Virtual Event: An Introduction to Charles Lyell

Engraving of Charles Lyell, and the quote "The present is the Key to the past."We are excited to offer a new opportunity to experience this collection, a Zoom presentation by the Lyell Project staff on 10 December 2020 at 1pm GMT. This event reveals the ongoing work  at the University of Edinburgh with the geological collection of Sir Charles Lyell, a rich corpus of material including his notebooks, family papers, and geological specimens.

Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist, will introduce Lyell and show several key pieces of the collection using the Centre for Research Collection’s new innovative visualizer technology. This collection includes specimens collected by Charles Darwin, letters between Lyell and Darwin, and notebooks in Lyell’s own hand during his fateful tours to France and Italy. Dr. Gillian McCay, from the Cockburn Geological Museum at the Grant Institute, will connect Lyell’s legacy to modern scientific perspectives. Each will discuss adapting working practices over the past year to continue opening up this rich collection of earth science material.

You can find out more about the Sir Charles Lyell Collection here in this blog, and at

This talk is part of the Carlyle Circle 30th Anniversary online exhibition. The Carlyle Circle was formed in 1990 and in 2020 it celebrates three decades of impact, highlighting the many ways legacy giving has supported opportunities for world-leading teaching and research.

Instructions to join this free talk will go out to all attendees in advance of the online event. We welcome any who are interested, and look forward to seeing you.

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Lets get quizzical, quizzical!

You may remember that as part of your introduction to library services the Law Library team presented information on how to find legal resources using our databases. We’ve created a short online quiz for you to test your knowledge and identify areas you may need more practice on.

The questions have been chosen with particular reference to the material used on the Scottish Legal Studies undergraduate course, however we think it’d be a useful resource to practice your skills at all levels.

The quiz can be accessed using the link below and will be live until the 11th December.

Finding Legal Resources Quiz

Please note the quiz is not compulsory. If you have any questions or comments please let us know by emailing

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Meet your LexisNexis Student Associate!

We’d like to introduce you to Sam Ingleton, one of your fellow students who is a specialist in working with LexisNexis and all their resources – such as the invaluable LexisLibrary database. We asked Sam some questions and hope you’ll enjoy getting to know him just as we did!

Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you and what do you study at Edinburgh?

My name is Sam, and I’m taking a Graduate-Entry LLB, following a Philosophy and English Literature (MA) from the University of Edinburgh. I’ve been fortunate to receive a training contract offer from DLA Piper in Edinburgh, which starts in 2022 – a wonderful certainty in a time of global upheaval! Studying for my LLB and working for LexisNexis leaves relatively little time for extra-curricular activities, but I enjoy winemaking, writing, music production, and exploring the city with my dog in my spare hours. I’ll be living in Edinburgh for the foreseeable future, resisting the lure of London for as long as possible; this is a city with a lot to offer young professionals and students (as long as you don’t mind the short days and pervasive drizzle!).

Why did you apply to be the student associate for LexisNexis?

LexisNexis is an extremely useful platform. It has helped me in my own studies, and prepared me for a future of legal research in a professional context. I always had ambitions to teach, but I could never manage full-time academia or classroom teaching. My sister teaches primary school children – a difficult, but extremely admirable profession! Working as a LexisNexis student associate is a fantastic compromise: I find great fulfilment in the practise of academic tuition. As well as the obvious benefits which come with competence in legal research, LexisNexis gave me the opportunity to be of benefit to others, in a community that thrives on a collective, supportive, inclusive ambition.

What do you think is the best feature that LexisLibrary offers for students?

With LexisLibrary, it’s the simple, intuitive functions which bring the most value. My favourite tools are those which barely merit an explanation! The ability to ‘drill-down’ through search results, narrowing by key words, topics, and specific search strings makes finding both familiar and unknown cases incredibly straightforward. This functionality accelerates the process of constructing new legal arguments, as well as enabling those searching for case law to support a specific point in an essay or tutorial question.

If you could name one top tip that everyone should know about your platform, what would it be?

