Group shot of Manchester University History students and Professor T.F. Tout, 1917

University Archives and Academics’ Papers

The University Archives are the historical records of The University of Manchester and its predecessor organizations.

Group of male and female students sat near a fire place listening to their tutor
University of Manchester tutorial, 1944, UPC/1/38

These include Owens College (1851-1904), the federal Victoria University (1880-1903), the Victoria University of Manchester (1903-2004), the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution (1824-1892), the Manchester Municipal School/College of Technology (1892-1956) and the Manchester College of Science and Technology/University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (1956-2004). They date from 1824 to the present day and are one of the largest archive collections of a UK university.

The University Archives comprise over 150 sub-collections of governing bodies, administrative departments, academic faculties, schools, departments and research institutes, halls of residence, cultural institutions and libraries.  

The University of Manchester’s archives are of particular significance for the development of civic or ‘redbrick’ universities in the UK, and provide excellent coverage for studies of this type of institution. The archives of UMIST have particular value for the development of technological education in the UK university sector, and how this is linked to wider connections between higher education and business and industry.

The University Archives have considerable potential for a range of research topics including: the development of academic disciplines, the history of the student body including recruitment, student activism and campus life, and relations between the University and the local community.

Government and administration

The Owens College and the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution archives primarily consist of  records of their governing bodies and main committees. They provide invaluable information about the contrasting types of higher education institutions in Victorian Manchester. The Victoria University, a federal University established in 1880 with Manchester (Owens), Leeds and Liverpool as members, includes records of its Council and Academic Board, and provides an interesting case study in inter-university academic co-operation.

Records for the Victoria University of Manchester, which succeeded Owens College, include full coverage of its Court, Council and Senate, as well as many of its major committees. In addition, there is a very extensive archive for the Vice-Chancellor’s office as well as smaller collections for the Registrar and Bursar (finance); these provide extensive and detailed information about key University activities and events, and cover most of the 20th century.

 Complementary collections exist for UMIST. Before 1956, the Manchester Municipal College of Technology was overseen by Manchester city council, through its Education Committee, and the most senior governance records are part of the archives of Manchester City Council (held by Manchester Archives and Local Studies). From 1956, the Manchester College of Science and Technology (later renamed UMIST) had, as an independent chartered body, its own system of government of Court, Council and Academic Board, while retaining close constitutional links with the University of Manchester until the mid-1990s. The archives of the Principal and Registrar’s offices provide additional extensive coverage of high level policy-making from the 1910s to 2004.

Academic departments

The archives of academic departments are important for the historical development of curricula, disciplines and research activity. The records of Faculty Boards and their subcommittees provide useful information about teaching activities and student administration, but say relatively little about research work.

Records for individual academic departments vary considerably in coverage: for some departments, there is a barely any archival record, whilst for others there are extensive collections. In the latter category are the departments of chemistry, physics, biological sciences, computer science, education and the Manchester Business School.   However, as academic departments did not develop committee structures until the 1970s and 1980s, there is relatively little information about their administration until the last decades of the 20th century.

Departmental archives include Victorian teaching laboratory record books (chemistry and physics), whilst Architecture has copies of student project drawings from the mid-20th century, which provide an interesting visual record of current architectural ideas and applications. The Faculty of Education includes the records of the Fielden Demonstration School, which the University ran in the early 20th century and was used to train student teachers and test new pedagogical ideas.

Some collections which are not part of the University Archives provide additional information about important University research programmes, notably the Jodrell Bank Observatory Archive, and the University’s Department of Computer Science archives, which fall within the History of Computing Collection.

Cultural institutions and libraries

The archives of the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery provide extensive information about the University’s art and museum collections and collecting, and its engagement with different public and academic audiences.  

There are three separate University Library archives: for the Main Library (VUM), dating from 1851 to the present day, a small collection for the former UMIST (Joule) Library, and a very comprehensive archive for the John Rylands Library (which from 1972 formed the Special Collections section of the University Library).


Halls of residence

The archives of University halls provide particularly interesting and sometimes colourful information about how many students lived and socialised on a daily basis. Until the 1950, most halls were private institutions, often with religious affiliations, and they remained segregated by gender until the 1980s.

