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Archives and Special Collections: International Sources: Europe

Our collections

Durham Cathedral Archive contains much about medieval relations between England and Scotland, the cathedral priory having been endowed in the 11th century with a cell at Coldingham on the North Berwickshire coast. This has left a legacy in the archive of a fine series of early Scottish royal charters and much documentation about the friction between England and Scotland of the 14th and 15th centuries. There is also much documentation in the archive about relations with the papacy in Rome and Avignon throughout the medieval period including many original papal bulls. Also some aspects of Britain's growing international trade can be traced in such medieval records and in the early-modern church records series such as probate inventories.

The continental travels of a Durham landed family in the late 18th-century can be followed in the Wharton Papers. The papers of Wilhelm Levison (1876-1947) record a journey in the other direction, in flight from Nazism: his papers include interesting correspondence on nascent European federalism. The activities of Durham alumni in the First World War are now also quite well recorded, and we are also fortunate to hold the papers of W.D. Lowe (1879-1922) which cover his time fighting in France and are particularly good in documenting the evolution of British tactics.

The university itself has a long history of involvement with European affairs which can be traced in its archives, whether in the form of research projects or the activities of student societies such as the Exploration Society and the debates of the Union Society. Many Durham academics have deposited their papers with the Special Collections, for example those of I.J.C. Foster (1908-1978) on early Christian architecture and antiquities across Europe and the Middle East. The Lisbon College Archive is held at Ushaw College: it records the activities of an English Catholic theological training school in that city operating from 1624 to 1973 and contains important material on the subject of early modern Anglo-Iberian relations and networks, including trade and economic relations between England and Portugal, the impact of the enlightenment on continental Catholic culture, and correspondence on the secretive, high level, diplomatic negotiations surrounding the marriage of King Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. Ushaw College Library also holds an extensive collection of early modern Catholic devotional literature printed mostly on the continent many of which are rare, or even unique; a number of early printed books previously owned by now dispersed European monasteries; a significant collection of early travel literature, including rare editions of early printed works on Jesuit global missionary activity in the Far East and elsewhere.

The Grey papers include those of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), foreign secretary 1806-1807 and prime minister 1830-1834. They provide official and personal material on European debates in British politics, including several country subject files. The Grey Family Papers as a whole contain a wealth of correspondence, maps and printed pamphlets covering all aspects 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. Members of the Wylde family were active in Portugal and Spain in the 1830s and 1840s, and from 1850-1900 in the Foreign Office promoting trade and with a particular focus on the suppression of the slave trade throughout the world.

The papers of Tankred Tunstall-Behrens (1878-1939) document his work on various international border commissions around the world, including the Austro-Italian boundary commission 1920-1924.

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

Our collections are at one of three sites.

  • Palace Green Library: open Monday to Friday (appointments recommended - required during April and May, see below), 10am to 4:30pm
  • 5 The College: access is currently limited. Please submit an enquiry form for further details.
  • Ushaw College Library:  access is currently limited. Please submit an enquiry form for further details.

For further details, see our guide to Visiting us in person.  To make an appointment, please use our enquiry form.  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.

See information on Using Our Collections for further information on accessing our collections and on our facilities and services.

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.