Special collections: scientific manuscripts and archives

History and scope

Our diverse collections for the history of science, technology and medicine encompass books and manuscripts from the medieval period to the present day. This overview focuses particularly on post-medieval manuscript and archival collections.

Early modern collections

For the early modern period, the Bodleian Library holds papers of many individuals of note in the fields of science and medicine. Holdings for the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries are particularly strong, and several came to the library as part of major antiquarian collections including MSS. Ashmole and MSS. Radcliffe Trust. Descriptions of these papers are found predominantly in the printed Quarto and Summary Catalogues (digitized copies).

The following categorized list provides an overview of the key individuals represented, including antiquaries whose papers are of relevance in this field.

Natural history

  • Jacob Bobart (1641–1719) botanist
  • Edward Lhuyd (1660–1709) naturalist and antiquary
  • Martin Lister (1638–1712) zoologist
  • Richard Richardson (1663–1741), botanist
  • William Sherard (1659–1728) botanist

Physical and mathematical sciences

  • Edward Bernard (1638–1696) astronomer and scholar
  • James Bradley (1692–1762) astronomer
  • John Dee (1527–1608) mathematician and astrologer
  • Sir Kenelm Digby (1603–1665) natural philosopher and courtier
  • Simon Forman (1552–1611) astrologer
  • Samuel Foster (d.1652) mathematician
  • Thomas Hornsby (1733–1810) astronomer
  • Thomas Lydiat (1572–1646) chronologer
  • Stephen Peter Rigaud (1774–1839) astronomer
  • Sir Henry Savile (1549–1622) mathematician
  • John Wallis (1616–1703) mathematician


  • John Bainbridge (1582–1643) physician and astronomer
  • William Musgrave (?1655–1721) physician and antiquary
  • Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689) physician


Nineteenth century collections

Papers of 19th-century scientists and physicians are also extensive. Where a specific link to a catalogue is not given here, descriptions of these papers are generally located in the Summary Catalogues (digitized copies).

Natural history

Physical and mathematical sciences


Twentieth century onwards

Contemporary scientists

The Bodleian Library holds the archives of a number of contemporary (20th and 21st century) scientists, most with a strong connection to Oxford University.

Many of the above collections were catalogued by the NCUACS (National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, now defunct) and the resulting online catalogues are available through the Discovery search provided by the National Archives.

The document references in these catalogues may look unfamiliar. They are those allocated by NCUACS. The Bodleian's hard copies of the catalogues are annotated with Bodleian shelfmarks.


Four major archives of organisations of relevance to the history of science, technology and medicine are held, together with those of some smaller bodies, usually having an Oxford connection.

British Association for the Advancement of Science

The British Association for the Advancement of Science was founded in 1831 to strengthen the relationship between science and the public interest. The archives of the association cover all aspects of its work over most of its existence, with the records of the annual meetings predominating. Over one third of the papers relate to these meetings, the bulk of them ephemeral printed material. For the 19th century formal papers, like minute-books and ledgers, supplement the papers of the annual meetings. From the early twentieth century there are further files of back-up papers and correspondence.

Society for the Protection of Science and Learning

The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning was founded in 1933 as the Academic Assistance Council, which aimed to provide short-term grants for refugee lecturers from Nazi Germany, and to help them in finding new employment. In 1936 the Council was re-established as the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. Thereafter the scope of its activities varied according to circumstance; it is now known as the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA). The papers include personal files on scholars assisted by the Society, which form the core of the archive. They are arranged alphabetically within subject discipline and include many scientists, a number of them being eminent scholars in their fields.

Marconi archives

The Marconi Collection of archives and historic equipment was donated to the University of Oxford in December 2004. The archives are under the care of the Bodleian Libraries, while the equipment is housed at the Museum of the History of Science nearby.

The extensive Marconi archives encompass records of a number of electrical companies covering the late nineteenth to early twenty-first centuries, including those of:

  • Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd., later the Marconi Company Ltd.
  • The Marconi International Marine Communication Company Ltd.
  • The Vulcan Foundry Ltd.
  • The English Electric Company Ltd.
  • British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company Ltd.
  • Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company Ltd.
  • British Thomson-Houston Ltd.
  • Associated Electrical Industries Ltd.
  • The General Electric Company Ltd., later Marconi plc/the Marconi Corporation plc.

All these were ultimately absorbed into the General Electric Company, which latterly changed its name to Marconi. Together they provide key documentary resources for the history of the electrical industry in the UK and elsewhere. A particular strength is the history of wireless telegraphy and its applications from its earliest days, and especially Guglielmo Marconi’s personal contribution.

The Marconi catalogue is complemented by MarconiCalling, a website exploring the story of Guglielmo Marconi and his work using the wealth of documents, photographs and equipment in the collection.

Oxfam GB archive

Founded in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, Oxfam has confronted health issues all over the globe from its earliest days. The accumulated archive reflects Oxfam’s international significance, and offers historians of medicine a wealth of resources, whether they are interested in examining the evolution of disease control in humanitarian emergencies or in studying specific health education programmes. The following catalogues are available:

Other scientific organisations

Archives of other scientific organisations include those of the British Biophysical Society, the Oxford Medical Society, the Oxford Enzyme Group, the Oxford Diabetes Trust, and various Oxford University Scientific and Medical Societies and departments, including the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology (historical papers, administrative papers, oral histories).

Financial support to explore some of our collections

Some of the above archives were catalogued with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust. They are therefore eligible for the Wellcome Trust Research Bursaries scheme, which provides support to individuals working on small and medium-scale research projects that focus on library or archive collections supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Archives eligible under the scheme:

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