New e-resources: British Online Archives

Key Primary Sources for Study of the British Empire, including Africa, India, and the West Indies

Cambridge University has acquired new collections of digitized archives from British Archives Online (BOA) which will support the study of the history of the British Empire, as well as the African slave trade during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and more lately the white rule of Apartheid in South Africa.

The 8 digital archives can be found on this page or separately via the links with collection level descriptions below.

These new digital archives have been made available through special funding provided by the University to support teaching and learning impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the unavailability of library resources on campus.

Antigua, slavery and emancipation in the records of a sugar plantation 1689-1907

This collection contains records pertaining to the Tudway family’s ownership of an Antiguan sugar plantation during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The papers cover the period from the early slave trade to the post-slavery economy. The combination of statistical ledgers and narrative correspondence provides a unique insight into the operation and eventual abolition of the slave trade in the West Indies. 

Apartheid through the eyes of South African Political Parties 1948-1994

Apartheid was a system of white minority rule that prevailed in South Africa for much of the 20th century. This collection contains various materials published by political parties on both sides of the racial and ideological divide. The bulk of the documents are drawn from the archives of the main opposition movement, the African National Congress (ANC). The main party of government, the National Party, is also well represented, as are several minor parties and independent candidates.

Caribbean colonial statistics from the British Empire, 1824-1950

For the most part these statistical records cover the years from 1839 to 1938, although some records commence from 1824 and others continue until 1950. The records for each colony are prefaced by a brief introduction to that colony. The population returns are published alongside education reports, while grants of land reveal who held the colonial wealth. Imports and exports are joined by prison records which reveal what the crimes were at that time. As these records are published together, the reader can compare the living conditions and access to services across colonies. The imperial statistics in this collection are listed by year for ease of reference.

Colonial Africa in official statistics 1821-1953

The late nineteenth century ‘Scramble for Africa’ saw European colonial powers carve up the African continent between themselves. The United Kingdom controlled the largest portion of territory, with its Colonial Regulations requiring an ‘Annual Blue Book’ to be submitted from each colony to the British Colonial Office. The Blue Book was an attempt to standardise statistical reports, primarily covering economic development as well as demographic, ecclesiastical, and public records. This collection contains Blue Books and other archival material from 13 British colonies and protectorates in Africa compiled during the period 1821-1953. The standardised nature of the Blue Books enables comparisons to be drawn geographically (between colonies) and over time on issues from the slave trade and colonial economic practice to education and public health. 

India, Uprising and Reform 1879-1910 in the records of the Governor-General

Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the 4th Earl of Minto, was the Viceroy of India between 1905 and 1910. This collection contains a diverse range of documents relating to Minto’s tenure in India. The documents shed light on a tumultuous period in the history of the British Raj, providing an insight into the partition of Bengal and the growth of anti-colonial sentiment.

Indian Communists and Trade Unionists: the Meerut Conspiracy 1929-1933

The Meerut Conspiracy refers to the 1929 arrest and trial of twenty-nine Indians and three Englishmen suspected of having either communist or trade union affiliations. They were collectively charged under Section 121A of the India Penal Code with “conspiracy to deprive the King of Sovereignty of British India.” This collection contains documents derived from a variety of sources, including the India Office and the private papers of Ben Bradley, one of the accused conspirators. These documents provide a balanced perspective on the trial and its consequences for British imperialism in India.

Slavery, Advocacy and Opposition 1675-1865

This collection contains a wide range of documents concerning the African slave trade during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The papers focus primarily on Jamaica and the West Indies, but also cover the experience of other nations and regions. Through a combination of statistics, correspondence, pamphlets, and memoirs, they offer insights into the commercial and colonial dimensions of slavery and the views of its advocates and opponents.

World News in Indian newspapers 1782-1908

This collection contains copies of three English language newspapers published in India during the period 1782-1908: The India Gazette (1782-1834); The Bengal Hurkaru and Chronicle (1822-1866); and The Bengal Times (1876-1908). These newspapers were primarily sold to colonial businessmen, merchants, and administrators with an interest in regional and international trade. Editors and reporters therefore focussed on providing readers with an overview of significant political, military, economic, scientific, and societal trends, as well as their potential impact on stocks, commodities, and other investments. Subjects covered range from the American Revolution and the Crimean War to British parliamentary debates on the India Act of 1858 and the dramatic industrial and pharmaceutical breakthroughs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. India, England, France, Ireland, Italy, the United States, and China receive the most attention, though items regarding other nations also feature.

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