Explore the library
Our archive collections include original unpublished primary sources, including correspondence, minutes, diaries, reports, photographs, slides, maps, plans, posters, leaflets, drawings, engravings, film footage, and sound recordings created or collected together by:
- Missionaries and missionary organisations
- NGOs, charities and campaigning organisations
- Businesses and commercial bodies
- Individuals whose lives and works relate to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (for example administrators, activists, diplomats, anthropologists, historians, linguists, lawyers, medical practitioners, and journalists)
The global nature of colonial, missionary, and NGO activity invariably means our collections also reflect a wider geographical coverage than Africa, Asia and the Middle East, extending to Europe, the Americas and Caribbean, and Australasia and Oceania.
Our collections represent unique research potential for advancing knowledge and understanding of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Our archival sources document the British interaction with these regions, tracing the transition from the colonial world to the globalised present. They also contain some of the earliest surviving written and visual accounts of languages, cultures and narratives from across the world.
We also hold an internationally important resource of several thousand unpublished manuscripts in over 100 different languages, with significant holdings in Arabic, Persian, Swahili, South, South-East & East Asian languages.
We provide access to SOAS Library’s collection of rare books and periodicals relating to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, dating back to the 15th century
Research, teaching and learning
Every year around 3,000 people visit Special Collections at SOAS Library to undertake primary research using our unique collections in a wide-range of academic disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, development studies, economic history, gender studies, geography, politics, mission studies, migration and diaspora studies, cultural, literary and postcolonial studies, languages and linguistics.
Our collections have been used by course-leaders to support and enhance group teaching and learning through hands-on and source-led sessions. A diverse range of private researchers also consult our collections, which act as a wider educational and cultural resource, supporting lifelong learning and helping individuals explore topics including family histories and community memory.