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This page explains what the subject anthropology covers, gives an overview of the material the British Library holds for this subject, and advice on how you can find and use it. It also gives details of current activities for developing the collections for this subject.

Anthropology is the comparative, evolutionary and historical study of humankind and is both a theoretical and a field-based discipline. Anthropology looks at the biological as well as the cultural, social and material culture aspects of human beings. Anthropology encompasses the study of mankind from its origins to the present day.

Collection overview

The British Library anthropology collection is extensive and has particular strengths in English-language material published in the UK and North America. Most printed material is kept offsite and has to be ordered in advance of your visit but a selection of around 200 relevant reference and research books and reports published in the last three years, and key journals published in the last 12 months, are available on the shelves in the London Social Sciences Reading Room.

We also have an extensive journals collection for anthropology and related disciplines. Coverage of electronic abstracting and indexing resources is strong.

Special collections containing primary materials relating to anthropology include:

  • the Asia, Pacific and Africa collections include materials from the former India Office Library and Records Collections with particular strengths in primary materials from South and Central Asia
  • the Sound Archive with extensive collections in oral history and ethnomusicology
  • the Library’s Photographic Collections relating to anthropology, ethnography and material culture are particularly strong for South Asia and parts of Central Asia. Important collections are also held from other parts of the world (for instance, the Canadian Copyright Collection).
  • the Library’s American collections contain an extensive range of materials published in the United States relating to American history, including travel writing, accounts of the exploration of North America and contact with Native Americans.

In addition the Library has an extensive map collection, newspaper library and historic collections of national and international government documents worldwide.

Online access to anthropology holdings

Food Stories

The Library has a dedicated website that gives free access to food oral history recordings. Food Stories is an interactive learning resource which explores some of the changes that have taken place in food consumption and production within the last century. The site is organised around different themes such as 'food and cultural identity', 'food and regulation', 'technology and change' and ‘ritual and tradition’ and is an excellent resource for anthropology teachers and students.

Finding aids

Social Sciences Enquiry team

For more help on using the Social Sciences collections, contact the Enquiry team at or telephone +44 (0)20 7412 7894 from 10.00 - 20.00 Mon- Thurs or 10.00 - 17.00 Friday.

Current activities

British Library Content Strategy

We have refined our Content Strategy (i.e what we collect now and in future). Please see the content strategy pages on our website. These pages are organised by subject. Please remember that different aspects of a research theme may be described under more than one subject. A subject will also cover a variety of research themes, so even though your topic may not be specifically listed, it will likely be found under one of our headings.

If you have comments on the Library's content strategy, we would be pleased to hear from you.

In the Content Strategy you will see descriptions for individual subjects listed in the appendices. Anthropology is described at page 23 . Remember that different aspects of a research theme may be described by more than one subject template. If you have comments on the Library’s content strategy for anthropology, please email them to