Primary Sources: British Documents on the End of Empire Project

British Documents on the End of Empire (BDEEP) is an online platform providing access to full-text downloadable copies of three series of books produced by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The volumes contain largely previously unpublished materials from the official archives of the British Public Record Office (now U.K. National Archives).

Each volume was edited by a leading scholar in the field of decolonization, who located and analyzed “key documentation charting shifts in the political, social, and economic policies of officials, both at home and in the colonies.” As stated at the site, the volumes “contain a wealth of material on issues such as constitutional reform, economic development and foreign relations which remain remarkably relevant to the work of contemporary policy-makers in the UK and across the Commonwealth.”

Series A is volumes of general British government documents relating to the British Empire. Series B is volumes on particular countries. Series C volumes are guides to archival sources at the Public Record Office.

Series A
1. Imperial Policy and Colonial Practice, 1925-1945 (in two parts, 1996), edited by SR Ashton and SE Stockwell
2. The Labour Government and the End of Empire, 1945-1951 (in four parts, 1992), edited by Ronald Hyam
3. The Conservative Government and the End of Empire, 1951-1957 (in three parts, 1994), edited by David Goldsworthy
4. The Conservative Government and the End of Empire, 1957-1964 (in two parts, 2000), edited by Ronald Hyam and Wm Roger Louis
5. East of Suez and the Commonwealth, 1964-1971 (in three parts, 2004), edited by SR Ashton and Wm Roger Louis

Series B
1. Ghana (in two parts, 1992), edited by R Rathbone
2. Sri Lanka (in two parts, 1997), edited by KM De Silva 3. Malaya (in three parts, 1995), edited by AJ Stockwell 4. Egypt and the Defence of the Middle East, 1945-1949 (in three parts, 1998), edited by John Kent
5. Sudan (in two parts, 1998), edited by Douglas H Johnson
6. The West Indies (in one part, 1999), edited by SR Ashton and David Killingray
7. Nigeria (in two parts, 2001), edited by Martin Lynn
8. Malaysia (in one part, 2004), edited by AJ Stockwell
9. Central Africa (in two parts, 2005), edited by Philip Murphy
10. Fiji (in one part, 2006), edited by Brij V Lal
11. Malta (in one part, 2006), edited by Simon C Smith

Series C
1. Records of the Colonial Office, Dominions Office, Commonwealth Relations Office and Commonwealth Office (in one part, 1995), edited by Anne Thurston
2. Records of the Cabinet, Foreign Office, Treasury and Other Records (in one part, 1998), edited by Anne Thurston

The Library has only a few of the print volumes in its collection. Many thanks to James Vernon for making me aware of this valuable resources. A link to this site has been added to the History: Britain & Ireland subject guide at

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.