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Special Collections: Manuscripts and Archives at UCT Libraries: Welcome

A brief introduction to some of the major collections of original manuscript material that are housed in the manuscripts and archives section of Special Collections.


There is a steam engine on top of Table Mountain.

To find out how it got there, peruse the Terence Timoney Papers (BC1430).



The Bleek and Lloyd Collection (BC151) is listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register.



The campus was at times a site of struggle during the 70s and 80s.


A photograph from our BUZV collection documenting the history of UCT.


One of the many beautiful botanical paintings in our collection.


Who we are and what we do

UCT Libraries Special Collections Division consists of three collections - the African Studies collection, the Rare Books collection, and the Manuscripts and Archives collection. The Manuscripts and Archives collection has an extensive collection of original research material relating to the political, social, cultural and economic history of the Western Cape, as well as regions further afield.

Collection development policy

The Manuscripts & Archives Department collects original research material relating to the political, social, cultural and economic history of Southern Africa, with a strong focus on the Western Cape. The collections support research by a wide range of scholars including academics, postgraduates, undergraduates, and other researchers whose work relies on primary resource materials and manuscripts.

This Department has the primary responsibility, on behalf of the University, for preserving original archival collections, in all media, including traditional paper-based collections, digital records and film, photographic and sound archives. Hence it is the permanent archival home for the University’s special collections.

Although the chief responsibility is to the University of Cape Town, the Manuscripts & Archives Department also serves scholars at national and international levels. Consequently, it draws visiting scholars to the University of Cape Town and enhances the University’s reputation as a centre for scholarship.

By acting as a responsible custodian of Southern African archival collections, the Manuscripts & Archives Department plays an important role in the preservation of our national heritage.

Collecting Rationale

The Manuscripts & Archives Department’s primary responsibility is to serve the research needs of faculty and students at the University of Cape Town. To this end, it seeks to collect in subject areas which reflect the major research thrusts of this University, which represent ongoing research interests, or which are the focus of interdisciplinary programs.

Collections are acquired on the basis of their value for current and potential future research at this University. Acquisitions that do not fall into existing collecting areas are sometimes made in anticipation of new emphases.

Primary collecting areas

Subjects covered include, but are not limited to, South African written and oral history, politics, social history, economic history, art, music, dance, film, photography, education, literature and language, botany, architecture and scientific and medical history.

Examples of current collection areas include:

  • Personal papers of people prominent in the above areas or whose papers constitute an important record of Southern African social history;
  • Papers of communities not strongly represented in this or other archives;
  • Corporate papers of non-governmental organizations, companies and institutions prominent in the above areas;
  • Personal and research papers of UCT academics;
  • Non-administrative records relating to the history of UCT;
  • UCT student and departmental publications;
  • Architectural collections of leading South African architects, in particular, those involved with UCT and/or the built environment of the Western Cape;
  • Papers and record books of ethnic and religious communities and papers of individuals prominent in these communities;
  • Manuscript music scores and personal papers of South African composers;
  • Papers relating to labour and trade, and the records of labour unions;
  • Oral history of South Africa;
  • Papers and other media associated with important social, historical, or cultural issues or movements;
  • Visual records of social, cultural, or historical importance, such as documentary film and photography.

Types of records collected and that are our particular strengths:

  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs (prints, negatives and slides);
  • Archival film footage;
  • Sound recordings;
  • Digital records;
  • Prints and drawings;
  • Artefacts, where they strongly relate to collections;
  • Artworks, where they strongly relate to collections or are historical records in their own right.

The Manuscripts & Archives Department does not accept collections that are closed to public access in perpetuity.

Where to find us

We are situated in the J.W. Jagger Library, which was recently restored. The entrance is on Library Road.

Our opening hours are as follows:

Term hours

Weekdays 08h30 to 18h00

Saturdays 09h00 to 13h00

Vacation hours

Weekdays 08h30 to 17h00

Saturdays 09h00 to 12h30

Reading room     

The newly restored reading room