Senate House Library

Social, economic and cultural history

Discover one of the foremost collections in the UK supporting historical research into social, economic and cultural history.

Subject Librarian: Argula Rublack
Phone: 020 7862 8455

Schedule an online meeting to discuss your research or collection related enquiries.

Charity Organisation Society

Social, economic and cultural history

Discover one of the foremost collections in the UK supporting historical research into social, economic and cultural history.

Subject Librarian: Argula Rublack
Phone: 020 7862 8455

Schedule an online meeting to discuss your research or collection related enquiries.

Collection Description 

Senate House Library’s history collections cover a broad chronological and geographical scope to support historical research. The collections have a strong international focus with distinctive strengths in British, Irish, European, United States, Imperial and Commonwealth as well as Latin American history. Chronologically the collections span from late antiquity and the Middle Ages to modern and contemporary history. Some of the thematic strengths of the collections lie in Victorian and Edwardian culture and society, the history of welfare and social reform, the history of education and the origins and development of industrial societies.

The history collections provide an extensive research collection of print and e-books, journals, newspapers, theses and microfilms. We offer a broad and growing selection of databases and electronic resources. Additionally, Senate House Library has acquired a wealth of special collections and archives of unique and rare materials over the course of its history, which we are still continuously expanding. To explore our unique historical collections further, consult our guides to Senate House Library’s printed special collections and archives and manuscripts.

Locating and accessing material 

The best way to start finding history resources at Senate House Library is to use the catalogue.  

The open access history collection is located on the 5th floor and continues in the Periodicals Room gallery on the 4th floor below. New acquisitions for the history collections are shelved in the Periodicals Room on the 4th floor. The floorplan will help you navigate the collections. Books and journals held in the stacks and off-site can be requested through the fetch service on the catalogue. 

Most of our e-book collections can be found on Ebook Central. All e-resources and databases for history are listed on the A-Z Databases list on our LibGuides platform. 

Special collections and archive material must be ordered in advance and consulted in the special collections reading room. Some of these collections are available as part of our e-Resources. They can be found on our list of Digitised UoL special collections and archives on our LibGuides platform.

Black history

Black History is strongly represented across many of Senate House Library’s collections, particularly the library’s area collections of United States studies, Commonwealth studies and Latin American studies, for the peoples of the Caribbean.

African American history makes up a substantial portion of the Library’s United States Collection on the sixth floor. Histories of African American enslavement, the abolition movement, the narratives of enslaved people and the lives of prominent abolitionists such as Frederic Douglass can be found at the classmark NEQ. Materials under the classmark NER are concerned with African American history after abolition and the American Civil War, including the lives of prominent civil rights campaigners such as Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcom X. The civil rights question can be found at NERD and material on the Black Panther movement at NERF. More recently acquired material on the history of enslavement in the United States and African American history can be found at E441-453 and E185 respectively in the new acquisitions sequence in the Periodicals Room on the fourth floor.

Besides the history and governance of individual countries, the Commonwealth Studies collection, located on the sixth floor, also holds material on race relations, and is particularly strong in the area of human rights.

The main history collections also feature the histories of Black peoples who have settled in Britain, Europe and elsewhere. For example, material on the history of Black people in Britain can be found within the classmark sequence MUG in the history collection on the fifth floor, or at DA125, in the new acquisition sequence on the fourth floor.

Other aspects of Black lives are spread across the library’s social science collections. Books on race discrimination, race relations and racism can be found at the classmark KDJ, on the seventh floor, and at the classmark HT1521 in the new acquisitions sequence on the fourth floor. Black people in employment can be found at the classmark TGBC, and black women studies can be found in the women’s history sequence at QWE, both on the seventh floor.

Special Collections

The Ron Heisler collection contains pamphlets and ephemera relating to the civil rights movement in the United States, and race discrimination, racism and anti-racism in Great Britain.

The Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature holds a considerable amount of primary sources from the 18th and 19th century on the slave trade and abolition movement. Some of this material is available online on The Making of the Modern World.

The Porteus Library, which constitutes the working library of Beilby Porteus (1731-1809), Bishop of London and a leading advocate for the abolition of the slave trade, contains items relating to enslavement and the trade in enslaved people.

The Library’s Political Pamphlet collections, compiled by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies from current and former members of the Commonwealth, include materials from several Caribbean and African countries. They largely date from the 1960s and 1970s and give insight into processes of decolonisation and transitions to independence. The pamphlets can be explored by country through Senate House Library’s archive catalogue by using the Advanced Search function and filtering by the Reference code “PP” (standing for Political Pamphlets).


