10,385 theses down, 2,115 to go!

The Library’s project to digitise its entire collection of PhD and doctoral level theses is now entering its final phase, with the team on track to have all 17,000 volumes scanned by May and online by the end of 2018.

To date, the team has digitised 10,385 individual theses out of an internal target of 12,500 – in total, over 2.6 million pages have been scanned, making this the largest digitisation project the Library has ever undertaken. In addition to the work in-house, approximately 4,500 volumes were outsourced to Autodocs, our scanning partner, in 2017.

Robbie Burns’ Moustache: one of the 10,385 theses digitised to date. Accessible at https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/21286

We have now almost completed the scanning of the 20th and 21st century collections, and the 19th century handwritten theses are due to be digitised by the end of January. The final three months of the project will then be dedicated to digitisation of the older printed Latin volumes – medical theses dating from the mid 18th to mid 19th centuries. A small collection of even earlier theses, dating from as far back as 1599, will be photographed by our colleagues in the Digital Imaging Unit.

After digitisation, the theses are uploaded to the Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA), where they are available to download for free. We have now uploaded over half of the collection to ERA, and by the end of January we will be ahead of our target to have all Edinburgh PhDs online by the end of 2018.

Theses digitised by this project are currently being downloaded over 3,000 times per month, with the most popular to date being The Social differentiation of English in Norwich by Peter Trudgill, which has been accessed almost 350 times since it was added to ERA last year. Other popular titles include Myo-Mint’s Study of the interpersonal dimension of narrative fiction with specific reference to power and control in Muriel Spark’s Memento mori and its implications for the teaching of English literature in a TEFL context (272 downloads) and Ji-Hwan Song’s Business ethics and the corporate manipulation of expressions (256 downloads).

Title page for Peter Trudgill’s PhD – The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich. Accessible at https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/16333

We will be showcasing some of these works in an exhibition that will be running in the CRC at the end of the year. As well as telling the story of the Edinburgh PhD from the earliest 16th century disputations through to the modern, A4, typed and bound thesis, the exhibition will feature examples of interesting authors, unusual topics and highlight some of the more surprising things we have found within the humble PhD volumes.

Giulia’s recent blog post mentioned some of these – we’ve also come across items ranging from the grisly (laminated slices of human lung) to the darkly comedic (a bullet in a thesis which the author had accidentally shot himself with). And that’s not even mentioning the test tubes, vials and envelopes of mysterious white powder that have been unearthed by the team over the last two years…

A bullet. In a thesis.

Bullet in a thesis

Now that the project is entering its final phase, we are beginning to discuss how the content might best be used once all digitised theses are online. There is already strong demand for researchers for digital theses but we are keen to explore other ways that we can make use of, and open up, this large data set. In addition to work we’ve already undertaken with uploading a thesis to Wikisource, our Digital Scholarship Developer Mike Bennett is exploring how we can match digitised theses to their author pages on Wikipedia using authority records, as well as working on a tool which enables the bulk generation of Wikidata records for theses.

Keep an eye out for further updates as we enter the final stages of the project.

Gavin Willshaw (gavin.willshaw@ed.ac.uk)

History of British Guiana 1922


Whilst systematically scanning early 1900’s theses, mostly on specific medical matters such as Insanity and Beri Beri, I came across a fascinating account of Guyana rural life in what was then known British Guiana, written in 1922 by a Mr. John F.C. Haslam (link to follow). Mr Haslam, who by his own admission, after being appointed to the Government Public Health Department of British Guiana, just 3 months later found himself as the Head of Department for the entire country.

Mr Haslam’s detailed account lays out this country’s unique geography and attempts to examine the population that inhabit this place and the various issues of housing, employment, sanitation and health that preoccupy him as Head of Public Health in 1922. Written very much from the British colonial viewpoint with a specific agenda of public health and accompanied with intriguing photographs, this theses provides an invaluable narrative and illuminates a particular time period in Guiana’s colonial past.

Mr Haslam notes from the beginning that it soon became apparent to him ‘that both the physical conditions of the country, the political constitution and social organisation of the people were peculiar if not unique’.

His first chapter entitled ‘The Country’ sets out specific facts regarding the landscape and makeup of the land. John Haslam is aware of the British’s population general ignorance of Guiana, being a far flung county, lying on the top right corner of the continent of South America, with a tropical climate lying 10 degrees of the equator, and  often confused with Demerara which forms a third of the actual size of Guiana. The 2 rivers Demerara and Essequibo, which allowed for trading posts, fertile land, helped in the creation of the sugar plantations and provide testament to the Guiana’s history of  colonisation initially by the Dutch and later the British, who gained control in 1831, right up until 1966. Guyana is still unique as it is the only country where English is the official language though the most commonly spoken language is Guyanese Creole.

Haslam, details the low lying nature of Guiana coastal areas and describes a very complex system of canals, trenches with some scattered attempts of control through damming and sluices such as the Koker, left over from the Dutch colonial times. Haslam’s vibrant description of the rainy season gives an impression of the difficulties face

‘the coast lands form a vast swamp in which cows may be seen up to their necks in water, grazing on water lilies, where lambs and pigs swim almost from birth and there are many homes accessible only by boat. At such times domestic animals, alligators and a boa constructor have been seen together on the public high road – the only dry place.’



Most of the townships and villages lie along the cultivated belt running just inland along the Atlantic coast and so these populations are faced with the challenges of the rainy season and constant flooding.  In his descriptions of the inland jungle which to Haslam appears impenetrable you get a sense of the fear of the unknown, akin to Day of the Triffids…

’In truth there is something sinister about the rank and fleshy vegetation which in a few months will cover a neglected house or obliterate a clearing’

Written from his perspective as public health governor of Guiana under direct British colonial rule, the chapter titled simply ‘The People’ provides a gripping account of the different ethnic groups as itemised by the Census and included is a table of population figures starting with ‘The Europeans, other than Portuguese’, then ‘Portuguese, East Indian, Chinese, Blacks, Mixed, Aboriginal Indians’ and lastly ‘Not Stated’.

Haslam gives an intriguing commentary on these various ethnic groups making up this diverse population, starting with ‘the true natives’ of the country, the aboriginal Indians he possibly views most favourably who are ‘on the whole shy and retiring’ and ‘they would be pleasant to work among and teachable’.  He states ‘ The Blacks of the Colony are of course quite as much foreigners as the whites’  while recognising the legacy of slavery and his interpretation of its effects.

‘After the abolition of slavery the negroes’ dislike of steady employment was very apparent. It is a racial characteristic that a man prefers working for himself for a pittance to earning good wages from an employer’

Diamond mining proved an attraction for many of these men in that it had the allure of possible wealth and independence from a traditional employer.  Haslam finds ‘ there is a happy-go-lucky carelessness and a laughing indifference about the black people which make work among them pleasant if sometimes tantalising. However his frustration from a public health view point leaks through his discourse ‘the most discouraging factor to a sanitarian working among the negroes is that while they readily assume a veneer of civilisation – smart clothes, church going and politics – they have little instinct of tidiness or cleanliness, and a filthy mass of garbage under the kitchen window gives no qualms whatever to the housewife’. This chapter is filled with such observations  sometimes  prejudiced and  often voiced in a tone that sounds decidedly out of place today, such as ‘love of children and family life and respect for age and education are factors which will maintain the East Indian people as a most important section of this colony’ however ‘the Portuguese are of more doubtful value to the country’.

Haslam obtains his figures from the  last available Census in 1921 yet wrestles with the indeterminacy of the Census figures with its many interesting anomalies, for instance with the number of husbands and wives in 1911 ‘the former outnumbering the latter by 2,847’. The recording of age alone was a perpetual problem for the Census Commissioner  with many relying on collective memories of  definitive events such as ‘the cholera year’ or ‘the fire in Charlestown’ to provide a rough gauge of time.