We have archives for all the University’s ‘traditional’ halls: Ashburne Hall, Dalton Hall, Ellis Llwyd Jones Hall, Hulme Hall, Langdale Hall, St Anselm Hall and St Gabriel’s Hall. Collectively they provide invaluable evidence of changing attitudes both of the student population and of the University authorities to its student members. In the 1960s, the University developed the Owens Park campus as a new type of ‘Student Village’ and there are various records which show how this alternative vision of student living was put into practice.

Photographic and plans collections

The Archives includes a very extensive photographic archive both for VUM and UMIST. Photographs date back to the late 19th century and include a wide range of subject matter including staff, buildings and important events. The collection is not catalogued, but some photographs can be seen in the University history and heritage section of our Digital Library.

The Plans collection, which is also uncatalogued, includes plans and elevations of most University buildings. The Collection is strongest for the 20th century and there are relatively few pre-1900 plans.

Publications collections

Official publications of the University include calendars, staff manuals and the reports of Court to Council. The annual calendars (1862-2004) provide information about University regulations, organization, staff lists and for the pre-1939 era, lists of students. The Reports of Council (1880-2006) are a particularly important source of information on the work of individual departments. There are separate collections of prospectuses and examination papers. Complementary collections exist of UMIST official publications and prospectuses.

In addition, there collections of newsletters and magazines for both VUM and UMIST; these include both university and student publications such as This Week, Next Week, UMIST Times, News Bulletin, Manchester Independent, Mancunion, Solem, and Grip. There are also many other publications produced by academic departments and students’ groups.

Associated collections

There are several collections associated with the University, including the archives of the University and UMIST student unions. The former archive dates from the 1860s and includes a wealth of information about students’ social, cultural and political activities; it includes records for both the Men’s and Women’s Unions until they merged in the late 1960s.

This theme can also be explored in the collections for student groups and societies including the women’s debating society, the medical students debating society and groups as diverse as the hiking, music and radio clubs. Unfortunately, current coverage of student political groups is poor and there is relatively little for the social and cultural organisations of international students, who have been an important part of the University’s student population since the early 20th century.

Student sporting activities are well covered in the archives of the VUM and UMIST athletic unions, which include records of many member sports clubs.

The Student Ephemera Collection is an unusual collection of leaflets, posters and notices issued for student events and meetings. This is particularly important as the collection is strongest for the late 1960s and early 1970s, a high point of student political activism at Manchester.   

There are also records for organizations in which the University was involved for both educational and cultural reasons. These include the short-lived Manchester Working Men’s College (1858-61), and the Manchester and Salford College for Women (1877-83), which educated women students before they were formally admitted to Owens College in the early 1880s.

The Manchester Settlement archive provides valuable information about the University’s connections with social work and activism. Founded in 1894, the Settlement enabled Manchester students to undertake social service work in poorer local communities, such as Ancoats and east Manchester. The Settlement has been active in providing advice, aid and cultural activities for over one hundred years and it retains its links with the University.

The Manchester Joint Research Council archive provides useful information about university–industry relations in the post-1945 period. The Council was a joint initiative of the University and Manchester Chamber of Commerce to encourage greater support for the university sector by large-scale business.

Academics’ papers

There are over one hundred archive collections of academics who have been associated with the University of Manchester. These vary considerably in scope. Some of these collections provide information about teaching, research and university life in general, which supplement the University Archives. Others may provide little information about their employment at the University, but have great significance for their non-University activities and subject specialisms.

Important collections which fall into the first category include papers of the historian T. F. Tout as well as smaller collections for his colleagues James Tait and George Unwin, and the philosopher Samuel Alexander, an influential figure for decades at the University. Also significance are the papers of the anatomist G. A. G. Mitchell, Samuel Finer (political science), John Graham (mathematics), Max Gluckman (anthropology), Claude Wardlaw (botany), William Stanley Jevons and Ely Devons (economics), Tobias Theodores (European languages), Henry Roscoe and Edward Frankland (chemistry), Humphrey Procter-Gregg (music) , A. S. Peake (theology), Eve Reymond (Egyptology), Alan Turing (computer science) and the lawyer and Vice-Chancellor William Mansfield Cooper.

Other subject guides may provide information about other academics’ papers based on their subject specialism.

List of collections (Institutional archives)

University Archives

Departmental Archives

Associated Collections