Resources You Can Use from Home 3: Subject-Specific Resources

This blog post was compiled and researched by Antonia Love, Graduate Trainee Archives Assistant, and written by Ted Simonds, Graduate Trainee Library Assistant.

Our readers have interests as diverse as the collections we hold. Whilst we are home to both the library and archives of the University of Reading Special Collections, and the Museum of English Rural Life, we are just a part of the University of Reading’s Museum and Collections. There is a rich network of collections-based research among our friends at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, the department of typography, the Cole Museum of Zoology, the University Herbarium, and the East German Studies Archive.

This post collects some useful resources for researching subject specific areas. If you have any recommendations, please feel free to let us know!

Researching rural life and agricultural machinery

Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History is the leading online resource for researching the history of British industry and manufacturing. There are over 14,000 pages, with nearly 23,000 images on early companies, products, and the people who designed and built them. You can search by keywords, or browse their pages by archive, biography, industry, location or timeline.

The Road Locomotive Society website is a great place to begin researching the history of all types of self propelling steam engines. This about page gives an overview of the operations and sections of the society and how they can help, as well as point you in the direction of other places (notably, our collections at MERL!)

The Scottish Agricultural Implement Makers Blog celebrates the history of Scottish agricultural equipment, and usefully brings together a list of resources for further study into this area of study.

As well as being a way to join, the website of the Vintage Horticultural and Garden Machinery Club is a fantastic resource for researching your machine, through their listing of registers, as well as picking up hints and tips, and asking questions in their forums. is home to information about UK railway preservation. There is a useful index to the mainline steam tours, with annual records going back to 1996. The website brings together detailed information on the West Somerset Railway, as well as other historical steam lines. There are also links from this website to other UK Railway Heritage websites on this page of their website.

Researching World War 2, evacuees or the Women’s Land Army

The War Child Archive is the result of a 2016 project by Teresa Murjas and James Rattee of the Department of Film, Theater and Television at the University of Reading. It is both an important resource for researchers as well as a gateway to the physical holdings of the Evacuee Collection at the MERL. The interactive website is arranged into chapters that unpack different aspects of the collection, and interactively weave together visual, textual, and audio commentary in a compelling narrative.

The website of the Women’s Land Army and Timber Corps started as a way for Cherish Watton to pull together information and holdings from different libraries, archives, museums and historians focussed on British Land Girls in WW1 and WW2. It clearly synthesises the different aspects of the operations of the Women’s Land Army, and offers digital access to sources, as well letting you know where you can access physical holdings.

The holdings at the National Archive at Kew regarding Women’s Land Army are not available online, but this useful guide gives an overview of their holdings, as well as pointing you in the direction of other libraries and archives who also have records and holdings relevant to research into the WLA.

Researching British Printing and Publishing

A database jointly run between the Harry Ransome Center and the University of Reading; the WATCH File is a way to track down who holds copyright for writers, artists, and prominent figures in creative fields. This is useful when your research takes you to papers that are still in copyright, and/or you need permission to access or quote. In these cases the consent of the copyright holder is needed. The WATCH website has a useful guide to locating U.K. copyright holders here.

A similarly jointly run database, FOB: Firms Out of Business is a database with information on vanished publishing concerns, literary agencies, and similar firms. Two categories of firms exist on FOB; firstly, firms that vanished long ago, and to whom no publishing rights could exist, secondly, firms that vanished more recently where interests in rights could still belong to the firm or its successors. Read more about FOB here.

The British Book Trade Index provides biographical information and trade details of people who worked in the English and Welsh book trades up to 1851. From papermakers, typefounders, printers and publishers, it is an invaluable source for research into the sociological ecosystem of early printed books in England and Wales. The Scottish Book Trade Index is a similar database covering Scotland, and is available through the National Library of Scotland and the Consortium of European Research Libraries.

Researching Samuel Beckett

Beckett Location Register is a database resulting from The Letters of Samuel Beckett project at Emory College. The Location Register makes searchable all the letters held in public archives by recipient, physical description, and a range of other metadata. Only 20% of the 16,000 letters consulted for this database are in the published Letters of Samuel Beckett, and whilst the database does not provide digital access, it helps you to locate the letters in the archives where they are kept.

Beckett International Foundation was established in 1988 to further the study and appreciation of the work of Samuel Beckett. The website holds useful information about publishing and performance rights, as well as offering guidance about accessing the catalogue of Beckett material held at the University of Reading Special Collections.

Researching Nancy Astor

The University of Reading Special Collections hold the archives relating to Nancy Astor (MS1416), the house she lived in at Cliveden (MS 2421), and the Waldorf Astor collection (MS1066). Whilst the collections themselves are not available online, their catalogues and hand lists are available through the above links.

The Astor 100 website is the result of a project to celebrate 100 years of women in Parliament, and brings together the research that sought to look again at the divisive historical figure of Nancy Astor.

The twitter account of the project is also a useful way to look at the activities of the project, and the research activities and outcomes it generated.

