Michigan State University

Collection Development Policy Statement: British History/Studies

Written by: Agnes Haigh Widder Date drafted: Feb. 22, 2006 Last updated 05-16-2023

Purpose or Scope of Collection

A. Curricular/Research/Programmatic Needs

British history, British studies, Great Britain, United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland, Eire, Wales, Northern Ireland, British Isles, England, what’s in a name? The two largest islands in Europe plus a host of small ones compose the British Isles. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland compose the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Ireland, Eire, is an independent country. Scotland was an independent country until 1707. Today, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland once again have more authority over their internal affairs than in the previous centuries. The many smaller islands include the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man, the Isles of Scilly, Lindisfarne, Jersey, Guernsey, Anglesey, Arran, Jura, and Islay islands, the Isle of Skye, the Shetlands, the Orkneys, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. This policy encompasses collection building and maintenance for all of these places. History vs. studies? While collecting primarily the discipline of history inclusion of “studies” in the policy title acknowledges and embraces the need to collect also material about the culture and contemporary times of the British Isles as well.

The M.S.U. History department offers the B.A., M.A., M.A. History-Secondary School Teaching, and Ph.D. degrees in history. Department fields of strength include America, Atlantic World, Early Modern and Modern Europe, Migration Studies, Women and Gender, and Labor and Working Class; knowledge of British history is significant in studying the history of these places and topics. In addition, African, East Asian, and Latin American and Caribbean histories are fields of strength. As part of their work a great many graduate students “do Britain as a minor field.” This consists of both courses and individual, independent studies.

Specifically British history courses offered include the following: England and its Culture to 1688, Seminar in Modern European History (offered on various topics, including British ones), Historical Methods and Skills (offered on various topics, including British ones), Modern Britain since 1688, Constitutional and Legal History of Medieval England, Constitutional and Legal History of England since 1400.

All of the general European history courses have content about the British Isles: World History to 1500, World History since 1500, European history to 1500, European History since 1500, Europe in the Middle Ages, 400-1000, Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1300, Later Medieval and Renaissance Europe, 1300-1500, Reformation Europe, 1500-1700, Europe in the Age of Revolution, 1700-1870, Contemporary Europe, 1870 to the Present, European Intellectual History: Natural Philosophy through Romanticism, European Intellectual History: Modernism and Post-Modernism, European Economic History, Families-Historic Perspective, History of Sexuality since the 18th Century, Seminar in Methodology and Historical Research, Historiography of Europe since 1870, Seminar in Medieval History, Seminar in International Labor and Working Class History, History of International Relations, History of Western Urbanization, World War II, and Special Topics in European History. British history is really foundational to comprehension of the histories of Africa, Asia, India, Canada, some parts of the Caribbean, and the United States. The department offers courses on the history of these countries and areas as well. Indeed, history of Africa is one of the great strengths of this department.

In addition to teaching, the Department’s faculty publish books and articles, belong professional organizations, speak at national and international conferences, speak to the general public, create websites, and serve as consultants to schools and governmental units, all leading to dissemination of their research nationally and internationally. History faculty and emeriti either specializing in, or interested in, things British and Irish include the following:

  • John Coogan, British and American foreign policy, ca. 1900-1950, retired;
  • William Schoenl, 20th century/contemporary, retired;
  • Gordon Stewart, British Empire, Britain and India, World history, Canada, 18th-20th centuries, retired;
  • Jane Vieth, Modern Britain, World War II, Joseph Kennedy’s ambassadorship, 19th century, recently retired;
  • Peter Vinten-Johansen, European and American health care, social and intellectual history of medicine,  retired
  • Emily Tabuteau, medieval England, cartularies, Anglo-Norman law; all periods of history of England, still teaching.
  • Christine Daniels, Early Modern, Colonial America, retired
  • Susan Sleeper-Smith, 18th and 19th-c. North America, gender, Native America; recently retired
  • Richard Bellon, 19th century, science/medicine; still teaching
  • John Waller, 18th and 19th century, science/medicine, social; still teaching
  • Liam Brockey, early modern, Portugal, Roman Catholicism, history of the book; still teaching

And, in addition to the History and English departments, many other units on campus offer courses and people do research in which British or Irish history and culture might figure in the content. Examples: art history, philosophy, religious studies, theater, music, criminal justice, political science and pre-law, James Madison College, ethics in the life sciences, African studies, Asian studies, Canadian Studies, Latin American and Caribbean studies, American studies, American Indian Studies, Lyman Briggs College's program in history/philosophy of science, apparel and textile/design, comparative literature, critical studies in the teaching of English, film studies, interdisciplinary humanities, interdisciplinary studies in the social sciences, museum studies, horticulture, landscape architecture, postcolonial and Diaspora literature; global cultural and literary studies, Western European studies, women, gender, and social justice, and women’s studies.  There is a component of history for all of the sciences.

