Historical and topographical sources

These collections are international in scope, ranging from the British antiquarian tradition to printed collections relating to the Spanish Civil War, and much photographic documentation of China. There are monuments of travel, exploration and cartography and early works also in ancillary disciplines such as numismatics and archaeology. Some highlights are:

British historical scholarship 

Material held includes a notable collection of national, county and local histories, remarkable not only for scholarly text but also for early mapping and engravings of antiquities and estates. There are more specialised studies too, for example of Roman military remains and mosaics in works by William Roy and the Lysons brothers. The labours of Thomas Hearne in editing and printing medieval manuscripts have been extensively collected.


Cartography is represented in atlases, road books, illustrated texts and individually published maps; dating back to the 1493 world map in the Nuremberg Chronicle and the 1574 atlas of Ortelius. Early English county mapping is preserved in the 1610 edition of Camden's Britannia and Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (1612). An important set of first-edition, one-inch Ordnance Survey maps is complemented by works on the trigonometrical survey of the British Isles. A leading collection of geological mapping includes, for instance, William Smith's 1815 map, his county maps and cross sections.

Plan of Bristol.
Detail from Gloucestershire in J. Speed, Theatre of the empire of Great Britaine (1612).

Social and economic history

Collections include:

  • Courtesy Book Collection ranging from early manuals of courtly behaviour, such as The French Academy, through 18th-century advice on the upbringing of children, to Victorian and Edwardian etiquette.
  • Papers of the Pagets of Cranmore, and the Pinney and Goldney families, providing insights into estate and business activities as well as domestic and social matters.
  • Somerset Miners’ Association Archive, including minutes of council and the trade conciliation board and material relating to welfare and safety.
  • Papers of public inquiries concerning nuclear power station construction: Sizewell B (1986) and Hinkley C (1988-1989).

International history

Holdings include:

  • China: printed works on China include an early French edition of Ricci (1617) and Staunton's magnificently illustrated account of the Macartney Embassy (1797). Original photographic sources have been accumulated by the Historic Photographs of China Project, the leading digital scholarly resource in the field. 
  • Exploration and travel: particularly strong in descriptions of Italy and Greece and material relating to polar voyages and expeditions. Among the treasures of these collections are the first publication of James Cook's Voyage towards the South Pole and a manuscript account by Sir William Gell of his journey through Europe to Greece (1801-2).
  • Oskar Teichman's gifts emphasising European statecraft and warfare. The eras of Frederick the Great and Napoleon are well represented.

Legal history

The Law rare book holdings include the historic part of the Bristol Law Society Library, purchased for the University by the first Baron Dulverton in 1934. The English sources include editions of Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's work dating back to 1516. Subjects covered range from justices of the peace and conveyancing to colonial law and international treaties.

Books on a shelf. Library search

Search for books and periodicals using Library Search.

A medieval manuscript. Online Archive Catalogue

Contains descriptions of many of our archive collections.

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