Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP) Online

House of Commons Parliamentary PapersThe Libraries recently purchased the HCPP Online, a compilation of the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st century collections of papers of the British Parliament. The 18th century collection includes sessional papers from both houses of Parliament along with bills, acts, journals, and debates.  The 19th century collection of approximately 80,000 sessional papers includes the House of Commons material and those House of Lords papers that were presented to the House of Commons. The 20th and 21st century includes House of Commons material from 1901 to 2003/2004.


Famine in Ireland, the slave trade, children’s employment during the industrial revolution, cattle plague, correspondence related to Pasteur's germ theory, the amount of coffee delivered to troops in Crimea on the HMS Industry are just some of the subject headings of the collections of papers.


The papers are those documents that came about through deliberations of the House of Commons or papers providing the necessary information for the members to carry out their work.  Sometimes called "sessional papers", the papers include bills, reports of committees, reports presented by special commissions and government agencies, and "accounts and papers", including statistics, international agreements and treaties. For more information on the type of material that HCPP includes go to the Guide to the Parliamentary Papers.


The House of Commons Parliamentary Papers do not include the debates of the House of Lords or Commons, other than the 18th century material mentioned above.  O’Neill Library has extensive holdings of the historical and contemporary debates.  See the ‘Primary Sources’ section of the Irish History research guide for a complete listing of the debates in microform: scroll down to the section "Government Publications on Microfilm."  O’Neill Library has the printed debates for both houses in print from the mid-nineteen sixties onward.


House of Commons Parliamentary PapersWith all material available in full-text the HCPP presents well over 100,000 House of Commons sessional papers from 1715 to 2004 and includes supplemental material dating back to 1688.  Users can 'search' or 'browse' the material, use the context-sensitive 'Help' and save searched material in "My Archives." Photographs, charts, and tables add to the richness of the detailed reports.


The statement, "The sun never sets upon the British Empire" aptly describes the breadth, both geographically and topically of the nature of the reports and other types of documents found in the papers of the 19th century. Colonial documents from the time period present historical information on Africa, Australia, Canada, Ireland, East India, New Zealand and the West Indies. Other papers reveal British interest or interactions with China and Japan.


The failure of the potato crop in Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century caused devastation in every aspect of life for those Irish who relied on the potato to subsist.  Reports related to the potato blight and to measures taken by the British government to alleviate conditions that resulted from the subsequent famine detail the vast numbers of people affected and reveal differing views on how relief should be provided.


A researcher interested in finding a report of the failure of the potato crop can perform a search using the session and paper number, for example 1848 (session) 33 (paper number), if one has this information.  If not, a researcher may do the following search.

Click on "Search" and type "famine" in the keyword field; scroll down the search page and click on "Select from a hierarchical 19th century subject list." 


Select "Ireland" and click on "show all sub-headings." Select "Agriculture", then "potatoes (Ireland)" and click "Select" and then "Search."

The search will retrieve "Extract of Report of Commissioners of Inquiry Into Matters Connected with the Failure of the Potato Crop."  From this "Results" screen it is possible to search within the document for other terms.  If one adds "poor", for example, all page numbers listed in the results with occurrences of the term "poor" will have an orange box around them. Click on full-text in the resulting record to read the report.  If one chooses not to search within the document, page numbers with original search terms will be highlighted in the "results" screen.


The HCPP database will support research in many disciplines and subjects and has great potential for opening new opportunities for the development of innovative courses of study.


Kathy WilliamsKathleen Williams

Bibliographer, Irish Studies

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