We hold several archives, including those of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, which have important sources for the study of Black history.


Our e-resources offer a range of options to study the topics which can be viewed in the Black histories and studies category on our Eresources A-Z list including among others Black Studies Center and Black Thought and Culture.

Doing your own searches

To discover clusters of material on specific topics, here are some suggested search terms (subject headings) you can use in our online catalogue

  • African Americans
  • African diaspora
  • Black people
  • Race discrimination
  • West Indians
  • Slavery
  • Racism
  • Women, Black
  • Africa

For Black British History:

  • Africans -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Blacks in Great Britain.
  • Blacks -- England -- London.
  • Blacks -- Great Britain -- Social conditions.
  • Ethnicity -- Great Britain.
  • Great Britain -- Race relations.
  • Immigrants -- Great Britain.
  • Jamaicans in London.
  • Minorities -- Great Britain.
  • Multiculturalism -- Great Britain.
  • Racism -- Great Britain.
  • West Indians in London.
  • West Indians -- Great Britain.
  • West Indians -- Great Britain -- Social conditions.

Additional resources

The Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) has a helpful guide on Caribbean Studies Collections.

Cultural history

The resources Senate House Library offers to study cultural history are broad and varied and intersect with many other collection strengths.  

British cultural history is strongly represented, especially the culture of the Victorian and Edwardian era. European cultural history is another strength of the collection with specialist holdings in German history and two unique collections to study Spanish cultural history, the Eliot-Phelips Collection and the Gili Catalan Collection (for more information on our European collections see our guide on Art and cultural memory). Russian cultural history and the interactions of Europeans with Russia is documented in the M.S. Anderson Collection. Beyond Europe, the Library has strong holdings concerning the cultures of the current and former member nations of the Commonwealth as well as those of Latin America (for more information see our guides on Commonwealth studies and Latin American studies).  

One of the unique strengths of the collections is in the history of magic and the occult, represented in the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature (for more information see our guide on The paranormal, the occult and the magical).    

Our e-resources help explore cultural history across the world further. Some examples include:  

Economic and social history

The Library’s most significant holding in economic history is the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature with around 70,000 printed items spanning from the 15th to the 20th century. Access to the full text of most items in the Goldsmiths’ Library published before 1851 and some published 1851-1914 is available online on The Making of the Modern World.

The collections feature especially strong holdings on the social history of 19th-century Britain and its social reform movements. Among these are the papers of the social reformer and researcher Charles Booth, the John Burns collection of over 5,000 books, pamphlets and periodical volumes and the Family Welfare Association Library, which has now become the charity Family Action. 

The Library has collected many materials representing the lives and thought of alternative social movements and groups. Some example of these are archives related to the temperance movement and the Ron Heisler collection of left-wing and radical political movements (for more information see our guide on Political activism, protest and counter-culture).

Our e-resources support our holdings in economic and social history, which include the following: 

History of education

As the library of one of the oldest universities in the UK, Senate House Library has amassed important materials on the history of education. One of them is the Quick Memorial Library with over 1,000 printed items on education from the mid-16th to the end of the 19th century. In addition, we have several archives on education, including the University of London’s own archive

One of the more unusual collections in the Library is the EPCOM collection of about 400 school textbooks used during the Third Reich which were confiscated by the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in the post-war period.  

As part of our e-resources, we subscribe to the Education Magazine Archive

Gender, history of sexuality and LGBTQIA+ history

History of gender and sexuality

Senate House Library holds numerous collections to research the history of sexuality and gender. Among our special collections we hold the Craig collection that consists mainly of early to mid-twentieth-century books in English, French and German on sexual customs and practices alongside some works of literary and artistic erotica, offering an intriguing insight into the history of sexuality. 

Supplementing our printed holdings are the following e-resources: 

Women’s history 

Among our collections to study women’s history there are many items in the Ron Heisler collection which give insight into feminist movements throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (for more information see our guide on Political activism, protest and counter-culture). 

Supplementing our printed holdings are the following e-resources: 

LGBTQIA+ history 

LGBTQIA+ history and culture are increasingly significant collecting areas a Senate House Library. The Library’s Ron Heisler collection includes items which give insight into queer activism throughout the 20th century (for more information see our guide on Political activism, protest and counter-culture).  

