Parliament is not just about politics. Its activity encompasses the economic, social, cultural, even sometimes the literary or environmental history of the country. Similarly, the History’s work is not only of value for political history, but also for many other areas of study. We have used this page to give give you some suggestions about how to use the History of Parliament online in your own research, and links to additional websites and further places where more help can be found.
Before using the History’s articles, it’s worth knowing a little more about them. Especially, that they have been written at different times over the last sixty years or so, and they often reflect changing understanding of the past and changing practices in writing history. For more information about how the articles have been written, see our FAQs page. They also use a set of abbreviations which are sometimes not immediately obvious. If you are stumped, try our general Abbreviations page, which brings together most of the abbreviations we have used.
The History of Parliament online, naturally enough, contains a wealth of data on parliamentary and political history. You can begin by using the ‘Explore’ section, with articles explaining many of the key themes and major events of British history, broken into five sections: politics, economy, religion, diplomacy & war and society.
Next, you can search biographies of specific MPs you have an interest in, and further delve into the electoral contests they underwent in their constituencies. For more information on the process of parliament in your period, use the introductory surveys to the volumes for information on the composition and membership of the Houses, how MPs were elected and the structure of parliament and parliamentary politics. We are also creating new articles covering each Parliament from the middle ages to the present day.
If you are interested in periods that the History is currently researching, then don’t forget that there is plenty of information on British history in our blogs.
Apart from the History’s own work, texts about Parliamentary proceedings, or generated by Parliament in the course of these proceedings, are not only a source for the history of politics and of Parliament as an institution but are invaluable for all historians. Parliamentary papers contain a huge amount of evidence about social, economic, local and cultural history, and much of this has been scarcely tapped. Many of them are now online. They include:
- British History Online: this joint project of the History of Parliament and the Institute of Historical Research was originally funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It now includes a large number of volumes of the Journals of the House of Lords and the House of Commons and parliamentary diaries from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as much other material relating to British history.
- The Hansard Digitisation Project: Led by the Directorate of Information Services of the House of Commons and the Library of the House of Lords, provides access to digitised text of Hansard from 1803 to 2004.
- House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (Proquest) (subscription site) contains House of Commons Committee reports, Bills, and other parliamentary papers from the early nineteenth century to the present day. It also now includes the material digitised as part of the BOPCRIS 18th Century parliamentary publications project at the University of Southampton, consisting of 1400 volumes of core 18th century official Parliamentary publications that include Parliamentary Papers, Bills, registers and Journals. Nearly 1 million pages are available as searchable texts from complete runs of publications generated by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
- Oxford Digital Library has digitised all 36 volumes of Cobbett's Parliamentary History, (a major source for eighteenth century historians), providing online access to it initially as a stand alone database.
- Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (PROME): The rolls of parliament were the official records of the meetings of the English parliament from the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) until the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509). An electronic edition of the rolls, which amount in total to over four million words, has been produced by a team of scholars headed by Professor Chris Given-Wilson at the University of St Andrews. The principal funding for the project, which began in 1997 and was completed in 2004, was provided by the trustees of the Leverhulme Trust. The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) provided supplementary funding and facilities for research staff. The History of Parliament contributed towards the cost of publication.
- Stormont papers This website offers access to the Parliamentary Debates of the devolved government of Northern Ireland from June 7 1921 to the dissolution of Parliament on March 28 1972.
There are many further places to gain information on the British parliaments:
For more academic materials, there are several major journals on parliamentary history:
And many more websites containing information on parliamentary and electoral history, this is only a small selection:
With thousands of biographies of MPs tracing back the 14th Century, if you know a member of your family was a former MP then you may be lucky enough to have a biography on this site, with sources to help your further research.
If your ancestors were not amongst those who sat in the House, there is still plenty of information that the History can help you with. It may be that one of your ancestors married an MP, supported one in an election or reported on or wrote about political events at the time. You can find out about the elections and politics of the counties and boroughs in which your ancestors lived by looking at the constituency surveys, filled with plenty of detail about social and political life in each constituency. You can add detail and colour about the lives your ancestors led in this way.
So do try putting your family name into the ‘search’ bar – you might be surprised at what you find!
There are plenty of other websites that can help you get started with your family history, for example:
Find my past (subscription)
The History of Parliament has always been a source for local historians. Our research has not just focussed on the MPs and their decisions in Westminster but their lives at home: how they came to be elected, who their patrons were, what local political issues they faced.
The social and political history of each constituency is traced in the constituency articles. These normally provide information on the size and composition of the electorate, major local political patrons and issues, and the major factors in the make up of the area that effected politics. The surveys are an invaluable source on local politics and local political figures throughout the periods covered.
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