The National Trust Website has a page for Cliveden House which metions some of the history surrounding it, both before and after Astor’s residence there.

Researching with maps, and local history

The National Library of Scotland’s Map collections is a go-to resource for researching with maps. You can find historical maps by place by searching their amazingly rendered map images (alongside a host of innovative tools), or searching historic maps by mapmaker, surveyors, engravers, or publishers. There is a handy video guide to using their map collections online here.

Digimaps is an online map and data delivery service operated by EDINA at the University of Edinburgh. To access you will need access through an university or other subscribing institution. They pull together geospatial data from the Odnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, Landmark Historic maps, OceanWise marine mapping, as well as aerial, lidar, and other map data.

The Philip Collier Photographic Collection has an A-Z page on the MERL website and is searchable through Enterprise. The collection consists of approximately 6,000 glass negatives showing Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire from 1905 to the late 1960s. All the negatives within the collection have been digitised and attached to the catalogue as part of the Reading Connections Project funded by Arts Council England (ACE), April 2013-April 2014.

The Dann-Lewis Photographic Collection also has an A-Z page on the MERL website and is searchable through Enterprise. Consisting of the images taken by Mrs Dann (Reading’s first female photographer) who opened her shop in 1856, the collection consists of about 2000 glass plates together with a few original prints made between the 1880s and 1930s. All the negatives and prints within the collection have been digitised and attached to the catalogue as part of the Reading Connections Project funded by Arts Council England (ACE), April 2013-April 2014.

Researching classics and archaeology?

This list was suggested by Amara Thornton of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology.

Curiosi is a blog and research cluster contributing to the Heritage and Creativity Research Theme at the University of Reading. The resource explores the collections, use and re-use of antiquity over time through the lives of the people involved in those activities. The site features pages for various projects addressing the theme, and showcases the research undertaken by archaeology and classics faculty at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and the University at large.

The Classical Collections Network is a blog that works towards establishing a new subject specialist network for collections from the ancient Mediterranean. A key part of this is the collections mapping project, that puts university, and non-university museum collections on the map.

The Egypt Exploration Society was founded in 1882 and has a searchable library catalogue. Their digital collections are free and easy to access through their Flickr and are being added to all the time. They are also doing free online lectures.

The Griffith Institute (University of Oxford) has a very useful digital catalogue that brings together collection level descriptions for their entire holdings. They also have a number of collections fully listed. Their digital object collection makes 2940 items accessible online. They have very recently finished transcribing and uploading all of the Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie’s journals, which are accessible here.

The “Artefacts of Excavation” project database, a part of the Griffith Institute makes more than 4,000 archival documents from the Egypt Exploration Society, Lucy Gura Archive, and the archive of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology available to search online. These record the distribution of Egyptian artefacts to more than 320 unique destinations around the world, in 26 countries.

It’s also worth noting that the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology has over 3,600 objects catalogued on Enterprise, and has their own website with learning and research resources, as well as guides for using and exploring their collections.

Researching Typography

This list of resources was suggested by Emma Minns of the Department of Typography.

The AHRC funded ‘Isotype Revisited’ project (2007-2011) was based around the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection at the University of Reading. This project resulted in a number of exhibitions, and a major publication. This website provides a good overview of the project, a list of outputs and also examples of materials from the Collection itself. The ‘texts’ section of the above website is a useful starting place for anyone beginning research into isotype design.

Following on from that AHRC project, last year the Isotype collection was the basis for an AHRC impact and engagement follow on award. There was a well received exhibition at the House of Illustration of items from the collection. An online version of this exhibition is about to be launched.

Researching Botanical Collections

The University of Reading Herbarium (RNG) holds 400,000 specimens in their collection, of which around 80,000 are searchable online through Enterprise. New specimens are being added so keep checking back periodically for updates.

The Kew Gardens Herbarium catalogue houses approximately 7 million specimens from around the world. The online database aims to make images of specimens, and information taken from their collection labels searchable through a simple (or advanced) search.

The Missouri Botanical Garden has a really good website with lots of resources and links to databases for botanical study. They also have a really handy plant finder tool that lets you enter in information in a range of fields, or just one, to find out more about particular plants.

Search Herbarium Specimens in the UK through HerbariumUnited. This website searches for specimens across many different herbarium collections in the UK and abroad. There are on-line gazetteers, a handwriting query page, systematic look-up lists (e.g. Kent’s List of Vascular Plants of the British Isles) and a collaborative database which ultimately aims to combine the data from all UK and Irish herbaria.

Explore the digitised botanical collections of the Natural History Museum. The botanical collections of the Natural History Museum hold an estimated 6 million specimens of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), ferns, seed plants and slime molds from all over the world.

Some historical (bound) herbariums are available in the online collections of libraries rather than in the databases mentioned above. For example, the digitised nature prints of Charles Darwin (1758-1778), MS Add.10141. held by Cambridge University Library is available to view through their Digital Library, or the herbarium of the poet Emily Dickinson, held at Harvard University’s Houghton Library (MS AM 1118.11) is similarly available to view in its entirety online.

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