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Archives and Special Collections: Black History

Introduction to the Black History Resource Guide

This resource guide has been created to highlight archives and books at the University of Exeter Heritage Collections that relate to the diverse histories, experiences, stories and voices of Black people. We recognise that our collections relating to Black history are not easily identifiable via our webpages or catalogues, so we hope this guide will provide a more accessible means of exploring these collections.The collections highlighted in this guide have been identified using our catalogues, but are not exhaustive. If you come across any other sources within our collections that you think should be included in this guide, we would be very pleased to hear about them.

For the purposes of this guide, the term ‘Black History’ is used to refer to the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent, though we acknowledge that there is ongoing discussion concerning terminology about race. Many of our archives relating to Black history are written from a white perspective and primarily document the colonisation and oppression of Black people. These archives may contain offensive terms or terms that have changed meaning over time. In some cases these terms are included in our catalogue descriptions in order to provide information about the content and nature of the source. The inclusion of these terms does not reflect the views of the University of Exeter Heritage Collections and we apologise for any offence that may be caused. 

We acknowledge that Black stories are not well represented in our collections. Black voices have historically been marginalised in many archives in the UK, where the archive profession - who make decisions over what is and what isn't collected - is still predominantly white. A growing understanding of systemic racism, greater engagement with Black communities, and efforts to diversify the workforce is slowly leading to positive change in the archive sector, though there is still much more work to be done. A large and diverse range of archives relating to Black history are held at the Black Cultural Archives and The National Archives.

The University of Exeter Library has also created a LibGuide relating to Black History and Black Lives Matter. This guide contains links to e-books and online databases available through the University Library, including online archives such as the Colonial State Papers and Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice.

To discuss our resources relating to Black History in more detail, please contact us at libspc@exeter.ac.uk. We would be particularly pleased to hear from University of Exeter students wishing to engage with Black History resources in our collections. We also welcome your feedback on our approach to this resource guide, its content and the terminology used.

Ethiopian religious manuscripts

Manuscript Ethiopian Folding Prayer Book, also known as a Sensul (EUL MS 352)

A small parchment folding manuscript prayer book, sometimes known as a sensul. The manuscript comprises three sections, which are stitched together, and is bound in leather with a tie at one end. The text is written in Ge'ez and forms one column, which is decorated with three illuminated drawings.

Find out more about this item on the online catalogue

Manuscript Ethiopian Bible (EUL MS 199)

A manuscript Old Testament Bible (Psalter and Ethiopian Canticles) dating to the 19th century. It is written in Ge'ez in black and red script, and includes minor decorations, some pencilled writing and drawings throughout. It consists of 306 pages, and is formed of 19 sections sewn together and bound between two wooden boards.

Find out more about this item on the online catalogue

Local History

A pamphlet in our Edmund Collection of Local History entitled 'Local Black History: A beginning in Devon' by Lucy MacKeith (2003) provides an excellent overview of initial research into Black History in Devon, as well as helpful guidance on where you can look for further archival sources.

Find out more about this item on the Library catalogue

This item is also available to borrow via the Forum Library and St Luke's Library

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

Papers relating to the Exeter and District Anti-Apartheid Group (EUL MS 216)

The Exeter and District Anti-Apartheid Group was one of the longest established and most active groups in the UK anti-apartheid movement, and was established as the Exeter and District Anti-Apartheid Committee in c 1966. The Group was non-political and was affiliated to the national London-based Anti-Apartheid Movement which traced its origins following the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa in 1984. Although primarily concerned with South Africa, the Group also addressed problems associated with racism and human rights elsewhere in the world.

The collection includes seven boxes of material relating to the administration of the Group, including correspondence, promotional literature, DOMPAS newsletters, lists of members, financial records, press releases, presscutting scrapbooks, artefacts (badges, flags, banners, collecting boxes etc.), pamphlets, leaflets, newspapers and periodicals.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

Papers of Mervyn Bennun relating to anti-apartheid (EUL MS 112) 

Mervyn Bennun was originally trained at Cape Town University and subsequently practised as a lawyer in South Africa until his departure for Britain in the 1960s. He became lecturer in law at the University of Exeter from 1969-1970 until his retirement in the 1990s when he returned to South Africa. During his time at Exeter University, he was an African National Congress (ANC) activist in the period when the ANC was in exile in Britain, and was involved with the activities of the Exeter and District Anti-Apartheid Group as Chairman and Secretary.

