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Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was one of the most important figures in British and Imperial history. The son of the aristocratic Churchill family of Blenheim Palace, he gained military experience as a soldier and war correspondent in India, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Africa, and in the trenches in France during the First World War.
His political career included time as a Unionist, Liberal and ultimately as a Conservative MP, and at the heart of government in the Colonial Office, as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. An opponent of Appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1940-45 he led Britain through the Second World War; his speeches motivating Britain and her allies to resist Nazi domination are among the most influential examples of oratory. Despite his implacable opposition to Soviet Communism, he allied with the Soviet Union from 1941-45 to defeat the Nazis but defined the post-war-era with his condemnation of the ‘Iron Curtain’ of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. He served again as Prime Minister from 1951-55, a period of growing prosperity at home, the decline of British world power, the Korean War, and personal illness. He retired in 1955 and died in 1965.
Unsurprisingly, the immense archive of his political and personal life is an essential resource for anyone studying twentieth-century British and world history and politics. Durham University Library acquired the digital Churchill Archive, produced by the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, earlier this year. It includes more than 800,000 pages of original documents, ranging from Churchill’s personal correspondence to his official exchanges with kings, presidents, politicians, and military leaders. The archive is one of the most important, and accessible, means for researchers and students at all levels, to engage with primary sources. Documents have been digitised and are text-searchable. Advanced search options enable users to search for specific words, people, places, by time period. Alternatively, you can explore the Archive by topics, people, place or period. By creating a free account within the Churchill Archive you save sources for your projects in MyArchive. As well as the documents there is a wealth of supporting material to help you to identify sources and use them, including introductory essays, videos and guides by experts.
Churchill was a complex individual, at once celebrated for his determination to defeat totalitarian regimes, whilst supporting controversial views on race and eugenics and the continuation of the British Empire. His actions and reputation continue to be assessed and debated. With access to the Churchill Archive, Durham researchers and students can contribute to these discussions.