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Primary sources and reference materials

Primary sources include works of literature, newspaper archives, images, and films. Reference materials include dictionaries and encyclopedias.

You have access to a wide range of digital sources, and also printed materials in the main collections and our Special Collections.

Digital primary sources

You have access to a very wide range of digitised literary works from antiquity to the present day. At the top of the list below are the most commonly used resources; further down you'll find more specialised primary source databases.  

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You have access to a wide range of online newspapers, dating from the 17th century to the present day. A very handy overview of our newspaper content provides access to individual resources. See the list below for details of selected titles.

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These resources are excellent for finding authoritative definitions of words and prhrases, and for researching the lives and contexts of writers and historical figures. 

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Via these resources you have access to millions of freeview TV and radio programmes, newsreels and screened performances of threatrical works. 

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These resources provide access to images of artworks, architecture, sculpture and related art forms.

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Diaries, narratives, surveys, interviews. These resources are particularly useful if you are studying 20th Century literature.

Printed primary sources

Search for primary sources among the Library's collections of printed editions of literary works, letters, diaries and facsimiles.

Essential primary sources

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Early English Books Online (EEBO)

From the first book published in English through the age of Spenser and Shakespeare, EEBO contains over 146,000 titles listed in Pollard & Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640) and Wing's Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700) and their revised editions, as well as the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661) collection and the Early English Books Tract Supplement. Subjects covered include literature, history, philosophy, linguistics, theology, music, fine arts, education, mathematics, and science.
 

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

The largest and most comprehensive online historical archive of its kind and an essential resource for advanced study of the eighteenth century, this collection contains every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom between the years 1701 and 1800.

Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO)

Full text editions of over 1500 works from antiquity to 1901. Each text comes with scholarly introductions and notes, and the database is fully searchable. Browse by author, or search for a work or word/phrase in specific texts or across the entire collection. 

Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

The Oxford English Dictionary is widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words— past and present—from across the English-speaking world.

ProQuest One Literature (including Literature Online)

Over 500,000 works of poetry, prose and drama from around the world, from Anglo-Norman times to the present day. The majority of the works are in English, with significant collections in other languages, notably from Germany, Spain, Latin America and South East Asia.

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Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive

Full text digital versions of the TLS from the first issue in 1902. There is a time lag in uploading of content so the most recent issues are not available. Recent content is available via an Exact Editions database

British Library Newspapers

Digitised versions of newspaper content from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Special Collections

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The University's Special Collections encompass a wide range of material from different time periods and on numerous subjects.

Some material can be viewed online and you can consult physical items by appointment in the Special Collections Reading Room on the first floor of the Arts and Social Sciences Library.

Bristol University Theatre Collection

The Theatre Collection is one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history and Live Art.

Finding and using archives in the UK

Proposed historic design for Clifton Suspension Bridge

Our Introduction to finding and using archives in the UK guide provides further information about using UK archives for your research.