The collection consists of papers accumulated by Bennun during his period at the University of Exeter. These are mainly printed materials; included are: press clippings, correspondence, flyers and leaflets, typescripts of articles and other writings (including on the trial of the 'Sharpeville Six'). Some books, pamphlets, and periodicals are also included.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

Mervyn Bennun collection of journals and pamphlets relating to Anti-Apartheid, 1960s-1990s
A full list of journals relating to Anti-Apartheid can be downloaded here MS 112 Bennun.

Pamphlets relating to Anti-Apartheid are catalogued and can be found on the library classic catalogue

Jean Trevor research papers relating to the Hausa women of northern Nigeria (EUL MS 79)

Jean Trevor, nee Cole, began working on the sociology of the Hausa women of northern Nigeria in the late 1960s. Based at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, she received a Commonwealth Postgraduate Research Scholarship, and further support from the Carnegie Foundation and the Ford foundation to help her research, which included a series of interviews with Hausa women. She died before her research was presented to Exeter University as a PhD thesis.

The papers consist of Jean Trevor's sociological study of Hausa women from northern Nigeria. Included are record cards and notes, plus an offprint of her chapter 'Family change in Sokoto: a traditional Moslem Fulani/Hausa city' in J.C. Caldwell et al (eds.), 'Population growth and socio economic change in West Africa' (Columbia University Press, 1974), and a copy of her thesis.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

Archive of Nubian Language and Culture (EUL MS 183)

This small collection relating to research of Nubian languages, a group of related languages spoken by the Nubians in Sudan and Southern Egyupt. It contains six cassettes and one reel-to-reel tape of field recordings made by Dr Peter L Shinnie of the Mahas language [Nobiin language], together with research notes and correspondence, including key word lists relating to the Mahas, Kunuz and Dongalawi languages. Some of these tapes and their transcripts relate to taped sentences translated into Mahas by the family of Ali Osman in Mishakeili, who worked with Dr Shinnie on the project in the 1980s.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

University Archive

The University of Exeter archive contains a wide variety of records relating to the University of Exeter and its predecessor institutions, including the Royal Albert Memorial College and the University College of the South West. The archive contains a wide variety of material; from photographs from the late 1800s to the present day, student publications from the early 1900s onwards, registers and building records. These may include records relating to Black students and staff at the University. The Unviersity Archive is extensive and largely uncatalogued, but box lists for some of the material is available on request. 

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

This photograph from the University Archive shows students from Sokoto, Nigeria who studied for a Bachelor in Education at St Luke's College in 1977 [EUL UA add.6/32]

Post-1800 Printed Books and Periodicals

Rare printed books and periodicals (19th to 20th century), especially those in the Chris Brooks Collection and John Betjeman Library, can be used to explore representations of Black people by white writers in the 19th and early 20th century, including in children's literature.

You can browse titles in the Chris Brooks Collection by performing a 'local classmark’ search for 'Brooks'.

You can browse titles in the John Betjeman Library by performing a 'local classmark’ search for 'Betjeman'.

A selection of covers and pages of printed books from these collections have been digitised and are available to browse via the Open Research Exeter Portal.

Baker Collection of Sheet Music

The Baker Collection is an assortment of popular and film related music scores dating from the early to mid twentieth century. It contains sheet music for songs by Black musicians such as Bob Cole, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and W.C. Handy. It also contains sheet music for songs about or inspired by Black communities, including by white musicians who used 'blackface' in their performances.

You can browse the titles catalogued by performing a 'local classmark’ search for 'Baker'.

A small selection of items have been digitised and are available to browse via the Open Research Exeter Portal.

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collections

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has a collection of over 80,000 items on the history of the moving image from the seventeenth century to the present day. The collection includes a number of items relevant to studies in Black history, including extensive collections on Paul Robeson and the representation of Black people on screen. There are also items that highlight the history of racism and imperialism and how this has been perpetuated through visual culture. These items are used extensively in anti-racist teaching at the University.

We also hold the full production archive for the 1980 film Babylon in the archive of its producer Gavrik Losey. Babylon was one of the first films to look at the realities of life for young Black Britons and is today regarded as a prescient and seminal text. The image above is a still from the film.  

Find out more about the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collections

The Hypatia Collection

The Hypatia Collection exclusively contains books and journals by or about women (19th-20th century). Part of its richness stems from the inclusive collecting habits of its creator, Dr Melissa Hardie, who acquired many ephemeral titles and books on subjects and by writers traditionally excluded from the academic canon in her aim 'to make available published documentation about women in every aspect of their lives'. The collection is strongest on biography, social life, occupations and history, as well as on literature (especially fiction) and the arts.

Black Literary and History Resources in the Collection

The Hyaptia Collection includes autobiographical, fiction and non-fiction works by Black writers, including books concerning the experiences, work and representation of Black women. Click the tabs at the top of this box to see reading suggestions for fiction and non-fiction texts. Please note that these lists are not exhaustive, and further items of relevance may be found within the collection. If you identify any books within the collection that could be added to the list, we would be very pleased to hear about them.

How to Search the Collection

To search the Hypatia Collection for Black history and literary resources, use the Advanced Keyword Search page of the University of Exeter Library Catalogue. Type 'Hypatia' into one field and a subject, author or book title into the second field. Select 'Special Collections' from the 'Search in the' field. More tips on searching the Library Catalogue can be found in the Library's LibGuide on Search Tips: Improving Your Results.

Reading suggestions for fiction and autobiographical books:

Reading suggestions for non-fiction books:

  • The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain, by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe [Hypatia POL/BRY]
  • Women, Race & Class, by Angela Y. Davis [Hypatia CRIT/DAV]
  • Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History, edited by Ellen Carol DuBois and Vicki L. Ruiz [Hypatia POL/DUB]
  • All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith [Hypatia CRIT/HUL]
  • Strangers & Sisters: Women, Race & Immigration: Voices from the Conference "Black and Immigrant Women Speak Out and Claim Our Rights," London, England, 13 November 1982, edited by Selma James [Hypatia POL/JAM]
  • Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives, by Gloria I. Joseph and Jill Lewis [Hypatia CRIT/JOS]
  • The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy, by Albert Murray [Hypatia CRIT/MUR]
  • Women in Southern Africa, edited by Christine Qunta [Hypatia CRIT/QUN]
  • The Black Woman, by La Frances Rodgers-Rose [Hypatia CRIT/ROD]
  • Black Literature in America: A Casebook, edited by Raman K. Singh and Peter Fellowes [Hypatia CRIT/SIN]
  • Mary Seacole: Teacher's Pack and Learning Resources, by Alex Attewell, Sam Walker, the Black Cultural Archives and the Florence Nightingale Museum  [Hypatia NUR/SEA/X]
  • Black Women Writers at Work, by Claudia Tate [Hypatia CRIT/TAT]
  • Racist and Sexist Images in Children's Books, by the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative (London) [Hypatia LIT/RAC/Pamphlet]
  • Magazines and journals in the Hypatia Collection, such as Spare Rib, also contain many articles concerning Black women's experiences [browse all magazines and journals in the Hypatia Collection here]

Enslavement and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Gale and Morant Family Papers relating to enslavement on plantations in Jamaica (EUL MS 44; EUL MS 44 add. 1; EUL MS 130)

The Gale and Morant Family Papers include correspondence, accounts and other papers (1731-1939) relating to the management of family-owned sugar plantations in Jamaica at the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Both sides of the family acquired sugar plantations that used the forced labour of enslaved Black people. These papers include lists of the people who were enslaved on the plantations, noting details such as their name, age, country of origin, occupation, and an assessment of their 'condition' and 'value'.

A selection of items from this collection have been digitised and are available to browse via the Open Research Exeter Portal. Click here to view digital copies of items from this collection.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue - EUL MS 44EUL MS 44 add. 1EUL MS 130

Letters of John Bishop Estlin relating to the Anti-Slavery cause (EUL MS 55)

The collection is a series of transcribed letters concerning the efforts made by Estlin and his contacts and colleagues to aid the anti-slavery cause during the period 1844-1866. John Bishop Estlin (1786-1855), an opthalmic surgeon in Bristol, was a prominent Unitarian in Bristol and keenly interested in social reform. His interest in slavery began in 1843 with the visit of Samuel May, and thereafter he became the leader of the Garrison party in England, his daughter Mary continuing his active interest and visiting America in 1867. Both Dr Estlin and his daughter kept up a number of correspondences with American figures, including Samuel May, Samuel Joseph May and William Lloyd Garrison.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

Martinique address by Charles Grant, collector of HM Customs (EUL MS 8)

This document is an address by Charles Grant, a Collector of H M Customs, to the British merchants in Martinique on the occasion of his departure from the island in 1814. Martinique was primarily under British occupation between 1794 and 1815. In 1815, the island was returned to French administration following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. There were several uprisings by enslaved people during the eighteenth and nineteenth century on plantations in Martinique.

Find out more about this item on the online catalogue

Our Reserve Collection of post-1700 rare books includes these books relating to the enslavement of Black people, Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Abolition of Slavery:

  • An Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade by Thomas Clarkson (1788) [Reserve 326 CLA]
  • Memoirs of the Reign of Bossa Ahádee King of Dahomy: An Inland Country of Guiney to which are added the Author's Journey to Abomey, the Capital and a Short Account of the African Slave Trade by Robert Norris (1789) [Reserve 966.83 NOR]
  • The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies (in four volumes) by Bryan Edwards (1807-1819) [Reserve 972.9 EDW]
  • Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade by James Montgomery (1809) [Reserve 828.7/MON-4 X]
  • Thoughts on the Necessity of Improving the Condition of the Slaves in the British Colonies with a View to their Ultimate Emancipation by Thomas Clarkson (1823) [Reserve 326.1 CLA]
  • Journal of a West India Proprietor: kept during a residence in the island of Jamaica by M.G. Lewis (1834) [Reserve 972.9204 LEW]
  • Slavery in the United States by James Kirke Paulding (1836) [Reserve 326.973 PAU]
  • The West Indies: The Natural and Physical History of the Windward and Leeward Colonies (1837) [Reserve 972.904 HAL]
  • Observations on the Present Condition of the Island of Trinidad, and the Actual State of the Experiment of Negro Emancipation by William Hardin Burnley (1842) [Reserve 972.98303 BUR]
  • A brief history of the Wesleyan Missions on the Western Coast of Africa: including biographical sketches of all the missionaries who have died in that important field of labour, with some account of the European settlements and of the slave-trade by William Fox (1851) [Reserve 276.6 FOX]
  • Proceedings in Relation to the Presentation of the Address of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends on the Slave-Trade and Slavery (1854) [Soc. of Friends Coll. Pamphlet 1854/SOC]
  • The Spanish Conquest in America: and its relation to the history of slavery and to the government of colonies (4 volumes) by Arthur Helps (1855-1861) [Reserve 972.02 HEL]
  • Ismailia: a Narrative of the Expedition to Central Africa for the Suppression of the Slave Trade Organised by Ismail, Khedive of Egypt by Samuel W.Baker (1874) [Reserve 967 BAK]
  • The Water Highways of the Interior of Africa: with notes on slave hunting and the means of its suppression by James Stevenson (1883) [Reserve Pamphlet 916.7 STE]
  • The Rise, Progress and Phases of Human Slavery: how it came into the world, and how it shall be made to go out by James Bronterre O'Brien (1885) [Reserve 326 OBR]

Collections from the Imperial Institute

The Imperial Institute was an educational and cultural organisation founded in London in 1887, which promoted and collected information about industrial and commercial developments in the British Empire. 

  • Glass plate negatives and photographs from the Library of the Imperial Institute, London (EUL MS 61)

This collection of photographs was primarily used for teaching purposes by the staff of the Imperial Institute, and were mainly taken by amateur photographers during the 1920s to 1930s. The photographs cover an extensive range of subjects and activities from all parts of the Empire, with an emphasis on India and the African continent. A number of photographs feature scenes of everyday life, but many more relate specifically to work, industry and the exploitation of regional resources. 

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

  • Imperial institute: sets of photographic cards and leaflets about products and industry of the British Empire (EUL MS 61 add. 1)

This collection comprises sets of photographic cards and leaflets about products and industry of former British colonies, including Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), Trinidad, British Malaya, British Guiana (present-day Guyana), British East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar, Tanganyika), British West Africa (present day The Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone), Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

A small selection of items from this collection have been digitised and are available to browse via the Open Research Exeter Portal. View digital copies of items from this collection.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue

Online databases for Black History research available through the University of Exeter Library

Use the tabs to discover the different online databases available to you.

To access the full range of databases, use the Database A-Z List.

Online archives

Newspaper Collections

Proquest: African American / Black Historical Newspapers Collection

Black newspapers were on the frontlines of the civil rights movement. Organizing boycotts and nationwide protests, fighting discriminatory housing and employment practices, launching community clean-up campaigns, and advocating for improved health services for minorities, they gave voice and strength to communities often ignored by other media. The newspapers in this collection provide unique perspectives on local, national, and international events:

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