The number of English department faculty with British and Irish culture interests are particularly numerous. In order to do our best to collect historical material supporting their teaching and research interests we take space here to list some of their interests related to history.  Many employ biographical and historical critical methods in their literary work.

  • For the earliest and medieval period: cultural history, medieval medicine, sex, aging and death in medieval medical compendiums, medieval devotional literature, medieval marriage and family, death and dissent, King Arthur, the Chronicles (early histories of England), Chaucer, Prose Brut, Langland, Henry of Lancaster, Crusader literature.
  • For the 16th and 17th centuries: cultural history, scientific and medical discourse, historiography, social formation, early modern travel and travel writings, economies of exchange (colonial gifts and formation of English nationalism), coronation of Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, Shakespeare performance and reviews of performances, including those in the Colonies, "nabob" texts, East India Company petitions, colonial narratives, colonialism, Hardt, Negri, Gibbons, Thomas More, Machiavelli, William Harvey, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Cavendish, John Locke, Robert Boyle, Sir William Jones.
  • For the 18th century: cultural history 1660-1832, travel writing, manhood, physiognomics, Enlightenment racial science, incest and sexuality, gender issues, transatlantic modernism, Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Stanhope Smith, William Godwin, Lavater, Mary Shelley, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
  • For the 19th century: cultural history, medicine, science and technology, liberalism, sentimentalism, print, mass markets, authorship, commerce, visual studies, travel writing, the Grand Tour, romanticism, late Victorian decadence, politics and the novel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Coryate, Mary Louise Pratt, Oscar Wilde.
  • For the 20th century and forward: both British and Irish cultural history, film in the United Kingdom, modernism and the avant garde, sexuality, Gay and Lesbian studies and sexuality, images of reproduction, literature of Empire, cultural periodicals post-1945, colonial conquest, decolonization, third world imperialism, Irish Renaissance, violence and modernism, criticism and religion, World War I, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marsden Hartley.

At present there are 70 names on the private e-mail list for faculty and graduate students on campus with interests in the British Isles.

“Bulk” loading of content sub-sets from our electronic resources can be negotiated with vendors such as ProQuest, Adam Matthew, and Gale/Cengage for faculty and students to use for digital projects.  People may also find "data" to use from data repositories such as Registry of Research Data Repositories. The resulting intellectual products can be hosted on our servers for research and teaching.

Grant funded (NEH, etc) research may be subject to data management requirements, including consideration for publishing and sharing of data.  MSU would like to be considered for consultation and retention of such data, if approached by faculty or graduate students.

B. History of the Collection/Existing Strengths and Emphases

Our British history collection is extensive and deep, one of the M.S.U. Libraries’ particular strengths. It compares very favorably in both quantity and quality with the other major university library collections in the United States on this subject. Within the BTAA institutions (Big Ten schools plus University of Chicago, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska, Rutgers University, etc.) our local history collection for England, Scotland, and Wales is outstanding in both size and uniqueness, according to graphs using the OCLC WorldCat Collection Analysis program.

What about our collecting proclivities today? We still collect record society publications, some archaeological publications, and monographs on places written from the vantage point of modern social/economic/cultural/intellectual/literary history published by both university and trade presses.  We continue to collect 15th-18th century printed books on microfilm in order to complete our large set order of Early English Books begun decades ago, in which we have substantial investment. We own and offer both EEBO and ECCO, the full-text online products corresponding to the pertinent microform sets; however, these electronic resources contain only a portion of the works available in the corresponding film sets. We collect British/Irish electronic resources from Adam Matthew Digital. and other vendors.  We offer British/Irish historical newspapers online.  We continue to collect secondary monographs and texts of primary works from standard trade and university presses covering all the periods of British history and studies, giving special attention to known areas of faculty interest on campus. 

In 2002, the monies in the British Studies fund, which were being used primarily to collect works on the 1970 to present period were combined back into the British history fund as part of a desire on the part of the higher management to reduce the number of collection funds. By including the word “studies” in the policy title here we acknowledge our need and desire to collect more interdisciplinary and cultural material, as well as material on the contemporary British Isles.

We collect some antiquarian items from the 18th-19th centuries, especially conduct literature, to help develop the British Studies collection in Murray and Hong Special Collections, utilizing the Library Memorial Endowment fund in memory of Professor Thomas Bushell