Call for Papers: ‘After the Digital Revolution’ Workshop


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Print to Digital Image (3)

How can we improve the preservation and access to born-digital records in literary and publishers’ archives?

“there lie in his hoards many records that few now can read, even of the lore-masters, for their scripts and tongues have become dark to later men.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

While we still have letters, manuscripts and other physical documents from the past centuries, we are in danger of losing digital documents created in the last decade. Literary scholars rely on the traces left by writers – from correspondence to drafts – which now take the form of born-digital records. Publishing historians also need access to the records left by publishing companies. Emails and other digital forms of communication have largely replaced letters and memos, and yet, safeguarding digital archives remains an enduring challenge for archivists. Electronic records risk becoming unreadable due to rapidly changing formats and technologies. Even when digital archives are actively preserved, they are often closed to researchers due to data protection and other issues. To paraphrase Tolkien, the scripts and tongues of our digital age risk becoming dark to later men.

As late as 2010, a report from the American library community OCLC declared: “Management of born-digital archival materials is still in its infancy.”

What progress has been made to preserve digital archives? How can we improve access to born-digital collections? How can archivists and scholars collaborate to create a better future for digital collections?

This workshop at the John Rylands Library (14-15 September 2017) is the first of two “After the Digital Revolution” events funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award awarded to Dr Lise Jaillant. It will bring together 30 participants, including 15 early-career researchers to discuss and find solutions to the issue of preservation and access to born-digital archives.

Contributions are invited from archivists, literary scholars, historians, policy makers and anyone with an interest in digital archives. Each participant will be asked to prepare a 10-minute contribution addressing the specific theme of each workshop. Contributions can take the form of a short paper on current project(s) or a lightning talk to share a specific tool/ method in relation to the workshop theme. In addition, early-career researchers (within ten years of their PhD) will be asked to prepare a poster summarizing their contribution to the workshop.

Workshop Highlights:

  • Internationally-recognised experts, including David McKnight (Director of Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Skype talk by Matthew Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland)
  • Networking opportunities, including reception in the sumptuous John Rylands Library

This workshop will lead to the publication of an edited collection that will leave a lasting legacy and contribute to a better future for born-digital collections and their users.

If you would like to participate, please send a CV and 300-word description of your planned contribution to: l.jaillant [at] by 17 July 2017.

A limited number of travel grants will be available. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for a travel grant.

Conservation of a Renaissance Masterpiece: Prolianus’s Astronomia


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One of our most beautiful Renaissance manuscripts is a copy of Christianus Prolianus’s scientific treatise, Astronomia, produced in Naples in 1478. Many of its pages are decorated with exquisite white-vine borders, featuring putti, birds and butterflies. It has appeared in this blog before, when it was fully digitised in 2012.

Latin MS 53, f.1r (detail)

Christianus Prolianus’s Astronomia, Latin MS 53, folio 1r (detail).

We are planning to include it in an exhibition at the John Rylands Library on ‘Colour’ next year. However, a routine condition report revealed significant problems, with many areas of flaking pigment or gold leaf. To prepare the manuscript for display, our Collection Care team therefore recently undertook a project to consolidate these areas. This technique involves applying tiny drops of isinglass solution beneath the loose fragments, using a very fine artist’s brush.

Isinglass comes from the swim bladder of the sturgeon fish. Dried isinglass is dissolved in warm water to create a 2% solution, which acts as a very mild adhesive, without affecting the visual properties of the manuscript.


Latin MS 53 003 (2)

Steve Mooney treats Latin MS 53, Prolianus’s Astronomia.

Conservator Steve Mooney carried out the painstaking work with the aid of a microscope. He perfected this technique on the famous Rylands Haggadah in 2011, before it travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In advance of the exhibition, you can whet your appetite with the online version, available on Luna.

Latin MS 53 001 (2)

Coat of arms Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon, son of Ferdinand II of Naples, fol. 1r.

Celebrating Li Yuan-chia at the Henry Moore Institute Library


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Henry Moore Institute

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

Dr Janette Martin writes:

On a very rainy Monday in May I spent a fascinating morning at the Henry Moore Institute (HMI) in Leeds, installing a library display on Li Yuan-chia, a leading twentieth-century artist.  For those who have not been, the HMI Research Library and Archives is one of Leeds’s hidden gems. Located on the bustling Headrow, next to Leeds City Art Gallery and above the HMI’s galleries, its collections tell the story of British Sculpture from the Victorian period until the present day.

