Migration History Collections

Find out more about the migration history collections in the IHR Wohl Library. We collect historical sources, reference works and guides to finding and using sources. This page shows examples from the collections.


Although interest in migration history has increased in recent years, the IHR library has always been keen to collect in this field of research. Below is a selection of works to be found in the library ranging from published letters and diaries, ships’ lists of passengers, migrants' accounts from the medieval period to the 21st century to references works, bibliographies and guides to relevant archives and sources.

As with many fields of historical research, relevant material can also be found within larger bodies of source material. Several case studies below illustrate this need to ‘excavate’ the sources for relevant material. For example, parliamentary sources and the newspapers available within the library are a rich seam of information for many subjects, including the history of the Chinese diaspora in 19th and early 20th century British Empire. Similarly, while the library does have a selection of titles specifically on immigrant communities in medieval England, it is also worthwhile searching through the various calendars of administrative records, as well as published tax records the library has acquired for its British and English local collections.

The library’s collections are arranged mainly geographically with some topical collections, so relevant works can be found throughout the library. Use our catalogue to start your search to see what we have.

Searching the Library

Collection Arrangement and Searches

You will find works on migration history across many of our collections. Our collections are arranged mostly geographically with some thematic collections. Searches can be done on the catalogue, both for items within the IHR library itself and for other libraries in the School of Advanced Study and Senate House Library.

You can find out more about collection locations and requesting items from the closed stacks here.

Further Help

Contact us if you would like help on finding or using our collections, or if you have any comments or suggestions about the content of this guide. We are happy to help.

You can also join the library and book a help session.

Highlights from the Collections: Primary Sources

Letters, Diaries, Interviews and Memoirs

The library has a growing number of published collected correspondence, diaries and other works which illuminate the lives of migrants in England, Europe and further afield. Chronologically these range from the medieval period to the twenty-first century. Below is a selection of titles which can be found in our collections.

21st Century Migration

Parliamentary Sources

Beginning of the text of the British Nationality Act, 1948 from Public General Acts and Measures of 1948, vol. 2, p 1241
From Public General Acts and Measures of 1948, vol. 2

The library has substantial collections of government sources for Britain. We also have some government papers for the United States, France and Germany mainly covering the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

We have editions of parliamentary journals and debates for the UK as well as several editions of US Congressional Debates (1789-1824, 1825-1839, 1833-1873, 1873-1907) and partial runs of the Journals of the Senate (1793-1925) and House of Representatives (1830-1924).

The collection also includes Statutes, Acts and Parliamentary Papers. For further information see the UK Parliamentary History collection guide. The UK Parliamentary Papers database gives access to a range of parliamentary records and legislation such as the Aliens Act of 1905 and the Asylum and Immigration Acts of 1996 and 1999.





Il est d’ailleurs essentiel que les idées d’emigration et de colonisation se propagent au sein des masses qui y trouveront des moyens certains d’améliorer les conditions trop souvent précaires de leur situation materiel. C’est par l’émigration et la colonisation que l’Angleterre at les Etats-Unis voient chaque jour s’augmenter leur puissance et s’accroltre leur prospéerité; c’est également par l’émigration et la colonisation que nous accélérerons le développement de l’Algérie, et que nous trouverons le solution de la plupart des problèmes sociaux qui touchent à l’extinction de la misère et à l’organisation de l’assistance publique.

The quote above is from an edition of Le Moniteur Universel from the 26th June 1852. There, it is argued how emigration and colonisation, as exercised by Britain and the United States, might be of benefit to France, especially in relation to its growing intervention and invasion of Algeria. This is just one example how newspapers are a useful source for the history of migration and can often, depending on outlook of their authors and editors, can also reflect the opinions and biases of social and national elites.

While some, like Le Moniteur above, can be found in a print format most of the newspaper and magazine collections found in the library are online and can be accessed by most users within the library.

Details about the other newspaper resources, including British Newspapers 1600-1900 and the Burney Collection of 17th and 18th century newspapers can be found on the library's online resources page.

Highlights from the Collections: Secondary Sources

Bibliographies, Archive Catalogues and Guides to Sources

Listed below are several bibliographies, archive catalogues and guides to sources on specific aspects of migration history. When searching for relevant material it is worth checking general bibliographies and catalogues, such as the Bibliography of British and Irish History.


Source and Archive Guides

Historiography, Methodology and Memory

The library has large historiography collections, which also include subjects such as commemoration and history in popular culture. Below are several titles specifically on migration historiography as well as some articles and essays which can be found in larger works or periodicals.

Chapters and articles within larger works

Reference Works

The library has a sizeable collection of encyclopaedias, biographical dictionaries and atlases. Below are a selection of titles about various aspects of migration history that can be found in the library and online.

Encyclopaedias and Dictionaries



The library also subscribes to over 300 historical periodicals ranging from general titles such as American Historical Review and Annales to specialist titles such as the London Journal and The Sixteenth Century. Listed below are a selection of articles within the periodicals. The catalogue indicates where a periodical is available online (usually accessible onsite only)

  • 'Collecte de fonds et violence dans le milieu des travailleurs immigrés algeriéns: Alpes-Maritime (1956-1962)' in Crime, Histoire et Sociétés (2019)
  • 'Déjà vu and the gendered origins of the practice of immigration law: the Immigrants Protective League 1907-40' in Law and History Review (2018)
  • 'England's immigrants 1330-1550: a new prosopographical database' in Medieval Prosopography (2017)
  • '"A grave offense of significant consequences": Mexican perspectives on U.S. immigration restriction during the late 1920s' in Pacific Historical Review (2018)
  • 'Konflikte um Immigration als „antietatistische” Proteste? Eine Revision der Auseinandersetzungen bei der Hugenotteneinwanderung' in Historische Zeitschrift (2009)

Many journals are also increasingly available in an open-access format. The Directory of Open Access Journals is a useful tool to search these freely accessible online periodicals.

Case Studies

Migrant Communities in Medieval English Towns and Cities

The general British collections, the English local and London collections all have source material about immigration in medieval England, with a particular strength on urban populations.

A number of sources have been published which specifically focus on England's medieval immigrant past. Within the library's London collection is printed edition of the London section of the subsidy rolls of 1440 and 1483-4. These tax records offer a picture of the migrant population of fifteenth century London, listing the names, nationality, occupation and amount owed to the government. Another published source to be found in the library which specifically discusses England's migrant communities is The views of the hosts of alien merchants 1440-1444. Like the subsidy roll of 1440, this was produced in a climate of general economic uncertainty, whereby immigrant residents were being targeted as potential sources of revenue; in this instance, the 'Views' list not only resident foreign merchants, but also their transactions. 

More often, however, information about England's medieval migrant population can be gleaned from more general sources. Included within the subsidy rolls for Shrewsbury are listed a number of migrant residents such as Madoc Waleus (Welsh, perhaps not that surprising), Thomas Lumbard (possibly Italy) and Hugh Leuwe (the Low Countries). And within the Records of the Borough of Leicester are several passing references including, 'Michael Brabançon [of Brabant, or possibly the Low Countries in general] for a suit taken from aliens sworn to the King to conduct themselves with fealty to him and his heirs' (vol. 2, p. 163) or how witnesses testified under oath about how, 'a certain Irish woman unjustly drew blood from a strange woman with a knife.' (vol. 2, p. 184).

To Walter fitz Wauter admiral of the fleet to the northward. Order to take of all alien owners or masters whose ships or vessels he arrested within his admiralty, being of 120 tuns burden and less, an oath that they shall have such ships in the port of Sandewich on 1 April next at latest at the king's service as they shall be directed...

(Calendar of Close Rolls, Richard II, 1381-1385, p. 188)

The library also has a substantial collection of calendars of medieval administrative records such as the close, fine and patent rolls, which - among many other subjects - highlight decisions made by the crown (or bodies acting on Crown's authority) that would impact upon migrant communities, especially foreign merchants, as can be seen above. While each volume is indexed many of these calendars can also be searched on British History Online.

Migration of Chinese communities from Hong Kong and Singapore

On the 8th March 2022 the IHR library took part in a one day training session on Researching Imperial and Commonwealth History. As part of a brief introduction to the library's Colonial collections, we included a case study on the resources on the history of the Chinese diaspora within the British Empire.

This was a challenging yet rewarding search exercise since the library currently has only a handful of titles on the histories of Hong Kong and Singapore and the Chinese diaspora as a whole. However source material which the library is rich in did yield a surprising amount of relevant information. Within Hansard (1812-1908, Commons 1909-1988, Lords 1909-1995) and the Lords (1509-1920) and Commons (1547-1931) Journal there are references to a range of subjects including migration from and to Hong Kong and Singapore.

