Black Britain: archives and manuscripts

E.R. Braithwaite’s annotated typescript of To Sir, With Love (shelfmark: Add MS 88987) © Estate of E.R. Braithwaite

A collection guide to introduce significant resources relating to Black Britain amongst our archival and manuscript collections.

About the collection

We have significant literary archives and manuscript relating to diasporic literature in the UK in the 20th and 21st centuries. Collections include the Wasafiri Magazine Archive, the James Berry Archive and the Andrew Salkey Archive. Aside from these major archives we hold material relating to Caribbean writers and Black British experience in a variety of other collections. Highlights include:

  • E R Braithwaite’s revised typescript for To Sir With Love
  • Shiva Naipaul Archive
  • Jean Rhys’s papers - including manuscripts of her novels After Leaving Mr MackenzieVoyage in the Dark and Wide Sargasso Sea, and an unpublished play entitled 'English Harbour‘
  • Benjamin Zephaniah’s poetry manuscript, ‘What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us’

Our collections also include autograph letters of Ignatius Sancho and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (men who were enslaved and achieved their freedom). There are also copious records relating to the history of Britain’s engagement with the world including Africa, Asia and the Americas. These include, for example, papers relating to Edward Long’s The History of Jamaica.

We also hold manuscripts from Africa.

Web Archive

The Open UK Web Archive makes available collections covering 2006 to the penultimate year. Individual websites such as Black History Month and BlackWomen.co.uk are harvested regularly. There is an online 2007 collection relating to ‘Slavery and Abolition in the Caribbean’.

Websites preserved under legal deposit legislation, which can only be viewed in the Reading Rooms, include the websites of the Black Cultural Archives and the Voice newspaper.

What is available online?

See the Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue to research these collections.

You can find a selection of digitised material from the collections on Discovering Literature:

A letter of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, probably written in 1731, features in in our West Africa online exhibition.

'Racism, misogyny and “motiveless malignity” in Othello' explores the context of Shakespeare’s play through our manuscripts collection.

See also this article on Black British Theatre 1950-1979.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Use the Manuscripts Reading Room or Asian and African Studies Reading Room to view original manuscripts.

The Legal Deposit UK Web Archive is available in all our Reading Rooms.

What is available in other organisations?

Important collections include:

The National Archives' online resources include:

Other websites with relevant historical themes include:

How to guides

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services