Social History

Our collections are a superb resource for the study of history; they span over 2000 years of human activity and encompass changes in society and culture. The study of books and manuscripts as artefacts can reveal how people participated in and reacted to contemporary events. 

Relevant material may be found across our collections. Please use the rare books search (for printed material) and the manuscripts search (for unpublished material including notebooks, papers, photographs and drawings). Searching by name or keyword is particularly useful. If you are interested in the 'social life' of our printed books, use the provenance option of the rare books search to trace their previous owners.

Researchers are also advised to look at the general subject page for history and other subject pages relevant to their area of interest, for example, correspondence, Glasgow, politics, war.

Some collections are particularly relevant for researching aspects of social history:

  • Chapbooks: the main recreational reading matter of the poor in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Over 1000 items available to search.
  • Broadsides: examples ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries, including accounts of executions, advertisements for trade ventures and calls for political agitation; includes a major collection of 408 black-letter ballads, many of which are illustrated by woodcuts
  • Euing: includes a number of tracts and pamphlets on temperance and a small collection of literature relating to gypsies and travellers.
  • Murray: includes abundant holdings of broadsides, street literature, chapbooks, advertisements and files of newspaper cuttings
  • Photography: 19th and early 20th century material including representations of family life, recreational activities and living conditions 
  • Smith: some 5,000 items of printed ephemera including posters, advertisements and tickets for various forms of entertainment, mainly relating to 19th century Glasgow. See the associated web exhibition, the Ephemera of John Smith
  • Wylie: includes broadsides, playbills, advertisements, valentines and chapbooks

The following web articles may be of interest:

and the Social History section of the following course material page: