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Archives and Special Collections: Historical Resources


This LibGuide provides an overview of some of the collections held by the University of Exeter that may be particularly useful for the study of history. The boxes below describe collections relating to different themes and contain links to the catalogues, through which you can explore the collections further. 

The resources highlighted in this guide have been identified using our catalogues, but are not exhaustive. You can search our archives catalogue and library catalogue with key word searches to identify further items of interest. More information on searching the catalogues can be found on the Search our Catalogues LibGuide. 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.

Archives and rare books held by Special Collections 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 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.

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

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 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'.

Find out more about this collection on the online catalogue under the reference numbers 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

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]

Middle East Collections

The University of Exeter is fortunate to hold substantial collections relating to the Middle East. The archives are particularly strong in the area of the Persian Gulf, with notable collections including the papers of Sir William Luce (1907-77), British Governor of Aden (1956-60), Political Resident in the Gulf (1961-66) and Special Representative for Gulf Affairs (overseeing Britain’s withdrawal from the region) from 1970-72;  Sir Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), Advisor to the Rulers of Bahrain from 1926-57; the working papers of journalist Jonathan Crusoe (1953-91) relating to Iraq and Kuwait, and a small selection of documents and photographs belonging to diplomat Sir John Wilton (born 1921) relating to Qatar and Kuwait.

Material specific to Oman includes the personal papers and photographs of John Shebbeare (1919-2004), British advisor to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, and the extensive collection of research papers and Omani manuscripts of John Craven Wilkinson.

Other highlights include the research papers of Egyptian scholar Nazih Ayubi (1944-95), the papers of journalist and Middle Eastern specialist Michael Adams (born 1920), copies of the papers of  Richard Howard Stafford Crossman (1907-1974) on Palestine in the late 1940s, material – including recorded interviews – relating to Professor Abdullah al-Fattah Muhammad El-Awaisi’s thesis on the Muslim Brotherhood, the personal diaries of Admiral G.H.P. White (1819-38), Personal and research papers of Sir John (1909-90) and Lady Diana Richmond (1914-97) relating to the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a large collection of copies of political documents, papers of Henry Michael Barker relating to his family’s centuries-old involvement in Egyptian commerce, plus correspondence and reports relating to the political activities of brothers Nabih Al-Azmah (1886-1972) & Adil Al-Azmah (1888-1952) and the Kurdish research papers of Omar Sheikhmous.

For more information, see our Middle East Studies LibGuide

Find out more about individual archives within the Middle East Collections on our Special Collections Blog

The Middle East material held in our archives can provide historical and political insights into a region that remains of crucial significance to international affairs, global economic development and world peace. As the source of most of the world's petroleum, the location of the birth of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths and a perennial flashpoint for religious, ethnic and political tensions, the Middle East continues to demand compelling scholarly interest across almost every field and discipline. The diversity of our archival collections could support a wide range of research projects, particularly if such research is pursued across different archives along either thematic or geographical lines. 

  • Relations between the Middle East and the West. The recent murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has drawn worldwide attention not only to the conduct of the House of Saud but also to the reasons for the long-standing support offered to the Saudi regime by America and the UK. The ability to analyse contemporary political events and policies relies upon an understanding of the complex array of alliances, oppositions, armed conflicts and economic collaborations that have taken place during the last two centuries and beyond, and our archival collections contain a great deal of material on British involvement in the region, from Charles Belgrave's activities as 'Adviser' to the Sheikhs of Bahrain to John Richmond's diplomatic work in Kuwait and Sudan, as well as Sir William Luce's role overseeing the withdrawal of British forces from the Persian Gulf in the early 1970s and his efforts to balance regional stability with the maintenance of Britain's interests and influence. The personal nature of these archives present opportunities for researchers to obtain candid and unexpurgated opinions on key events and personalities. What is the relationship between British perceptions of Iran in the 1930s and current support for Iran's political opponents? How much of the contemporary geopolitical map of the region has been determined by Western activities in the Middle East, and what are the implications of this for the future? Material to answer these questions can be found not only in papers dealing directly with military intelligence, administration or diplomacy in the region itself, but also in the wealth of academic writings, conferences and groups such as the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) or Arab-British Chamber of Commerce through which such relations continue to be promoted.

  • Energy, Resources and Development. The discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf in the 1930s transformed not only the Middle East itself but also Western policy in the region. Charles Belgrave's diaries chronicle the dramatic changes in Bahrain's landscape, economy and culture as the oil industry developed, as well as the influx of Western visitors that descended upon the island in consequence. Although the development of Isa Town in Bahrain was undertaken after Belgrave's departure, there are several items on the construction of this desert town in the Luce collection. Comparisons could be made between Belgrave's relationships with the rulers of Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and those of Sir William Luce two decades later, as the flourishing oil economies shifted the balance of political power as well as western attitudes towards Kuwait and Iraq. The papers of Jonathan Crusoe contain a wealth of material on the Iraqi oil industry in the 1980s up till the end of the Gulf War in 1991, as well as detailed information on other industrial, commercial and agricultural practices in the country. We also hold a substantial collection of working papers belonging to John Craven Wilkinson, who worked in the oil industry in the Middle East before devoting much of his later career to writing about Oman. 

  • The Kurds: independence and identity, isolation and integration. The Kurdish people are a large ethnic minority who live in an area - sometimes referred to as 'Kurdistan' - that spans the borders of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. They have their own culture, literature and language, with two main dialects - Sorani, which is written in Arabic, and Kurmanji, the dialect spoken in Turkey and written using the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The Kurdish people have been victims of ethnic repression throughout the 20th century, facing forced assimilation in the countries where they live. We have a uniquely valuable resource for Kurdish studies in the papers of Omar Sheikhmous, a founding member of  the 'Patriotic Union of Kurdistan' (PUK) who has dedicated his life and career to political, academic and cultural activities on behalf of the Kurds. The collection includes pamphlets, press cuttings, conference papers, unpublished writings and original archival material relating to Kurdish political resistance movements. There is also a smaller collection of material in the Crusoe archive relating to the activities and welfare of Iraqi Kurds.

  • Pan-Arabism. While the papers of Charles Belgrave and William Luce reveal the extent of British fears about the growth of the Pan-Arab movement - an ideology that espouses cultural and political unity for all Arabs under the banner of a single Arab nation - and the Crusoe collection contains valuable documentation on the history of the Ba'ath party and the Pan-Arabism of Saddam Hussein, researchers seeking to study the Pan-Arab movement should read this material in conjunction with that held in the archives of Nazih Ayubi, Nabih Al-Azmah and Adil Al-Azmah. Their involvement in the politics of Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries is documented in reports, correspondence and other records, as well as research papers and draft publications.

Material from these collections can be located using our online archives catalogue and more information on specific archives is periodically posted on our Special Collections Blog.

Cinema and Popular Culture

History of the University

University of Exeter Archive [EUL UA]

Search our archive catalogue and library catalogue for more resources relating to the history of the University, including photographs, minutes and student magazines amongst others.

A selection of photographs from the University Archive are available to browse on our Digital Collections site.


Including, amongst others, archives relating to the First and Second World Wars and books published at the time.

Twentieth-century diaries

Special Collections looks after a considerable number of diaries across several different collections. These diaries provide fascinating insight into daily life from the late nineteenth to twentieth century, and also offer an opportunity to compare and contrast shared experiences, such as life in South West England or life during wartime. Click on the tabs above to find out more about

Journals and appointment diaries of Patricia Beer, poet and writer (EUL MS 335/PERS)

The personal papers of Patricia Beer include appointment diaries, dating from 1980 to 1999; three volumes of personal journals, dating from c 1969 to 1993 and containing observations and ideas for poems; and two travel journals, dating from 1976 to 1981.

Diaries of Arthur Caddick poet and writer (EUL MS 124/3) 

One scribbling diary and six pocket diaries containing various notes, appointments and contacts. The diaries date from 1980 to 1985.

Diaries of Charles Causley, poet, teacher and broadcaster (EUL MS 50a/PERS/2)

Charles Causley's papers include diaries from 1938 to 1943 relating to his time as a coder in the Navy during the war, and appointment books covering the years 1985 to 2000. There is more information on our archive catalogue

Diaries of Jack Clemo, poet (EUL MS 68/PERS/2)

The literary and personal papers of Jack Clemo contain an almost complete run (except 1939 and 1940) of Jack Clemo's personal diaries from 1935 until his death in 1994. The diaries record various observations and comments on issues such as health problems, literary output, personal relationships, faith, mood changes, and world events. The diaries are available to search at item level on the archives catalogue.

Copies of diaries of Charles Dalrymple-Belgrave, knight; colonial officer and financial advisor (EUL MS 148) 

The Charles Dalrymple-Belgrave collection consists of copies of the personal diaries of Belgrave, from his arrival as advisor in Bahrain to the time of his departure during the Suez crisis. They date from 1926 to 1957 (with a gap for 1937).

Diaries of Ronald Duncan (EUL MS 397/15/1) 

Writer, poet and librettist Ronald Duncan's pocket, desk and engagements diaries from 1951-1982. The diaries show appointments, travel arrangements, visits with friends, performances and launches of Duncan's work, deadlines and other events. Some contain drafts of poems or other additional notations

Diaries of Rose Marie Duncan (EUL MS 397/18/1) 

Diaries kept by Ronald Duncan's wife Rose Marie Duncan from 1940-1989 describing family life. Detailed entries surrounding farming, the community farm initiative at Gooseham and the impact of the war in Devon. The diaries frequently record responses to historic events of the day along with mentions of performances and publications of Ronald Duncan's work.

Diaries of Bianca Duncan (EUL MS 397/15/1/32) 

Three diaries from 1939-1943 written by Ronald Duncan's sister Bianca (Bunny). The diaries primarily contain descriptions of family life, work on 'Townsman', farming, and passing mentions of world events.

Copy diaries of John Fowles, author (EUL MS 102) 

Copies of diaries kept by John Fowles, dating from c 1949 to 1990.

Diaries of Cecil Harmsworth, liberal politician, businessman and the first Baron Harmsworth (EUL MS 435) 

The archive of Cecil Harmsworth includes 45 manuscript diaries, which he kept between 1900 and his death in 1948. It also includes typescript and carbon copy transcripts that were made during his lifetime, as well as notes and correspondence concerning his diaries.

Cecil Harmsworth’s diaries represent a historical record of the social and political culture in Britain in the early 20th century. Harmsworth was a keen angler and his diary began as a record of his fishing trips. Following his election as an MP in the House of Commons in 1906, his diaries became increasingly political. Harmsworth’s diaries are full of observations and notes on domestic and foreign policy, parliamentary colleagues, and his political duties as an MP. In addition, Harmsworth lived through several key historical events, including the Easter Rising in Ireland and the First and Second World War. Other notable features of his diaries are descriptions of family life, travel around the world, involvement in the Garden Cities movement, and the restoration of Dr Samuel Johnson’s House in London.

The diaries are available to search at item level on the online archives catalogue. 

Pocket diaries of Cecil Desmond Harmsworth, artist and the second Baron Harmsworth (EUL MS 435/6/4/1)

Pocket diaries of Lady Dorothy Harmsworth (EUL MS 435/6/5/1)

Diaries of Captain H E Hillman, Captain in the Royal Navy (EUL MS 52/1) 

The papers of Captain Hillman include six diaries, dating between 1920 and 1926. The diaries are principally composed of details of the leisure activities of Hillman and his wife Minnie, plus daily weather reports. Some significant events are noted in detail such as the arrival of the French, American and British around the world flight crews in 1924, and the violence of the Shanghai 'Crisis of 1924-25'. 

Desk diaries of Sir William Luce, Knight; Governor of Aden; politician (EUL MS 146/1/7) 

Desk diaries dating from 1953 to 1956, 1961 to 1966, and 1970 to 1971. The contents are confined to brief details of appointments, travel dates and meetings, both personal and political.

Diaries of Ernest Martin, writer and social historian (EUL MS 309/3/1) 

One typescript diary dated 1961, and two pre-printed diaries, dated 1988 and 1990. Entries mainly relate to the weather, Martin's daily business and current events.

Journals of A.L. Rowse, historian, poet, diarist, biographer and critic (EUL MS 113/2)

There are several parts to Rowse's famous 'diary', and they are formed of numbered volumes, dating from the 1920s to 1990s.The papers of A.L. Rowse also include engagement diaries and dream diaries.

