About Unlocking the Archive

Unlocking the Archive is a project led by Dr Tom Roebuck and Dr Sophie Butler — academics in the School of Literature, Drama, and Creative Writing (LDC) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) — working in partnership with the Norfolk Library and Information Service, the National Trust’s Blickling Estate, and Northumberland Libraries and Archives, and in collaboration with Darren Leader Studio.

Drawing on our current research into the history of the book, practices of reading and annotation, antiquarianism, historiography, the history of editing, and biblical translation, we aim to raise awareness of the incredible collections of Renaissance books held in Norfolk and beyond, and to make them accessible to the public in new and exciting ways.

We are proud to introduce our digital resource, which launched in the summer of 2020: Discover Historic Books. Originally conceived in response to the Covid-19 crisis, our new site allows members of the public to explore some of the beautiful and fascinating early-modern books held by our partner libraries in East Anglia and Northumberland in the comfort of your own home, as well as providing fun, family-friendly creative activities inspired by the books. This interactive resource brings together our partner libraries with our partners within the region’s creative industries, to open up new forms of public access to these historic libraries. Please do click here to visit this new interactive resource to discover these wonderful books for yourself!

The UTA project was established in 2015 with the aim of increasing public awareness and appreciation of the wonderful collection of Renaissance books held in the Norfolk Heritage Centre in the centre of Norwich – one of the city’s greatest, but least-known, cultural treasures. Over the past few years, we have worked closely with librarians and curators at the NHC to develop a series of ongoing initiatives to show the different ways in which these publicly-owned books can still be living sources of inspiration and use today.

In 2018 we formed a new partnership with the National Trust’s Blickling Estate, working with the team there to create innovative public events inspired by the house’s incredible historic library, with the aim of encouraging deeper visitor engagement with Blickling’s spectacular collection, which contains around 12,500 early-modern books.

In 2019, we expanded our existing partnership with the Norfolk Library and Information Service and began working with King’s Lynn Public Library, who hold a significant but little-known collection of around 2000 early-modern books, many of which were originally part of libraries founded in the early seventeenth century at St Nicholas’s Chapel and St Margaret’s Church (now King’s Lynn Minster). Our inaugural public event celebrating King’s Lynn’s Renaissance books was held in November 2019.

We were delighted when, in the summer of 2020, we were approached by the team at Northumberland Libraries and Archives, who had seen our work with East Anglia’s historic libraries on the Discover Historic Books site. We are now proud to welcome Northumberland Libraries and Archives to the Unlocking the Archive project, following an official launch of our partnership in May 2021 — our first partnership outside East Anglia. You can now explore a selection of books from their collection — all with fascinating connections to the history of Northumberland — on our site.

Since its foundation, Unlocking the Archive has attracted substantial regional support and media attention, being the focus of several articles in the EDP, as well as the subject of features in EDP Norfolk Magazine, North Norfolk Living and on BBC Radio Norfolk, Mustard TV and That’s Norfolk TV.

In April 2021, we were shortlisted as Finalists in the ‘Outstanding Social or Cultural Impact’ category of this year’s UEA Innovation and Impact Awards. Wish us luck at the Awards Ceremony, taking place in June 2021!

Unlocking the Archive would like to thank UEA for its support of our project, and for the Higher Education Innovation Funding award which made this website possible.

Who we are


Tom is Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at UEA. Tom works on the scholars and scholarship of the English Renaissance, especially the ways in which scholars wrote the history of Britain. He is interested in how scholars worked and communicated with one another, and how their writings were shaped by their political and religious allegiances. He finds the manuscripts and printed books — especially annotated books — from the Renaissance to be incomparable resources in tackling these problems. Coming to UEA in 2013, he was delighted to find that Norfolk is especially rich in little-known collections of these kinds of scholarly books. This led him to found the Unlocking the Archive project.


Sophie is a Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at UEA. Her research focuses on the literary essay in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and on the history of reading and annotated books. She is also interested in women’s writing, early forms of autobiography, and the relationship between English and Continental literature. Her research into early-modern printed books and manuscripts has taken her to many different libraries across the UK, Europe, and the USA, but she believes that the Renaissance collections in Norwich and Norfolk are truly special, and has enjoyed getting to know them even better through the UTA project.