He alludes to the missing figures of the ghostly aboriginal population who for colonial administrative purposes seem to constantly elude proper documentation. His lack of encounter with many aboriginal people is interesting as he states ’only a few have been drawn into the modern life of the colony, most ‘clinging to their tribal customs and primitive mode of life and withdrawing into their unexplored forests before the advance of civilisation’.

You get a real sense from reading this of the ‘‘huge sparsely occupied hinterland’ that forms most of Guiana, occupied by these unknown tribes and how it informs a large part of Haslam’s collective unconscious in his quest of ‘pioneer sanitary work’.  Other details which grabbed my attention was his discussion of the ‘supernatural beliefs’ that still existed with the attentions of the ‘obeah man’ , a popular derivative of voodoo, that used a white “fowl cock” and even on occasion child sacrifice to fight off evil spirits and sickness.

Haslam goes on to study the occupations, housing, sanitiation,  and health of various population types, providing compelling photoographs to illustrate his points



Although his observations belong to a very different era with a different world view they merit attention through his detailed recording of sanitation, housing, education and health and general living conditions, amongst all the different groups that found themselves living in this unique part of the world under colonialisation and still living the legacy of slavery. It is Haslam’s rich commentary often falling into casual asides and sarcasm while still maintaining a profound engagement that makes it so inviting to partake of this thesis and become immersed for a short time in this little known country from one man’s unique position.

The Return of the Sailor: William Gifford Wyllie’s MD ‘War neuroses. 150 cases in h. m. navy’

The wounded soldier in the lower left angle was suffering from shell-shock [1]

2017 marks the centenary of the fourth year of British fighting in World War I. It was in August 1917 that Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, later to become two of the most famous British war poets, met while hospitalised at Craiglockhart military hospital in Edinburgh [2]. Now part of Napier University’s campus, Craiglockhart was then a military hospital for officers, specialised in the treatment of patients suffering from war neuroses.

The medical treatment of war neurosis, also referred to as neurasthenia or shell-shock, was then at its earliest stage. The study of mental illnesses produced by war was often problematic, as many failed to understand, or ignored to the benefit of the war effort, that a soldier wounded in their mind was not malingering.

Our PhD theses collection includes some early studies of war neuroses which I have found fascinating. While most of the war-related studies dating back to 1918-1921 focused on gas poisoning, diphtheria, and scabies to name a few, Thomas Crisp’s PhD Thesis, awarded in 1918, focused on ‘Shell concussion, “shell shock” and allied conditions, result of war strain, or the psycho-neuroses of the war’. This was just the first of the studies of war neuroses carried out at our University: two years later, Frederick Dillon was awarded a PhD for ‘A survey of the war neuroses’ [3] and William Gifford Wyllie published his MD ‘War neuroses. 150 cases in h. m. navy’.

I digitised the latter a month ago and I found it very intriguing. Its focus on navy soldiers shifted my personal perception of WWI as a conflict almost exclusively fought in the trenches. I also appreciated the fact that it complemented the study of mental illnesses produced by land warfare, widening the scope of the study of war neuroses while simultaneously pointing out the distinctive features of war neuroses in the navy. Among the general observations that struck me more, the author points out that the incidence of serious neuroses in the navy was lower than in the infantry. I was shocked to realise that this was partly because, when a fight happened at sea and a boat was bombed or torpedoed, chances were that all the soldiers died. No survivors, no war neurotics.

