British and Irish History


The Newberry is unusually rich in the history of the British Isles, primarily covering English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish history from the Middle Ages through World War I. Special strengths include recusant books, 17th- and 19th-century British pamphlets, 18th- and 19th-century periodicals, Irish history, biographies and memoirs, and local histories and records.

Serial sets of printed primary sources are also a major strength of the British history collection. These types of sources would include:

  • publications of official bodies, such as Record Commissions, P.R.O. and Historical Manuscript Commission
  • publications of national societies, such as Catholic Record Society and Huguenot Society of London
  • nearly complete holdings of national and local historical society publications in any part of the British Isles

See also the research guide on British and Irish Literature, as well as the English, Irish, and Scottish Genealogy guides. A separate guide to Irish Collections is available as a PDF file.

The online catalog is the best place to start your search. Below are suggested subject searches for general historical sources. The locations in brackets are interchangeable between Great Britain, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is best to try several searches, one using Great Britain as the location, and further searches for England, Ireland, Scotland, and/or Wales.

You can search by Subject in our Primo VE catalog using the “Advanced Search” function to the right of the search bar. Select “Subject” in the drop-down menu of search features in place of “Any field,” then copy-and-paste one of the following subject headings:

[Location] (this search provides a list of further subheadings)

To find local histories and records search by [country], [county, (country)], or [city, (country)] as a subject:

Example: Ireland

Example: Cambridgeshire (England)

Example: Edinburgh (Scotland)

Search for National Societies as a subject:

Example: Huguenot Society of London

Search for publications of official bodies as subject and author:

Example: Great Britain. [Public Record Office]

Example: Great Britain. Record Commission

Search for military publications as subject and author:

Example: Great Britain. [Royal Navy]

Search by monarch as subject and author or for royal houses by subject:

Example: Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542-1587

Example: Tudor, House of

To search for a British printer, illustrator, or person involved in the book trade or book production, search by the name as author and subject:

Example: Caxton, William

You may also search by title or author, if either of these is known.

Results can be filtered by Material Type, Language, Date, Author, Title, etc. prior to searching by using the drop-down menus in the search panel. If your search produces too many options, you can also narrow results using the faceted options on the left-hand side, under the heading “Refine your results.” Clicking on one of these filter terms or the box to their left will limit results to only those that fit this criterion, while clicking on the red box to the right of the term will exclude those results. For more information about searching in our online catalog, please see our Guide to Primo VE.

If searching by subject does not yield sufficient results, you can also search by keyword, Boolean search (string together multiple keywords with “and”), or use the Advanced Search to combine subject words and keywords.

To find materials in a specific language, from a specific time period, or in a specific format, use the drop-down fields in Advance Search or use the facets that appear on the left side of the results page.

When you find a desired title, it can be useful to click on the link for the subject headings in the catalog record for additional similar items, or use the terms from the subject headings when searching by keyword.

British Government Documents: The Newberry has an excellent collection of British government documents to 1900. These include a complete run of Parliamentary debates from the earliest period of their recording to 1964 for both Commons and Lords; Parliamentary Sessional Papers to 1900; Parliamentary bills; Statutes of the Realm from the time of Henry III; Journals of both Houses from the 16th century through the 19th century; and a host of miscellaneous documents such as proceedings in Chancery in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, escheat records from the time of Henry III, and many others.

British Satirical Print Collection: Two thousand single sheet satirical prints (including both colored and uncolored), published in London during the 18th and 19th centuries, the bulk of which date from the “golden age” of satirical prints (1780-1830), when James Gillray (1756/7815), Thomas Rowlandson (1756827), and George Cruikshank (1792878) established a tradition of political and social visual satire in Britain. The majority of prints are duplicates of those in the collection of the British Museum and described in the Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum by Frederic George Stephens (four volumes covering prints up to 1770) and Mary Dorothy George (seven volumes covering prints between 1771-1832).

Call Number: Case W 778 .186

17th-Century British Pamphlets: The Newberry has more than 2,200 pamphlets published in Great Britain during the Stuart period (1600-1715). The subjects covered in these pamphlets are varied and include the Civil War, Church of England doctrines, Acts of Parliament, and the Popish Plot. There are collections of pamphlets about the Stuart era monarchs as well as Cromwellian pamphlets. There are pamphlets in the form of letters, sermons, political verse, and drama. Authors include Defoe, Hobbes, Swift, Milton, Pepys.

19th-Century English Periodicals: Altick, Richard D. "Nineteenth Century English Periodicals." The Newberry Library Bulletin 9 (1952): 255-264.

