The Letters of Richard Cobden (1804-65) Online

Transcriptions of c.5,500 letters that enable an exploration of active citizenship in the 19th and 21st centuries.

This project will maximise the impact and engagement potential of c.5,500 letters transcribed by the AHRC-funded Letters of Richard Cobden Project in 2002-2006 which did not appear in the four-volume Oxford edition. The project involves the original project team, Dr Simon Morgan and Prof. Anthony Howe, alongside new team-member Dr Helen Dampier, who has significant experience of delivering impact and engagement with letters-based projects. We propose to make the letters available online free of charge and to use them as the basis of a range of activities designed to engage secondary school pupils, policy makers and the general public around the theme of ‘active citizenship’. These activities include:

  • Working with schools in Greater Manchester and Leeds to design teaching materials and activities compatible with the Citizenship part of the National Curriculum at Key Stages 3 and 4.
  • Bringing together c.100 archives, libraries and museums worldwide to create a virtual exhibition of Cobden material on the theme of ‘Active Citizenship’, hosted on the project website.
  • Organising a workshop to engage policy makers and practitioners on the subject of ‘Trade Policy’, resulting in an article for the History & Policy website.
  • Launching an essay competition with the History of Parliament Trust on the theme of Active Citizenship, to be awarded at the official launch of the online resources at the Houses of Parliament in 2023.
  • Holding an exhibition of Cobden manuscripts and material at Archive+ in the Manchester Central Library building from April to June 2023, on the theme of ‘Cobden as a citizen’.

To deliver these activities, we are working with a number of partner organisation: Cheadle Hulme High School in Greater Manchester; Lawnswood School in Leeds; the History of Parliament Trust; and Archives+. The project has been devised in consultation with teachers to tie in with the aims of the National Curriculum in Citizenship at KS3 and KS4, which are to ensure pupils:

  • acquire a sound knowledge and understanding of how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government
  • develop a sound knowledge and understanding of the role of law and the justice system in our society and how laws are shaped and enforced
  • develop an interest in, and commitment to, participation in volunteering as well as other forms of responsible activity, that they will take with them into adulthood. – are equipped with the skills to think critically and debate political questions.

The teaching materials themselves will draw on the letters and contextual materials and be designed around the themes of democracy, inclusivity, press freedom and international co-operation. Pupils will compare and contrast opportunities for active citizenship available in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, being encouraged to draw their own critical comparisons and develop their own projects to effect political or social change.

The main outcomes will be:

  • An open-access digital repository of 5,500 previously unpublished Cobden letters, with contextual essays.
  • A set of online learning resources based on the letters, to support the teaching of Citizenship at KS3 and KS4.
  • A permanent online exhibition comprising digital images of Cobden artefacts and original letters from archives across the world.
  • A workshop and article for History and Policy on the lessons of Cobden’s career for modern trade policy.
  • A temporary exhibition at Archives+ in central Manchester to run April-June 2023.

This project showcases the continued relevance of the Humanities at a time when the value of these subjects is being called into question, while the resources created will have considerable longevity.


Project Team

  • Dr Simon Morgan (Principal Investigator — Leeds Beckett University)
  • Dr Helen Dampier (Co-Investigator — Leeds Beckett University)
  • Prof. Anthony Howe (Co-Investigator — University of East Anglia)
  • Jodie Morrison (Project Administrator — Leeds Beckett University)
  • Matthew Groves (Research Software Engineer — Digital Humanities Institute)