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British Empire : Welcome

A Research Guide


19th C. Map of the Empire

The British Empire: A Short Introduction


The starting point of Britain's first empire is often debated but three events in the last decades of the 1500s, I think, mark the beginning. First, a new era of overseas possessions with the claim of Newfoundland in 1586, desired for its rich fishing grounds.  This marked the date of England's first overseas colony (Ireland, of course, is not considered overseas). As is often discussed in history texts, only through its dominance of the high seas was Britain able to build and maintain its empire. That dominance, however not without conflict, began with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The final event was the era of the trading companies initiated by Queen Elizabeth I, in 1600, with a charter for the East India Trading Company.             

Trade relations took many decades to establish and, clearly, there was great competition with the French and Dutch in the era of the trading companies. In the end, with its focus on India and the new world, Britain become the dominant power in the word. This appeared to change in the 18th century with the loss of the American colonies but as historian J.T. Adams notes in his book, the British Empire, "the nation, bitter and anxious could not foresee that in the next century a new empire would rise to the pinnacle of wealth, power, and prestige. (Adams, 1940).

Historian Simon Schama described it this way: Britain, through its empire, would become everything it did not perceive itself to be: a world military power, a subjugator of peoples throughout the empire (BBC: A History of Britain (episode 11)

Notwithstanding, the empire lasted nearly 400 years, with its ultimate demise seen in the independence movements, primarily in Africa, in the 1950s and 1960s.


About this Guide

The British Empire: Research Guide

 This Research Guide includes links to online subscribed and free research and educational resources.  The sites have been reviewed and are recommended as a starting point for your research. Also included here is information about where and how you can find additional resources in your library, as well as links to other tools that you might find useful.

India: "The Jewel in the Crown"

Find Books

Library Catalogs and Search Tools

Find Articles


Link to Subscription Databases, Many with Full Text

Databases & E-Resources

NOTE: Subscription based resources require restricted access. If you are off campus, please sign in.  If you are from another location, sign onto your school's proxy server as your library may subscribe to the same resources. If unsuccessful, note the name of the resource and search for it on the library's website at your school or in your public library system.   

        ℗ Primary Source  |  ☆ Best Choice

Academic Search Premier

This multi-disciplinary database provides full text for more than 4,600 journals; PDF backfiles to 1975 or further are available for over one hundred journals.

Accessible Archives 

Accessible Archives makes available vast quantities of archived historical information, not previously furnished available online.  Primary source materials have been assembled into databases with a strict attention to detail allowing access to specific information with pinpoint accuracy.  Online full-text search capabilities and digital imaging permit the user to search and manipulate this information in ways never before possible.

African Newspapers 1800-1922 

Diverse historical African newspapers: 19th and 20th-century newspapers from diverse African Countries.  Coverage range is from 1800-1922.

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 provides online access to approximately 270 U.S. newspapers chronicling a century and a half of the African American experience. This unique collection features papers from more than 35 states—including many rare and historically significant 19th century titles.  

African-American History Online (Facts on File)

Provides expansive and in-depth information on the people, events, and topics important to the study of African-American history.  Includes biographies, events and topics, primary sources, timelines, images and videos, maps and charts.  All full text.

America: History and Life with Full Text

The definitive index of literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present.

American History Online (Facts on File)

Spans more than 500 years of political, military, social, and cultural history, highlighting the important people and events of the American experience.  Includes biographies, events and topics, primary sources, timelines, images and videos, maps and charts.  All full text.

American Women's History Online (Facts on File)

Covers the important people, events, legislation, and issues relevant to the study of women's history in the United States.  Includes biographies, events and topics, primary sources, timelines, images and videos, maps and charts.  All full text.

Archives Unbound  

Archives Unbound presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents that support the research and study needs of scholars and students at the college and university level. Collections in Archives Unbound cover a broad range of topics from the Middle Ages forward-from witchcraft to World War II to twentieth-century political history. Collections are chosen for Archives Unbound based on requests from scholars, archivists, and students.

ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online)  ☆ ℗

The essential digital resource for researching the 18th Century, ECCO, Part I and Part II are comprised of over 35 million pages of text based on the English Short Title Catalog..  More than 184,000 English and Foreign Language titles printed in The United Kingdom in the 18th Century including thousands of woks from the Americas can be found In this unique resource. Search ECCO and NCCO with the new Artemis platform. Link here for ECCO only.

Empire Online  ☆ ℗

Empire Online brings together manuscript, printed and visual primary source materials for the study of 'Empire' and it's theories, practices and consequences. The materials span across the last five centuries and are accompanied by a host of secondary learning resources including scholarly essays, maps and an interactive chronology.


Full text database of periodical articles and other publications that focus on the impact of gender across a broad spectrum of subject areas.

Global Commodities: Trade Exploration and Cultural Exchange ☆ ℗

Global Commodities brings together manuscript, printed and visual primary source materials for the study of global commodities in world history. The commodities featured in this resource have been transported, exchanged and consumed around the world for hundreds of years. They helped transform societies, global trading operations, habits of consumption and social practices.

Historic Documents

Database of primary source materials from 1972 forward. Approximately one hundred documents covering the most significant events of each year are presented.

Historical Abstracts 

Abstracts of journal articles, citations to books, and dissertations on the history of the world (excluding North America) from 1450 to the present.

Humanities & Social Sciences Index Retrospective

An index to articles published 1907 – 1984 in the humanities and social sciences.  This database contains citations only, no full text.  Make use of the GetIt! button to locate the full text.  

Humanities E-Book (ACLS)

A collaboration of 20 learned societies, and over 100 publishers and libraries, the HEB is an online fully searchable collection of 2800 high quality books selected by scholars from across the humanities and available online to multiple users.


A not-for-profit research project created for the advancement of learning in the study and teaching of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700). This resource currently consists of six different databases.


Archive of full-text scholarly journal articles in a broad range of academic disciplines. Each journal included contains the full text from Volume 1, number 1 through to about four or five years ago. 

NCCO (Nineteenth Century Collections Online)  

Nineteenth Century Collections Online offers a portal to a wide range of materials including books, newspapers, periodicals, diaries and personal letters, manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets, maps and musical scores.  Works in Western as well as non-Western languages are drawn from some of the world's rare library collections making this a unique research tool. Search ECCO and NCCO with the new Artemis platform. Link here for NCCO only.

U.S. Declassified Documents Online  

Provides online access to over 500,000 pages of previously classified, primary source government documents. Covers major international events from the Cold War to the Vietnam War and beyond. 

Web of Science (formerly Web of Knowledge)

Web of Science® provides researchers, administrators, faculty, and students with quick, powerful access to the world's leading citation databases. Authoritative, multidisciplinary content covers over 12,000 of the highest impact journals worldwide, including Open Access journals and over 150,000 conference proceedings. You'll find current and retrospective coverage in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, with coverage to 1900.


Open Access Websites

American Memory - Women's History

Five collections are searchable through this link to the Library of Congress American Memory project

BBC: Britain's Empire in 1815

Dominant at last among Europe's Great Powers, Britain was firmly established by 1815 with France, Russia, Ottoman Turkey and China as one of the world's great imperial powers.

British Battles

The site lists battles throughout the history of Britain. Details of each battle provide insight into the history of the Empire.

British Empire: The National Archives of the United Kingdom

An online exhibition that looks at how and why the empire made Britain so important. The purpose of this site is to provide some information and original sources that will offer an understanding of the empire.

British Empire

This is an extraordinary site and should be the first place you go for an overview of the Empire.

The site is maintained by Stephen Luscombe, a teacher for many years. The site is extensive and covers a period greater than most scholars would consider the colonial period. To find out what is here and read caveats about the site spend a few minutes on the landing page. 

The British Monarchy: Official Site

The site contains current information about the Royal Family. 

Empire and Industry 1750 - 1850

 From the UK National Archives

"Find out about the impact of the Industrial Revolution and how living and working conditions changed for many in Britain. Political protest and crime and punishment are key themes in our resources for this period." (source: website)

English Kings and Queens-Historical Timeline 

A chronological listing with events that occurred in each reign. 

Historic Atlas of the British Empire

The website is authored by James B. Alcock and contains extensive information about the Empire and the Commonwealth.

Map of Early and Modern London

The Map of Early Modern London is comprised of four distinct, interoperable projects: a digital edition of the 1561 Agas woodcut map of London; an Encyclopedia and Descriptive Gazetteer of London people, places, topics, and terms; a Library of marked-up texts rich in London toponyms; and a versioned edition of John Stow's Survey of London.

The Victorian Web

Literature, history and culture in the age of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) 

Victorian Women Writers Project

The Victorian Women Writers Project (VWWP) began at Indiana University in 1995 with a mission to increase exposure of lesser-known British women writers of the 19th century. The collection represents an array of genres - poetry, novels, children's books, political pamphlets, religious tracts, histories, and more. VWWP contains scores of authors, both prolific and rare.

Women's History Sourcebook

A comprehensive subset of the vast History Sourcebook, by Paul Halsall at Fordham University

Working Women, 1800-1930

Part of the Harvard Open Collections Program, the site includes the digitized versions of books, manuscripts, pamphlets, consumer trade catalogs and photographs exploring women's roles in the U.S. economy from the beginning of the 19th Century through 1930.

WWW Virtual Library: Women's History

"The main purposes of this virtual library are to list women's history institutions and organizations, locate archival and library collections, and provide links to Internet resources on women's history. In addition, also included are a list of women's studies journals and a few comprehensive link collections useful as a starting point for searching the Internet for women's studies in general" (source: website).



Timelines of the British Empire


The Avalon Project: The Middle East 1916-2001: A Documentary Record

From Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School at Yale University

An extraordinary collection of documents organized chronologically to tell the story of the Middle East from the closing period of the First World War to the end of the twentieth century.


History of Britain: Nations & Empire

From, this site is more of an educational series and it will make you think about timelines in a whole new way.

From the website British Empire, here are links to timelines of the British Empire from the 16th through the 20th century.

Timelines from the British Library 

This is a unique perspective   

BBC's British History Timeline (note: archived page)

Typical of the incredible value one receives from BBC, this is an interesting interactive timeline.

Oxford Reference's Timeline: British Empire

Oxford begins the empire timeline with the claiming of Newfoundland in 1583, as the first overseas colony of England. The Falklands Islands, still a colonial holding is the last entry but the empire's ultimate and demise came with the de-colonization of Africa during the independence movement. 


Historical Newspapers


  Historical Newspapers

 The Sunday Times Digital Archive 1822-2006

Since 1822, The Sunday Times, of London, has provided thoughtful analysis and commentary on the week's news and society at large. Murder, theatre, sports and politics - all collide in its pages in an abundance of glorious narrative detail. In more than 800,000 pages, The Sunday Times Digital Archive is a gateway to the greatest crimes, careers and culture of the last 180 years.

 The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2010

The Times Digital Archive spans over 220 years, from 1785 through 2010, and includes 1 million pages and 7 million articles.  Search the complete digital edition of The Times (London) using keyword searching and hit-term highlighting to retrieve full facsimile images of either a specific article or a complete page. The entire newspaper is captured, with all articles, advertisements and illustrations/photos divided into categories to facilitate searching. View contemporaneous coverage of the world's historical events from the French Revolution to the Iraq War.


Guide Info

For additional information, see these related Library Guides

Guide Information and Terms of Use

This Library Research Guide was developed by Bruce Whitham. It is posted on the Rowan University Libraries' Research Guides site for the purpose of offering an introduction to the subject of the British Empire and to provide some guidance in research efforts.  Rowan University Libraries' Research Guides are hosted on the Springshare LibGuides Portal, to which Rowan University Libraries subscribes.  

Rowan University makes no claim to freely available websites nor does it accept responsibility for the information or opinions expressed by those who have created or authored the content or by those who are quoted on the sites.