We have a guide to e-resources for the study of LGBTQ+ studies including Archives of Sexuality and GenderLGBT Thought and Culture and LGBT Magazine Archive

Historians’ papers and collections

Part of the deposits at Senate House Library include the papers of several significant 20th-century historians, many of which had affiliations with the University of London and its federal members. English historian and former president of the Royal Historical Society (1901-1905) Sir George Walter Prothero’s collection of English and European history between 1880 and 1914 is also part of the Library’s collections.

History of science

Senate House holds a small but extensively used and popular collection on the history of science which is located on the 7th floor. Additionally, the Library holds the De Morgan library which boasts an extensive collection of rare books on the history of mathematics. The rare books in the collection from pre-1600 have been digitised and are available as part of our e-resources.

History of travel, exploration and migration

The history of travel and exploration are widely covered in the Library’s collections. One of the highlights of our collections is the M.S. Anderson Collection, which features many travel narratives, personal accounts of time spent in Russia and other writings documenting western European perceptions of Russia between 1525 and 1917. Another significant source for those studying these histories is the E.G.R. Taylor Collection of Historic Printed Maps. Our holdings also support research into the history of migration, particularly the study of exile and forced migration in European history.  

Supplementing our printed holdings are the following e-resources: 

Imperial and Commonwealth history

Senate House Library houses the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) collection, an extensive research-level collection that covers the Commonwealth and its member nations across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Oceania and Europe, their histories and the history of the British Empire (for more information see our guide on Commonwealth studies).  

In addition to its library collections, the ICWS has over 230 archival collections. The archives contain materials relating to the history of the British Empire and the Commonwealth from the 18th to the 20th century. Many Commonwealth countries and former British colonies are represented, but holdings on South Africa and the Caribbean are especially strong. The archives of Commonwealth organisations (such as the Commonwealth Trade Union Council and the Commonwealth Press Union) and the papers of Commonwealth Studies researchers are further strengths among the holdings. ICWS archives can be searched through Senate House Library’s archive catalogue by using the Advanced Search function and filtering by the Repository “Institute of Commonwealth Studies”. 

Political archives of pamphlets collected by ICWS from current and former members of the Commonwealth extend to material from over 60 countries. They largely date from the 1960s and 1970s and give insight into processes of decolonisation and transitions to independence. The pamphlets can be explored through Senate House Library’s archive catalogue by using the Advanced Search function and filtering by the Reference code “PP” (standing for Political Pamphlets). 

Besides ICWS’s holdings Senate House Library’s special collections and archives provide further material to study the British Empire and Commonwealth. The Goldsmiths Library of Economic Literature covers British imperial economics, trade and related issues during the 16th-20th centuries. The Prothero Collection covers the period 1880-1914 including materials on Irish home rule. The Bromhead Library includes holdings on the early colonisation of Australia. The Ron Heisler collection includes print materials from the late 19th- and 20th century relating to anti-imperialist movements. The archives include several manuscripts and collections of papers relating to the British Empire. There are clusters of papers connected to the East India Company (MS56, MS84, MS153, MS226, MS260, MS712, MS713 and MS938) and the South Sea Company (MS89, MS218, MS394 and MS490). The Papers of the Lewin family (fl 1770-1926), who were residents of British India, contain Thomas Herbert Lewin’s papers reflecting his interest in India and its languages. 

For those interested in the history of enslavement and apartheid, detailed archival subject guides are available: 

Our e-resources grant access to further primary source and research materials:  

London history

Senate House Library holds an extensive collection on the history of the city of London and its surroundings covering culture, economy, politics, society and topography. One highlight of the collection is the Bromhead Library which holds over 4,000 rare printed items on London history.  

To complement our holdings, we subscribe to the e-resource London Low Life, which includes digitised images of rare materials related to 18th, 19th and early 20th-century London. 

U.S. history

The U.S. Studies collection is a substantial, research-level collection with broad coverage of the history, institutions and culture of the United States with strengths in Art History, History, and Literature. 

We hold the former library of the United States Information Service, an information agency of the Foreign Service of the U.S. Government which used to be situated in Grosvenor Square, London. At the time of its closure in 1966 the library’s collection more than 25,000 volumes represented the largest and most complete body of American literature in England.  

We hold selected archives related to U.S. History on topics such as politics, trade and slavery as well as the Manton Marble Collection of printed materials on American politics, foreign relations and economics.  

Selected e-resources for U.S. History include: 

The IHR library

Suggest a book

We are always happy to review suggestions for new items to add to the collections.