Women in the History Curriculum: PCGE History Study Day at The John Rylands Library

Tram Permanent Way Repairers, Atherton, Lancashire from the Album of of women’s work in wartime

This blog accompanies a workshop held at the Rylands on 16 December 2021 for University of Manchester PGCE History students. It provides a summary of how to locate and surface physical and digitised sources for Women’s History.

Stories of women’s lives are embedded throughout our collections — though not often foregrounded!

The University of Manchester’s Special Collections

The University of Manchester Library holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections in the world, collectively known as the University of Manchester’s Special Collections. From letters, diaries and minute books to visual sources, material culture and oral history the collections are full of stories documenting the lives of women. Our collections are perfect for discovering new source material for embedding women’s history in the class room.

Public art, street names and plaques

And don’t just confine your search to Libraries. Women’s history can be found in a surprising number of formats and places from street names to statues and public art. In Manchester city centre there is the statute of Emmeline Pankhurst and in the nearby Central Library there is a bust of Erinma Bell, peace activist recognised for her work tackling gun crime in Moss Side and Longsight. Behind the Midland Hotel, the 2019 Peterloo monument records the names of the 4 women killed in the Peterloo Massacre: Margaret Downes, sabred; Mary Heys, trampled by cavalry; Sarah Jones, truncheoned on the head by special constables; and Martha Partington, crushed to death in a cellar.

Erinma Bell MBE. Sculpture by Karen Lyons made from melted down firearms

There is an MMU building named after Mabel Tylecote (whose archive collection is held at the Rylands), tower blocks named Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia (in honour of the Pankhurst mother and 2 of her daughters) and even an Alison Uttley Walk and an Enriqueta Rylands Close.

Another fascinating find, that is slightly off the beaten track, is this intriguing map created by Mrs Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743–1825). Barbauld was a writer and poet and it is interesting that the map was published by Joseph Johnson who launched Mary Wollstonecraft’s career and was very active in intellectual and free thinking movements in Britain. The map was sold in the format of a ladies fan and should be understood in the wider context of an emerging campaign for women’s political rights in the late 18th century.

A New Map of the Land of Matrimony, Drawn from the Latest Surveys (1793)

How to search UML Special Collections

There are a lot of different types of material included in Special Collections which vary in format. There is no single place you can find all Special Collections conveniently listed. Different formats have different cataloguing requirements and standards, which make it difficult to search for them in one place. This means that you may have to consult several different types of catalogue to search across collections. But once you master the basics it’s quite exciting to surface little-known materials.

We have developed a series of short video guides on searching and finding material. Working through the videos in your own time will provide you with the tools to undertake your research.

Please do ask for help if you get stuck: uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk

Using catalogues to search Special Collections

Most of our catalogues can be accessed from from this webpage. From here you can search printed materials, visual materials, archives, digital collections and manuscripts.

Library Search

Library Search is particularly strong for printed materials (including rare books and maps). The advanced function allows you to search for items in Special Collections only. The short video below provides a brief introduction. To access the video click on the caption link below.

Click here to view the video

A-Z of Special Collections
The A-Z of our collections is a very useful resource. The central page links to short descriptions of all the major collections (archival and printed) held at the Library. It is possible to key word search across all the collections. You can also find our collections grouped by subject here.

A-Z Special Collections at the University of Manchester

If you scroll to the letter ‘W’ you will find descriptions and a link to full catalogues for the 4 suffrage collections that are held at the Library. We also have a publication called ‘Sources for Women’s Suffrage in the Guardian Archive’

Women’s Suffrage Movement Archive


Most of our archival collections are listed in a specialist cataloguing platform called Elgar. All four catalogues for the Women’s Suffrage Movement Archives are held in this platform. Jess Smith (Creative Arts Archivist) has created a short video explaining how to search Elgar effectively. To access the video click on the caption link below.

Click here to view the video

Accessing our digitised collections (MDC & Luna)

Some, but certainly not all, Special Collections can be viewed online. Digitised material can be accessed online using two platforms: Luna and Manchester Digital Collections (MDC).


This is our established image viewer, hosting all of our digitised images. To find out whether an item has been photographed and is available online, it’s recommended to check first on Luna which currently has more material.

Anne Anderton, Curator of Western Manuscripts & Visual Collections has created a useful resource explaining how to maximise Luna searches.

Manchester Digital Collections (MDC)

Manchester Digital Collections is our newest platform and presents collections by research theme. It allows enhanced viewing and manipulation of images and rich descriptive content. It also includes material from other Manchester cultural institutions including the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum.

Manchester Digital Exhibitions

In 2021, during the centenary year of the Guardian newspaper, the Library created its first online digital exhibition, ‘Manchester’s Guardian: 200 years of the Guardian newspaper’. This exhibition highlights several prominent women including Madeleine Linford, Emily Hobhouse and Nancy Cunard.

We hope to add our former exhibition ‘The Women Who Shaped Manchester’ to this digital platform next year — watch this space!

John Rylands Special Collections blog

It is definitely worth checking our blog for further resources on Women’s History, for example there are many blog posts on the suffrage movement including the one below which explores how women were imprisoned for their suffrage activism.

Accessing our Physical Collections

Special Collections items can only be studied in the reading room and can’t be borrowed. To make an appointment please email: uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk. For details of opening times and to book a date, please look at their web pages:

Using the Special Collections Reading Rooms

There are three Special Collections reading rooms available for use at The University of Manchester Library. Access to Special Collections material is open to all. As students at the University you just need to fill out a short form, which can be done online, and produce your student cards to register as a reader in our reading rooms.

Once you have narrowed down what you want to see, send an email to Special Collections giving at least a week’s notice. Restrictions may apply to some manuscripts and archives and a curator may need to be contacted before your visit. See the blog below for further information.

Virtual Appointment

Both the John Rylands Library Reading Room and the Main Library Reading Room offer one hour ‘virtual’ appointments for those wishing to access analogue materials but who are unable to visit in person. Find out more about how these appointments work in the video below.

Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE (Race Archives and Community Engagement) Centre

The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE (Race Archives and Community Engagement), located at the Manchester Central Library, is a specialist library focusing on the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity. The Centre holds a wealth of information on women’s history. Do note that their collections are catalogued separately. You can view their collection catalogues here. For their publications go to the Manchester Libraries search page to search for their publications (you can use the ‘advanced search’ function and refine your search by selecting ‘Race Relations Research Centre’ in ‘location’). Details of the archive and oral history collections and how to access them can be found on the RACE Centre’s website. Collections-level archive catalogues can also be accessed online via Archives Hub.

If you have any question on their holdings please contact them directly rrarchive@manchester.ac.uk




You can find all stories created by Special Collections Teaching and Learning by keyword search, or by using the monthly archives displayed in our ‘About’ page. If you have any questions please email us at uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk

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Janette Martin

Janette Martin

Research and Learning Manager (Special Collections) interested in developing online learning resources drawn from the spectacular collections held at the UoM

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