The Indian Primer: iconics in raking light


According to researchers at the Centre for Research Collections, The Indian Primer is a tiny book containing Christian instruction, mainly in the native American Algonquian language. Printing began in America in 1640 and was used by missionary John Eliot, who translated the Bible and many other works into the native language for the first time. This unique 1669 copy was gifted to the University Library in 1675 by James Kirkton. Amazingly, this copy is still in its original American binding, of decorated white animal skin over thin wooden boards. Continue reading

Copernicus x Smith

The University’s Iconics Collection holds some of the institution’s most valued and treasured items, and the recent push for more digitisation of the University of Edinburgh collections has meant that the Iconic items are a high priority.

Recently I digitised Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). Copernicus is regarded as one of the central figures of the Scientific Revolution for his heliocentric theory. It is considered one of the key works in the history of western astronomy as it brought forth a new theory about the Universe and our place in it at a time where it was widely believed that everything in the Universe orbited a motionless, central Earth. It was also the first open criticism against Aristotelian and Ptolemic systems, which in addition to claiming Earth was central, employed the classical ideal of ‘celestial motions’ being eternally uniform and circular.  Continue reading

Victorian Veterinary Journals

Tab. II (after p.10).

The Anatomy of the Horse. Stubbs, George.

Recently I worked on digitising a small number of volumes of The Veterinary Journal from the late 19th century and late 20th century. Almost 100 years apart, the earlier volumes from 1889-1898 had some questionable advice and cures for ailments including the free use of toxic chemicals and even a few drams of whisky for a horse’s stomach ache! We view these archaic methods nowadays with humour – after all, some absurdities are expected from a late Victorian medical journal.

The first journal I scanned was compiled in 1889, and there was a brief article about the use of Chloroform as an anaesthetic for horses during surgery, and although the author is “aware that some authorities rather discourage the administration of chloroform, on the ground that it frightens the horse more than the operation does” he noted that “if small doses are administered with very little air the results are much more satisfactory, particularly if Carlisle’s chloroform-bag is used. Of this apparatus I wish to speak in terms of great praise, and would strongly recommend it to chloroformists.”

This short report may have been slightly controversial, as research had been done as early as forty years prior about the dangers of chloroform as an anaesthetic, for both humans and animals, and the first human death due to chloroform poisoning was in 1848, although several professional institutions denied for many years that there was a correlation between the two.

A glass bottle used to administer chloroform, owned by James Young Simpson. In a leather case.

There was an increasing number of human deaths relating to the medical use of chloroform in the 1800s, even when John Snow’s purpose built inhaler was used, often due to incorrect adjustment of the absorbent paper and unregulated dosages. Shock or fright also added to the likelihood of death as the heart and lungs were already in a fragile state, and ironically those who were otherwise healthy and in a physically fit state needed a dangerously high amount to reach the same state as frail patients.

Snow used animals as test subjects and when he found that the other popular anaesthetic Ether did not produce paralysis of the heart, he nevertheless continued to use chloroform. When asked why, he said “An occasional risk never stands in the way of ready applicability.” It must also be noted that in 1824 Henry Hill Hickman discovered that he could use carbon dioxide as a painless anaesthetic in animals, but unfortunately this wasn’t well documented at the time. Perhaps the author of the article in The Veterinary Journal held the same beliefs as Snow and was set in his ways.

(‘Note on Chloroform’ by F. Raymond, F.R.C.V.S., F.R.M.S., E.T.C, Army Veterinary Department, The Veterinary Journal: Volume 28, 1889)


The Veterinary Journal: Volume 46 (XLVI) 1898_1

Another odd article found in the Notes and News section in Volume 46 (1898) was ‘The Value of Hydrochloric Acid in Sciatica Discovered by Accident’. This article describes a man who suffered for many years from sciatica who was undergoing treatment of hypodermic injections of salt and water, but found it ineffective. He felt a stronger salt content would be more successful, so he procured some “spirit of salt” (hydrochloric acid) and painted it on his skin in the affected areas. He was miraculously cured of his pains in only a few days, and told doctors who were interested in trialling this treatment with their patients. “The procedure is simple enough,” the article promises, “Half an ounce of strong hydrochloric acid is put in a small cup and a brush is dipped in it and applied over the painful part of the nerve, three or four coats being painted on. The limb is then developed in a cotton-wool dressing. Of course, the application causes a somewhat severe smarting sensation, but this is quite bearable. A few minutes afterwards the skin becomes reddened and hot, and sometimes bullae are formed which fill with fluid. These, even if they occur, disappear in two or three days. Usually the patient feels better even after a single sitting. The application can be repeated in from twenty-four to forty-eight hours, but not again for several days, for fear of producing sloughs. Of course, too, where there are bullae they must be avoided in subsequent applications.”

The article was overwhelmingly positive with doctors reporting many happy and cured patients. No mention of other health hazards (apart from the burns on the skin’s surface) such as inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, chest pain and pulmonary edema from acute inhalation of hydrochloric acid. Due to limited medical knowledge of chemical toxicity at the time, only autopsies could reveal underlying internal health problems, some caused by the apparent cures.

Lastly, I came across a brief but thought provoking article that is very relevant in today’s climate of awareness for animal welfare, titled ‘Is the Flesh of Tortured Animals Poisonous as Food?’. The opening statement recalls that this is not a new concept; “The idea has been recently started, or rather revived – for it is somewhat ancient – that the flesh of tortured animals may be pernicious as food; and as it has received the support of medical men […] Whether it really does so is a question we cannot pretend to answer, but the popular notion […] [is] that some change does occur in the tissues under the influence of pain or distress.”

Chillingham Bull by William Shiels (1785-1857). Creator: Low, David (b.1786, d.1859).

 More than ever before vegetarianism and veganism is becoming popular as more awareness is spread about animal cruelty and the factory farming industry, and people are making choices that are more emotionally charged when it comes to food and the environment. This article from 1889 doesn’t offer much scientific analysis or any conclusive proof, apart from an anecdotal excerpt; “A medical man at Lancaster lends his countenance to the poisonous character of what he designates “tortured meat,” and he evidently believes that there is danger in its consumption. A toxic product is developed in the flesh of tortured animals, he asserts, one of the class of peculiar bodies known as “ptomaines,” some of which are not destroyed at the temperature of cooking, and which, he contends, are undoubtedly produced under conditions of great pain and distress.”

It was a surprising subject to come across, especially in a volume so old, but clearly showing an awareness for the welfare of animals among veterinary professionals, and those looking closely at the structure of an animal on a scientific basis. Awareness of chemicals that were entering our bodies was evidently a viable research venture in the 1800s. In stark contrast, the journals from the late 1980s are much closer to today’s medical standards and following much stricter procedures and regulations.

Who knows what new discoveries veterinary journals of 2080 may hold!

Juliette Lichman
Digitisation Assistant

New i2S CopiBook V-Shape Scanner in the DIU

Last week the i2S CopiBook V-Shape arrived in the Digital Imaging Unit where it was installed and demoed by Pascale Thuilliez from i2S. This high-quality bookscanner was bought with the view to being used for the next phase of the Session Papers Project (read my previous blog here for more information on the project itself).

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2 and 3D Photography: Practice, Prophecies, and Beyond- Conference at the Rijksmuseum

Team DIU (well, half of it!) have been visiting the Rijksmuseum again for the biennial conference on 2 and 3D photography. 2 full days of speakers followed by another workshop day left us with lots to think about. This year’s conference built on the last, Robert Erdmann released the open source code for his amazing curtain viewer which can be tried out in the Bosh Project here . Malcolm is going to delve deeper in to Erdmann’s latest developments below. Otherwise 3D technology seems to be taking root, with debate over the level of quality and detail needed, and advances such as ‘videogrammetry’ and ‘unstructured light field renderings’ (see below) entering the fray.

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The Gaelic Liturgy; the only copy in Scotland

This unassuming little book is of the greatest national importance: it is the only copy in Scotland of the first book printed in Gaelic (Gaelic Liturgy; year 1567; shelfmark Dd.10.44.).  After the Reformation there was a strong impetus, sponsored primarily by the Campbell Earls of Argyll, to evangelise the Highlands and Islands, where Gaelic rather than Scots was spoken.  John Carswell, Bishop of the Isles, adapted John Knox’s Book of Common Order into Scottish Gaelic.  It was a hugely ambitious undertaking, particularly considering it would be another two centuries before the New Testament was finally published in vernacular Gaelic.  This copy has clearly been well-used.

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Voyages of Discovery

In this weeks’ blog post we are pleased to welcome our newest member of staff, Juliette Lichman. When not working on new orders, she has been preparing old ones to go into our Open Books Repository Juliette has been discovering how easy it is to get drawn in to the complex and fascinating histories of the books…

The university’s cherished Laing collection is an invaluable resource of important historical documents, and is a frequent subject on this blog. The fact that there are still so many unknown works and exciting discoveries to be made within the collection is astounding. I was lucky enough to experience this first-hand several weeks ago, during an afternoon of working through a deeply buried folder of book scans. I came across a Laing collection document that had incorrect and missing metadata. It appeared to be an unassuming manuscript (date unknown) with handwriting that was ornately scribed but difficult to decipher, though certainly English.
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The Stories and Afterlife of Lady Grange

Stories beget stories – it’s one of my favourite things about them – and archives are built on precisely this strength. Archival collections, like those at the University of Edinburgh, do not simply store and preserve artefacts, but actually become a medium through which stories, both existing and those yet to be told, can find a voice. As these musings might already indicate, I’ve been recently reminded of the centrality of stories to archives through my time as a volunteer in the Digital Imaging Unit working on various papers related to Rachel Erskine, née Chiesley (bap.1679-1745), or, as she is more infamously known, Lady Grange.

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Scottish Court of Session Papers; digitisation pilot

At present I am working on a pilot project, digitising the Scottish Court of Session Papers. The collection is held across three institutions; The Advocate’s Library, The Signet Library and the University of Edinburgh’s Library and University Collections. The collection itself consists of circa 6500 volumes, comprising court cases which span the 18th and 19th century.

The aim of the pilot is to determine the most effect digitisation methods for these materials with a view to a potential mass digitisation project covering the entire collection. The digitisation tests and experiments I have been undertaking have raised the many challenges that such a large project would present, namely around the issue of recording metadata and which digitisation practices to employ in relation to the condition and size of any particular volume.

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2nd C. Sculpture to Star Wars Props: 3D, a Force Awakens?

During a photogrammetry training session with Clara Molina Sanchez, we were recommended to choose objects with a matt surface, small to medium in size, and which didn’t have many holes or occlusions. We settled on a Gandharan Buddha from the Art Collection, a Paolozzi maquette from the Edinburgh College of Art collection and, just to test what would happen, a thigh bone trumpet wrapped in shiny metal filigree from the Musical Instruments collection.

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