A number of online newspaper resources can also be accessed such as the Time Digital Archive, 19th century British Newspapers and 19th century London Periodicals (which includes Punch). Although not an impartial source, they chronicle both the presence of Chinese diaspora communities in Britain and also reflect the hardening attitudes towards them during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

One can also find within the library's London collection a number of works on social commentary and criticism. Works by, for example, Henry Mayhew and Walter Besant touch upon their impressions of Chinese communities within East London while in Out and about: a note-book of London in war-time Thomas Burke specifically notes his impressions and the changes he observed in the Chinese diaspora communities around Limehouse. As with newspapers, they are valuable sources not only for what they observed but the assumptions - and prejudices - contained within their pages.

Jewish Immigration and Diasporas in North and South America

Below is a selection of works found in the library specifically about Jewish immigration to North and South America. Additional relevant material can also be found in titles and resources with a more general focus.

The voyage of the St Louis in May 1939 can be used as a case study to illustrate the need to dig into the sources. While there is an anthology of relevant source material listed below, additional material can be found in various biographical works and editions of published letters. Although not mentioning the St. Louis specifically in his memoirs Cordell Hull, who was Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944, acknowledged that the situation for Jewish communities in Germany and later much of Europe was horrific, yet Jewish refugees should ideally be directed to Palestine, which then was under a British mandate. Debates on this subject were also held in the UK Parliament at this time with the argument that if a large number of ships were sent to Palestine it would destabilise the political and social situation there (Hansard, Commons, vo. 348, pp. 176-7). Also in a letter from the 8th June to the diplomat Myron Taylor, Franklin Roosevelt reiterated the need for international cooperation, especially from agencies established by the League of Nations to handle the growing Jewish refugee crisis. Unfortunately, however, while the St. Louis attempted to dock in the US, permission was denied.

The St. Louis then tried to dock in Canada and that too failed. In a biography of the Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon MacKenzie King, it states his attitude was initially ambivalent earlier in the 1930s;

...nothing is to be gained by creating an internal problem in an effort to meet an international one.

However during 1938 his views did shift as persecution in Europe intensified;

the time has come when, as a Government, we would have to perform acts that were expressive of what we believed to be the conscience of the nation, and not what might be, at the moment, politically most expedient.

Unfortunately MacKenzie King put the onus of refugee admittance on the provincial governments, some of whom did not share his view point and as a result, the St Louis was sent back across the Atlantic.

Neville Chamberlain did negotiate that Britain would admit 287 of the St. Louis's passengers as shown in an article in The Times from the 22nd June 1939. The others would disembark once again in continental Europe; France would admit 224, Belgium 214 and the Netherlands 181. It is believed 254 of the St Louis's Jewish passengers would ultimately be murdered during the Holocaust.

General Works


United States


Latin America

Other Collections

While the IHR Library will prove useful for anyone engaged in migration history research there are other libraries and archives in Britain and Ireland which are either specifically devoted to or have significant collections about this subject, some of which are listed below.

  • The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre - the Centre includes hundreds of books on the history of race, migration and ethnicity. Also the centre's archive contains a wide range of documents, leaflets, posters, photographs and ephemera donated by global majority communities across Greater Manchester.
  • The Armenian Institute Library - includes over 9000 items on the history of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.
  • The Black Cultural Archives - the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.
  • The British Library - includes collection guides on the experience of people of African, Asian and Caribbean heritage in Britain.
  • The George Padmore Institute - includes an archive, library, educational resource and research centre that houses materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe.
  • The Huguenot Society Library - has the most extensive collection on Huguenot history in the UK.
  • The Leo Baeck College Library - one of the finest Jewish studies libraries in Europe, it includes collections on a vast array of subjects including the history and culture of Anglo-Jewish communities.
  • The Mellon Centre for Migration Studies - research centre and library dedicated to the history of Irish immigration and diaspora.
  • The National Archives - they have produced a guide to immigration records which can be found there.
  • Westminster Chinese Library - situated within Charing Cross Library, it holds one of the largest collections of Chinese materials in UK public libraries, including works on the Chinese diaspora in the UK and especially London.
  • The Wiener Holocaust Library - one of the most important libraries on the Holocaust outside Israel; includes works on Jewish migration during the early twentieth century.