Welcome to Empire Online, a resource comprised of primary source documents sourced from leading archives.

This resource has been developed to encourage undergraduates, postgraduates, academics and researchers to explore colonial history, politics, culture and society. Material in the resource spans five centuries, charting the story of the rise and fall of empires; from the voyages of Columbus, Captain Cook, and others, through to decolonisation 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 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.

By its very nature, Empire Studies is a global subject. AM 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.

Much of the source material included in this resource was produced by, and therefore reflects the perspective of white authors. However, content authored by individuals from colonised populations, both male and female, is included in this resource. Every effort has been made to make these narratives as discoverable as possible through the addition of Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) to all manuscript material. Please see our Searching Guide for more information on how to discover these.

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


Due to the antiquated, colonial and imperialist origin of much of the material in this resource, the language that is used to refer to enslaved people, free people of colour and Indigenous Peoples within this material is often derogatory or offensive by modern standards.

Some of the archival catalogue information presented in this resource was written and compiled many years ago and may contain antiquated language and terminology, while the majority of the essays in this resource were written between 2003 and 2006, and are representative of the scholarship of the day. All essays are clearly marked with the date they were written and published.

For more information on language and terminology within this resource, please see our Language Statement.

Some of the material within this resource features textual and visual depictions of racism, discrimination, oppression and violence, including assault, torture and murder which users may find distressing.


Users are provided with a wide choice of document types and perspectives, within a structure of five themes:


For more information and guidance on browsing and searching within Empire Online, including finding hidden narratives, please view the Searching Guide.


Thematic Essays by leading scholars. The essays relate directly to the source material covered by the resource, with 30-50 links per essay to documentary evidence, suggesting possible approaches to students and place documents within a broad historical, literary and cultural context.

Fully searchable handwritten documents through the implementation of Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technology across the resource.

To enhance learning, Empire Online features a range of exciting secondary learning tools. A selection of 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 AM. Users can refine entries by Empire, Country, Commodity and Thematic Category.

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

The Image Gallery showcases a range of maps, photographs, illustrations and other significant visual sources from the collection.

The Editor's Choice page offers an insight into documents from the collection.

In-depth instructions for how to use the site can be found in AM's Help pages.