One thing I wish I had known before I began the infamously arduous application process: the ‘alerts’ function. Using this tool, I receive weekly updates on developments at my target firms, which I never would have found using Google, or combing through legal news publications. This way, as soon as cases and judgements reach the press, I can see how my firm has been involved, and read their submissions and the judge’s opinion in full. This would be a much more interesting talking point during an interview than anything I presented during my own assessment period. For aspiring solicitors, I think LexisNexis is an often-neglected opportunity to monitor your specific firms very closely. You’ll never need to have a generic ‘legal implications of the pandemic’ discussion ever again!

When students book a training session with you, what can they expect to get from the meeting?

I’m proud of my ability to move students through the certification quickly, and highlight the tools which I think will be most useful to them, selectively and efficiently. It’s no secret that law students are time-poor, and ‘talking heads’ on video conferences are a very modern nuisance. I try to keep engagement high, explanations concise, and then give the session to the attendees to complete the certification and ask questions. Ideally, the whole process is complete in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. I also like to highlight the extreme usefulness of the certification. I spoke to a partner at an international law firm, who expressed to me that the thing they wanted to see from this generation of applicants was a complete literacy in legal database use. I think this could be the key to transforming a good application into an application which secures a training contract.

Sam has provided an introductory poster in case you want to read a bit more about how he can help you with all your LexisNexis needs. You can contact him via LinkedIn, by email (, or you can find out more on the LexisNexis Students UK Facebook page.

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The Battle of Life: A look at the Dumfriesshire mental health survey

“worried, dull and anxious, not quite up to the battle of life.” Widowed female, 45-54 yrs, Dull and backward

Melancholia, 1830 by William Bartholomew, EU1394, Copyright: Edinburgh University Art Collection

As the second world war was coming to an end a psychiatrist and a psychiatric social worker based at the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries embarked upon the largest survey of a population’s mental health ever undertaken in Scotland. They collated information on over 5000 individuals from 40 rural communities, using hospital and out patient records but also by seeking the opinions of those in positions of authority – ministers, local doctors, teachers, nurses, police constables and public assistance officers – with regards local residents living in their communities, the majority of which had never received treatment. The result is a fascinating, poignant and at times disturbing collection of vignettes of rural life: A mother smoking and reading rather than completing her household chores; an adolescent girl singing too loudly on the bus; a grieving husband drinking before midday; a young boy who mixes up his letters truanting from school; a widow huddling with her cats in a roofless house.

“a helpless creature but has a tongue that “wad cut cloots” Married female, 54-64 yrs, Schizophrenia

On the basis of the collected information, each individual was assigned one of 25 diagnoses. The survey makes no distinction between physical disablities such as deafness or paralysis, learning difficulties, issues such as anxiety and addictions, conditions such as schizophrenia, personality disorders such as psychopathy, or cognitive and neurological disorders such as dementia or epilepsy. In the absence of any interaction between the individuals and a medical professional, these diagnoses were assigned mainly on behaviour, personality and/or looks. Someone may well have been included for being opinionated, humourless, quiet, too thin, overweight, giggly or serious.

“husband a decent fellow, a Communist. She is really in love with someone else – met her first love again recently which upset her” Married female, 25-34 yrs, Manic depressive

Mental health issues were attributed to a number of causes – traumatic births or accidents, home environments, genetics. Illegitimacy is always recorded but it is unclear if this was thought to be a cause of mental disturbances or a symptom. It is certainly implied that this was an indication of moral weakness or that family relations were “inharmonious”, both possibly leading mental health issues.

“Increasing depression and an overwhelming hatred of work in the pits. He has the spectacle of his invalid father always before him and feels a similar fate is awaiting him” Single male, 15-24 yrs, Manic depressive

Work related anxiety appears fairly frequently. One farmer in his 60s was admitted to the Crichton Royal and diagnosed with melancholia following a period of depression and restlessness: “Patient used to out at nights to see his neighbours, but gave this up. The depression gradually got worse until patient became very restless, pacing up and down the floor during the day and not sleeping well at nights. Has a delusion that he has mis-managed the farm, that he is ruined and will be put out ot starve or put in jail. Actually there is no cause for worry, the farm work is all right and no debts”.

