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Archives and Special Collections: International Sources: Africa and the Middle East

Our collections

Several of our collections document the history of British encounters with and interventions in the affairs of African and Middle Eastern nations. The largest of these collections is the Sudan Archive which has been designated of international significance. This archive and that of the last khedive of Egypt, ’Abbas Hilmi II (1874-1944), offer excellent research opportunities around the British occupation and then administration of Egypt and Sudan (now Sudan and South Sudan) in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Many former Sudanese administrators also later went on to influential positions in other African and Middle Eastern states; H.A. MacMichael (1882-1969), for example, served as High Commissioner and Commander-In-Chief, Palestine and Trans-Jordan between 1938-1944, or G.F. Clayton (1875-1929) who served as Chief Secretary and Acting High Commissioner in Palestine 1922-1925. These are complemented by the papers of British architect E.T. Richmond (1874-1955) who was the Assistant Civil Secretary (Political) with special responsibility for Arab affairs in Palestine 1921-1924 and Director of Antiquities there 1927-1937.

The Grey Family Papers contain a wealth of correspondence, maps and printed pamphlets with a truly global coverage of British international interests from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. The papers of John, Viscount Ponsonby (ca. 1770-1855), Ambassador to Turkey 1833-1841, form a significant part of this records group. The papers include those of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), prime minister 1830-1834, and Albert, 4th Earl Grey (1851-1917), Administrator in Rhodesia 1896, a keen imperialist and associate of Cecil Rhodes. The papers provide official and personal material on key international debates in British politics, including slavery, the colonies and trade.

The Malcolm MacDonald Papers contain much on the period of de-colonisation in the post-war period. MacDonald (1901-1981) held ministerial office in the Dominions & Colonial Office 1931-1940, and was involved, among other issues, in the controversies over the future of Palestine and the promotion of colonial development policy. He ended his diplomatic career in Africa as Governor and Commander in Chief of Kenya 1963-4, and as High Commissioner there after independence. He was then involved in various diplomatic missions to other parts of Africa especially Nigeria and Rhodesia. The collection is rich in correspondence from key personalities in these emergent states and British administrative and policy papers.

From 1876 to 1967 Durham University formed a formal affiliation with Fourah Bay College, founded in 1827 by the Church Missionary Society. Some records of the College and of graduates qualifying with Durham degrees are held in the Durham University Records.

The Wylde Family Papers contain much of African (and broader) interest principally on the suppression of the slave trade. The papers of John, Viscount Ponsonby (ca. 1770-1855) and those of John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham (1792-1840), Sir Evelyn Baring (1903-1973), Malcolm MacDonald (1901-1981) and Sir Donald Hawley (1921-2008) contain the records of British diplomats active across Africa and the Middle East (and also Russia, South America, Europe, Canada, India, South East Asia, Laos, China): de-colonisation features strongly in the later collections.

The collections of historian Ann Lambton (1912-2008), anthropologist David Brooks (1940-1994) and journalist Vahe Petrossian (1939-2018) provide a broad group of records on Iranian social, anthropological and political history from the medieval to the modern period. Brooks was interested in the Bakhtiari people, and related subjects such as Islam, religion, pilgrimage, political leadership, women and dance. Like Petrossian's his collection also includes quantities of newspaper cuttings on post-revolutionary Iran, and offprints, magazines, pamphlets and some books on Iran. Lambton's collection includes research notes, appointment diaries, travel journals, and a few Persian manuscripts, in addition to her substantial library which is now held among our printed collections.

Arabian dialects and Modern Standard Arabic linguistics are the subject of the papers of T.M. Johnstone (1924-1983). In the course of his research he collected important documentary and audio materials on rare languages such as Mehri, and the papers include grammars, vocabularies and texts.

The papers of Roy Gazzard (1923-) and H.C. Hill (1916-2005) provide examples of British business people who served part of their careers in Africa and the Gulf, Gazzard in the field of town planning and redevelopment in Uganda and Oman and Hill in the chemicals sector in Uganda and Nigeria.

The papers of Tankred Tunstall-Behrens (1878-1939) document his work on various international border commissions around the world, including the Anglo-German-Belgian boundary commission in Uganda 1902-1906. They are complimented by the collection of H.H. Kelly (1880-1914), who served as Chief Commissioner on the Sudan-Uganda Boundary Commission, 1912-1913.

Availability online (digital images)

Many of these collections have not been digitised, so that in these cases only the catalogues are currently available online.

If you would like to purchase digital copies of specific items from any of our collections, please get in touch.

If you are a member of teaching staff at Durham University and would like to use material from Archives and Special Collections within your lectures or seminars, we may be able to scan or photograph items for this purpose.  Please contact us as early as possible with any teaching digitisation requests.

See also our guide to Digitised Collections Online for further information on our digital resources.

Access to original sources

The collections mentioned above are located at Palace Green Library.  Our current opening hours are as follows, but see also below.

  • Monday to Friday: 10am to 4:30pm
  • Saturday: closed
  • Sunday: closed

For further information on visiting to use the collections, please use our enquiry form.

See separate Libraries and Site Information guide for further information on Palace Green Library.

Due to essential works, there will be a period of restricted access to the Archives and Special Collections throughout April and May. Details of opening times can be found in our Library Sites guide.  Appointments will be required for all visits during April and May, please use the enquiry form to book.  Please give three working days notice for appointments and include a full list of document references or shelfmarks so that we can best enable your research access.