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Archives and Special Collections: Durham University Records: University Archive

Our collections

Foundation - Documents concerning the foundation and legal status of Durham University, including charters, grants of arms, statutes and acts of parliament. Also included are documents concerning the celebrations of the university's various anniversaries or jubilees in 1937, 1982 and 2007.

Governance - Minutes and papers of the principal governing bodies of the university, its Senate and Council, and of the various committees reporting to them, and then also the boards administering the university's faculties, and the committees answerable to them.

Chief Officers - Papers of the head of the university (the chancellor) and its chief executive officer  (the vice-chancellor, and supporting pro-vice-chancellors etc), also the registrar, secretary, treasurer, and surveyor, with all the central filing, and the files of the increasing variety of central departments or professional services. 

Separate archives are held for all the colleges extant in Durham in 2020, though the more recent colleges, such as John Snow, Stephenson and Josephine Butler are not very extensive yet, and South has nothing. Material for the 19th century Cosin's Hall is within University College's archive, into which it was subsumed. There is also material for 'Howland's Farm' which was a projected college of the 1990s which did not happen. There is some material for the overseas affiliated colleges - Fourah Bay in Sierra Leone and Codrington in Barbados - but not much. A little material is also held for the pre-1963 Newcastle colleges of Armstrong and Medicine and then the amalgamated King's from 1937, but for the bulk of their archive collections, see Newcastle University Library Special Collections. There is information about students and contacts with other colleges which have been variously linked to Durham University, such as what is now Sunderland University, the teacher training colleges that were part of the Institute of Education, the associated theological colleges, and Neville's Cross and Ushaw Colleges, but their institutional archives are all elsewhere.

The archives for Durham's colleges generally comprise: 

- Documents about their foundation such as memoranda of association, also grants of arms, celebrations of their anniversaries, and annual reports

- Minutes and papers of their governing body/council and its subordinate committees, such as finance, tutorial, bar, housekeeping and the like

- Papers of the principal officers, especially the head of house, bursar and senior tutor, and also perhaps, as relevant, chaplain, curator, archivist, chef, librarian, porter

- Academic records of lectures and talks, and also possibly student files

- Records of the common rooms - SCR, MCR and especially JCR - and the various clubs and societies, such as sporting, musical, drama, outreach, special interest, and also college alumni associations and college trusts

- Photographs of college groups - freshers and/or the whole college - sports groups and societies, and also individuals, events and buildings

- College publications such as newsletters, prospectuses, handbooks, guidebooks, histories, maps and promotional leaflets

- Material from former members which might include photos, memoirs, lecture notes from their time at the college, or on occasion the material might have nothing to do with the college   

- Artefacts including clothing, trophies, academic dress, blazers, ties, college memorabilia

There is a series of files for the Science faculty and then some other records for the various other faculties of the university in Durham, along with some records of the university's departments in Durham, with the more extensive archives being generally for those departments which are no longer extant such as Palaeography and Diplomatic, Continuing Education, Oriental Studies, and the Observatory. Then there are also some records for the increasing numbers of institutes and especially centres in Durham.

Core records of departments are generally the minutes and papers of their Boards of Studies, alongside annual reports, which for a period in the 1960s and 1970s also feature in the published annual reports of the Vice-Chancellor and Warden. Alongside the Boards of Studies, there are on occasion minutes and papers of other departmental committees such as Teaching and Learning or Research. Then there may be some accounts, files of the head of department, for one or two departments as samples some student files, departmental publications such as prospectuses or newsletters or handbooks or academic output, and on occasion photographs, plans, printed ephemera for lectures or seminars, and sometimes papers of individual members.  There may also be samples of teaching material and student work, essays or dissertations though the latter below PhD level are not generally retained and PhDs are generally to be found in the collections at the Bill Bryson Library, now digitised.

This section comprises records of the various other bodies more or less associated with the university, covering both staff and student organisations. Foremost amongst these is the Durham Students Union, formerly the Students Representative Council, with the ancillary Athletic Union, Palatinate, DUCK (charities) and SCA  (community action). There are then also records of a number of staff organisations, including the local Association of University Teachers and some social (Women's Tea Club), leisure (Kemble Players) and sporting (Staff Cricket Club). There are rather more records of university-wide, and generally just Durham Colleges-wide before 1963, bodies comprising sports clubs, from angling to water-polo, and leisure interests/drama/music etc, from the African Society to the World Cinema Society, with the Durham Union Society being the longest running and also including the Durham University Society for alumni.

The archives of these bodies generally comprise minutes of their AGMs and executive meetings, accounts, any administrative files, printed ephemera such as programmes or reviews or journals or fixture lists, photographs of groups or activities, and occasionally artefacts such as clothing items or trophies.

Availability online (digital images)

These collections have not been digitised, so that 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 below.

  • Monday to Friday: 10am to 5pm
  • 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.

Where to start