Modern Scientific Manuscripts

Nightingale's Rose Diagram, with explanatory text
Florence Nightingale, Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East', Add MS 45816, f1

The Western Manuscript collections document all aspects of the history of western science as well as much of the history of science and indigenous knowledge around the world

About the collection

The Royal Society is represented in papers collected by Thomas Birch and Sir Joseph Banks.

Natural history and anthropology are represented in the archives of, amongst others, Linnaeus, James Cook, Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace, and Charles Lubbock.

Mathematics is represented in the papers of Charles Babbage and Eva Germaine Rimington Taylor.

The collections are particularly strong for biology, chemistry, medicine, nursing and public health, as represented in collections for Florence Nightingale, Messenger Monsey, Almroth Wright, Alexander Fleming, and Marie Stopes.

Industrial technology features in the Prosser Papers, J Nasmyth's technical drawing of his own machine tool inventions in the Smiles Papers, and in the records of Power Jets Ltd. Further correspondence on aviation may be found in a number of collections, including the papers of Lord Northcliffe, Lord Sydenham and the files of the Society of Authors.

The Library also holds the main tranche of the archive of William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the positive / negative method of photography.

19th and 20th century scientists such as Wallace, Huxley, Galton and Lankester, as well as writers on technology and historians of science, are represented in the archives of the publishing firm Macmillan, and the Society of Authors.

What is available online?

The Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue contains catalogue entries for modern historical papers and manuscripts. Some manuscripts have been digitised in full on Digitised Manuscripts and selected images are available in the Online Gallery. Papers relating to botany and medicine in the India Office Records have been digitised and are available via Digitised Manuscripts.

The UK Medical Heritage Library provides access to over 66,000 digitised European medical publications from the 19th century.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Manuscripts and archives, including digital and microfilm surrogates, can be consulted in the Reading Rooms. The majority of archives and manuscripts relevant to British History, including personal, family and estate papers, are available to view in the Manuscripts Reading Room. India Office Records and Private Papers are consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

We also provide onsite access to a wide range of relevant subscription resources, including the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the British Newspaper Archive, UK Parliamentary Papers, Nineteenth-Century Collections Online, and Find My Past.

What is available in other organisations?

The Wellcome Library holds a world-renowned collection for the study of the history of medicine and related sciences, and provides access to a wealth of digitised archive and published material.

Public and military health is well documented at both policy and practical levels in the holdings of the National Archives.

The papers of prominent medical professionals can be found in the holdings of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons.

How to guides

How to order images

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

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

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

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

Guide to researching provenance of books now in the British Library

Where do the British Library’s old printed books ‘come from'? Who owned or read them in centuries past? Why does it matter?

How to handle archives

Watch our guide and help us keep our archive material in good condition

Find Persian manuscripts

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

Find Arabic manuscripts

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

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to use the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to handle folded items

Find out how you should hand items like large maps and book inserts.

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues