Using Special Collections in teaching and learning

The Library’s world renowned Special Collections span five millennia and cover topics from Gilgamesh to Ginsberg.

Research students in study session

The collections are a unique resource of rare books, manuscripts, maps, archives, art works and objects which lend themselves to research and learning across the spectrum of subjects.

Special Collections are a powerful tool for enhancing the learning experience.  They offer glimpses into past worlds, ideas and beliefs which raise interesting questions around contemporary concepts and values.

The Special Collections team combine curatorial expertise with innovative digital technologies and services to provide support for distance, blended and online learning. We are here to support staff, students and researchers.

Special Collections are a powerful tool for enhancing the Manchester Student Experience

Students who engage with our unique collections enhance their learning in several ways:

  • Primary sources take you closer to the people, events and themes you are studying.
  • They will enhance your research and critical analysis skills.
  • You can make genuine discoveries and interpret sources that have never been used before.
  • And don’t forget the all-important ‘tingle factor’ - the thrill that comes from handling and reading old books and documents, personal diaries, intimate letters and first-hand accounts of historic events.
  • Our specialist staff can offer tailored advice showing you how to make the most of the Library’s unique collections.

By incorporating primary sources into your assessed work you will demonstrate that you have taken the next step in your academic journey – behaving as an independent researcher and thinker.

Support for tutors using Special Collections in the classroom

Special Collections offer a rich and often unique resource which will give your teaching the edge.

  • Curators can work with you to create and deliver collections-based seminars enabling you to teach your students directly from the collections and embed these sessions in your courses.
  • Teaching sessions can be held at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre (located in Manchester’s Central Library) and at the Main Library or (if suitable) online.
  • We offer bespoke dissertation sessions for third-year and postgraduate students on finding and using primary sources.
  • We can digitise objects from the collections to support your teaching.
  • Our specialist staff can offer tailored advice showing you how to make the most of the Library’s unique collections.

Find out more

Whether you are staff or a student, you can find more information on Teaching and Learning with Special Collections at The University of Manchester on our Medium platform.  Our themed teaching resources offer a curated collection of primary source materials aimed at those designing and delivering teaching and learning or students looking for a dissertation topic.

You can also email for further details:

To find out how the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre can support your teaching or learning, visit the Study support page on the Centre’s website, or email