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The British in India: Primary Sources

A guide to library research


What makes a source

Depends on the topic;
it can be complicated. 

Talk specifics with your advisor.

Very basic, simplistic definition:
What is a primary source?

Useful Tips

Browse footnotes and bibliographies of books, encyclopedias, and articles for information about primary sources. 

Search the Catalog for primary sources--both unpublished manuscripts and modern editions in print and online, sometimes in translation, of original primary sources. Use the guided keyword search with terms like:

personal narratives



Bibliography of the East India Company: books, pamphlets and other materials printed between 1600 and 1785. Catherine Pickett. London : British Library Board, 2011. (Kroch Library Asia DS465 .P524 2011)

East India (Parliamentary papers) : annual lists and general index of the Parliamentary papers relating to the East Indies published during the years 1801 to 1907 inclusive ... London : Printed for H.M.S.O., by Eýre and Spottiswoode, Ltd., [1909] (Kroch Library Asia Reference ++ Z3205 .G78)

Newspapers Tips

With the exception of the
collections listed here,
newspapers are generally
not available full text before 1980,
especially non-US papers.

But older newspapers are
often available on microfilm

and can be interlibrary loaned.
There will be no index and
using newspapers on microfilm
is hard, time-consuming work.

To locate newspapers on
microfilm, use  Worldcat: 

country = subject
newspaper* = keyword,
limit =
serial publications
format = microfilm. 
Do NOT specify dates.

What is Microfilm?


Fabulous archival primary source material has been filmed over the years, but using it will take some getting used to.  Ask for help with microfilm, microfiche, or microcards at a reference desk!

A sense of what it is and how you use it: Using Microfilm

Online Collections

Primary Source Collections Online


India, Raj & Empire
Drawing upon the manuscript collections of the National Library of Scotland, this searchable online resource provides access to digital facsimiles of diaries and journals, official and private papers, letters, sketches, paintings and original Indian documents containing histories and literary works. The collection documents the relationship between Britain and India in an empire where the Scots played a central role as traders, generals, missionaries, viceroys, governor-generals and East India Company officials. The dates of the documents range from 1710 to 1937.

Empire online  
Manuscripts and printed material.
Approximately 60,000 images of original documents linked to essays by leading scholars in the field of Empire Studies. The sections cover Cultural Contacts, 1492-1969; Empire Writing and the Literature of Empire; The Visible Empire; Religion and Empire; and Race, Class and Colonialism, c1783-1969. The images  from the British Library, including the Oriental and India Office Collections at the British Library; the University of Birmingham Library; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and the Public Record Office and the State Records, New South Wales, Australia.

Eighteenth century collections online (ECCO).
Printed material.
English-language and foreign-language
books, pamphlets, broadsides, ephemera printed in the UK and the Americas, between 1701 and 1800.

19th century British Pamphlets 
Printed material.
Includes seven individual collections held at universities within the UK, many of which are whole collections that belonged to individual politicians or political families. These are: Bristol Selected pamphlets, Cowen Tracts, Earl Grey Pamphlets collection, Foreign and Commonwealth Office collection, Hume Tracts, Knowsley Pamphlet collection, and LSE Selected pamphlets.

Georgian Papers Online A catalog which currently contains descriptions and digitized images of material dating from the reigns of George III to William IV, including personal letters, diaries, account books and records of the Royal Household.

East India Company
In progress. Manuscripts.
Cornell has Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 and Module II: Factory Records for South Asia and South East Asia. They cover 1595-1947. Materials come from the British Library and include minutes of council meetings (Court of Directors, Court of Proprietors and Council of India), memoranda and papers laid before councils, council resolutions, proceedings of revenue boards, charters, legislation, printed books, correspondence, lists of administrative, military and ecclesiastical personnel, and more

The Indian Papers of Colonel Clive and Brigadier-general Carnac 1752-1774.

A large collection of manuscript sources (in European and South Asian languages) from the private collections of two prominent British empire-builders in India, from the National Library of Wales, now part of the digital collection British Online Archives.  

Indian papers of the 1st Earl of Minto, 1806-1814
"Correspondence and papers of Sir Gilbert Elliot Murray Kynynmound (1751-1814), who succeeded as 4th Bart. in 1777, assumed the additional names of Murray Kynynmound on succeeding to his mother's properties in 1778, and was created Baron Minto in 1797 and Earl of Minto in 1813. He was M.P. for Morpeth, 1776-7, for Roxburghshire, 1777- 1784, for Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1786-90, and for Helston, 1790-5; and served as Civil Commissioner at Toulon, 1793, Minister to the Italian states, 1794, Viceroy of Corsica, 1794-1796, Ambassador at Vienna, 1799-1801, President of the Board of Control, 1806, and Governor-General of India, 1806-1813. These papers are a valuable source for the study of British politics in the late eighteenth century, of war and diplomacy in Europe, 1793-1801, and for events in India and east of the Cape, 1806-1814. The diplomatic and Indian material is especially rich. The papers in this section are used and quoted in Emma Eleanor Elizabeth, Countess of Minto (ed.), Life and Letters of Sir Gilbert Elliot, First Earl of Minto, from 1751 to 1806, 3 vols., London, 1874, and Life and Letters of Sir Gilbert Elliot, First Earl of Minto, from 1807 to 1814, London, 1880. The 1st Earl of Minto is referred to throughout these papers simply as 'the 1st Earl'. His wife, Anna Maria, daughter of Sir George Amyand, 1st Bart., is referred to as 'the Countess of Minto'. Unless otherwise stated, correspondence and papers are of, and letters are addressed to, the 1st Earl."

ARTFL Full-text online of nearly 2000 French books seventeenth to twentieth centuries.

Gallica Includes many digitized collections of primary sources in book form originally published in the 19th century.

Southeast Asia Visions is a digital collection of European travel accounts of pre-modern (1613 - 1920s) Southeast Asia.



Primary Source Periodicals & Newspapers


British Periodicals Online Facsimile page images and searchable full text for nearly 500 British periodicals published from the 17th through the early 20th centuries. 

Eighteenth Century Journals, A portal to Newspapers and Periodicals, c.1685-1835  CAUTION Currently Cornell only subscribes to Section III which focuses on journals published outside of London– Canadian, Caribbean and Indian, Irish journals and British provincial publications: Title & issue list

The Times digital archive, 1785-2006 Full-text and full-image articles from the Times of London for the years 1785-2006.

Periodicals Index Online (formerly PCI) Covers 1770-1993. Index only; not full text. The scope is international, including journals in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and other languages.

Official Sources

Collections of Official Documents

Foreign Office Files for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, 1947-1980 included in Archives Direct: Sources from The National Archives, UK.

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (1688-to present) Full text with detailed subject indexing.

British Records on the Atlantic World Consists of 12 collections of manuscript material found in England.  Includes materials such as journals, correspondence, official records, personal papers, and printed books from over a two hundred year period, all related to British involvement in the Atlantic region, including both Africa and the Americas.  It has a wealth of information about Britain’s colonization, commercial, missionary and even literary relations with Africa and the Americas. Alongside the records of Liverpool merchants involved in the infamous Triangular Trade, there are those of slave plantation owners, of early Anglican missionaries, and of naval and customs officials.

British History Online is the digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles.  Included are the House of Commons Journal and House of Lords Journal

Finding British Sessional Papers at Cornell

The making of modern law: legal treatises 1800-1926.  The Nineteenth Century and Twentieth Century Legal Treatises microfilm collections and 21,000 Anglo-American legal works including casebooks, local practice manuals, form books, works for lay readers, pamphlets, letters, speeches as well as material that isn't narrowly legal.

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