The woman behind the windows at New College Library

Visitors to New College Library can’t fail to be impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows which surround the Library Hall. These windows were the gift of Miss Grace Warrack, who worked with the prominent stained glass artist Douglas Strachan to design the windows over a twenty year period. Continue reading

Women and religion books for International Women’s Day 2018

Here’s a selection of new books at New College Library to celebrate International Women’s Day!

The grace of Sophia : a Korean North American women's Christology by Grace Ji-Sun Kim . New College Library BS580.W58 Kim.

The Grace of Sophia :a Korean North American women’s Christology, by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, was recommended by a Divinity student and is now available at New College Library at  BS580.W58 Kim.

Students can recommend books for the library using the online form at




New out on the shelves at New College Library are:


Recognizing other subjects : feminist pastoral theology and the challenge of identity, by Katharine E. Lassiter, 2016. BT83.55 Las.

A history of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (1989-2007), Rachel Nyagondwe Fiedler, 2017, BR1430 Fie.

Women’s voices and the practice of preaching by Nancy Lammers Gross, 2017 BV4211.3 Gro.











Newly available as ebooks are :

American Catholic Women Religious Radicalized by Mission by Donna Maria Moses, 2017

Women, Religion, and the Gift : An Abundance of Riches, ed. Morny Joy 2017

Women’s Authority and Leadership in a Hindu Goddess Tradition by Nanette R. Spina, 2017










New College Library has a regular display of new books at the far end of the Library Hall, close to the door to the stacks. Details of all new books are available via DiscoverEd.

Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian – Divinity

The Myth of Robert Burns

It was some months ago that among the many sermons and talks given by Rev Tom Allan (1916-1965), one entitled ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ caught my eye (ref. AA6.2.18). While the Kirk and Burns were not exactly best pals, there has been many an Ayrshire minister who would definitely subscribe to the term ‘Burnsian’. The question was, with a title such as this, on which side was the Ayrshire born Tom Allan going to stand?

The talk (definitely not a sermon) opens by observing that the 25th of January, Burns Night, is also ‘the day set aside in the remembrance of St Paul.’ As Allan writes,

“Indeed, if we were to pursue the speculation on these two notable anniversaries, it would not be difficult to argue that there is much in the character of the Scottish people which has emerged through the conflict of the genius which inspired Paul of Tarsus with the genius which inspired Robert Burns. And it is certain that the life of the Poet himself can only be understood in the light of that conflict.”

He goes on to state,

“It is doubtful if there has been any character in Scottish History – or in any other history for that matter – about whom men have so willingly suspended their critical faculties. For a great multitude of otherwise rational people, the cult of Robert Burns is taken as seriously as it is possible for a cult to be taken. He has become a mythical figure in the manner of the ancient gods, and tonight, all over the world, men and women are meeting in their yearly pilgrimage to the holy place.”

First page of Rev Tom Allan's talk 'The Myth of Robert Burns' (ref. AA6/2/18).

First page of Rev Tom Allan’s talk ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ (ref. AA6/2/18).

Allan certainly seems to be taking the Kirk’s tone something which is underlined in his comments on ‘two old and dusty volumes in the Library of the University’ he consulted while preparing his talk. He goes on to state that the myth he intends to examine is that of ‘Burns the Saint’ and ‘Burns the Poet’ because

“I sincerely believe that we are doing Burns an injustice which he himself would probably have treated as a colossal joke unless we try to see this man as he really was, and try to estimate his poetry as it really is.”

As far as ‘Burns the Saint’ goes, the talk deals with the reality of his morality, the manner in which ‘the popular Burns orator… attempts to clothe this very human man in the robes of sainthood’, and the excuses others make for his behaviour: whether it is to blame him as a child of his time, society or indeed the Church for it. He concludes,

“There is little of nobility in the life of Robert Burns: there is much that is tragic. It is not ours to judge him. Neither is it ours to worship him for qualities he never possessed.”

When he turns to examine the myth of ‘Burns the Poet’, Tom Allan observes that Burns’ writing is at its best when in his native Ayrshire dialect. Interestingly, he questions how many people could truly say that they understood every word of even the best-loved poems such as ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. He takes a swipe at some other poems such as the ‘Ode to General Washington’s Birthday’ for being ‘woefully artificial’ and ‘bombastic, insincere and trivial.’ However, it is when Allan draws to the conclusion of his talk that his genial side, for which he was renowned, makes itself known. He states that it is Burns’ satiric verse, his narrative poems and songs which are the best of his compositions, the last of these being described as ‘incomparable’.

“Here in the Songs I could almost submit myself to the myth of Robert Burns. Here at last is sincerity and tenderness and a great compassion and a bewitching sadness and an irresistible appeal.”