Another reason why I have found this MD fascinating is that it seems representative of the shift in the perception and the study of war neuroses that took place at the end of the war. Wyllie presents warfare neuroses as illnesses produced by shock and fatigue; they have distinctive symptoms that are hard to feign and therefore allow to exclude, at close clinical examination, that patients are malingering. This went against the ill-founded but widespread suspicion that some war neurotics were impostors. The author carefully investigates the traumatic war events that caused the neurosis, but, significantly, he also considers hereditary and acquired neurotic tendencies ‘to be the most important predisposing causes towards a neurosis’. According to Marc-Antoine Crocq [4], it was a controversial matter at the time whether the neuroses were caused exclusively by traumatic events or it was necessary to delve into the patient’s personality and clinical history, not less because war neuroses seemed to question the validity of psychoanalytical theories. In this respect, Wyllie’s position seems clear: in his case descriptions, the sections ‘Family History’ and ‘Previous [Patient’s] History’ always come before ‘War Service’.

The last reason why I am writing about Wyllie’s MD thesis is that going through his case studies has been interesting – and, sometimes, moving. The cases descriptions vary in length from a few lines to a couple of pages and it is sometimes hard to understand how a person’s most traumatic, trying period in life can be summarised in such a small space and in a neutral voice. Case IV at p.56 tells the story of a gunner, aged 27, suffering from neurosis, whose first traumatic experience was a ‘premature explosion in his gun’, which resulted in ‘several members of the gun’s crew’ being ‘blown to pieces round him’. This is the extract that moved me the most:

First at Crystal Palace then at two air stations underwent several air raids which frightened him very much. Was employed in 1917 in experimenting with explosives. In July of that year after an explosion had all his clothes on fire. Got a severe shock but carried on. In Sept. the camp was set alight by an explosion, which threw the patient several yards, but he did not lose consciousness. After this he still tried to carry on.

(p.54, Case III)

The various hardships Armourer Mechanic I, aged 28 had to go through, matched with Wyllie’s scientific register, generate a tragi-comical effect, which nevertheless allows us to empathize with the patient’s suffering and attempts to ‘carry on’.

I will add a link to the digital copy of Wyllie’s thesis once uploaded on ERA.

Marco Polvara


[1] Image credit: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://goo.gl/QUebJL.

[2] Colin Water has recently detailed this fruitful encounter in an article that you can read at: https://goo.gl/VFfdaF.

[3] This thesis is accessible on ERA at: https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/8150.

[4] ‘From shell shock and war neurosis to posttraumatic stress disorder: a history of psychotraumatology’, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, https://goo.gl/2XD5mI.

A Book of Two Halves

Our Projects Conservator, Nicole, describes a technique for repairing books that have broken in half in this week’s blog…

I have now moved full time to the conservation studio at the main library and I have started working on the Latin thesis from 1726 – 1826 which contain a number of PhD thesis in one leather binding.

The majority of this collection is in good condition with just under half needing conservation treatment before digitisation, mostly quick treatments such as being board reattachment. A small number of volumes have been rebound with a hollow and using book cloth which makes them more accessible and easier to be digitised. However, 46 volumes have broken sewing resulting in the text block breaking in half or in some cases three or four separate pieces. This has been caused by repeated use, and forcing the volumes open.

An example of a Latin thesis broken in half

An example of a Latin thesis broken in half, before conservation

Reattaching two halves of a volume can be time consuming and with such a high number we needed to find a treatment that was relatively quick but was strong enough for digitisation. The volumes could not be digitised in the condition they were in because this would cause sections to become loose and pages could easily become lost.

After some research and testing it was decided the most successful way for the volumes to be digitised was to mechanically remove the spine and consolidate the sections by relining the spine. Firstly, the leather spine was removed using a spatula. The animal glue was then softened using a poultice of wheat starch paste, and removed using a spatula. The labels were retained so they could be re-adhered after treatment.

Latin thesis, after conservation. Volume is now whole.

Latin thesis, after conservation. Volume is now whole.

Once the spine was clean four layers of medium weight Japanese paper were added with wheat starch paste. After this a layer of archival paper was added to the spine for added strength and to protect the Japanese paper. Once dry the label was re-adhered and an enclosure made out of archival board was added around the volume. This will protect and keep the spine clean when the book travels to be digitised and when on the shelf. Although the binding is back as a whole, it will be digitised using an angle support at a 90 degree angle which will put less pressure on the spine.

Latin thesis being digitised using an angle support

Latin thesis being digitised using an angle support

This blog originally appeared on the University of Edinburgh Conservation blog ‘To Protect and Con(serve) http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/conservation/2017/02/16/a-book-of-two-halves/

Just my type of thesis: some notes on book production from 1915

The printed book as an artistic unity: A study of selected Incunabula as a Guide to the external production of worthy modern books
Richard Wilson, B.A. London

“The subject of the present enquiry is the external production of the printed book, viewed from the artistic standpoint, using the epithet in its broadest and best sense. It consists of three parts dealing respectively with typography, illustration and binding; and its object is to formulate rules for the production of modern books  based upon a detailed study of selected historical examples drawn from the best period of printing.”

How could one not be excited by the start of this thesis? It contains reflections on some of the most interesting topics for someone interested in art and who works in a library: typography, book history and the artistic value of printed matter. I find the circumstances of this reading also, slightly ironic. I am reading about the originality of printing whilst creating a digital copy of a book and whilst, probably more ironically, a colleague of mine is chopping, dismembering and binning some duplicate copies of other theses.

Wilson argues that book production is a branch of fine art and it is hard to disagree with him especially if we consider some of the objects held here at the University of Edinburgh (Le Japon Artistique being one of them: http://tinyurl.com/joftha5) or if we head down to the bookshop and purchase anything published by Persephone.  It is an art form that “comes home to ordinary people in a way that painting, sculpture, and even architecture can never do”. Reading a book is a visual and tactile experience one that could not replicated in the same way with artefacts such as a Rothko painting; and digital copies cannot replicate this experience either.

Adobe Jenson font modeled after the classic 15th century type

Adobe Jenson font modeled after the classic 15th century type

In this early 20th century thesis the author, Richard Wilson, focuses on the ‘architecture of the book’ dealing with three perspectives: typography, illustration and binding. The typography section is particularly informative and this is what I am going to explore a bit further. Wilson starts by outlining some of the principles of typography, the division of typefaces into: Roman and Gothic; “the former is now rarely used by English or American printers for book work. It was very handsomely employed in a variety of sizes by the early printers of northern Europe as well as by those of Italy for large folios and ecclesiastical works, and careful contemplation of the best of these books is absolutely necessary for all who wish to acquire correct taste in typography; but very early in the history of printing the Gothic was superseded by Roman type though it has survived in Germany to the present day. “ 102 years later the Roman typefaces appear in our digital documents under: Bembo, Baskerville, Garamond and of course Times New Roman fonts.

Wilson then reflects on the importance of the Jensen type for history of book-making. . It is no exaggeration to say that the Old Style Roman founts of type of which there are many varieties now in use are all based more or less directly upon Jensen [Jenson]’s type which possesses the necessary quality of restfulness.

The font takes its name from its creator, Nicolas Jenson a 15th century French publisher and printer. After some experience at the Royal mint of Tours, Jenson developed his printing know-how in Germany under Gutenberg. It is in Venice that he opens a printing shop and develops for the first time the printed roman lowercase type.  The shapes and measures of this type refer even if lightly to handwriting and make the reader at ease when reading.

A careful study of late fifteenth century books emphasises, the important fact that a type face designed for restfulness must not be too precise and clean in general effect however carefully each individual letter is shaped. Machine like precision and absolute mechanical perfection tire the eyes readily as the steady contemplation of an unbroken row of area railings or of spikes upon a garden wall, two things quite perfect of their kind.[1]

Wilson argues that the Jenson convoys

a general impression of curvature which is soft, pleasing, and restful to the eye as distinguished from the sharp-edged, flat and angular impression produced by the serifs of the Modern Romans. For the eye rests gratefully upon gentle curves while it is repelled by angularity. […] In the type of Jenson and others of his period there are many small irregularities which please the cultivated eve not merely because of their “quaintness” and historic interest but because they are restful. The physical reason for this is that the changed form or slight irregularity stimulates a fresh set of nerve terminals and gives the others a rest, just as relief is found in a broken railing or an iron standard of different shape and heavier build.”

The Jenson type clearly shows that reading should be, at least visually as comfortable and soothing experience. But early modern fonts have their disadvantages too.

To the modern eye, however, this earliest of the Roman types appears in its original form to be somewhat affected while it is unnecessarily wasteful of space; and if taken as a model it requires somewhat radical adaptation in several respects to meet the everyday requirements of a generation which reads a thousand books where the people of Jensen’s time read one. This wastefulness of space was probably one of the chief reasons for the designing of the first of the type faces classed as Modern Roman which came from the foundry of Giambattista Bodoni who settled in Parma in 1768. His types have been altered and adapted in many- ways but we may truly say that as Jensen is to the Old Style Romans so is Bodoni to the Modern Romans.

Developed by Giambattista Bodoni in the late 18th century, this serif is still popular and we can find examples of its uses in the Mamma Mia! Movie poster (both for the older and newer versions) and in the Nirvana band logo (here Bodoni is slightly compressed).

Mamma Mia! movie posterNirvana logo
Space and readability are key elements of good book-architecture but so is the ‘ink’ used, when it comes to both thickness and colour.

The designer must also avoid the clumsy blackness which is so often and so mistakenly, deemed to be necessary for legibility. Many of these “artistic” founts of type have a staring effect which is not conducive to restfulness in reading.”

 The ink should not be allowed to ink on the page as texts should ideally avoid too many bold characters. The use of colour clearly helps the reader:

In the library of Edinburgh University there are two volumes of the Biblia Latina by Anton Koberger ,1487. The books are not brilliant examples of typography but, together, they show an excellent, manner, by force of contrast, the optical value of the second colour in printing. In the first of these two volumes spaces have been left for the initials to be inserted by hand but the work has been left undone as in so many other of the incunabula. In the second volume the coloured initials have been inserted by hand and the effect, in comparison with the companion volume is more than pleasing. It is distinctly helpful to the eye of the reader, for the reason already given, that the occasional occurrence of clear bright colour in the black type stimulates at intervals a new set of nerve terminals. The revival of this plan of printing in two colours in ordinary books of the present day would greatly help in the attainment of restfulness in reading.”

But the use of colour should be moderate and only reserved to titles and the initial letter of a paragraph.
“There is nothing more ineffective than the attempt to obtain variety by merely printing a headline or capital in a bright colour without increasing the weight of the letter. As a rule the incunabula set us the example of aspiring use of colour in typography; but the copy of the Aberdeen Breviary printed by Walter Chepman in 1509, now in the University Library at Edinburgh, though a splendid piece of two-colour typography, is useful rather as a warning showing clearly the disadvantage of red type for .the body of a book. The eye is at once repelled by the pages of this book which are set completely in red type.”

In the rest of the thesis Richard Wilson talks about line spacing, optical round and flat lines, incunabula’s binding and illustration. But I thought I would concentrate on the timelessness of types here. Created in the early modern period, discussed artistically in 1915s and still present and used in current times, fonts emerge in many forms of printed and digital matter. They are often taken for granted and yet they make such a difference to our reading experience.

I was struck by the originality of this thesis, it is hard to find early discussions of book production focusing primarily on aesthetic value of the item.

Considering aesthetic as a main factor. I wonder if Richard Wilson would have been ‘repelled’  by how OCR and file reduction degrade the quality of the reading experience.

Wilson’s thesis will be available on ERA soon, please give it a look.

Early uses of the Jenson type found in Wilson's thesis

Early uses of the Jenson type found in Wilson’s thesis

Sample letters of Bodoni font

Sample letters of Bodoni font

[1] I wish it was still acceptable to write like this in academia

PhD Theses Conservation

My name is Nicole and I am excited to be in my fourth week as the new digitisation project conservator working on conserving the PhD theses before digitisation. The PhDs I am working on range from 1750–1961 and are mostly bound. The volumes vary in size and material. The earlier volumes are bound in leather and hand written, while the later volumes are bound in book cloth and typed.

