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 many of these resources are not visible or easily identifiable via our webpages or catalogues, so we hope this guide will provide a more accessible means of exploring this material. The resources 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 ethnicity. Some of the archives and books featured below are written from a white perspective and document the colonisation and oppression of Black people. This material may contain racist 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 voices are currently not well represented in our collections. Archives are not neutral and in the UK, the approach to collecting and cataloguing archives has been influenced by the dominant historical narratives of the time, which have largely centred around the white British middle-class experience. A growing understanding of systemic racism, changes to work practices, greater engagement with ethnically diverse communities, and efforts to diversify the workforce are slowly leading to positive change in the archive sector, but there is still much more work to be done.
The University of Exeter Library has created a LibGuide relating to Black History and Black Lives Matter. A summary of online databases for Black History research available through the University of Exeter Library can also be found at the bottom of this guide.
Archives and rare books held by Special Collections and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum are available to everyone. More information about accessing the collections can be found in our Visiting Heritage Collections LibGuide. Please note that there may be some restrictions on accessing and copying (including photography) material in the archives and books held by Special Collections and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in line with current data protection and copyright legislation. Always make sure to check the access conditions on the archive catalogue and email Special Collections before your visit for more information about specific restrictions.
To discuss our resources in more detail, please contact us at email@example.com. We also welcome your feedback on our approach to this resource guide, its content and the terminology used.
A pamphlet in our Edmund Collection of Local History entitled 'Local Black History: A beginning in Devon' by Lucy MacKeith (2003) provides an overview of initial research into Black History in Devon, as well as helpful guidance on where you can look for further archival sources.
The University of Exeter archive contains 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 lives of staff and students at the University can be researched through a wide variety of material, including photographs, student magazines and newspapers, and admissions registers. The University Archive is extensive and largely uncatalogued, but box lists for some of the material are available on request.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 the enslaver's assessment of their 'condition' and 'value'.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, as well as books concerning the experiences, work and representation of Black women. Click the tabs at the top of this box to see reading lists 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 in the Hypatia Collection:
Reading list for non-fiction books:
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.
The Archive of Nubian Language and Culture is a planned artificial collection of material relating to a group of related languages spoken by the Nubians in Sudan and Southern Egypt, which was collected by Professor W Herman Bell, a former Visiting Professor in the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Studies. The collection consists of of field recordings and notes made by Dr Peter Shinnie (Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Canada) in the 1970s and 1980s, and a large genealogical chart from Nubia drawn up in the 1950s and collected by Muhammed Jalal Hashim, a PhD student at Portsmouth University. The collection includies key word lists relating to the Mahas (or Nobiin), Kunuz (or Kenzi) and Dongalawi languages. Some of the 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.
William Joseph Harding King (1869-1933) was an explorer and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He travelled extensively in the north African deserts; in 1900 and 1908 he was in the Western Sahara, and from 1909-1912 he explored the central portions of the Libyan Desert. This collection comprises a series of 508 black and white photographs taken by William Harding King in the Libyan desert in the early 20th century. They include many images that capture the local people and culture, including photographs of the Tuareg people.
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.
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: