Nature and Scope

Welcome to Empire Online, a powerful and interactive collection of primary source documents, sourced from leading archives around the world.

This project has been developed to encourage undergraduates, postgraduates, academics and researchers to explore colonial history, politics, culture and society. Material in the collection spans five centuries, charting the story of the rise and fall of empires; from the explorations of Columbus, Captain Cook, and others, right through to de-colonisation in the second half of the twentieth century and debates over American Imperialism.

Material in Empire Online has been sourced from a wide range of reputable institutions, with a particularly strong core of documents and images from the British Library. Visit the Participating Libraries page to see a complete list of institutions that have provided material.

There is a good balance between highly indexed manuscript and full text printed material, with a broad range of document types; written by women and men from the European and non-European perspective. The Image Gallery also showcases stunning colour photographs and illustrations from the collection.  

The main document types in the resource are:

Exploration journals and logs

Letter books and correspondence


Official Government Papers

Missionary Papers

Travel Writing

Slave Papers



Children’s Adventure Stories

Traditional; folk tales

Exhibition catalogues and guides


Marketing posters

By its very nature, Empire Studies is a global subject. In our selection of material we have endeavoured to cover all continents and did not feel it appropriate to focus on the British Empire in isolation. Thus, there are a number of documents and secondary resources which relate the story of the Empire from the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German points of view, as well as that of indigenous peoples from Africa, India and North America.

We want to provide users with a wide choice of document types and perspectives, within a structure of five thematic sections selected from around the key topics of Empire courses:

Section I:    Cultural Contacts, 1492-1969

Section II:   Empire Writing & the Literature of Empire

Section III:  The Visible Empire

Section IV: Religion & Empire

Section V:  Race, Class, Colonialism, Imperialism

Our 20 academic consultant editors have provided invaluable support in the selection of images and development of the resource.

Each section features thematic Essays by these leading scholars in the field. The essays relate directly to the source material covered by the resource, with 30-50 links per essay to documentary evidence. The project offers good quality, meaningful content that academics can readily integrate into their courses, project in the classroom, or use in course packs.

The thematic essays and Historiography introduce students to the material, suggest possible approaches and place documents within a broad historical, literary and cultural context.

To enhance learning, Empire Online features a range of exciting secondary learning tools. A variety of Interactive Maps visually chart the routes of key explorers, and colonial occupation by region and time period, as well as representing important trade routes.

The Chronology situates and contextualises source material available in both Empire Online and Global Commodities, another World History Project from Adam Matthew Digital, which is compatible with Empire Online in some of the themes it explores. Within the chronology users can refine entries by Empire, Country, Commodity and Thematic Category.

Users with access to both Global Commodities and Empire Online can enhance their search experience by searching across both resources, via the Widen Your Search feature.

Other supporting learning tools include a detailed biographies section where students can learn more about the individuals within the resource who have helped shaped the course of Empire.

Our Editor’s Choice page offers an insight into documents from the collection, whilst ‘Take a Tour’ is a good place to start, to ensure you are fully informed about everything the resource has to offer. In-depth instructions for how to use the site can be found in the Help section.

We hope you enjoy Empire Online and find it a valuable research tool and teaching aid.