Primary Sources: Empire Online database

Empire Online includes over 70,000 pages of primary source materials divided into five thematic sections:

  • Cultural Contacts, 1492-1969
  • Literature and Empire
  • The Visible Empire
  • Religion and Empire
  • Race, Class, Imperialism and Colonialism c1607-2007

The majority of the documents are in English and relate to the British Empire, but there are also resources on French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and German imperialism. This is by no means a comprehensive collection of resources, but includes a good balance of perspectives about empire represented in a variety of material types: stories, diaries, exhibition catalogs, exploration logs, letter books and correspondence, marketing posters, official government documents, travel writing, photographs, slave papers, maps, missionary papers, and many more. The sources were selected from major libraries and museums in the UK, Canada, Australia, and United States.

Access the contents of Empire Online by browsing the documents in each section, searching for keywords across all the sections, or browsing indexed names, topics, and places. Note that when doing keyword searches you should use British spelling conventions. The search engine searches across all document level metadata including bibliographic details, full text of printed material and selected additional editorial features. (Full text searching of handwritten materials is not possible.) Because the searches are, as described in the FAQ, “carried out at document level for all documents and also at image level for full text search documents, this means that “a search for polygamy AND Africa will find hits … where both appear on a page but also where polygamy appears on page 1 and Africa on page 100 of the same document.” For better search results, you should conduct searches for phrases or words within a certain proximity of each other.

Secondary sources include thematic essays on imperialism and colonialism, biographies, and a chronology of exploration and colonization from 3200 BC to the present.