Category Archives: Digitisation

Digitising Newman

The Newman Digitisation Project is steaming ahead, we’ve produced nearly 100,000 images so far. The NINS team have produced a fantastic video which gives a great overview of the project.

Photo a Day #02

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birthday! We’re celebrating with this illustration of an Indian woman making offerings at a Hindu shrine. Happy birthday Gandhi!

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th Birthday! We’re celebrating with this illustration of an Indian woman making offerings at a Hindu shrine. Happy birthday Gandhi!

Photo a Day


This Freedom of the City of Manchester scroll presented to Mrs Enriqueta Rylands in October 1899. Mrs Rylands built the John Rylands Library as a gift to the people of Manchester. Thanks Mrs Rylands!

Throughout October The John Rylands Library will be running a Photo a Day campaign to increase the digital reach and exposure of the Library’s collections.

Each day, an image from the Library’s collections will be shared on Twitter and Instagram. The images will range from portraits of Alexandre Dumas to postcards from a Buffalo Bill scrapbook, and where possible, we will be supporting local, national and international festivals and anniversaries (such as Manchester Literature Festival and Gandhi’s birthday).

Please support the campaign by following us on Instagram and Twitter, retweeting images, commenting on Instagram or sharing your own images using the campaign hashtag #jrlphotoaday.

The account is @TheJohnRylands on both Twitter and Instagram.

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William Caxton’s second edition of The Canterbury Tales Online

The John Rylands Library has the second largest collection of works printed by William Caxton, the man credited with bringing the first printing press to England in the fifteenth century. The very first volume to be produced at Caxton’s Westminster press was a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1476 and although this particular digitised Rylands copy is the second edition printed c.1483, this is the first copy with additional illustrative woodcuts and with corrections to errors in the first edition text.

The entire volume can be viewed online in LUNA.

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Further digitisation of Mary Hamilton Papers

Over the last month I have being working on the Papers of Mary Hamilton adding to the existing items on the library’s online image collection: LUNA.  Around 200 further items from the Mary Hamilton Papers have been digitised and cataloguing undertaken by Dr Lisa Crawley added to the images.

Hamilton was the granddaughter of Lord Archibald Hamilton, the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton and Lady Jane Hamilton, daughter of the Earl of Abercon.  In 1777 Hamilton became a member of George III ’s court, acting as assistant governess to the Princesses, a position she held until 1783. In 1785 she married John Dickenson, only son of John Dickenson of Birch Hall, near Manchester.  A courtier and a diarist, she was a friend of many of the prominent Bas Bleu (the bluestocking circle) and counted Hannah More, Frances Burney, Mrs Delany and Mrs Garrick among her literary friends. She dined frequently at the houses of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole and met Dr Johnson on several occasions.

George III, Printed Illustration, HAM/1/1/2111

George III, Printed Illustration, HAM/1/1/2/11

The archive was acquired by the University in 2007 and the letters and diaries of Mary Hamilton are being used by the School of Arts,  Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester to engage undergraduate and postgraduate students in enquiry-based learning methods.  The papers are also of interest to researchers in the social, cultural and linguistic history of Georgian England.  Hamilton’s  correspondence provides unparalleled insights into the day-to-day life of the royal household and of the artistic and social elites during a period of rapid change in the nation’s political, economic and cultural life.

The items are a selection of letters and cover a time period where Mary Hamilton was the Queens consort to when she was married and in her later life. It includes correspondence from Queen Charlotte, John Dickenson to Mary Hamilton (both before and after marriage), the Dickenson family, relatives and from the Clarke sisters and Murray sisters and a selection of correspondence both to and from Margaret Gunning. They highlight many different subjects within the time period including court life, George III’s health, gossip, courtship, marriage, death, travel, health and medical cures of the day.  One letter to Hamilton from John Dickenson contains advice from a doctor that Dickenson was travelling with detailing how to deal with their daughters rickets. The advice was that her legs should be bathed up to the knees and to rub them with ‘peats foot oil, the former every other night, the later every night – and give a little physich once a week’. (HAM/1/2/25).

Letters were kept by Hamilton’s descendants prior to being deposited to the library.  Some items have script crossed through which is intriguing, but which is unable to be deciphered through spectral imaging as the same pen was used for writing and editing.  There are some notes that have been tipped onto one sheet and others bundled together, and some items are missing but this constitutes a great resource for students and researchers alike.

One letter from Elizabeth Palombi, Hamilton’s sister-in-law who married and moved to Naples, talks about all four of her children contracting smallpox and the frustration that she has with the servants not seeming to be very helpful.  In the first half of her letter she apologises profusely and the language and terms used are interesting in their structure.

Reference: HAM/1/3/2/4

A letter from Hamilton’s father-in-law just after Hamilton’s marriage to John Dickenson talks light-heartedly about her marriage and how he ‘detests’ his son and has transferred all the affections he once had for him onto her.  The relationship that Hamilton had with her father-in-law must have been close to enable him to talk in this way to her.

Reference: HAM/1/3/2/2

The script varies through time and from person to person and will be an interesting resource for the students studying the linguistic codification of the English Language.  Letters to and from Charlotte Margaret Gunning show a more informal discourse between herself and Mary Hamilton where code names are given and letters are passed with strict instructions not to pass them on.  Gossip on courtiers, unwanted attention from would be suitors and members of the Royal Family are contained within this section. In one letter, Gunning tackles worries that she has heard Hamilton has that her friend is ignoring her

Reference: HAM/1/15/1/6

Some notes were written on the same day regarding visits and appointments due to take place that day which made me think that servants were employed to deliver letters as they were written, something we take for granted in the age of text messages.

Coinciding with my start on this project was a BBC programme In our Time about the Bluestocking group which helped provide a background to the time period and importance of this socially elite women of the time.

Jane Donaldson

Multispectral Imaging Trials with The Photon Science Institute – George Christian and Robert Longstaff



Measuring the wavelengths of the Megavision Panels using a spectrometer


We are all used to the fact that unique or very rare manuscripts, like those stored in the collections of the John Rylands Library, must be handled with extreme care. They are often only displayed to the public through a layer of protective glass or maybe even exclusively as photographic reproductions; the originals far too fragile to be brought out of the dark for extended periods of time.

Since they provide us with such a precious link to the past, it is very understandable that they should be treated in this way. So it might be easy to forget that this has not always been the case. There are many examples of manuscripts whose raw materials (usually parchment) were at one time deemed more valuable than the text they contained, and which therefore became palimpsests.

A palimpsest is a manuscript from which the text has been removed and replaced by new writing, effectively recycling the original material. This then creates a new challenge for scholars who wish to read the original text which may only be very faintly visible, if at all. Traditionally, the underlying text would have been read simply by close inspection of the faint impressions left by the writing. However, this is obviously limited to manuscripts for which this text is visible to the naked eye in the first place.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars brought out the less visible text with various chemical cocktails which were often highly damaging to the manuscripts. More recently, far less invasive techniques have been developed based on a fundamental understanding of light and how it interacts with matter, and CHICC has teamed up with the Photon Science Institute (part of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester) to trial the technique of Multispectral Imaging.

We (George Christian and Robert Longstaff) are two fourth-year physics undergraduate students who are working with the imaging team to explore the potential usefulness of this technique. Multispectral imaging is the technique of capturing data (in this case photographs) from one source at multiple wavelengths of light. By treating these images as mathematical objects (where each pixel has a numerical value associated with it), they can be combined and manipulated in such ways as to produce images where the previously invisible text can be seen and interpreted (hopefully) much more easily. For example, often invisible text can be made very clearly visible by illuminating it with ultraviolet (UV) light. The trouble is, the text that replaced it is usually also just as visible in the image.

However, if an image taken at a wavelength where only the overlying text is visible is subtracted from the image where both texts are visible, then we are left with an image containing only the text that was previously very difficult or impossible to make out. The techniques we are using were employed on the now famous Archimedes Palimpsest, and the results they have achieved can be seen in full on their website (

We have already had some success, although really we are learning as we go. Our main challenge is to find ways to bring out the “hidden” text as clearly as possible, and hopefully in a way that is useful to the scholars! This is a very exciting opportunity for us as it’s the first time this has been offered as a final-year project, and it offers a unique chance to work in the John Rylands Library which doesn’t happen very often for physics students!

George & Robert

George and Robert’s findings can be read here


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Rediscovered Durer works on display at The Rylands



A selection of some 2,500 recently uncovered works including original 16th Century works and those of  German artist Albrecht Durer will soon be on display at the Rylands. See the Manchester evening news article here.

Manutius in Manchester

For the last few years, The John Rylands Library  have been recataloguing our Aldine collection (books printed by Aldus Manutius and his heirs), which now numbers about 2000 volumes. By the end of the project all books will have detailed descriptions on the library catalogue, following internationally recognised standards for rare books cataloguing, including information on editors, translators, inscriptions, annotations, previous owners, bindings and reference to the standard bibliographies. We will be holding an exhibition – Merchants of Print: From Venice to Manchester, from February to June 2015 to celebrate the life and work of Aldus Manutius and five hundred years of collecting his books.

