Special Collections & Archive


There are five distinct but related strands to our Special Collections. These are housed in the library stacks, accessible via the library office only when staff are on duty. Most of our holdings in these Special Collections appear on SOLO, but others are in the process of being catalogued. Some of our collections can also be found by searching “Oxford University, Harris Manchester College” under Library Name on the English Short Title Catalogue. Our antiquarian cataloguer, Sophie Floate, may be able to assist with particular enquiries relating to the Antiquarian Library and matters of provenance.

The general antiquarian printed holdings are extensive, reflecting the college’s growth out of the dissenting academies in the north of England.  We hold approximately 7,000 pre-1800 volumes dating back to 1474. These holdings encompass the historical curriculum of the College and bears similarities to other Oxford colleges, with many items on:

  • Theology
  • Philosophy
  • Classical texts
  • Roman law
  • Church history

This library has been a core feature of the College since its inception in Warrington and has always been a well-used and circulated resource.


One of the cornerstones of the library is the enormous tract collection which consists of 11,000 pamphlets printed in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and bound together in 900 volumes. The contents are strongly Unitarian and include some extremely rare items not to be found elsewhere in Oxford or the United Kingdom. The collection has generally been bound up in chronological order which gives the reader an excellent idea of the ebb and flow of Nonconformist thought over several centuries as the discussions change, grow, and fade over time. An extremely interesting feature of the tract collection which has yet to be documented in any comprehensive fashion is previous ownership, which should prove invaluable to scholars working in the field of textual transmission.

  • The main subject is the emergence of non-conformism in England and contains many items relating to the Reformation from as early as 1589.
  • Post-1800 material relates mainly to nonconformity and Unitarianism, with a large proportion concerned with its development in the United States.
  • Pre-1800 tracts on religious and historical subjects, including the many political controversies of the 17th century in Britain.
  • The collection has mainly come from the libraries of dissenting academies, most notably Exeter Library and individuals donors, including the library of diarist and historian Roger Morrice (1628/9-1702)IMG_7556

“One of the most important collections in existence for the history of British dissent, with the emphasis on Unitarianism” – Paul Morgan, Oxford Libraries Outside the Bodleian, 1973.

  • Works and criticism of dissenting authors and thinkers, and major periodicals of the non-conforming traditions.
  • Liturgies and prayer books
  • Chapel histories: With particular emphasis on Unitarian chapels in Manchester, Cheshire, and London, but also Congregationalists, Presbyterians and other nonconformists.
  • Hymnbooks: A large collection of music and words for hymns, psalms, chants, and  other forms of Christian musical worship.
  • A unique collection on Transylvanian Unitarianism, resulting from an influx of students from Transylvania in the 20th century

Dissenting Academies Online contains a database and encyclopedia with accounts of individual academies and biographical articles of  tutors and students, and a union catalogue recording the holdings of leading Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian academy libraries in England over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including HMC and its antecedents.

Other collections which contain rich and valuable resources relating to the history of Protestant Dissent include:

Estlin Carpenter

The Carpenter Library is the legacy of Joseph Estlin Carpenter, student, tutor, vice-Principal (1885-1899), and Principal (1906-1915) of Manchester College and Wilde lecturer in Comparative Religion at the University. Originally donated in his lifetime and further bequeathed upon his death, this collection has been added to over the years and has grown to over 4,500 volumes covering a wide range of topics on the world’s major religions and their related sects, including:

  • Bahá’i Faith
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Jainism
  • Judaism
  • Zoroastrianism

The collection also contains numerous works on the philosophy, literature, languages, folklore, mythology, religions, history, and anthropology of modern and prehistoric cultures around the world.

This distinct collection may be of particular interest to students of Ancient Egypt, Archaeology, Anthropology, Oriental Studies, and the study of religions in general. The books are borrowable and housed together behind the library office and are accessible only when staff are present during normal opening hours or by prior arrangement.

This large collection contains the manuscripts, papers, and other interesting artefacts relating to the history of the College and its members, as well as prominent Unitarians. For the most up to date listing of the Archives holdings please see the Porter catalogue:

Porter Catalogue of Manuscripts in Harris Manchester College (PDF opens in new window)

  • Manuscript collection: correspondence, diaries, lectures, sermons of College members and others, including:
  • James and Harriet Martineau, Joseph Blanco White, Arlosh, Aspland, Herford, Wicksteed, and Wood families, V.D. Davis, Lant and Russell Lant Carpenter, J.E. Carpenter, , Thomas Belsham, George Armstrong, John Taylor, John James Tayler, John Seddon, Joseph Priestley, Edwin Odgers, John McLachlan
  • Unitarians in India
  • Papers relating to the college in Oxford and its previous locations in London, York, and Manchester, and its predecessor, the Warrington Academy
  • College photographs from most years from 1893
  • Glass lantern slides: Our physical collection has also been digitised by the Historic Environment Image Resource Project. for more information and to contribute see: HeirTagger
  • Egyptian artefacts: Research into this collection is ongoing
  • College Minute Books: These have been digitised and are in the process of being transcribed. Please contact us if you would like to contribute time to this project.

For other college archives within Oxford visit Oxford College Archives