Diaries of Syon Abbey, a community of Bridgettine nuns (EUL MS 389/ADM/5)

The Syon Abbey archive contains 100 diaries that were kept by the religious community between 1890 and 2004. They record daily life at Syon Abbey and include entries relating to the sisters, worship, the estate, special events, current affairs, visitors to the Abbey, and the weather. The diaries are available to search at item level on the archives catalogue.


Personal diaries of individual sisters:

'Annals of St Agnes' Noviciate in Chudleigh & Brent 1922-1927' (EUL MS 262/add1/93)

Diary of Sister Mary Ignatius Budd (EUL MS 389/PERS/BUDD)

Diary of Sister Mary Francis [Margaret Teresa] Ellis (EUL MS 389/PERS/ELLIS)

Diaries of Sister Mary Teresa [Agnes] Jocelyn (EUL MS 389/PERS/JOCELYN)

Diary of Sister Mary Magdalen [Clara] Heys (EUL MS 389/PERS/HEYS)

Diary of Sister Mary Dominic [Helen] Redpath, entitled 'Diary of Pilgrimage - Lent + Easter 1922, Lucerne, Rome, Monte Cassino, Rome, Assisi, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Milan, Paris, March 6th-May 5th' (EUL MS 389/PERS/REDPATH)


Women's History

Historical Maps

Townsend maps

Historical maps of Devon and 9 maps of Exeter tracing the development of the city from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

16th-19th centuries

Constable maps

Historical maps for the British Islands and its counties, Devon and Wales in particular, and also 1540s and 1710s maps of the world

16th-19th centuries, with a particular strength in 17th century maps.

Cartography collection

Maps and atlases, including the first edition of the Ordnance Survey 1" to the mile maps of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset made in 1809-1811, four of Ogilby's linear road maps of the Westcountry of c 1675, and a collection of "escape maps" printed on silk and given to military personnel (mostly airmen) who were shot down or captured during the Second World War to help them escape back to the United Kingdom. 

17th-20th centuries, with a particular strength in 19th and 20th centuries maps. 

The South West

Edmund Collection of Local History

The strengths of the Edmund Collection lie in local history. The main emphasis is upon Exeter and East Devon, although there is some material from West Devon (such as Plymouth) and Dorset and Cornwall. There are a few more general books in the collection, covering British history. The majority of the items (which includes books, pamphlets, periodicals and maps) covers various aspects of the west country, notably the history of towns and villages and their residents. Social history is well-represented with material on religion, transport (particularly railways), education and local myths and legends.

The collection is fully catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue.

Papers of E W Martin relating to the history and literature of the Westcountry, late 19th c - 20th c [EUL MS 309]

South Tawton and District Local History Group photographic archive, including photographs of community activities such as carnivals and fairs as well as quarrying and agricultural work, 1980s [EUL MS 180]


Theo Brown personal and research papers

Theo [Theodora] Brown (1914-1993) was an important figure in twentieth-century folklore, who documented the arcane tales and traditions of her native Devon through first-hand accounts. In 1952 she was appointed recorder of folklore for the Devonshire Association, and continued researching folklore for the rest of her life. She was elected to the Council of the Folklore Society in 1957. In 1983, she was awarded the Coote Lake Medal by the Folklore Society for outstanding research and scholarship.

The collection contains Brown’s research notes, manuscripts and correspondence letters addressed to Brown about her research. The Theo Brown personal and research papers are available to browse on our online archives catalouge. 

British politics


British Empire and Colonialism


Search our archive catalogue and library catalogue for more resources.

Searching for printed Historical resources

You can browse titles from our book collections on the Library's classic catalogue by performing a 'local classmark' search. Select 'Local classmark' from the drop down list then enter the name of the collection in the search box.


You can then choose to arrange the results by year by selecting this option from the dropdown list beside the search button.


Search the library catalogue for keywords, authors or titles and select the 'catalogue' tab. Refine your results using menu on the left - for example select publish date. You can also select a specific location: tick 'Special Collections' to see what we hold here in our repository. 

To browse additional resources from an item record, click 'see all' 

Click 'call no' to browse other titles shelved nearby

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