The Bodleian's Commonwealth and African manuscripts and archives comprise the papers of individuals and organisations relating to the history of former British colonies and of Africa. Some of the large collections also contain material on territories outside these areas. They date mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries but include material from the 17th century onwards. There are around 4,000 collections, ranging in size from a single volume to over 1,000 boxes and include correspondence, diaries, papers, photographs, lantern slides, posters, artwork, audio-visual and digital material.
Many of the collections were gathered by the Oxford Colonial Records Project, established in 1963 to locate and preserve the papers of former colonial administrators. This project was followed in 1977 by the Oxford Development Records Project which focussed on the papers of officials and non-officials involved in development work in the former British dependencies in Africa, in particular in the areas of agriculture, education and medical work.
Major collections of personal papers include those of the imperialist and politician Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), the soldier and colonial administrator Frederick Lugard (1858-1945), the statesman Arthur Creech Jones (1891-1965), the historian Margery Perham (1895-1982), the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Sir Roy Welensky (1907-1991) and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston (1913-1998) who was President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The papers of the Brooke family of Sarawak cover the whole period of Brooke rule in Sarawak (1841-1946) and Trevor Hearl's collection relating to St Helena is a major source for the political, economic and social history of the Atlantic Ocean island.
Among the archives of organisations are those of the Anti-Slavery Society, dating from the 1820s to the late 20th century, the Overseas Nursing Association, the Africa Bureau, the Fabian Colonial Bureau and the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). Some of the papers in the AAM archive are available on the website 'Forward to Freedom'. The single largest collection is that of the Anglican missionary organisation, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which was founded in 1701 and still exists. It was involved in educational and medical work in many parts of the world and the archive is a rich resouce for many areas of research.
Until September 2014 these collections were held at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth & African Studies at Rhodes House (Rhodes House Library).