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Foreign Copying Program: United Kingdom of Great Britain

This guide is a resource designed to help researchers navigate the extensive Manuscript holdings of material copied from archives in Great Britain related to early American History.


Detroit Publishing Company. British Museum, London, England. Between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. LOT 13415, no. 576. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

In 1898 the Library of Congress purchased a copy of the multi-volume B.F. Stevens' Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America, 1773-1783, a collection of reproductions of manuscripts in British archives and other repositories relating to American history. Additional Stevens reproductions continued to be purchased, and in 1905 the Library of Congress began a consistent and continuous program of procuring reproductions from British repositories, obtaining transcripts from the British Museum in London, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and the Public Record Office.

Between 1908 and 1926, the Carnegie Institution sponsored four publications that served as primary selection guides for Foreign Copying Program materials. The first was Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the History of the United States to 1783, in the British Museum, in Minor London Archives, and in the Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge by Charles McLean Andrews and Frances Davenport (1908); next came Andrews’ two-volume Guide to the Materials for American History, to 1783, in the Public Record Office of Great Britain (1912-1914). These were followed by Charles O. Paullin's and Frederic L. Paxson’s Guide to the Materials in London Archives for the History of the United States Since 1783 (1914). The fourth was Guide to British West Indian Archive Materials, in London and in the Islands, for the History of the United States by Herbert C. Bell, et al. (1926). Taken together, the four guides provided a crucial outline for acquisitions of copied material for the next several decades.

In 1925 James B. Wilbur established a fund for the procurement by the Library of Congress of reproductions of documents relating to American History in overseas repositories. Two years later, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. provided a substantial five-year grant for the same purpose. The infusion of donations allowed the Manuscript Division to assess its holdings and embark on a more ambitious and comprehensive acquisitions program that came to be known as “Project A.”

The original acquisitions in the earlier part of the program consisted of transcriptions, which were gradually superseded by microfilm and negative photostatic prints in the 1920s. In 1940, acquisitions were suspended due to wartime conditions.

Due to continuing disruptions, the first half of the 1940s was devoted to calendaring and describing previously acquired materials, culminating in 1946 with the publication of Grace Gardner Griffin’s A Guide to Manuscripts Relating to American History in British Depositories Reproduced for the Division of Manuscripts of the Library of Congress. Prior to the publication of this research guide, Griffin’s Guide has been the primary and most descriptive guide to materials from the United Kingdom acquired under the Foreign Copying Program.

After the war acquisitions continued, chiefly through exchange and the procurement of commercially available microfilm. The Library of Congress continues to acquire access to archival materials in United Kingdom repositories, chiefly via the purchase of access to relevant subscription databases.

To help users navigate the collection, this guide updates various existing descriptions of reproductions of archival materials from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and incorporates new and expanded descriptions where useful, while also integrating digital resources.

The Foreign Copying Program collections identified in this guide can be accessed in the Manuscript Reading Room, unless otherwise indicated.  This material is stored onsite and does not require advanced notice for retrieval.