Scottish Court of Session Papers: Phase 2 Pilot

“The most valuable unstudied source for Scottish history….in existence.” Historiographer Royal, Professor T.C. Smout

It has been a while since we provided an update on our Scottish Court of Session Papers Digitisation Project after the initial pilot in early 2017 (see previous blog post here). To recap, this project consists of an expansive collection of court records from Scotland’s highest civil court. The collection is held over three institutions here in Edinburgh; The Faculty of Advocates, The Signet Library and the Edinburgh University Library (EUL), with EUL leading the project. There are over 5000 volumes made up of written pleadings of contested cases, answers, replies, and case summaries, many of which have contemporary annotations. It is almost certainly the world’s largest single body of uncatalogued English language printed material before 1900. Many of the volumes are in very poor condition, requiring conservation care, and the volumes often contain large foldouts which present many digitisation challenges.

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The Aberdeen Breviary: A National Treasure

The Aberdeen Breviary is a highly significant book for a number of reasons. Initiated by King James IV and compiled by Bishop William Elphinstone, it is Scotland’s first printed book, published in Edinburgh in 1510. It also represents the most in depth collection of information on the lives and stories of Scottish Saints. Our copy is one of five known remaining original copies making it a key addition to our Iconics Collection. Continue reading

The Anatomy of the Horse

Recently I digitised Carlo Ruini’s ‘Anatomia Del Cavallo’ (The Anatomy of the Horse, Diseases and Treatments) as part of our Iconics collection on our i2S V-shape cradle scanner. It is a lavishly illustrated anatomic manual on the study of horses and was the first book to focus exclusively on the structure of a species other than man. In Ruini’s estimation, the horse combines ‘great love of man’ with natural docility and is celebrated for its many ways to bring pleasure and assistance to man that it is commemorated everywhere in monuments, tombs, poetry, and painting.

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A Stitch in Time: Mahābhārata Delivered Online

I don’t know if I have ever been more excited about a digitisation project going live:  the Edinburgh University’s 1795 copy of the Mahābhārata is now available online.  This beautiful scroll is one of the longest poems ever written, containing a staggering 200,000 verses spread along 72 meters of richly decorated silk backed paper. As one of the Iconic items in our Collection it was marked as a digitisation priority, so when a customer requested the 78 miniatures back in April 2017 it seemed like a good opportunity to digitise it in its entirety. There was just one problem: it was set to go on display in the ‘Highlands to Hindustan’ exhibition, which opened at the Library in July. This left us with only a narrow window of opportunity for the first stages of the project: conservation and photography. Continue reading

Correcting Shakespeare

Since November last year, I have been volunteering on the Luna Project in the Digital Imaging Unit. Throughout the project I have been working with the University of Edinburgh’s Shakespeare Collection. As a fan of Shakespeare’s work, I was delighted to have the opportunity to work closely with this collection which contains a variety of different classic Shakespeare plays such as; Romeo and Juliet, Henry VI, Midsommer Night’s Dreame and my personal favourite, the Taming of The Shrew. Continue reading

Training Sessions: Low-Tech Imaging for Social Media


There’s no doubt that in our digital age, social media and online presence is crucial to engaging with your customers, audiences or users. Due to the growing demand of higher quality images on these platforms, several of us in the DIU have recently given talks about achieving the best image quality using low-tech solutions. The great thing about phones and tablets is that we’re able to share content to social media from anywhere, creating a sense of immediacy and dynamism. Being able to take great photos and videos with just our phones can be challenging, but knowing the best settings and set-up can help to create great images that will make your posts more engaging. Continue reading

Living Icons: Keeping with the “Archival Liveness” of the University’s Iconic Items

Jami’ al-Tawarikh, f.14v detail

As the other blog posts that I have written for the DIU will attest to, I repeatedly find myself drawn to archival artefacts and stories that show the always “in-process” nature of archives[1]. While the word archive might initially bring to mind shelves full of preserved books and artefacts, collections kind of frozen in time and stoically telling a particular story, those working in archives will attest instead to the truly dynamic nature of archives. In fact, Tom Schofield et al. have introduced the term “archival liveness” as a concept that “promotes a view of the archive as a set of on-going professional, institutional and technical processes and precipitates a focus on the different kinds of temporality embodied within these” (“Archival Liveness”, 2015). What the idea of archival liveness gets at is that as our socio-technological, historical, and cultural moments change, so too does our ability to engage with archives. Cataloguing must be done to make an archive discoverable and searchable, but this costs time and money, and so archives exist at different stages of complete or incomplete cataloguing. Moreover, as time passes, archives typically grow, or sometimes shrink if things are lost, and they are remediated through various preservation, restoration, and, in our current digital world, digitization processes, all of which requires new forms of discovery and engagement with the archived collections. Archives are therefore always embedded within shifting networks of mediation and distribution. Continue reading

Michael Servetus: Christianismi Restitutio

Title:Michael Servetus een Spangiard Amsterdam, 1607.
Shelfmark: JZ 439

Bound to the stake by the iron chain, with a chaplet of straw and green twigs covered with sulphur on his head, with his long dark face, it is said that he looked like the Christ in whose name he was bound.  Around his waist were tied a large bundle of manuscript and a thick octavo printed book. The torch was applied, and as the flames spread to the straw and sulphur and flashed in his eyes, there was a piercing cry that struck terror in the hearts of the bystanders…’Jesu, thou Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me.’ (Michael Servetus: Humanist and Martyr, Fulton, John F. 1953)

These were the last words of Michael Servetus, physician and theologian, condemned to death in 1553 after being branded a heretic.

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Zhouyi zhuanyi Daquan: a piece of early-Ming tradition

Just in time for the Chinese New Year we can announce that our copy of the Zhouyi zhuanyi Daquan is now available to view on our collections website – here. This is the earliest printed book in our collections, printed in 1440 in the Chinese province of Fujian. Zhouyi zhuanyi Daquan has become known in English as the Complete Commentaries on the Book of Changes. The Book of Changes itself is a seminal work on the subject of Confucianism.

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Musica Getutscht

Portative Organ, Anvil and Hammers, Chime Bells and Clapper Bells.

Musica Getutscht (Basel, 1511) is the earliest printed treatise on musical instruments in the west. Written by Sebastian Virdung who was a priest and a chapel singer, it provides rudimentary instruction on playing the clavichord, lute and recorder. It was also the first of its kind to be written in a vernacular language, making it a widely accessible text. Both Virdung and his printer, Michael Furter, were no doubt aware that this would be an important document to offer the German-speaking world, changing the way music education was delivered and creating a new culture of amateur musicians and performers in the sixteenth century. Continue reading