New Website on Philosopher Samuel Alexander


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One of the first pilot projects of the John Rylands Research Institute has centred upon the archive of Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), Professor of Philosophy at Owens College (later to become The University of Manchester), from 1893 until 1924. Alexander was undoubtedly Manchester’s most famous and influential philosopher. In 1925 his contribution to the University was recognized by the presentation of a bust, sculpted by Jacob Epstein, which still stands in the building that now bears his name.

Bust of Samuel Alexander by Jacob Epstein, in the foyer of the Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester

Bust of Samuel Alexander by Jacob Epstein, in the foyer of the Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester.

The JRRI project, led by Helen Beebee, the current Samuel Hall Professor of Philosophy, brought two visiting researchers to the Library – Dr Anthony Fisher and Dr Emily Thomas – to study the Alexander Papers. Dr Fisher has since been awarded a prestigious two-year Newton International Fellowship to study Alexander’s metaphysics of spacetime and other aspects of his philosophy.

One of the main outputs of the JRRI pilot project is a website dedicated to Alexander and his archive. The site contains images and full transcriptions of some of the most important letters in the archive, including correspondence with C.D. Broad and Bertrand Russell, as well as biographical information on Alexander, and further information on the research project.

A detailed catalogue of the Samuel Alexander Papers is available on Elgar.

John Hodgson

Manutius in Manchester – new blog


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Rylands Castiglione

For the last few years we 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.

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 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. Please do forward this information to anyone you think might also be interested.

If you are so inclined you can also join us on facebook and twitter.


The Manchester Project Team

Caroline Checkley-Scott

Stephen Milner

Julianne Simpson

Simone Testa

Sarah Todd



Online Guide to Methodist Resources



Methodist-advert[1]The collection of printed and archival material owned by the Methodist Church of Great Britain and deposited in the Methodist Archives and Research Centre (MARC) at The John Rylands Library is acknowledged to be one of the world’s finest resources for the study of evangelical religion.

The collection contains approximately 70,000 printed items and several million manuscripts dating from the early 18th century until the present. Methodists have been involved in every area of public life and the archive reflects this diversity, containing material across a wide spectrum of subject from secular education and the armed forces, to anti-slavery, spread of British influence overseas, industrial relations and political agitation.

For the first time, a guide to the entire Methodist collection has been made available online, in PDF format. This Guide to Methodist Resources at The University of Manchester contains summary descriptions of all the principal sub-collections within the MARC, divided into archival and printed categories. Other sections of the guide include the provenance of the collection, an overview of Methodist history, information about digital resources, and online and printed bibliographies.

It is intended that the guide will be periodically updated. Suggestions for improvements or revisions should be sent to Gareth Lloyd, Archivist:

Gareth Lloyd

Anthony Dowd Bookbindings Now Online


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The Anthony Dowd collection of modern British bookbindings is one of the finest and most representative collections of its kind. Over a period of thirty-five years, through purchase and by directly commissioning binders, Anthony Dowd acquired one hundred bindings by some fifty leading makers.

Alongside the work of pioneers such as Sybil Pye, George Fisher, Roger Powell and Edgar Mansfield, there are important bindings by leading contemporary designer bookbinders, including James Brockman, Jeff Clements, Paul Delrue, Angela James, Peter Jones, Bernard Middleton, David Sellars, Philip Smith and Julian Thomas, as well as examples by the late Trevor Jones and by Ivor Robinson, who sadly died earlier this year.

Anthony Dowd deposited this remarkable collection with us in 2001, and it has been regularly exhibited ever since. A selection of his bindings is currently on display in the Rylands Gallery. Images of all the bindings in the collection are now available online via Luna.

John Hodgson

Stereoscopic Images of WW1


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In February the article ‘In a Stetson and Three Dimensions: Picasso Comes to Life in 60 Year Old Pictures’ from The Guardian caught my eye as it described some stereoscopic images of Picasso, which are to be displayed at The Holburne Museum. Although we can’t claim to have 3-D images of Picasso here in the Library we do have some very special stereoscopic images.

In sharp contrast to the article about the images of Picasso from 1957 are the 100 stereoscopic cards depicting the brutality of the battles in World War 1. The stereograph cards document the war in a very powerful way. These graphic images show the destruction and chaos experienced by the soldiers in the front line. Stereo cards were cardboard cards containing side-by-side images of the same scene, which were then viewed through a set of lenses called a stereoscope and this created a three-dimensional effect. Few images of the battlefields were seen during the conflict due to access issues, restrictions and censorship policies, so these stereoscope cards would have had an important role to play in recording and portraying the realities of the battles. The fact that they were three-dimensional images seems to have given them added authenticity.

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The images raised debate among the staff here as to their authenticity.  Although they appear to be contemporary with the events taking place there also appears to be some discrepancy between the images, the dates that they were taken and the seasonal backdrop in the photographs. It also raises questions about how the photographs were taken during the fighting.  The Library does hold two further sets of these stereoscopic cards from this series, ‘The Japanese Russian War Through the Stereoscope’ and ‘Portugal Through the Stereoscope’.  All of these images have been used by the Library to explore reaction to conflict and our understanding of war and so despite the controversy of whether the images were real, staged or not they offer an extraordinary account of the conflict, the soldier’s experience and the changing medium of photography.


Conveniently, the Library also has a stereo viewer; this one appears to be a version of the Holmes Stereoscope, which was the most common type of stereoscope between 1881 – 1939.  Stereoscopes continued to be widespread in America until the 1930s, when there was a decline in production, probably due to the development of motion pictures.


It remains something of a mystery how the Library came to have these images or the stereoscope.   A search of the Library Archive proved rather fruitless in terms of locating their provenance or any other details pertaining to us acquiring them.

The Library’s current exhibition, Aftermath, commemorates the centenary of the start of the First World War and reflects upon the lives lost or shattered by war.  It includes letters written by Manchester University students during the First World War and the response to these moving testaments through newly created art works by Salford University Fine Arts students.

A Rare Outing for Pierre Desceliers’s 1546 World Map


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One of the Library’s great treasures is a remarkable manuscript map of the world, or Mappe Monde, produced in 1546 by the distinguished French cartographer Pierre Desceliers (French MS 1*).

Because of its size (260 x 130 cms), fragility, and the sheer logistical challenge of manoeuvring it around the building, the map is very rarely removed from it storage location, but last week it had a rare outing so that it could be examined by a researcher, Chet van Duzer, from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Chet is an expert on early world maps, and has been commissioned to write a book about a similar map by Desceliers now at the British Library (Add. MS 24065).

Chet van Duzer consults the Desceliers Mappe Monde (French MS 1*)

Chet van Duzer consults the Desceliers Mappe Monde (French MS 1*)

It took a team of five conservators to move the map in its 19th-century wooden case, and we had to limit access to the reading room, because of the space the map occupied. Chet was very patient with the steady stream of curious members of Library staff who took this rare opportunity to admire it.

Chet writes: “My interest in the spectacular world map made by Pierre Desceliers in 1546 in the John Rylands Library (French MS 1*) stems from a book I am writing about another world map by Desceliers which is in the British Library (Add. MS 24065). This book, which will be published by the British Library, will be a facsimile of the map in the British Library together with a detailed commentary on the map and its cartographic context.

“We have very, very little information about Desceliers from documents of his era, and so I want to learn everything I can about his development as a cartographer by studying his surviving maps closely.


“It was a wonderful experience consulting the Desceliers map in person.
At some point in the map’s history a glaze was applied to it that makes some details difficult to discern in digital images of the map, so I was able to see new things during my consultation of the map. For example, in the lower left margin of the map there is a monogram of Henri II of France, for whom the map was made, that I had not been able to see before. I was also able to transcribe place-names in the mysterious southern continent on the map for comparison with other sources, and study the islands of the Atlantic, to see how Desceliers’s depiction of them changed over time.

“I believe that I will be able to use his depictions of Atlantic islands to date an undated atlas by Desceliers in the Morgan Library in New York.”

The map was digitised by the Library in 2011, and you can view the full map and sections in remarkable detail on Luna at


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