Miners in particular suffered because of their working environment, some were claustrophobic, others had had family members who had been injured or killed and for some, the sounds and conditions triggered traumatic memories of serving in the war.

“This boy is good with his hands but backward, “a wee bit dour”. Doesn’t like school. Will probably be quite a good farm hand” Single male, 14 yrs and under, Dull and backward

Imbecility, 1830 by William Bartholomew, EU1384, copyright: Edinburgh University Art Collection

Rural areas at this time were facing an exodus and it would appear that an underlying motivation for the survey was to establish if Dumfriesshire had a viable workforce. The survey entries make repeated references to whether or not individuals are capable of steady work and, if so, what type of employment they are or will be suited to. We therefore get a considerable idea of the common occupations in the area at this time which range from mole catchers, music teachers and mason’s labourers, to railway workers, domestic servants and, of course, farmers. There are also the roles that all towns and villages require – postmasters and mistresses, grocers, tailors, and bakers – and evidence of the major industries and employers in the area: Textiles, forestry, estate work and ICI which arrived in the area at the start of the Second World War.

The language used in the survey is frequently shocking and it would most certainly have been offensive even at the time it was written. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between accepted medical terms which have now fallen out of usage such as “defective”, “idiocy”, “imbecile” and colloquial language entirely inappropriate for inclusion in a formal survey. Scots words appear often: “glaikit”, “dour”, “besom”, “trachle”.  The language is a clear indication of the attitudes of authority figures, not just to those with mental health difficulties, but also to women, children and those with disabilities. The vocabulary used is often infantilising, “soft”, “dopey”, or has criminal connotations, “pirate”, “wrong-un”. There is also evidence of the evolution of language, for example “queer”, “bent” and “gay” are used in this instanace to imply otherness and/or irresponsibility. It is interesting that these particular words would later be transferred to the LGBT community, another marginalised and discriminated against group.

“Blousy, drinks, loose habits, went about with Poles, a bad besom” Married female, 35-44 yrs, Psychopathic personality, Alcoholism

Women are judged particlarly harshly by the survey and domestic violence is frequently condoned by the authorities. There is a very narrow window in which women are allowed to be sexually active; if girls are sexually active too young they are a problem and if women are sexually active too old they are also a problem. Women over the age of 40 are repeatedly protrayed as hysterical or man mad. Women can be inlcuded in the survey for having a messy or dirty house but equally can be included if they are thought to be too preoccupied by cleanliness. Some women talk too much, some talk too little, some do not discipline their children enough, while some are deemed too strict.

The survey does, however, include some interesting references to women’s health including menstrual disorders and the menopause:

“This woman is menopausal, just sat and wept and wept, would not go out or talk to anybody”

“This woman is going through the climacteric, has heart symptoms; anxiety”

“Diagnosed as melancholia associated with the climacteric. She wished to go out naked, tore her hair, tortured her children. Ideas of guilt and ruin”

“Confuses g and c. His writing book made most peculiar reading. Quite good verbally” Single male, 14 yrs and under, Maladjusted child

Children too are dismissed very early on if they display difficulties at school. Some of the difficulties and behaviours recorded can easily be recognised today as dyslexia or autism. Although clinically recognized since the late 19th century it was not until the 1980s when dyslexia was recognized as a neurological disorder rather than a consequence of education.

While the survey does undoubtedly include people suffering with very real and frightening mental health difficulties some of the reasons given for inclusion range from the sublime to the ridiculous:

It is difficult to ascertain if those included in the survey would share the attitudes expressed in the survey or if it is a reflection of the establishment’s adherence to a very narrow definition of “normal”.  For, in general, the survey paints a picture of ordinary people getting on with their lives, despite the obvious hardships, surviving in a world with no safety net, coping with both physical and environmental handicaps, and accepting of the diversity of their families and communities. It should also not be forgotten that these communities were still recovering from the war and in many instances the scars of the first world war are also evident, with older men presenting with issues stemming from shell shock experienced some 20 years previously. In the main, the individuals in the survey seem to be very much up to the battle of life.

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Meet your Westlaw Student Representative!

We often receive requests from students for help with databases, but did you know that there’s a student specialist who can help you with all things Westlaw? Sofia Renshaw is available to answer questions, provide training and has a load of tips and tricks for getting the best from this popular legal database.

I am Sofia and I am currently in my final year studying Law at the University of Edinburgh. I applied for the role of Westlaw Student Representative as I recognise the importance of Westlaw as a resource for law students, particularly as we move to increased online teaching. Westlaw is an invaluable source for students at all stages of their law career and I recommend knowing how to use effectively as early as possible so you can get the most out of it in the coming years! I think that one of the most useful features of Westlaw is the precedent map. This allows you to see where a case has been cited and trace back through authorities to ensure the case you are using represents good law and strengthens any points you are making!

Westlaw training sessions are interactive and aim to prepare you for Westlaw Basic and Advanced certifications which you can put on your CV – remember that 94 of the top 100 UK law firms use Westlaw so this is a really valuable addition to any CV! I can also offer 1:1 sessions if there are specific concerns you wish to have assistance with and I run weekly Drop In Clinics where you can ask any questions!

You can contact Sofia for more information on training sessions or one-to-one appointments by heading to the Future Legal Legends Facebook page, or by emailing her directly:

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Referencing and Beyond Reading Lists

Last week the Law Librarians held a Referencing training session- focussing on OSCOLA!

If you didn’t get a chance to come along then don’t worry as we will be uploading the recording on to the Law Librarians Media Hopper Channel very soon.


Another date for your diary….

On the 2nd December at 9am there will be a Beyond your Reading List session- looking at where else you may find useful and relevant information.

Details are available on the events booking at 

screenshot of presentation

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From the Stores #3: Notebook No. 13

This week I spent some time working with the following notebook, No. 13, which Charles Lyell kept during his tour in southern France in 1828. This tour was originally started with Roderick and Charlotte Impey Murchison, and was foundational in Lyell’s decision to devote his work to geology over law, and also to begin work to write Principles of Geology. It was in comparing the rock formations of Paris to the south of France, Montpellier, Nice, and Italy that he found common fossilised shellfish, and concluded that these areas must at some point have been underwater, and have since been slowly lifted. (Maddox, p. 42) It was here, too, that in writing to Murchison from Naples 15 January 1829, he devoted himself to the study of geology, “I shall never hope to make money by geology, but not to lose, and tax others for my amusement.”

The notebook is filled with journal style writing, daily entries, with full page detailed sketches, as pictured below. Lyell writes in ink and pencil. Subjects include: Valley of Magna, Etangs, Comparison of Montepellier calcium deposits to those in Paris.


Maddox, Brenda. Reading The Rocks. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.


Elise Ramsay

Project Archivist (Charles Lyell Collection)

Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh

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The Shakespeare’s Collection – new resources from Gale

Several new resources have been added to Archives Unbound, a key primary source database from Gale. Among these is The Shakespeare Collection.

The Collection contextualizes the legacy of this great poet and playwright, containing a selection of over 200 prompt books (annotated working texts of stage managers and company prompters) from the 17th to 20th centuries, the extensive diaries of Shakespeare enthusiast Gordon Crosse documenting 500 UK performances from 1890 to 1953, the First Folio and Quartos, editions and adaptations of Shakespeare’s works from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, more than 80 works Shakespeare is thought to have been familiar with, as well as works composed by Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

The Collection contains 225 monographs and 764 manuscripts. Coverage 1571-1975.

There is now a new Shakepeare Resource page, within the Library Subject Guide for English Literature, which brings together major Library resources for the study of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest dramatist the world has ever seen.

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From the Stores #2: Gideon Mantell

This week in the stores, I began to delve into the box lists which describe the new-to-us collection of further papers of Charles Lyell and the family which was received by the University in the summer through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. These are 18 boxes of papers and correspondence of Lyell, and I have embarked on scanning these box lists which will prepare for more in-depth cataloguing in the short to medium term. Here is what most box lists look like:

Gideon Mantell was a frequent correspondent of Lyell, and their life-long relationship started with a bang in 1821, when Lyell casually called on Mantell while visiting his old school at Midhurst. Having heard tell of the doctor from some workmen in the nearby quarry, Lyell rode the 25 miles over the South Downs and knocked on Mantell’s door nearly at dusk. Presumably they might have known each other’s names from the Geological Society, but one would imagine the visit would still have come as surprise at best. However, common interest prevailed, a well-stocked fossil cabinet provided great amount of conversation, and the two reportedly gossiped until morning. (Bailey, p. 48) Their published letters cover all from scientific theories, discoveries, to the latest gossip and accounts from the GeolSoc and Royal Society, of which they were both members.

In a week which is dominated by a race for a vaccine, we see similar scientific rivalries in the early years of geological science. Today Mantell is known for bringing to light and describing dinosaur reptiles. These letters from 1851 with Lyell may relate to a legendary dispute between Mantell, Lyell, and Sir Richard Owen surrounding a reptile fossil which was found in ancient rock, which previously had only yielded fish. At this time, years before Darwin’s Origins of the Species, views of the evolution of life were split into two camps; progressionists (today, this sect is called orthogenesis) believed that organisms have an innate tendency to evolve to a particular goal, and most followers believed this to mean a trend of increasing biological complexity through time. Any description of a tree of life usually falls within this hypothesis. Lyell and Mantell opposed this belief, identifying as anti-progressionists. A famous dispute occured between Lyell, Mantell, and Owens when Mantell and Owens wrote opposing descriptions of this curious fossil. The legend resolved with Owens in the wrong, and Lyell and Mantell in the right, but research using the archival collections of Owens and Mantell proves the legend wrong, revealing that Lyell urged Mantell, thought infirm and ailing, to write the description long after Owens had already been tapped to view and describe the fossil, and it was Mantell and Lyell who were in the wrong. This is a woefully clipped version of events, but I find the true value of work with archives here: with access and research to correspondence archives such as this one, the true stories of history are told, and legends can be found faulty.


Charles Lyell, Sir Edward Bailey, 1962

For more about this progressionist dispute, see Michael J. Benton’s Progressionism in the 1850s: Lyell, Owen, Mantell and the Elgin fossil reptile Leptopleuron (Telerpeton)


Elise Ramsay

Project Archivist (Sir Charles Lyell Collection)

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The Law Library, Old College

Have you visited the Law Library this year?

This is a really unusual year for staff and students at Edinburgh and it can be disconcerting not knowing which facilities are open on campus, or what to expect when you get there. We want to reassure any students who are keen to visit the Law Library at Old College that there will be a warm welcome for you there. Our Helpdesk Team are working hard to make sure the library service is as safe as possible while still providing the excellent support you need to access the resources and study spaces in the building.

We’ve asked our Helpdesk Manager, Fran, to offer a few words of advice for anyone wishing to visit the library:

Library Helpdesk staff would like to welcome you back to the Library! We are here to help with guiding you to the study space that you have booked, card replacements and general enquiries. We do ask that you follow the guidelines for things that have been put in place to ensure the safety of all library users and staff. This means that you must wear a face covering (unless you have an exemption) at all times, even when you are sat in a study space. We have put a lot of cleaning material and hand sanitiser in the library, if anything is missing please let us know. There is a well marked out one way system which is there for you to follow and ensures that we all can maintain social distancing.

Our Helpdesk staff are ready to assist you in the library.

Fran and her team are ready to greet you during the library’s open hours, which are currently as listed below:

Monday 21 September – Friday 4 December 2020
Days Opening hours
Monday – Thursday 9am – 9.50pm
Friday 9am – 6.50pm
Saturday 9am – 4.50pm
Sunday 12noon – 4.50pm

These hours may change from the 5th December 2020 in preparation for exams. For more information on this and other changes to the service, check the Law Library pages on the university website:

Law Library Information
Law Library Opening Hours
Booking a study space

We hope that you stay safe and know that the Law Library will be ready to welcome you back whenever it is safe for you to be on campus.

Students sit in armchairs on the mezzanine level, visible in the top half of an archway. Students browse books in the library stacks on the ground floor.

View of the mezzanine from the Senate Room

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