This resources page has been put together with independent researchers into sports history in mind. It aims to help you pursue your research interests by listing a variety of ways of accessing information. If you have ideas for other resources to add to this list, please do get in touch with Katie Holmes, the Independent Researcher Representative for the British Society of Sports History.
For tips on sharing and funding your research, see here.
The society has a lot of members who are independent researchers. They include people who are researching sports history because of a personal interest or family connection, and people who have worked or studied at universities in the past.
Online Research Resources
During the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns, the Institute of Historical Research put together a comprehensive list of open and freely accessible online research resources, both UK and international. Although the list was put together with academic researchers in mind, most of the 750+ resources have public access. It includes wats to find out about open access to articles in academic journals and UK and international theses. The IHR says that it is keeping the page updated.
Your local library may give members free access to other digital services such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Ancestry and the British Newspaper Archive or Times online. You may need to be in the library to access the resources. It is also possible to take out individual paid-for subscriptions to these services.
The British Newspaper Archive digital collection, which is expanding all the time, is especially valuable for regional and local newspapers but also includes a number of specialist sporting newspapers, like the Athletic News, Sporting Life and the Sportsman, with issues from 1859 to 1931.
Access to Research gives free access to over 30 million academic articles in participating public libraries across the UK. Independent researchers can access academic papers from leading publishers who have made their journal content available for free. You can view the catalogue from home and there is a map which shows participating libraries across the UK. You will need to be a library member and to visit the library to view the full text.
University libraries may provide access to members of the public to view printed resources on site, and you may be able to borrow books.
For example, at the University of Nottingham, members of the public can register for a visitor's card which gives them access to the libraries. You can also register as an external member at an annual fee of £50+VAT. This membership enables you to take out up to 12 books. However, the university states that external members cannot access most electronic information services because of license restrictions.
Other libraries which you can use free of charge include:
- The British Library, London & Boston Spa, Yorkshire
- National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
- National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
- National Library of Ireland, Dublin
- Institute of Historical Research Library at Senate House, University of London
- Local and regional history sections of major public libraries
Archives and Collections
The National Archives has a useful guide on how to find records in The National Archives and other archives in the UK relating to:
- the London 2012 Games
- the history of the Olympic and Paralympic movements
- the UK government's involvement in sport provision and related issues
- sport history in general
If you are looking for a specific reference to a particular sport or location, or to see if your local club deposited its archive in a record office, the Discovery link is useful and easy to access:
Sport Heritage CIC is a not-for-profit community interest company working specifically to support the collection, preservation, access, and research of sporting heritage in the UK and wider. They curate a listing of sporting-related collections held by museums, archives and clubs around the country.
How to View Archived Web Pages
If there is a web page that you want to view but it is no longer available, you may be able to access it via an archive of website pages as long as you have the URL link.
For example, go to web.archive.org (Internet Archive Wayback Machine) and copy in the link: http://www.coolrunning.com.au/ultra/colac/colac2000-3.shtml.
If the page has been saved, a timeline is displayed showing the years when it has been saved. Click on one of the years in the timeline and the date it was saved will be highlighted in the calendar below. Clicking on the highlighted date will display a box with the time the page was saved. Click on the time to view a saved image of the page.
There is a URL of the archive at the top of the screen that you can copy and paste to return to that archive at any time.
Oral History Collections
Some archives, libraries and museums are building up significant oral history connections. Many of these relate to social history in general but may incorporate items which have a particular value for sport historians, so it is worth checking for references in online catalogues.
You may be fortunate and find a specific sports-related collection, such as the Peter Savage Oral History Collection at The Hockey Museum:
or the oral history of sport collection held by the British Library Sound Archive:
But other, more modest collections can be useful. A quick check of the catalogue held by the Essex Record Office, for example, instantly turned up a number of recordings covering county cricket and local bowling and cycling clubs. Indeed, some club websites now feature their own modest - but often very useful - oral history collections.
Membership of the British Society of Sports History
We aim to be an inclusive and friendly society. When we surveyed members in 2023, independent researchers told us that they valued being part of a wider community with similar research interests and feeling connected and aware of what's going on in sports history research.
If you aren't a member of the British Society of Sports History, please do consider joining us. Membership gives you free access to our quarterly journal, Sport in History, and reduced registration costs for our annual conference.
For tips on sharing and funding your research, see here.
Please do get in touch if you have any feedback or ideas for resource to add to this list or if you would like to know more about the British Society of Sports History.
Katie Holmes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Independent Researcher Representative on the Board of Trustees