • Selected public records relevant to the 1942 Beveridge Report
    • Publications of left-wing political movements active in Britain 1904-72
    • And many others, more details of which can be found in the UoB catalogue of microform resources. This seems to have disappeared from the library web site but I have a copy and can let you have it if you email me.
  • University of Bristol Theatre Collection has a considerable collection, some of it of interest to contemporary historians.
  • Bristol Records Office has some very useful collections relevant to Bristol: Bristol City Council records
    • Bristol Black Archives Partnership
    • Records of Fry and Sons Ltd. Chocolate manufacturers, 1693-1966
    • Imperial Tobacco Ltd . (formerly W.D. and H.O. Wills): Records, late 18th century - 20th century.
  • Other Local Record Offices (which can be searched via A2A) such as:

Archives elsewhere in the UK

  • The Bank of England has a very extensive archive which covers every aspect of its administration, dating from its foundation in 1694 to the present.
  • The BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham, Reading - see audio-visual section above.
  • The Tony Benn Archives comprise the papers, audio tapes, video cassettes and some artifacts collected by Tony Benn over his lifetime
  • 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 freethought and humanism, of co-operation, and of protest and campaignting (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: only open to undergraduates in Oxford University vacations, but open to postgraduates at all times. However, read its 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 Aberystwith, though none of these has a collection as extensive as that of the BL).
    • [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. However, it is in the process of being transferred to Lincolnshire, after which the BL's digitisation project will continue (see BL news page for more details). From March 2014, there will be a reading room at St Pancras at which it will be possible access facsimiles of a fairly large chunk of the collection on microfilm or in the digital collection. Some general interest periodicals have also been transferred to the St Pancras.
  • The British Library of Political and Economic Science Archive at the London School of Economics as a complete catalogue which contains, amongst much else:
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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). [But note that the records of the Labour Party NEC and of its Research Dept that are held in Manchester are also available on microform in the Library here at Bristol.]
    • 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 Middlesex University 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 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 Mass-Observation file reports 1937-1972 on microform in the Library here at Bristol.
  • Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry for records of:
  • 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). Oversize [HD8388 FOW]
      • John D. Cantwell, The Second World War (Kew, 1998). [CD1054 PUB]
      • B.W.E. Alford et al, Economic planning, 1945-1951 (London, 1992). [HC256.5 ALF & CD1043 ALF]
      • Andrew Land et al, Development of the Welfare State, 1939-51 (Kew, 1992). [HV245 LAN]
      • Paul Bridgen and Rodney Lowe, Welfare policy under the Conservatives, 1951-1964 (Kew, 1998). [HV248 BRI]
      • Astrid Ringe et al, Economic Policy under the Conservatives 1951- 64 (London, 2004) [HC256.5 RIN].
    • 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. This web resource essentially supercedes Public Record Office, Current guide (1 vol. plus 27 microfiches) (Kew, 1996). [Oversize CD1043 PUB]
    • A limited amount of online access to scanned records is available via TNA facility, which includes:
      • Cabinet Papers since 1915 released under the 30-year rule (i.e. CAB 128 & 199 Cabinet Minutes and Memoranda).
        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 this is not apparent in the NA catalogue referred to above.
      • CAB 195 Cabinet Secretary's Notebooks are a fascinating insight into cabinet discussions. Their release is ongoing.
      • 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:
      • 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 National Library of Scotland 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 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, e.g. those of Ian Mikardo
    • 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 Trust Archive, University of Middlesex has a very useful cuttings database relating to race and racism in Britain, as well as the papers of the Trust itself.
  • 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 modern manuscript collection at Trinity College, Cambridge has the papers of R.A. Butler.
  • The Wellcome Library has an unparalleled collection of material relating to the history of medicine.

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. However, its web site though improved since it became virtually unusable when relaunched 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.

    ONS provides two sorts 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). The easiest way to access these datasets is via the 'Key economic time series data' page on the NS web site.
    2. However, the NS 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. More generally, a number of key hardcopy publications by ONS are of use (UoB ASSL has harcopies for earlier years) and their back numbers of publications 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).

      National Statistics' 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 experience of crime rather than on crimes reported by the police (figures which are notoriously manipulated) though the BCS data needs to be read with some caution (e.g. it only covers England and Wales, excludes crimes committed on people under 16, etc.). All can be found in the Statistics section of the UoB Arts and Social Sciences Library (on the first floor).
      • 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.
      • Nomis gives extraordinarily detailed and granular official labour market statistics.
      • 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.
  • ESDS International provides access to, and crucially support for, a range of national and international economic statistical datasets, e.g.
  • The Bank of England is a useful source of data on the economy, money and banking.
  • The UK Data Archive has a wealth of historical statistical material, hosting the Arts and Humanities Data Service for example.
  • The UK Government Web Archive holds snapshots of central government websites dating back to 2001.
  • The National Digital Archive of Datasets publishes archived digital data from British government departments and agencies. It also has opinion poll data (see above) and interesting social survey data (e.g. from Gallup).
  • For recent national / regional / local data (from about 2000) the government provides a couple of useful sites:
    • The Places Database provides a range of statistical data and information for England. This includes data on crime, demographics, economy, education, employment, housing, population and transport - primarily from government bodies (such as DWP and the Audit Commission).
    • Then there is - which 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.
  • 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 particularly useful.
  • There is fascinating data (back to 1983) about changing social mores available on line at the website of British Social Attitudes.
  • Finally, if you are as interested as I am in the power of etymology to inform the study of history I throughly 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

You may also find useful the learning materials of Biz/ed at http: // under the same headings.

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 office hours.