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India Office Private Papers: Collection Development Policy

The following policy operates under the Library's general policy statements on collection development.


The India Office Private Papers are probably the world's largest collection of private papers in English relating to India and South Asia. They comprise about three hundred collections of British statesmen, soldiers, administrators, scholars, missionaries, businessmen and others, and some three thousand five hundred smaller deposits containing documents of historical importance or curiosity. Though often including papers similar to or complementing the much more extensive India Office Records (comprising the official archives of the East India Company, the Board of Control, the India Office, the Burma Office, and copies of the proceedings of the Government of India), the Private Papers can be distinguished from these records by having accumulated outside official channels. Most of the collections are personal creations; a few are the archives of institutions.


Chronologically, the strength of the collection lies in the period from about 1750 to 1948. Geographically, the coverage concentrates on the Indian sub-continent but extends to the many other countries where the East India Company and the Government of India had contacts; these range from Egypt to Japan and from Tibet to Sri Lanka. Thematically, the collection is strongest in three areas: the military, political and administrative history of the Indian sub-continent and neighbouring territories; the exploration by the British of the lands and cultures of South Asia; the social lives and careers of the administrators and their families.

Collection development

Collection development will focus on manuscripts and archives which deepen or supplement the existing holdings, where those holdings have a clear research value. The Library will also seek to acquire material which fills important gaps in existing documentation in the official records or in the private papers. Two areas in particular are under-represented in the private papers: material on minor individuals living or working in South Asia under British rule (people such as local government officials, private soldiers, missionaries and tea planters) and Anglo-Indians and Europeans domiciled in India; material relating to the operations in London of the East India Company, the Board of Control, the India Office and the Burma Office.

All decisions on collection development will take into account the collecting policies of regional, national and international institutions.

It is expected that acquisitions will be by purchase, legacy or donation. Only in exceptional circumstances will material be accepted on loan. Material offered as a donation will be assessed according to the same criteria as other potential acquisitions.

Material in poor condition will be acquired only if it is of outstanding research value.

All acquisitions must come from a bona fide source and must have a demonstrable provenance. The vendor or donor must have the legal authority to transfer the material to the Library. The Library's officers will make the enquiries necessary to satisfy the conditions outlined in the DCMS guidelines Combating Illicit Trade.