British History

How to choose an essay topic

Explore your topic

Introducing Summon - which makes it possible to search across many of the library's collections simultaneously. Including books, ebooks, journal titles, games, music, videos, government information, maps, and more.

However,  Summon doesn't search everything that the library owns or subscribes to so you will still need to search other resources to find everything that you need. Summon also doesn't let you do sophisticated searches that you may be used to doing in specific databases or the library catalogue.  

When to use Summon

  • When starting research on a topic
  • If you are not sure which databases to use

For assistance using Summon please contact the Research Help Desk.

Reference Materials: 

Use reference materials to get started on your research. These can be found in the Reference area of the library, main floor behind the Research Help Desk.

Key Databases: 

  • America History and Life (Covers Canada and the United States)
  • Historical Abstracts (Covers the rest of the world)
    • Open either one of these databases or search simultaneously
    • At the TOP of the search page, click on "Choose Databases"
    • Select America History and Life and Historical Abstracts, click OK
    • Begin your search

Additional Databases: 

Dissertations and Theses

Finding primary sources in the library collection

   1. Original documents can be found by consulting the Archives and Research Collections (ARC) website.
   2. Reproductions can be found by checking the library catalogue.

Use specific words to locate primary sourcees in the Library catalogue, such as: correspondence, sources, diaries, letters, personal naratives. KEYWORD search examples:

  • [PERSON’S NAME] and s:correspondence
  • [PERSON’S NAME] and s:diaries
  • [PERSON’S NAME] and s:letters
  • [KEYWORD] and s:sources

General Sources

Contains primary and secondary sources of a diverse range of sources, such as: 

  • Nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps 
  • Journals of the House of Lords and House of Commons
  • The Victoria County History of the counties of England
  • The Survey of London from English Heritage
  • Calendars of state papers
  • Letters, diaries and more

         Trade Cards

A collection of 19th-century books, periodicals, official documents and newspapers.

  • Early English Books Online (EEBO)

EEBO contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700.

Collections of Celtic manuscripts from several Oxford libraries (manuscripts digitised in this phase date from the 9th to the 19th centuries, and are of Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Breton origin), and a broader range (dating from the 9th to the 16th centuries and of various origins).

A clear­ing­house for dis­cov­er­ing and shar­ing links to eight­eenth-cen­tu­ry pri­mary ma­te­ri­als and aims to build a da­ta­base of bib­lio­graph­ically ac­cu­rate rec­ords that link to freely-a­vail­able texts on­line. Covers periodicals as well.

A digital collection of significant English-language and foreign-language titles printed in during the eighteenth century. Includes works published in Great Britain during the 18th C, along with thousands of important works from the Americas.  A variety of materials are represented: books and directories, Bibles, sheet music, sermons, advertisements, and more.

Rare journals printed between 1685-1815, illuminating all aspects of eighteenth-century social, political and literary life.

The English Heritage Archive (photographs dating from the 1850s to the present day, ranging from architectural details to archaeological landscapes, from country houses to coal mines, covers counties from Cornwall to Northumberland)

Constitutional History of Great Britain. 

Evidence of English daily life. Includes records and files as well as surveys, topic collections, diaries, books, essays and photographs.

List of Collections available HERE.

Special Topics


Aviation history from 1909-2004.

Crime and Punishment, Law

Digitized collection of more than 500 English broadsides dating from 1707 to 1891. Includes accounts of executions for such crimes as arson, assault, counterfeiting, horse stealing, murder, rape, robbery, and treason.

More than 100,000 of the most important early English cases that laid the foundation for the laws of nations under the British Empire.

The Newgate Calendar was a hugely popular publication of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was originally a monthly bulletin of executions, produced by the keeper of Newgate prison in London. Reprinted version of cases also available.

A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.

Data and Statistics

Data of Scottish wages and prices from 1550-1780.

Historical population (statistics census) reports from Britain and Ireland from 1801 to 1937.

Census information from 1926-1991.


Empire, Exploration and Travel

Searchable collection of primary source material relevant to the 1801 Act of Union between Ireland and Great Britain. Includes pamphlets, parliamentary papers, newspaper articles and manuscripts.

Arctic Blue Books online is a searchable version of Andrew Taylor's unique index to the 19th Century British Parliamentary Papers concerned with the Canadian Arctic.

The exhibition is a series of taped interviews  with British people who lived and worked in India before Independence in 1947.

This is the largest collection of historical British travel writing on the web. Each author gives a different perspective on the towns and villages they visited.

Government and Politics

An English calendar of the fine rolls from 1216 down to 1248 in the form of an electronic edition including the digital facsimile images.

This collection comprises the most detailed primary source for the 19th century for Britain, its colonies and the wider world. These were working documents of the governments of the day for all areas of social, political, economic and foreign policy.

Available dates:  1509-1614, 1620-1649, 1660-1681, 1685-1793, 1830-1832

Digitized collection of 19th and 20th century pamphlets.

State Papers Online, 1509-1714 is a collection of English government documents originating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Provides an index to Stationery Office publications by date, title, and government department, as well as to official publications by category.


Online repository of works printed in English between 1477-1799

Local and Regional History




Searchable collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides from Scotland between 1650 and 1910.


Medicine and Health

Science and Technology



Searchable database of over 150,000 editorial, socio-political and pocket cartoons dating back to 1904.

Charles Booth Online Archive contains digitized versions of poverty maps, police notebooks and the Booth family magazine, The Colony.

The Fabian Society started publishing tracts in 1884, and included in this site are most tracts up to 1997.
The site also includes a collection Fabian Society "Minute Books."

Features the full contents of around 150 case files of children in the care of the The Waifs and Strays' Society from Victorian and Edwardian times.

Digital collection of local and trade directories for England and Wales from 1750-1919

The Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection presents images from the Library's collections. The main focus of the collection is the Library's world-renowned collection of English caricatures and political satirical prints from the late-seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries.


Searchable collection of 1,300 digitized engravings and woodcuts dealing with the Jacobite rebellions maintained by the University of Aberdeen Historic Collections.


Digital images of every page in the entire sequence of Queen Victoria's diaries. Provides full transcriptions and keyword searching of the journal entries covering the period from Queen Victoria's first diary entry in July 1832 to her marriage to Prince Albert in February 1840.  More transcriptions are being added regularly as the project progresses. Freely available for those in the U.K. only.



The Center for Research Libraries (CRL)
A great institution to check for historical documents, newspapers, journals, archives and other sources. "The Center for Research Libraries (CRL)" is a consortium of North American universities, colleges, and independent research libraries. The consortium acquires and preserves newspapers, journals, documents, archives, and other traditional and digital resources for research and teaching and makes them available to member institutions through interlibrary loan and electronic delivery." Carleton University Library is a mermber of CRL.

Government Information

Begin your search for locating British government publications by using the Library catalogue.

  • You can do a subject search using GOV DOC Subject
  • You can do a keyword search and limit by the location GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS
  • You can do a keyword search using words from the name of the agency and from the title

e.g. a:"central intelligence agency" and t:factbook

  • You can search for a particular government agency in Author
  • You can search for a particular Title

If you experience difficulty in locating the material that you need, ask for help at the Information Desk in the Maps, Data and Government Information Centre.

Check the following online sources:

Papers can be downloaded for free.

Available dates:  1509-1614, 1620-1649, 1660-1681, 1685-1793, 1830-1832


Presents the unique Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs from 1919-1953.

Library of Congress provides a portion of digital images.

The British Library provides a number of digitized collections including thousands of images.

The Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection presents images from the Library's collections. The main focus of the collection is the Library's world-renowned collection of English caricatures and political satirical prints from the late-seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries.

The Visual Arts Data Service provides a portfolio of over 100,000 images in arts, historic photographs and material culture.


Collection of streaming educational videos that cover a wide spectrum of disciplines. Contains both clips and full-length videos.

For video material at the Carleton Univeristy library, do a KEYWORD search in the library catalogue and limit "Material Type" to FILM/VIDEO. If you cannot find what you need search the following database:

If you wish to borrow a video listed in Watmedia please fill out our Interfilm Video Request form - do not submit requests directly to Watmedia.

Films and still photographs from an archive of 90,000 videos covering newsreel, sports footage, social history documentaries, entertainment and music stories from 1896 to 1976.

A research guide to the UK’s 12 public sector moving image archives. Presenting detailed information and clips from these  valuable film and television collections.

Online Games


Collects, preserves and promotes the use of digital resources, which result from or support historical research, learning and teaching.

Search or browse by subject from British Official Publications 1688-1995. Abstracts and some full-text available.

Britain from Above presents the unique Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs from 1919-1953.

Lists new books and journal titles published or distributed in the United Kingdom and Ireland since 1950. It also lists forthcoming book titles and hand-held electronic publications.

A digital library of 18th and 19th Century journals

Crime and Punishment

An electronic resource for the history of witchcraft and witch-hunting in Scotland in two parts: an interactive database, and supporting web pages. Contains all people known to have been accused of witchcraft in early modern Scotland - all 4,000 of them. Information includes the accusations and the trials as well a wide range of social and cultural themes.

Data and Statistics

Data of Scottish wages and prices from 1550-1780.

Historical population (statistics census) reports from Britain and Ireland from 1801 to 1937.

Census information from 1926-1991.


Links to primary documents from the Internet Modern History Sourcebooks.

Exhibit by the Library of Congress and British Library.

  • Latin American and Caribbean History Guide (Carleton University)

Government and Politics

The entry point for UK government information and services online.


Local and Regional History



The historical map collection has over 30,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia, and Africa are also represented.

UK's most comprehensive historical map archive


Provides free online access to resources which record and illustrate the migration of the Caribbean, Irish, Jewish and South Asian Communities to England over the past two centuries." Searchable collection of more than 150,000 items including photographs, documents, passenger lists, audio clips and more.

Excerpts from primary sources are organized in the form of a dictionary covering Victorian social history with topics ranging from advertising to words & expressions.



Content last updated: November 23, 2018