As avid followers of this blog might recall, Li Yuan-chia (1929–94), was one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century. He was a great innovator whose repertoire ranged from ink painting, sculpture, performances and participatory works to concrete poetry, film and photography.  Li also established the LYC Museum and Art Gallery, an experimental venture in participatory art and an exhibition space at Banks, Cumbria, near Hadrian’s Wall. The University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections hold the archives of Li Yuan-chia.

Diana Yeh

Dr Diana Yeh.

Prior to starting work at the University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections, I worked briefly as the HMI archivist and I was struck by the overlaps between artistic collections held at both institutions. Last year I did a similar HMI library display on Jeff Nuttall. The Li Yuan-chia display arose from a conversation with the HMI librarian, Ann Sproat, and Dr Diana Yeh, a trustee of the LYC Foundation. Diana has written extensively about Li and her academic research focuses on diaspora and identity among Chinese migrant artists, so I was delighted when she agreed to co-curate this display with me.

A library display at the HMI is appropriate as Li Yuan-chia experimented with sculpture and installations (notably toy art) and he also supported the careers of emerging sculptors such as Andy Goldsworthy, by offering exhibition space at the LYC Museum.  The HMI library collection includes artists’ books or catalogues published by LYC Museum.  These have been recently augmented by a donation of duplicate material from the University of Manchester Library collections, by kind permission of the LYC Foundation Trustees. It is this collection which forms the basis of the current exhibition.

LYC books at HMI

Installing artist books at the Henry Moore Institute, May 2017.

Li Yuan-chia’s artistic trajectory crossed many national boundaries, from rural China, via Taiwan, to Milan, Bologna and London before settling down to life in rural Cumbria. Here he renovated a dilapidated farmhouse at Banks near Hadrian’s Wall. In 1972, this building opened to the public as the innovative LYC Museum and Art Gallery, at its peak reputedly attracting around 300,000 visitors per year. Over three hundred artists exhibited there.

Items on display are drawn from the Henry Moore Institute Research Library collection and comprise loose components from the exhibition catalogue of Li Yuan-chia’s first show at the Lisson Gallery, London Cosmic Point (1967), which have been mounted and framed in sets of four and a range of LYC Museum and Art Gallery artists’ books and catalogues. The display can be viewed until the end of July 2017.  Anyone can visit the Henry Moore Institute and its library is open 7 days a week (Monday to Friday 10am – 5.30pm, extended to 8pm on Wednesday; Sundays 1pm – 5pm).

For further information on the Li Yuan-Chia archive held at the University of Manchester Library please contact For more information on Li Yuan-chia’s artistic legacy see

LYC Display

The finished display of LYC works at the Henry Moore Institute Library, May 2017.

Discovering Old Treasures: Wesley College Bristol library


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Work has begun on cataloguing the library of Wesley College Bristol which contains more than 3,500 early printed books and periodicals, thanks to funding from the Methodist Church in Britain.

An image of the front pastedown of a book from the collection, with 'William Knight His Books 1764' noted above a Didsbury College Library bookplate which has been stamped 'cancelled'.

Some of the books in this collection are rich in provenance information.

Cataloguers Anna Hughes and Joe Devlin are working through the wide ranging collection which includes texts on biblical scholarship, classical texts, philosophy and literature and works on travel and history. An outstanding feature of this collection is the number of rare volumes, from the early sixteenth century onwards, which show evidence of provenance through annotations, notes of dedications and armorial bookplates. Amongst these is John Goodwin’s Eirenomachia (1671), which is heavily annotated in John Wesley’s hand.

Wesley College, Bristol, was a training college for Methodist ministers and its library provided texts for all candidates for ministry, who came from very different educational backgrounds. This is shown in the diversity of subjects covered in the library, such as geography and travel.

A single page pamphlet depicting Oliver Cromwell and his council in league with the Devil as tehy consider the execution of Charles I.

One unusual item in the collection is this single page housed in ‘The indictment, arraignment…of twenty-nine regicides…’ (London, 1724), depicting Oliver Cromwell and his council in league with the Devil.

Wesley College Bristol was the successor of the Methodist training college in Didsbury, the ‘Northern Branch’ of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, which closed in 1944. Didsbury College library was transferred to Bristol at this date, and was later enhanced by the addition of collections from Wesley Collge Headingley, Leeds (when it closed in 1966) and some volumes from Hartley College Victoria, Manchester (which closed in 1972). Before coming to John Rylands, this collection was held at Oxfrod Brookes University.

The libraries of both Hartley College Victoria and Richmond College, Surrey (the ‘Southern Branch’) are also held at John Rylands Library, so the return of the Wesley College Bristol books to Manchester marks a reunion and a homecoming for many of these volumes.

The Wesley College Bristol Collection is part of the Methodist Archives and Research Centre which has been housed at John Rylands since 1972 in agreement with the Methodist Church in Britain.

Delia Derbyshire Archive on Film


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Dr Janette Martin writes:

The compositions of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), a pioneer of British electronic music, continue to inspire and delight audiences today.

As regular readers of this blog will know, 2017 marks what would have been Delia’s eightieth birthday year. To commemorate this milestone lots of activities are taking place across the country.  As part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project, the Delia Derbyshire Day charity commissioned a film exploring the contents of the Delia Derbyshire Archive, which is held by the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library. The film explains how the collection is available for anyone to use and gives a tantalising glimpse into its contents.  If you would like to register as a reader or find out more about this archive please contact

Breaking the Sound Barrier: Delia Derbyshire’s legacy to women in experimental music.

Delia fans are invited to a free sound performance at the John Rylands Library on Thursday 18 May 2017.  An event which is part of the Manchester After Hours festival, which is taking place across the city.

The evening features unpredictable, evocative and extraordinary performances by two female artists whose sound and method echo that of Delia Derbyshire’s pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Listen as Vicky Clarke creates one of her trademark ‘sound sculptures’ using electronic, digital and analogue techniques, and watch Naomi Kashiwagi craft unexpected melodies using a wind-up gramophone in ‘The Gramophonica Mode’, her creative response to Delia Derbyshire’s archive.

Two performances will be held during the evening, starting at 7pm and 8.30pm. We highly recommend arriving on time for the performances as space is limited in the building. Free entry. No need to book.

Digitisation of a Letterbook of John Nelson Darby


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I am pleased to announce a new addition to the digitised material for the Christian Brethren Archive, a letterbook of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).

Darby was one of the founder members of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren. When the latter split in 1848, he went on to become the first leader of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’. He was a noted biblical scholar whose doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren.

Darby produced popular synopses of the Bible and voluminous polemical writings on biblical subjects. As well as his distinctive eschatological views, he developed a dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This interpretation was adopted and developed further in the early twentieth century by C.S. Scofield, who produced a highly popular and influential series of reference and study Bibles. Through this medium, Darby became one of the most influential forces shaping the character and form of modern day American fundamentalist Christianity.

The letterbook contains handwritten transcriptions of 51 letters, 160 pages in total, which were written between 1862 and 1863 whilst Darby was on the first of several missionary journeys in Ontario, Canada. A great deal of the correspondence relates to discussion of Darby’s visit, and his activities during his time there, and it is our belief that much of this material will provide a source of new information on Darby’s time in North America.

A large proportion of the letters in the letterbook are written by Darby, but there are also letters by other individuals, sent from cities and towns in Canada including Toronto, Quebec, Hamilton, Guelph, and Montreal, and also from New York, Detroit, Massachusetts and Missouri in North America.

Inside the front cover are the following names, presumably the names of the owners of the letterbook at different dates:

  • John Pollock 1863
  • Algernon J. Pollock 1892
  • for J. Alfred Trench, Belfast
  • To Seton Pollock 1934
  • To William Bell – April 1957
  • G. Ross Holmes, Winder (about 1970-1998) Canada

This would suggest that the transcriptions were created and collated only a short period of time after the letters were written.

The handwriting is not that of Darby, however the transcriber has made a convincing attempt to imitate the signature of Darby on the letters attributed to him. There are also annotations, made at some later date by an owner of the book, recording their queries and comments.

The letterbook was donated to the Christian Brethren Archive by Thomas and Susan Holmes in 2017. The book had been part of a collection of Brethren books and other Reformation/Church of England books that belonged to George Ross Holmes, who was born in Bruce County, Ontario and died in Windsor, Ontario.

These letters are an excellent supplement to the John Nelson Darby papers, which include a series of Darby’s notebooks, scrapbooks, annotated bibles, notes on lectures and sermons by Brethren activists, and correspondence. The collection contains considerable information on the early history of the Brethren movement.

The digitised letterbook can be viewed here: John Nelson Darby Letterbook

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

Philosophical Transactions, no. 149

Antiquarian Writing on Roman Architecture

Dr Matthew Walker

University of Oxford


Thursday 11th May, 5.30pm

Samuel Alexander Building, Room A112

All welcome. For more information, email:

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series


Joseph Grünpeck, Tractatus de pestilentiali Scorra siue mala de Franzos ([Leipzig: Gregorius Böttiger (Werman), after 18 October 1496]), detail from leaf B5 recto. JRL 17409

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

Responding with Urgency:

Early Printing on Epidemic Diseases in the Rylands Collections

Dr Elma Brenner, Wellcome Collection London

Tuesday 2nd May, 5.30pm
Samuel Alexander Lecture Theatre

For info, email: