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History of the British Empire (1815-1914)

This guide provides links to primary and secondary sources related to the History of the British Empire.

General Digitized Primary Sources on the British Empire

  • HathiTrust - Contains the full-text of millions of books published before 1923. There are two types of searches: 
    • Search for books & magazines on broad topics ("Catalog Search") - This search only checks the metadata about the book (its title, author, subject keywords, etc.). This works better if you are looking for books/serials that are entirely on a particular subject; for example, books about the colonial administration of South Africa from 1815-1914. 
    • Search within the text of books & magazines ("Full-Text Search") - This search checks within the entire text of books and magazines to find your keywords. This works best searches on narrow topics, using unique proper names and short date ranges. For example, books mentioning Cecil Rhodes published in 1899. Otherwise you will get thousands of irrelevant results. 

Tips for HathiTrust: 

Author = Great Britain : will return documents authored by the government of Great Britain. Similarly, Author = Australia returns Australian government documents, and so on. 

Subject = [Place name, e.g. Canada] : will limit your results to books about that place, rather than just mentioning that place somewhere in the text. 

Subject = [Topic] : can work well to limit your search to certain genres or topics, such as Travel, Biographies, Politics

Some curated lists of books in HathiTrust:

  • To search across thousands of magazines: Go to HathiTrust > Advanced Full-Text Search, Select Original Format = Serial, then add your keywords & date range. Note that you'll have open individual magazines and search within them to see where the text appears. This search will give you an idea of how an event/place was being portrayed to popular British audiences. Example: Magazine & journal issues on the Boer War, 1899-1902
  • To search across historic academic journals: Go to JSTOR > Advanced Search, then search for your keywords & date range. This is especially useful for research related to the history of British ethnography, geography, etc. within the colonies. 

Magazines of note:

  • The Anti-slavery reporter and aborigines' friend (1840-1940s) - A newsletter for the members of a British anti-slavery society. While advocating for an end to slavery, this society also promoted British military invention (and ultimately, the colonization) of numerous locations around the world. 
  • The Economist (1843+) - Pro-business weekly magazine. To search within these volumes, click on "Revise this Search," then enter a keyword. 
  • The Edinburgh Review (1802-1929) - Literary & political magazine with a Whiggish (left-wing) bent. To search within these volumes, click on "Revise this Search," then enter a keyword. 
  • The Gazette (1700s+) - This is an official publication of the British government, containing legal notices and articles. This database covers The Gazette of London, Edinburgh & Belfast. See more about the Gazette.
  • Illustrated London News (1842+) - A popular newspaper-like magazine. To search within these volumes, click on "Revise this Search," then enter a keyword. 
  • List of other 19th century British magazines - Many of these are also in HathiTrust >Advanced Full-Text Search; enter the magazine in the title field, then add your keywords/dates.