University of Sussex Special Collections

The University of Sussex Special Collections hold over eighty internationally acclaimed archival, manuscript and rare book collections, mostly relating to 20th and 21st century literary, political and social history.

The largest of these is The Mass Observation Archive, founded in 1937 by Tom Harrisson, Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings, to create an ‘anthropology of ourselves’, using a team of observers and volunteer writers who studied the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. The original work continued until the early 1950s, and The Mass Observation Project, which was re-launched in 1981, continues today.

Other collections include the Monks House Papers and Leonard Woolf Archive hold writing notebooks and draft manuscripts belonging to Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), correspondence between Virginia and some of the most famous writers and artists of the period, and letters illustrating her life with Leonard in their East Sussex home in Rodmell, as well as Leonard Woolf’s (1880 – 1969) journalistic career.

The Archives of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) illuminate every aspect of an extraordinary life and career, in momentous times, providing the Kipling scholar with an incomparable, essential resource. His personal family papers and correspondence, poetry manuscripts and notebooks, and his pen and ink drawings, bring to life the man behind childhood favourites such as The Jungle Book and The Just So Stories.

The early archive of the New Statesman includes Editorial Correspondence to and from its editors on the current topics of the day which ignited the magazine’s leaders, feature pages and letters columns, with correspondents including Hugh Gaitskill and George Bernard Shaw, and ‘An Open Letter to Eisenhower and Khrushchev’ by Bertrand Russell imploring Americans and Soviets to abandon their attempt to spread their creed by force of arms. The Review Correspondence contains lively exchanges with, among many others, W. H. Auden, Salman Rushdie, Ted Hughes, Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing and Stephen Spender.

The Common Wealth Party Archive reveals the history of the short-lived, yet politically and historically significant, Common Wealth Party (1942–45). As the only opposition to government during the wartime parliament, it fielded candidates in defiance of the Labour-Conservative truce and succeeded in returning three Members of Parliament in by-elections during the Second World War

The Harvey Matusow Archive covers 20th century American politics, cultural history and counter culture in the US and the UK through the papers and audio visual material of this member of the American Communist Party, FBI Agent, journalist and actor. They include official papers relating to anti-communist trials and McCarthy, together with books which throw light on the political background in the United States in the early 1950s.

Another absorbing collection is the Bob Copper Archive, which documents the life of the patriarch of the famous singing family from Rottingdean and includes songs both written down and recorded, as well as sketches, photographs, correspondence and press cuttings. The Copper family has a long tradition of folk singing in Sussex villages and the collection of Bob Copper, who lived 1915 -2004, traces these traditions within the wider context of folk music. 

The Rare book collections comprise over 3000 volumes and includes 24 incunables. Volumes of note include a Caxton Polychronicon and a Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.


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