Bodleian Ballads

Online Resource
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Scope and Content

The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford hold close to 30,000 printed broadside ballads and this collection facilitates digital access to these ballads and those held in other important collections.

Broadside ballads were popular songs, sold cheaply in printed form across Great Britain from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The ballads were performed publically in taverns, homes, fairs and other unofficial public gatherings. They were wittily illustrated and their lyrics often echoed contemporary themes - such as religion, politics, satire and bawdy, comic tales.

Although broadside ballads were enormously popular, few printed samples have survived to the present day. Users can now access these rare historical sources online and study digitised printed ballad sheets and different copies of the same ballad, with some ballads also accompanied by digital sound files.

The Bodleian Ballads site also hosts links to the broadside ballads archive of the University of California and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Access Information

Unless otherwise stated, content within this collection is licensed under Creative Commons.


This is a description of an Online Resource. Online Resources are websites that describe, interpret and provide access to archives. They often provide access to digital content but they may also describe physical materials. They usually cover a theme or topic, such as an individual, a movement, or an important historical event.

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A Jisc funded digitisation initiative. Publisher: University of Oxford

Additional Information

This collection is of interest to those studying the ballad form, music and composition. It is also of interest to those studying the history of printing and literacy, history from the 16th to the 20th centuries and the social sciences.

The collection may also be of interest to those studying theatre and performance and English language and literature.

The collection is free for all to access under a Creative Commons Licence. Users can browse, search and also view ballads in selected groups of collections and illustrations. Online help is available to users and a regularly updated blog highlights interesting areas of the Bodleian Ballads collection.