He might have been a man of the Kirk but this is certainly not the conclusion of a man agin the National Bard.

The papers of Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6) are available for consultation in New College Library and the catalogue for the collection can be found here:

Kirsty M. Stewart, New College Collections Curator

Images of The Myth of Robert Burns by Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6/2/18) [PDF – 1.3MB]

New extended opening hours for New College Library in 2018

Students told us that they were finding it hard to access course readings held at New College Library because the library opening hours were more limited than other University Library sites. Information Services and the School of Divinity have worked to secure pilot funding to extend New College Library opening hours.

Starting on Sunday 21 January, New College Library will be open 12-5pm on Sundays.

Starting on Monday 9 April, for seven weeks New College Library will be open in the evenings until 10pm, Monday-Thursday.

Our Library Services

During evening and weekend hours there will be full access to the Library Hall and Reserve Section, as well as the David Welsh Reading Room. Access to Special Collections will remain as it is currently, 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

Please tell us what you think!

To maintain these hours we will need to make a case for the funding to be continued. If you want these extended opening hours to continue:

  • Please use the library during these hours
  • Please give us your feedback in surveys, feedback forms (available in the library) or to library staff.

Christine Love-Rodgers

Academic Support Librarian – Divinity

Explore Your Archive 2017

The Explore Your Archive Campaign is run in conjunction with the Archives and Records Association, the professional body for archivists in the UK and Ireland. The University of Edinburgh is joining in this campaign, running from 18 to 25 November, led by colleagues in the Centre for Research Collections. Throughout social media you will see archivists promoting their archives, whether they are interesting, intriguing, puzzling or pleasing, using the hashtag #exploreyourarchive.

Here at New College Library we have made a significant step to help you explore your archive. For the first time, the catalogues which have previously only been available in the Library itself are now available online. There are over 530 catalogue entries for New College archives now freely searchable on . You can browse the whole collection, or search by person, organisation, place (in some instances), and limit searches by date.

The process of creating the online catalogue has revealed the strengths of the collection and the breadth of topics covered. Far from being simply a treasure trove of Scottish church history material, the collections include:

In addition, digital images of some of the archives and special collections, including our copies of the National Covenants can be found on – click on the New College icon.

Should you wish to consult any material you find through the online catalogue you are welcome to visit New College Library or contact All archives and manuscripts are consulted in the Funk Reading Room at New College Library.

The first of the daily hashtags for Explore Your Archive week is #archivecatwalk. The annual class and graduation photographs taken in New College, the earliest of which is from 1857 (ref. AA1.8.2), provide a fascinating timeline of fashions. The students below would look quite at home in today’s hipster cafes, especially those with the extra cachet of having a cane.

Class Photograph, 1860 (ref. AA1.8.2)

Staff and students at New College, Edinburgh, 1860 (ref. AA1.8.2)

Keep an eye on our tweets and those of our colleagues @EdUniLibraries, @CRC_EdUni, @EU_SSSA, and for further archives exploration.

Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator

Martin Luther in his own words #Reformation500

Today the School of Divinity will mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety Five Theses to the door of Wittemberg Church with a public lecture from Durham University’s Professor Alec Ryrie, a leading scholar of Reformation History, who will speak on ‘Protestants and their Bibles from the Reformation to the Present’.

In New College Library, a display in the Library Hall showcases some of Luther’s early publications. Martin Luther’s prolific publishing output in Latin and German preserves the arguments that shook Catholic Europe.  Much more can be seen at the Incendiary Texts exhibition to be held at the Centre for Research Collections, Main Library, 10 November 2017-8 March 2018.  Continue reading

‘The price of blood’ : Frederick Douglass speaks to Scotland

A guest post for Black History Month by Eleanor Rideout, IS Helpdesk Assistant

Frederick Douglass by Samuel J Miller, 1847-52. Wikimedia Commons

Noted African-American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass had embarked on a tour of Ireland and Great Britain, reaching Scotland in 1846. He was speaking against the evils of slavery generally, but a decision made by the Free Church of Scotland became the focus of his work here.

The separation of the Free Church from the Church of Scotland meant that funding needed to be found. One source was fellow Presbyterian Churches, including those in the American South. Money was accepted from slaveholders, which did not go unnoticed by abolitionists.

Douglass’s reputation as a powerful speaker is confirmed by two anonymous letters from a woman living in Dundee, addressed to Free Church leader Thomas Chalmers, which are held at New College Library, Edinburgh.

Anonymous to Thomas Chalmers, 1 April 1846. MS CHA 4.321.41-42.