At present my time is split between two locations for conserving the PhDs: the Library Annex and the Main Library conservation studio.

So far I have mainly been working on the medical PhDs which include some beautiful and what must have been very time consuming drawings. The volumes also house many photographs and x-rays, including the x-ray of a shilling swallowed by a patient!

My current conservation work focuses on the volumes which had been flagged up by the survey carried out prior to my arrival. The treatments I have undertaken so far include surface cleaning, consolidation of red rot using Klucel G in IMS, inner joint repair to reattach loose or detached boards, minor paper repairs and reattaching damaged spines to volumes using a hollow made from archival paper.

Detached spine on bound volume

Detached spine on bound volume

The aim of the conservation work is to stabilise the volumes for digitisation and to ensure the text and imagery are visible. On occasion rehousing is needed, made out of archival board.

Thesis to be rehoused

Thesis to be rehoused

Keep an eye out for updates on this project!

Nicole Devereux, Projects Conservator

This blog was originally posted on the To Protect and (Con)serve blog of the University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections conservation studio: http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/conservation/

Scanning Scanty Moustaches: some medical theses from the turn of the century

A large proportion of the earliest thesis we have digitised from the turn of the century are medical thesis. However, they little resemble the modern medical thesis being produced today. They are full of the personality of the students who wrote them and the people they studied. Sometimes it feels like we are hearing voices that no one has listened to for a very long time.

For example, one student named Donald Sutherland Murray undertook a study of an outbreak of alopecia he witnessed in the small town of 9000 people where he was practicing medicine. His study presents a cross section of the town, his patients ranged in age from 8 to 65, and were students, joiners, bakers, apprentice engineers and domestic servants. His thesis also includes beautiful portraits, such as the one below of a joiner, ages 35 with a ‘scanty moustache’. This thesis may no longer be relevant for the treatment of alopecia, but it provides information about people’s lives that would not have survived had they not suffered from alopecia.
scanty-moustacheIt is also important to remember that the people who produced the hundreds of volumes that pass through our hands and scanners every week were human beings who probably wept and had many sleepless nights in behalf of the work we are digitising. Sometimes it is rewarding to try to find out more about these individuals. A few months ago I came across a medical thesis from 1906 written by a woman called Sheila M. Ross. It is entitled Acute hallucinatory insanity – a type of the confusional insanities, with clinical notes. As female authors from this period are relatively unusual, I sought to find out a little more about Dr. Ross. I haven’t manages to find masses of information, but I did discover that she was awarded a medal from the School of Medicine in 1899 for Systemic Anatomy. The medal, along with a few others from the same time period, were sold for £170 by the auction house Dix Noonan Web. I have also found a record of her graduation in the July 1904 edition of the British Medical Journal. Of a graduating class of about 130, 7 were women, Sheila M. Ross, Aimee E. Mills, Margaret H. Robinson, Isabelle Logie, Amy M Mackintosh, Eslpeth M. McMillan, Margaret CW Young and Mildred ML Cather.


Much of the early thesis collection are MD’s, however, their value lies not just within the realm of medicine. Murray’s thesis contains a snapshot of life in a small town at the turn of the century, and is unique in that it is the only thesis on alopecia we have come across thus far. Ross’s thesis contains information about the prevalence of mental illness in Scotland and elsewhere, but it can also be used to learn more about the history of women’s participation in the University, and the School of Medicine in particular.

D.S. Murray’s thesis is being processed in the current block and should be available on Edinburgh Research Archive in the next few weeks. Once it has been uploaded a link will be added to this post. 

Thesis scanning project: six months in!


Friday 28 October marked the end of the first quarter of the Library’s PhD digitisation project, with over 3,000 theses scanned to date.

After a challenging first few months, the project is now very much up to speed and the team have exceeded initial scanning and processing targets. At the end of the first quarter, 706 unique and 2,464 duplicate theses had been scanned, 29% and 27% respectively of the in-house target for the whole project. Added to this, several thousand theses are due to be outsourced, with options being explored for their digitisation.

The team has focussed on the twentieth century collection, which is largely typed (and therefore can be OCR-ed), A4 in size and single sided, although, as you will see from the team’s project posts to date, content and structure vary significantly. Following scanning and processing, the theses are uploaded to a bulk import section in ERA and then transferred to their relevant School by the Scholarly Communications team.

A few highlights since the project began:

  • We welcomed two new members to the team: Pete joined the digitisation team in August and Nicole began working as the Project Conservator earlier this month.
  • We purchased a second Kodak document scanner, allowing us to double the speed at which we are able to destructively scan duplicate theses. On just one day in September, 46 duplicate theses were scanned (still a team record)!
  • In August the team took on responsibility for the thesis scanning service, which allows readers to pay a fee for the completion of a rush order: http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc/services/copying-and-digitisation/scanning
  • We have come across some very interesting and diverse images in the thesis collection, and hope to provide a small exhibition of these images in the main library in 2017. More details to follow!

If you would like to learn more about the project, or to arrange a tour of the set up, please do get in touch.

Gavin Willshaw | Digital Curator and PhD Digitisation Project Manager | gavin.willshaw@ed.ac.uk | @gwillshaw

The University of Edinburgh Library Annexe


Library Annexe, South Gyle

Many University staff and students are blissfully unaware of the existence of the Library Annexe (I know I was, before starting work here earlier this summer), which is situated in the heart of an industrial unit surrounded by bank and insurance offices – most would pass without giving it a second glance.

The Library Annexe has been operational since 2006, with the second phase opening in April 2011.


Some of the 33,000 linear metres of storage on site.

Its purpose is to provide additional storage for low-use University collections or collections not currently in use. The Annexe also supports Estates redevelopment projects elsewhere, temporarily or permanently holding collections.

Material stored in the Library Annexe includes General collections material relocated including lesser used monographs, journals with current electronic subscriptions, and reference material not suitable for reclassification into the current lending collection. In addition, selected material from the Library’s Special Collections, University archives and Lothian Health Services Archive are stored there, in environmentally controlled conditions.


Some of the ECA artworks stored on site.

There are over 1000 paintings and artworks from the Edinburgh College of Art stored in the Annexe.


Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road tube station mosaic.

An interesting part of the collection is Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaic, rescued from Tottenham Court Road tube station, awaiting restoration.



The musical instrument conservation workshop.

Another fascinating area of the annexe is the musical instrument conservation workshop, temporarily housed whilst St Cecilia’s Hall is being refurbished.

You can find more information about material stored in the Library Annexe on the University of Edinburgh website: www.ed.ac.uk/is/library-annexe

Pete Marsden

Thesis Digitisation Project


The Invisible Cities Of Edinburgh

Click image for full-size view

[Click images for full-size view]

This study is concerned with examining the evolution of status areas in the context of Edinburgh. Status areas were defined in three period analyses in 1855, 1914 and 1962…

(Gordon, 1971, vol.1:(i))

Only the second volume of this thesis was able to be scanned at this time, and so the many maps, charts, and illustrations it contained were all discovered without the context of the main volume. Despite this, they still provide evocative snapshots of a former time.

Invisible Cities (Calvino, 1972/1974) also examines how cities change, and how they must continue to change lest they become a dead city, like Troy. Each of the snapshots below, shows a very different city with different characters and different purposes, of different smells and appearances, and very different populations: “cities of delight and desire, cities tinged with regrets, vibrant cities, failing cities, seemingly impossible cities that defy logic and time” (Yuen, 2015) and each pretending to the same name and approximate location of ‘Edinburgh’. Continue reading