The most important manuscript collection at the University of Edinburgh has long been acknowledged to be the Laing Collection. This treasure trove was donated to the University of Edinburgh in 1878 by David Laing (1793-1878) and contains a startlingly vast array of texts and artefacts. To gloss this diversity only briefly, the University’s description of the Laing collection attests that one can find more than 100 Western medieval manuscript books, a 9th-century Koran, over 3000 charters, manuscript poems, texts, and letters written by Robert Burns (1759-1796), the lovely illustrated “Album Amicorum” (book of friends) by Michael Van Meer (?-1653), and poetry by Elizabeth Melville (1582-1640). Even the handlist for the collection is itself an archival artefact of sorts, having been drawn up in 1878 at the time of the bequest and bearing traces of additions and corrections made over the years since.
As important as the Laing collection is though, I’ll admit that until a couple of months ago, I didn’t know much about it and I certainly hadn’t spent any time delving into what it has to offer. I’m an English literature PhD here at the University of Edinburgh and my research focuses on archives, digital humanities, and, in particular, the study of idiosyncratic texts, like concrete poetry and scrapbooks. I like that these works challenge traditional literary classifications and give some pause when users must decide how to read them, digitise them, or otherwise interpret them. These interests led me to volunteer with the DIU, where I have been working to enrich the descriptive metadata of digitised items from the University’s Special Collections and Library holdings. This is also what finally led me to the Laing collection.
Iron Age burial excavated at Châlons-sur-Marne, France (Ritchie: 1968)
Highlights from the PhD digitisation project
Exploring the theme of cemeteries and memorials showcases some of the most visually rich and striking theses that we have seen thus far in our digitisation project. This selection of works date from the 1960’s a period throughout which we see an increase in topics drawn from the Humanities and Social Sciences. The images collated here come from theses discussing subjects raging from martyred saints to housing development and time periods from the Iron Age to 1967.
Discovery of the relics of St. Luke the evangelist in the church of the Holy Apostles (Vat. Grec. 1613, p.121; Powell: 1963)
One such fascinating subject is the depiction of the treatment and burial of martyred saints in the Byzantine era. These images are drawn from the thesis by Ann Powell (1963) entitled “Byzantine landscape painting, with special reference to the Illustrations of the Monologian of Basil II, Vat. Grec. 1613”.
Funeral of St Matthew (Symeon), (Vat Grec. 1613 p186; Powell: 1963)
The history and culture of Scotland also features prominently. Another gem discusses the period of the 14th to 17th centuries including images of the cemeteries and tombs found in Ayrshire (Largs, Skelmorlie Aisle) and Perthshire (Grantully). As part of this work (MR Apted’s, 1964, “painting in Scotland from the 14th to the 17th centuries with particular reference to painted domestic decoration 1550-1650) the interior design of this period is recorded with painstaking detail.
St Mary’s, Grandtully (Apted: 1963)
Skelmorlie Aisle, Largs (Apted: 1964)
The Montgomerie tomb, Skelmorlie Aisle (Apted: 1964)
A thesis on Celtic weaponry delivers stunning images of burials and funerary stele, from Iron Age France (depicted above) to Roman Britain (below): G Ritchie, 1968, “Celtic defensive weaponry in Britain and its continental background”.
Wroxeter (Shropshire) Roman grave stele (Ritchie: 1968)
Colchester Essex, Roman grave stele (Ritchie 1968)
Finally moving all the way from the 1st century AD we reach Edinburgh’s rural fringe development between 1850-1967, in: AJ Strachan, 1969, “The rural-urban fringe of Edinburgh 1850-1967”. In this case we see cemeteries rather oddly paired with recreational areas such as parks, golf course and sports grounds. The darker areas reflect housing developments over time.
The development of cemeteries and recreational spaces between 1850 and 1967.(Strachan: 1969)
The theses selected here have been scanned and are currently being processed to be made available online soon. They take us on a journey through the development of research in the Humanities and Social Sciences from 1963 to 1969, but what will the 70’s bring us?
Make sure to follow our next adventure…
This week we have finished compressing Main Library collections on the 2nd floor and have moved up to the 3rd floor.
Our contractors have moved collections on over 10,000 metres of shelving – quite an achievement!
In the coming weeks the empty shelving resulting from the compression will be removed, and additional study spaces added. This work has included a large amount of noisy reconfiguration of shelving and has restricted access to lifts and collections so apologies for the disruption caused.
We’ve been struck by how understanding our users have been during the work, so thank you all for your continuing patience.
Some of the collections (pamphlets and folios in P and the full collections of P, PA and PB) previously on the 3rd floor have now moved down to the 2nd floor.
The 2nd floor now has collections A-PB and the 3rd floor has collections PC-Z.
Signs will be updated accordingly.
This is part of the wider ongoing work to improve the Main Library over the summer – more posts to follow…
I’m happy to let you know that the Library has recently purchased two new primary source databases looking at Chinese and Asian history. These are China: Culture and Society and a new collection of files covering 1938-1948 from Foreign Office Files for China. So if this is an area you are interested in then read on.
You can access both databases via the Databases A-Z list.
Foreign Office Files for China, 1938-1948: Open Door, Japanese war and the seeds of communist victory
Foreign Office Files for China provides access to the digitised archive of British Foreign Office files dealing with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Library had already purchased access to the files covering the period 1949-1980, broadly covering the Communist Revolution, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Read More
Following its recent ‘soft launch’, Lynda.com, a new service that provides access to an extensive library of high quality video courses in technology, creative and business skills, is now available for staff and students of the University.
I’m pleased to let you know that the Library has recently purchased the Papers of Neville Chamberlain, an online resource containing political papers documenting Chamberlain’s policies as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister and highlighting his personal correspondence with his family.
You can access the Papers of Neville Chamberlain via the Databases A-Z list. This collection is made available to us via Archives Unbound from Gale Cengage.
A guest post from Chloe Elder – New College Library Special Collections Digitisation Intern
Considering the ease with which most of us have access to information, it can be easy to forget the long way society has come in its efforts to provide resources for the public. For example, I’ve written this post on my very portable laptop in my Wi-Fi enabled flat and with my iPhone in constant peripheral vision. As we all know, before the days of the internet, our search for information required a trip to the library, but public libraries as we know them today did not exist before the middle of the nineteenth century. In the centuries preceding, the library has evolved from storehouses for records and archives, to ecclesiastical and academic cloisters, and the private collections of the elite and learned. And beginning in the late seventeenth century history, history saw a shift from the relative seclusion of these repositories toward a trend that supported the public dissemination of knowledge. One pioneer in this effort in Scotland was James Kirkwood, who is best known for his determination to provide Bibles to the parishes of the Scottish Highlands and for advocating for the establishment of parish libraries throughout Scotland in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
As we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, Cambridge University Press is offering free chapters from their prestigious books and articles from Shakespeare Survey every month to celebrate the reach of Shakespeare’s global reputation. The selected publications all focus on Shakespeare’s fellow playwrights and writers. All of this content can be accessed freely on the publisher’s Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary homepage, or click the link straight to either the free book chapters or Shakespeare Survey articles.
If you wish to read the whole books, our University’s Main Library has the printed version of most of these books. Please search in Discovered. We also have a full run of the journal Shakespeare Survey from 1948 onwards, though we haven’t subscribed to the online version yet.