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HIS 491A: Adv Seminar Imperialism in Africa and Asia: Archives


"US National Archives Building" by David Samuel, User:Hellodavey1902 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

A few notes on using Archives

Review the archive's website to learn about how the archive is arranged, the type of material it collects and organizes, and also how to access this material.  Most archive websites will have a research section in which it details how researchers are able to find and use the archives.  

Many archives also have an online catalog which will allow you to search for materials of interest.  Take time to search through the online catalog to find some specific materials before contacting the archive for additional assistance.

Many archives have online collections or digitized materials available to use.  Since many of the archives you will probably be exploring for this course are in Europe, Africa, or Asia it is unlikely you'll be able to visit them during the course of the semester.  You can use the online collection and digitized material options in place of actually visiting the archives.  

How do you get access to non-online materials from an archive?

Every archive is different and their policies for how they send copies of materials is going to depend upon their particular rules and regulations.  However, it never hurts to ask!  If you find materials you are interested in looking at for your research, find a contact email or phone number and see if you can request the material to be copied and sent to you.  Archives are meant to assist and provide access to primary source material for researchers like yourselves, so in most cases there are options available for getting the materials you need.  Here are a few tips for contacting an archive:

  • State clearly that you are a researcher from an academic institution and that your request is for a research project you are working on for the semester.
  • Provide a brief description of your research project and why the materials at this particular archive will be useful for you.
  • Clearly state exactly which materials you are interested in obtaining from the archive.  Get as specific as possible, including the box and folder in which this material is housed if you can find it.
  • Inquire about access options.  State you are studying in the United States and an in-person visit will not be an option. 

Important Note: while you may be able to obtain access to materials in some capacity, note that most archives charge a fee for copying and sending materials.  Make sure you know the final cost before proceeding.  

Also Note: many of the archive websites you will be working with for research in this class are in different languages.  In the upper right corner of the webpage there is usually a list of languages in which you can easily translate the page.  If this is not available, right click on the page and select the "Translate to English" option.

IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: "US National Archives Building" by David Samuel, User:Hellodavey1902 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.


Internet Modern History Sourcebook

The Internet Modern History Sourcebook is one of the best sources for topic overviews and primary sources.  This sourcebook is produced and maintained by Fordham University and contains free public domain and copy-permitted historical texts for education use.  

In addition to the Internet Modern History Sourcebook there are a number of subsidiary sourcebooks which are linked below.

European Archives

Two collections of interest at the British Library are:

  • Manuscript Collection
    Contains personal papers of many colonial administrators.  
  • Asia, Pacific, and Africa Collection
    Contains records documenting the British presence in the sub-continent.  Highlights of holdings include official records of the East India Company, Board of Control and India Office, and personal papers of individuals serving in these regions.

African Archives

Asian Archives