Back to the future: 1979-1989


To discover more about the 1980s, the National Library has a wide range of varied resources to explore.


You will find suggestions for further reading with each of the essays on this website, but that is just a fraction of what the Library has to offer.

During the 1980s, we received over 2.5 million publications. Since the end of the 1980s we have continued to receive tens of thousands publications that analyse this fascinating decade too. This vast resource, from children's books, football programmes, and 'Smash Hits', to journal articles about economics, global politics, scientific research, and social change, are available to read on our premises, and everyone is welcome.

Digitised 1980s handbooks

We have digitised twelve volumes of 'Britain: An official handbook' for each year from 1979 to 1990 to support this website. These volumes were produced annually by the Central Office of Information and describe 'how Britain worked'. They provide an overview of Britain's economic, social and cultural affairs, its environment, international relations, and the systems of government. They give an impartial summary of government policies and initiatives, and explain how public services are organised. You can access digitised volumes of 'Britain an official handbook' in our digital gallery.


You can study the 1980s from home using the Library's digital subscriptions. These electronic resources are available if you have a residential address in Scotland and if you have joined the Library either in person or online. We subscribe to lots of electronic resources, and the following are particularly useful to research the 1980s because you can browse the content by date:

  • Cold War Intelligence
  • The Economist Historical Archive
  • Times Digital Archive
  • Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive
  • Times of India

UK Parliamentary Papers is another key resource for the decade. This huge database contains a wide range of documents, including Hansard, House of Commons and House of Lords papers, Bills and Acts, and a range of other parliamentary papers. You can find all these resources on our eResources page, and you can access them using the login details set up when you join the Library.


Within our eResources you will find a range of eJournals. Once you have logged in to your Library account, you can search these using specific keywords to reveal articles and eBooks of interest. To get started more generally, search for '1980s' or 'Eighties'. The following resources are especially rich in relevant content, and will help you to research very specific topics in detail too:

  • Cambridge Books Online
  • Cambridge Journals Online
  • Humanities International Complete
  • Oxford Journals Online
  • SAGE Journals
  • Screen Studies Collection
  • SpringerLink

Each resource is slightly different. You might need to spend a little bit of time adjusting to the search and access functions of each resource, but it is worth taking a few minutes to explore.

Here are just some of the eBooks you can read from home via the SpringerLink platform:

  • 'British Diplomacy and the Iranian Revolution, 1978-1981' by Dr Luman Ali (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)
  • 'Ecological Responses to the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens' edited by Virginia H Dale (Springer, 2005)
  • 'Ex-combatants, gender and peace in Northern Ireland; women, political protest and the prison experience', by Azrini Wahidin (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
  • 'Late Cold War literature and culture: the nuclear 1980s', by Daniel Cordle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)
  • 'Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, a very political special relationship', by James Cooper (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • 'Post-Punk, politics and pleasure in Britain' by David Wilkinson (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016)

A search on the SAGE Journals resource for '1980s' retrieves tens of thousands of articles from a wide range of journal titles. Examples of articles include the following:

  • 'Love in the afternoon: the supercouple of 1980s US daytime soap opera', by Elana Levine, 2014
  • 'Making games normal: computer gaming discourse in the 1980s', by Graeme Kirkpatrick, 2014
  • 'The 1980s property boom', by Michael Ball, 1994
  • 'The communist culture industry: the music business in 1980s Poland', by Raymond Patton, 2012
  • 'Sociology in the 1980s: the rise of gender (and intersectionality)' by Silke Roth and Katherine Dashper, 2016
  • 'Questions about the usefulness of microcomputers in 1980s Australia' by Melanie Swalwell, 2012

Special collections at the Library

In addition to the 2.5 million publications the Library received in the 1980s, we have special collections of publications relating to the decade. Some notable highlights include:

  • John and Ljubica Erickson Collection
  • There is excellent coverage in this collection of Cold War and international relations, and military technology. The collection came to the Library from Professor Erickson, former head of the Department of Defence Studies at Edinburgh University. His involvement in The Edinburgh Conversations, a series of informal exchanges on the topic of arms control with Soviet counterparts, makes this an especially important collection. [National Library shelfmark: Erick].

  • Raymond Murray and Denis Faul Collection
  • This is collection of 138 pamphlets and ephemeral materials produced by the Catholic priests Monsignor Denis O'Beirne Faul and Father Raymond Murray in response to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Topics covered include internment without trial, army and police harassment of civilians, ill-treatment of suspects in custody, the 1981 hunger strikes, loyalist assassinations, the use of plastic bullets and controversial shootings by the security forces. [National Library shelfmark: RM/DF].

  • Smith Mining Archive
  • This significant collection of newspaper clippings documents the press coverage of the Miners' Strike, 1984-85. The cuttings continue beyond 1985 to cover energy policy in the United Kingdom more generally, and captures the aftermath of the strike and decline of the mining industry. The collection also includes printed pamphlets, photographs and videos connected with coal mining industry, and was given to the Library by Patrick J Smith. [National Library shelfmark: SMA].

Manuscripts and Archives

The Library's Archives and Manuscripts Division also holds the papers of significant bodies and individuals from the worlds of politics, literature, and the arts. Several of these were used as sources to write some of the essays on this site.

To begin exploring these items, you can try searching our catalogue of Archives and Manuscript Collections. You can find out more about the Library's political papers using our index to modern political manuscripts.

Moving Image Archive

To help you develop your understanding and appreciation of this decade, you can find a wide range of films in the Library's Moving Image Archive. Some of these have been selected for the Watch and Listen page of this site. You can view other films by searching the Moving Image Archive catalogue.

Open access resources

Finally, there four excellent free to access online resources containing original source material that are likely to be of considerable benefit with regard to studying the 1980s. These are as follows:

  • Observing the 1980s
  • This unique resource is the product of the re-launch of the Mass Observation initiative in 1981, and provides a fascinating insight into the lives and opinions of British people during the 1980s. It features digitally available publications, oral history recordings, and the written observations of participants in the programme to a range of social, political, and cultural events and developments such at the Poll Tax, AIDS, and the Falklands War. Visit 'Observing the 1980s' website.

  • Wilson Center Digital Archive
  • This archive of de-classified government documents from across the globe is particularly rich in 1980s themes, including original source material relating to the Berlin Wall and Cold War and Eastern European politics generally, the Euromissiles Crisis of the early 1980s, the nuclear debate and associated pamphlets and publications, the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Sino-American cooperation 1972-1989, Sino-Soviet rapprochement 1985-1989, the 1988 Seoul Olympics, China in 1989, and relations with North Korea. Visit 'Wilson Center Digital Archive' website.

  • The Margaret Thatcher Foundation
  • This extensive resource provides access to thousands of historical documents relating to Margaret Thatcher and her time as Prime Minister. Visit 'The Margaret Thatcher Foundation' website.

  • Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum
  • This website contains multiple resources including a document library, audio-visual collections, and a phot gallery, and is an important resource for researchers of the Reagan presidency. Visit 'Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum' website.

We hope that this website and our retrospective on the 1980s has been of interest. We know that we have only been able to scratch the surface of this pivotal decade, which is why we invite you to use all of these digital resources at home and our wonderful collections in our Library buildings to take your interest further.