The archive in particular charts the progress in academic development and buildings both in the centre of Edinburgh and at Riccarton. The University archive documents the development of the institution from 1821 to the present day The Excelsior Magazine coverfrom Mechanics Institute to technical College and University. The collections cover the School of Arts, Heriot-Watt College, University, Watt Club, Watt Subscription Fund and Students Representative Council and include Committee minutes and papers, annual accounts and reports, photographs, film, plans, biographical information on staff and students, student work, societies and publicity material. 

Unfortunately, the early period of the School of Arts includes very little on individual students unless they received a medal but by the 1870s, the Merit Lists include class exam results for all those who passed exams. However, there are records of some of the early student activities such as the Literary Society and of particular interest are the student newspapers Omega and Watt's On, giving the student perspective of the gradual move of the University to the new Campus.