Special Collections is home to more than 5,000 collections of manuscripts and archives, dating from antiquity to the 21st century, and containing material in some 25 different languages. The University of Aberdeen is a 15th-century foundation, with King's College established in 1495, Marischal College in 1593, and the University formed in 1860 from their fusion. Collectively, their archives constitute a rich source for the history of higher education in Scotland and Europe, and illuminate the relationship between the University and the City and, indeed, the region.
It is one of only five institutions of higher education in the English-speaking world to have experienced fully the period from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment. This antiquity is reflected in the Archives which include: a fine collection of medieval and early modern manuscripts; outstanding 17th – 19th century collections relating to science, medicine, Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, and Jacobitism; as well as an important collection of oriental manuscripts, papyri and ostraca. The archives come in various formats. They may be on parchment, handwritten (manuscript) on paper, they can be typescript and in digital format. They may be photographs on glass or paper, maps and plans, sound recordings, films and digital images.
Special Collections is also home to collections from institutions connected with the University: the ‘Aberdeen Colleges of Education’, Christ’s College, Aberdeen, North of Scotland College of Agriculture and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health.
Moreover, until the 1970s, the University was the main repository for archival collections for the northern half of Scotland. As a result, it has acquired an unrivalled collection of written material relating to the history and culture of the North-East of Scotland. These diverse collections include the records of families, estates, churches, organisations and businesses, as well as the literary, academic and antiquarian papers of individuals. A relatively new type of material held are extensive oral history collections, relevant for the history of the University and the oil and gas industry.
For more information on the archives see the introductory factsheet Manuscripts and archives
Finding Aids and Catalogues
Collection and item-level descriptions may be viewed at the on-line catalogue. Please note though that not all catalogues are currently available on-line and some catalogues are only available for consultation in the Reading Room. Information on new accessions is sent annually to the National Register of Archives. Our full list of annual accessions is also available here.
Please see our extensive suite of factsheets which are arranged by type, subject and geographic area and act as introductory guides for the collection.
Some of our collections are now available in digital format, e.g. digitised copies of the University Rolls of Graduates, The George Washington Wilson & Co. and Harbour Board Photographic Collections. To view our online collections, please see here.