19th-Century British Pamphlets: Aydelotte, W.O. “Nineteenth Century British Pamphlets at the Newberry Library.” The Newberry Library Bulletin 6 (1951): 79-181.

Recusant collection: In 1970, the Newberry purchased a collection of more than 1,400 recusant works (books, pamphlets, literature, and manuscripts written by and about English Catholics between 1559 and 1829) from the antiquarian book dealer Ben Weinreb in London. The Newberry’s Rare Book Cataloger at the time, Bernard E. Wilson, maintained a separate card file of all materials acquired in this purchase, and this is available as a PDF file.

The Modern Manuscript materials are stronger in American history but do include some sources related to British and Irish history, especially during the Revolutionary and Colonial period. To find modern manuscript materials and ephemera related to British history, you can search by personal name, keyword, or keyword phrase such as “British” or “British history,” much like a Google search.

To browse the Modern Manuscript collections, go to the Modern Manuscripts and Ephemera search page.

One collection of note is listed below:

Martin A. O’Brennan Papers, CA. 1843-1878: O’Brennan was an Irish nationalist activist, lawyer, newspaper editor, and amateur historian. The papers document O’Brennan’s Irish activities and his life in Chicago.

This is a selection of reference books broadly related to the history of the British Isles. You should browse the stacks around these call numbers, since there should be materials dealing with similar topics nearby. All items with a “Ref” call number do not need to be requested through the online catalog and should be viewed on the 3rd floor. There are also photocopies of articles from the Newberry Library Bulletin and other publications on British History in the green binder called “General Guide to the Collections in the Newberry Library” in the 3rd floor checklist area, as well as articles and checklists in the “Britain” section of the checklist area.

Cannon, John and Robert Crowcroft, eds. The Oxford Companion to British History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Ref DA34 .O93 2015

Crowley, John, ed. Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Local History Ref DA950.7 .A85 2012

Cusk, Sarah. Checklist of English manuscripts in the Newberry Library, 1500865. Also available in print in the 3rd floor checklist area in the Reference Center and 4th floor open shelf in the Special Collections reading room.

Howard-Hill, T.H. The British Book Trade, 1475-1890: A Bibliography. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2008. Ref Z324 .H69 2008

Matthew, H.C.G., and Brian Harrison, eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: In Association with the British Academy: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Ref DA28 .O95 2004

McGuire, James and James Quinn, eds. Dictionary of Irish Biography: From the Earliest Times to 2002. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press and Royal Irish Academy, 2009. Ref CT862 .D53 2009

Newberry Library. 19th Century British Pamphlets at the Newberry Library. Chicago: The Library, 1993. Ref Z2019 .N48 1993

Panton, Kenneth J. Historical Dictionary of the British Empire. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Ref DA16 .P315 2015

Poole, William Frederick. Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature. New York: P. Smith, 1938. Available in the Newberry checklist area in the 3rd floor Reference and Bibliographic Center.

You can find journals and journal articles online by searching databases such as Academic Search Complete, Article First, ECO, JSTOR, MLA International Bibliography, Project Muse, and WorldCat Discovery. Unless you know the journal title, it’s best to look for articles online, through print reference sources, or by using Poole’s Index (for 19th-century articles).

We also have British and Irish journals in the Newberry collection, which you can search for by title of the journal, keyword, or subject. You can also choose "Journals" under the "Format" drop-down in Advance Search, or use the facets that appear on the left side of the results page.

The following databases offer a variety of sources for researching British and Irish History. These subscription databases are available to registered readers only within the library building. A full listing of Newberry databases can be found here.

Iter: Middle Ages and Renaissance: Provides access to a bibliography covering literature pertaining to the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700) plus seven or eight additional databases.

World’s Fairs: A Global History of Expositions: A diverse range of digitized primary source material to represent the origination and planning of fairs, the experience of visiting them, and the physical, cultural, and political legacies they leave behind, including Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London, 1851.

The Newberry offers a number of digital resources including online exhibitions, classroom resources, and digital collections. These resources showcase digital images of materials from the Newberry’s collection, as well as provide background information and context for these materials. The following are freely available web resources.

Elizabeth I: Ruler and Legend: Since the queen’s death in 1603, she has been a subject for poets, historians, composers, film-makers, and authors of pulp fiction. This exhibition explores the life and reign of this remarkable queen, examining how her unique personality was forged and why her legend has endured.

Religious Change, 1450-1700: Religious Change, 1450-1700 is a multidisciplinary project, including a digital exhibit and resources on various topics and Newberry items, exploring how religion and print challenged authority, upended society, and helped make the medieval world modern.

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