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Archives and Special Collections: Research support

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Why use archives and special collections? 

Using archives and special collections in your research project or dissertation can be incredibly rewarding. You may be looking at a document that has not been touched for a long time or you may stumble upon something no one else has noticed before. Even well-known manuscripts, maps, documents or rare books may offer new insights depending on your research question.  

Research in the humanities is an ongoing conversation, in which archives and special collections can play a very important role.

Where to start? 

If you already have an idea about a topic for your dissertation or research, you may like to have a look at our Subject Guides and do a search in Discover to see if we have relevant material. Our page on understanding original documents and rare books may be useful to check if you need special skills to use your sources. We are also happy to give advice if you need further help. 

If you are uncertain about a topic or you are struggling to find relevant sources, talk to your supervisor and get in touch with us to see if we can give you a hand. The Library has also developed a short course on preparing for your dissertation research.

Please also take a look at the guides to our collections, which cover the themes for which we have particularly good sources.

How to access our collections? 

When you have your list of possible sources, you can access them in different ways: 

Funding applications 

If you are in the early stages of a grant application, we can offer:

  • Advice on how our collections can support you 

  • Information about where you may find related collections 

  • Partnerships where we provide facilities, equipment, or specialist knowledge 

Please contact us to arrange a meeting to discuss the options well in advance of the application deadline. 

Durham University offers short-term funded fellowships for external researchers through its research institutes and the Residential Research Library scheme. We can advise you how our collections can strengthen your application.

Public engagement 

To support your grant application or REF impact we can offer: 

If you are considering an exhibition or outreach activity based on archives and special collections, please get in touch with us in the first instance. 

Special events 

We may be able to facilitate a special event with our collections at Palace Green Library to support conferences and workshops. Contact pg.library@durham.ac.uk for a preliminary discussion.

Additional support

Additional research support is available in our department from: 

Museums, Galleries and Exhibition services

Library services