We manage the University of Kent’s unique and distinctive collections so that they are preserved and accessible for the benefit of teaching, scholarship and society. Our collections are open to everyone, whether your interest is for personal or academic research.

Special Collections and Archives are located in the Templeman Library on the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent.  

We have over 150 archival collections. Our collection strengths include:

  • popular and comic performance from the Victorian era to the present, including published and archival material from pantomime, melodrama, variety, stand-up comedy
  • cartoon artwork and publications, particularly cartoons using satire to make a political or social comment
  • the history of the University of Kent and the local area
  • photographs, scrapbooks, engineer records, and published books relating to wind and watermills
  • collections of 20th century prose and poetry first editions.
A photograph of our reading room set up for a seminar session, with books from the Pre-1700 collection on display.
University of Kent.

History of Special Collections and Archives

When the University of Kent was founded in 1965, its library faced a predicament shared with the other new university foundations of the 1960s. Compared to more established institutions, with their centuries of acquisitions and patronage, the Library faced a major challenge in acquiring older material such as out-of-print books and back-runs of periodicals. The early years of the University Library were shaped by calls for donations of material and librarians actively seeking out significant collections to build up stock suitable for a research university; quite the contrast to today, where collection management and balancing the need for study space with books is an ongoing dilemma.

Some of the earliest donations to the new Library now form the basis of our Special Collections & Archives. One of the most significant donations came from John Crow (1904–1969), Professor of English at Pittsburgh University. Crow was an expert on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, with a particular interest in Shakespeare, and during the course of his academic career amassed a research collection of over 12,000 items. Crow bequeathed his collection to Molly Mahood, Professor of English at Kent, who in turn donated it to the University Library. A collection of extraordinary breadth, it includes rare books from the early modern period, material relating to popular historical ballads and songs, literary criticism, and contemporary poetry.

Another significant early acquisition was the Maddison Collection, which explores the development of the history of science between the 17th and 19th centuries. Containing around 2000 books, the collection was gifted to the University Library by scientist Robert Edwin Witton Maddison (1901–1993). A noted authority on the 17th century natural philosopher Robert Boyle, Maddison’s collection provides a fascinating insight into both the history of print and how science developed into the distinct disciplines we know today, and is particularly strong in the fields of chemistry and physics.

Today, Special Collections & Archives cares for over 150 archive and book collections – all of which are available for anyone to visit and use in our Reading Room. Our collections – which include the British Cartoon Archive and the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive – are used regularly in teaching and outreach events, and scholars from across the UK and further afield visit us to undertake research. We work in close partnership with the local community, including Canterbury and Rochester Cathedrals, and The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury. 

Searching our collections

You can search all of our book and archival collections together in LibrarySearch

We catalogue archival collections using the archive management software, Calm. Collections held in the British Cartoon Archive are catalogued seperately from the rest of our collections. 

You can search the British Cartoon Archive catalogue here or search all our other collections on our archive catalogue here

Loaning material from our collections

We aim to provide the widest possible access to our collections, to promote our collections more generally to wide audiences, and to promote scholarship and research around our collections.

We welcome applications from other institutions and organisations to borrow items from our collections for exhibition. Please see our Terms and Conditions for Loaning Material (docx) for more information, and contact us at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk with any requests.

Visiting Special Collections and Archives

Our collections are open to all. Please see our engagament page for details. 

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