Rylands Castiglione, annotated title page

Rylands Castiglione, annotated title page

We are also very excited to be a part of the ‘Books and Beasts’ project which will take material bibliography in an exciting new and profound direction – into the identification of the variety of animal skins used in the production of medieval and renaissance books, not only in their bindings, but also in their text blocks. Our current project ‘Venetian Vellum?’ is focused specifically on Venice and in particular Aldine editions printed on parchment of which there are a significant number in the John Rylands Library.

We have recently started a new blog which will highlight special and interesting copies in our collections as well as provide updates and information on the exhibition and our Venetian Vellum project.

You can also join us on facebook and twitter.


The Project Team

Caroline Checkley-Scott

Stephen Milner

Julianne Simpson

Simone Testa

Sarah Todd

Yggdrasill Online

Recently digitsed and now available online are twenty-two manuscript copies of the Ashburne Hall Magazine, Yggdrasill, c.1901-1909. These beautiful magazines are a wonderful snapshot of life in the contemporaneous Hall and are undoubtedly a rich source of research material for scholars of many disciplines.  The post that follows has kindly been supplied by Sheila Griffiths, Honorary Secretary of the Ashburne Association.


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Amongst the documentary archive of Ashburne Hall, University of Manchester, is a unique collection of hand written magazines, giving us a glimpse into the lives of the first students of Hall.

In 1899, a public meeting was held in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in Manchester Town Hall. The aim was to raise funds for the establishment of a Hall of Residence for women. Professor Alexander, philosopher and supporter of higher education for women, had often heard complaints from Head Mistresses that there was a lack of pleasant accommodation for their girls in Manchester; they often advised them to apply to another university.

The public meeting raised £3,000 and Robert Derbyshire, lawyer in the city, generously purchased Ashburne House next to his own in Victoria Park. Other wealthy benefactors opened their attics, to provide furniture for the “Women’s College”. However, fearing that the women would be kept separate because of male opposition, it was decided it should be known as a Hall of Residence. Women were to be included in the university and wherever possible, taught side by side with men.

As late as 1905, the Manchester University Magazine comments that Ashburne House had originally been “only a venture”, but with growing numbers of women students, there was no question as to its viability Manchester was also a centre of the women’s movement, with many eminent professors and C.P.Scott of the Manchester Guardian advocating votes for women.The city was a vibrant focus for politics, science and the arts.

Into this academic hot house came the first dozen Ashburnians, desperate to show that they were both worthy and capable. New education grants for teaching made it possible for girls from modest backgrounds to read for a degree. Ashburne House was no finishing school for rich young ladies: it was for women who had to earn a living.

The hand drawn and painted magazines ceased in 1909, when the hope of the first editor that one day they would be printed was realized. The manuscript editions have great charm and freshness. Here was a lively community of young women ready for the fun of tennis parties, picnics and bicycling expeditions, yet with a deep sense of purpose, an awareness of how much there was to accomplish in the world.

In 1908, preparations were made to move to a larger site, The Oaks in Fallowfield, generously donated by the Behrens family. This became Ashburne Hall, the home now of over six hundred students

Like the Yggdrasill, the Tree of Knowledge, with its branches spreading wide, we now have Ashburnians all over the world, both men and women. Our annual magazine continues with the same name today.

List of Individual Magazines available:

Yggdrasill, Autumn 1901

Yggdrasill, Lent 1902Yggdrasill, Summer 1902Yggdrasill, Christmas 1902

Yggdrasill, Spring 1903Yggdrasill, Summer 1903Yggdrasill, Autumn 1903

Yggdrasill, Lent 1904Yggdrasill, Summer 1904Yggdrasill, Christmas 1904

Yggdrasill, Lent 1905; Yggdrasill, Christmas 1905

Yggdrasill, Lent 1906Yggdrasill, Summer 1906Yggdrasill, Christmas 1906

Yggdrasill, Lent 1907Yggdrasill, Summer 1907a; Yggdrasill, Summer 1907b

Yggdrasill, Lent 1908Yggdrasill, Easter 1908

Yggdrasill, Lent 1909Yggdrasill, c.1909




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RTI Cuneiform tablets now online

Sumerian tablet P108057. From the Umma Period, 2100-2000 BC.

Sumerian tablet P108057. From the Umma Period, 2100-2000 BC.

Rylands Cuneiform tablets, digitised using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) are now available online. We posted an interesting piece a while back about the digitisation process here. The library worked in collaboration with the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative based at UCLA, and Dr. Klaus Wagensonner of The University of Oxford. See the amazing images and transcriptions here.

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