The writer’s style is impassioned, swerving between criticism of slaveholders, concern for her own soul, and description of events recently witnessed:

“They would not give the churches and few comparatively speaking gave their ears. Because it was said that the strangers witnessed too hard things against your Church. If the Men tell the Truth you should not be angry.”

“Dear Dr C. What are you going to do in the matter of taking money from the slaveholders in the America about which I heard a great deal last week & meetings – two of which I attended – as I used to be very much interested in the Slave question…”

“Part of my ordinary as Rev. T Boston would say, or rather my extraordinary for in thought word and deed I am of late a Backslidder [Backslider], ah for Grace to grow in grace. You see how I wander –It is the Poor Captive slave I wish now to speak for. I would you would be a tongue to such dumb ones. Then soon soon the Lord will look down and deliver. For to them belongeth Power, Dominion, Strength, Mercy. And then will their tongues become glories to praise, to bless to laud the King of Glory – and they too shall not forget you –as we all have too long forgotten them. Neglect is infliction.

O how much I know of my Masters will yet do it not I wish whiles the Lord would set me and take me.”

She also uses rhetorical flourish herself to try and persuade Chalmers:

“It was sins of ignorance I was reading today 4 Lev. I see there the Lord will not let such pass. It was for such the blessed Jesus prayed when on the cross Father forgive them. Now I believe firmly you did not see at the time that taking money from slaveholders was the price of blood – verily your Church hath been guilty. Do not think I am glad to set aught against you because you have far outstript us in the way of voluntary giving. No I was glad and I myself made crape [crêpe] the year of the disruption that I might give what I had for ribbon, to your Free Church, Free Church what have you to do with the House of Bondage. Hath the Truth made you Free – then Freely give.”

It is interesting to be able to read her words along with the published transcripts of the speeches made by Frederick Douglass, also held at New College Library :

Free Church Alliance with manstealers: send back the money, great anti-slavery meeting in the City Hall, Glasgow. Glasgow: George Gallie, 1846. M.d.9/10.


“All was going on gloriously – triumphantly; the moral and religious sentiment of the country was becoming concentrated against slavery, slaveholders, and the abetters of slaveholders, when, at this period, the Free Church of Scotland sent a deputation to the United States with a doctrine diametrically opposed to the abolitionists, taking up the ground that, instead of no fellowship, they should fellowship the slaveholders. According to them the slaveholding system is a sin, but not the slaveholder a sinner.”

“The deputation had an excellent opportunity of aiming an effectual blow at slavery, but they turned a deaf ear and refused to listen to the friends of freedom. They turned a deaf ear to the groans of the oppressed slave – they neglected the entreaties of his friends- and they went into the slave states, not for the purpose of imparting knowledge to the slave, but to go and strike hands with the slaveholders, in order to get money to build Free Churches and pay Free Church ministers in Scotland. [Cries of “shame” and applause.]”

“I verily believe, that, had I been at the South, and had I been a slave, as I have been a slave – and I am a slave still by the laws of the United States- had I been there, and that deputation had come into my neighbourhood, and my master had sold me on the auction block, and given the produce of my body and soul to them, they would have pocketed it and brought it to Scotland to build their churches and pay their ministers.”

While the Free Church money was not returned the strong impression made on listeners by Frederick Douglass’s words can be seen clearly in these letters. With the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2018 his great contribution to the abolitionist cause is likely to be celebrated more and more.

Eleanor Rideout

With thanks to Alasdair Pettinger whose article ‘The Bloody Gold’ drew attention to this letter:

Freedom to read, freedom to believe #BannedBooksWeek

A guest post by Eleanor Rideout, IS Helpdesk Assistant

Banned Books Week, held the week of September 24th in 2017, is an annual celebration of the freedom to read. New College Library holds many texts that have been banned at different points in history, and by different nations and cultures. This week you can see some of these banned books on display in New College Library. Continue reading

Resources for Christian ministry and worship at New College Library

Today New College welcomes ministers and worship leaders to a CPD day focusing on Biblical resources. Topics include current scholarship on the Gospel of John and Advent themes in the Hebrew Bible.

At New College Library, we welcome people working in the church to use our outstanding theological collections for research and continuing professional development. Continue reading

Welcome to New College Library 2017 #edwelcome

divinity-libraryA big welcome to all students starting and returning to the University of Edinburgh, at the beginning of Welcome Week 2016. We’re looking forward to meeting you. To help you get started with Library & IT services at the University, check out this ‘Useful Information for New Students’ page : Don’t forget to collect your University card from the Main Library in George Square.

You can find out more about New College Library at and about library resources for Divinity at : 

I’ll be running library tours that are open to all UG and PG students on Friday 22 September at 1.15pm and on Friday 29 September at 1.15pm – as well as meeting many of you in the introductory Welcome Week sessions.

Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian