Category: Exhibitions

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616: a guest post by Hester Lees-Jeffries

By , 23 April 2014 9:00 am

Martin Droeshout’s famous portrait of Shakespeare, from the First Folio (1623) SSS.10.6

William Shakespeare was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 26 April 1564; since at least the eighteenth century, his birthdate has been given as 23 April. With a symmetry that has helped to fix the date of his birth, he died on 23 April 1616. Although Shakespeare’s works have been read, performed, and written about more or less continuously since they were first printed and acted, their formal study within academic institutions is much more recent. There is a long and lively history of performing Shakespeare’s plays in Cambridge, and of Shakespeare criticism and editing by Cambridge academics; all over the world, many students will read Shakespeare for the first time in one of the Cambridge School Shakespeare editions. A new exhibition in the Library’s Entrance Hall cases brings together a small number of books printed in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, which together demonstrate some of the ways in which early readers, perhaps students in particular, would have encountered and responded to Shakespeare. The exhibition also includes some of the earliest Shakespeare examination questions ever set, and sat, in Cambridge.

Continue reading 'William Shakespeare, 1564-1616: a guest post by Hester Lees-Jeffries'»

‘rhythm and line and necessity’: John Riley and Czargrad

By , 19 February 2014 9:00 am

‘Царьград’, Riley’s title of a folder containing drafts of ‘Czargrad’. From MS Add. 10038.

A new exhibition in the University Library Entrance Hall traces the composition of John Riley’s poem Czargrad, a seminal work in the alternative tradition of British poetry exemplified by the so-called ‘Cambridge School’ in the 1960s and 1970s.

Riley was born in Leeds in 1937 and was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, between 1958 and 1961. He took employment as a schoolteacher before leaving the profession to concentrate on literary work. He was killed in a street robbery in Leeds in 1978, aged 41. John Riley’s literary papers were generously donated to Cambridge University Library by his wife, Carol Riley Brown, in 2013. Continue reading '‘rhythm and line and necessity’: John Riley and Czargrad

Conduct literature for and about women in Italy: a new exhibition

By , 18 February 2014 9:00 am

“Lettere scritte da donna”, a book for women published in 1737. CCD.17.15

The  display cases outside the Map Department are hosting a new exhibition entitled ”Conduct literature for and about women in Italy: prescribing and describing life”.  The display  marks the conclusion of an 18-month Leverhulme Trust–Isaac Newton Trust co-funded project on the production of printed conduct literature for and about women in Italy, between 1470 and 1900. Undertaken by Principal Investigator Dr Helena Sanson and Research Associate Dr Francesco Lucioli, and providing a systematic study of women’s conduct books over a broad chronological span, the project is the first of its kind in the field of Italian studies. A conference on the subject is being held in Cambridge on 20 and 21st March, and more information can be found here.

 This exhibition provides a visual illustration of the evolution of the genre over the centuries. From the 1500s onwards, with the diffusion of the printing press and the establishment of the vernacular as a language of culture, Italy saw a proliferation of works which sought to define the nature of women, their role in society and their conduct in everyday life. Focusing mainly on female behaviour and manners, these texts are often centred around a tripartite model of female life (virginity, marriage, widowhood), and are usually authored by men. Continue reading 'Conduct literature for and about women in Italy: a new exhibition'»

The Moving Word

By , 11 February 2014 12:00 pm


CUL MS Gg.1.1 f. 8r

Ralph of Linham writing his Comput (CUL MS Gg.1.1, f. 8r)

The Moving Word: French Medieval Manuscripts in Cambridge is the current exhibition in the Milstein Exhibition Centre, running until 17 April. On display are over fifty medieval manuscripts from the University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum and several colleges (Christ’s, Corpus Christi, King’s, Peterhouse, St John’s and Trinity). The accompanying virtual exhibition contains additional items and video interviews with the curators. It will continue to be available after the physical exhibition closes. Continue reading 'The Moving Word'»

New exhibition: the Lewis-Gibson collection

By , 20 January 2014 11:32 am
A fragment from the Lewis-Gibson collection

Detail from a letter about a marital dispute, from the Lewis-Gibson Genizah collection. L-G Arabic 2.51

In August 2013 Cambridge University Library and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, jointly acquired 1700 medieval Jewish manuscripts collected by the twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson. The manuscripts were purchased by the intrepid ladies as they passed through Egypt on their visits to the monastery at St Catherine’s, Sinai, towards the end of the nineteenth century.

On their return to Cambridge, their friend Solomon Schechter identified one of their manuscripts as the lost Hebrew original of the book of Ben Sira (known in the Christian tradition as Ecclesiasticus), a sensational discovery. Schechter travelled to Cairo to find the source of the manuscripts, uncovering the remarkable hoard known as the Cairo Genizah and bringing 200,000 medieval Jewish fragments back to Cambridge University Library, the famous Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection.

The sisters’ own manuscripts, minus the leaf of Ecclesiasticus that they donated to the UL, were given to Westminster College, a theological college of the United Reformed Church, where they remained until recently. In 2012, Westminster decided to offer them for sale to the UL for £1.2 million. Since this was a considerable sum for one institution to find, Cambridge, for the first time, entered into a partnership to purchase the manuscripts jointly with Oxford. Following a successful public appeal the Lewis-Gibson Collection is now undergoing careful conservation and digitisation in Cambridge. A new exhibition in the Library Entrance Hall cases offers the first chance to see a selection of these fascinating manuscripts, along with materials relating to the fascinating story of their discovery. On display during Library opening hours from 20 January until 15 February.

Printing colour in Tudor England: a new exhibition

By , 16 December 2013 10:45 am

The title page of Ranulf Higden’s Polycronicon, printed in 1527

The Library’s Entrance Hall cases are hosting what is believed to be the first ever exhibition of colour printing produced in Tudor England. The history of the colour print is colourful and surprising. Excepting a few celebrated outliers, technologies for printing images in colour inks (as distinct from painting them by hand) are thought to have developed in the early eighteenth century, after Isaac Newton’s Opticks revolutionised colour theory in 1704 and c. 1710 Jacques Christoph Le Blon invented the trichromatic approach we still use today. His basic colours of blue-red-yellow (and eventually black from the ‘key plate’) have become our cyan-magenta-yellow-key/black, or CMYK. It is known that the first images printed in multiple colours were produced over 500 years ago, shortly after the invention of the printing press in c.1450, but new research has discovered that colour prints were produced across Europe for two centuries before the great breakthroughs of c.1700. The production of these very early colour prints challenges long-held assumptions in fields from the history of medicine to visual culture. Keep reading …

Laurence Sterne’s tercentenary: a guest post by Mary Newbould

By , 28 November 2013 4:21 pm

Portrait of Laurence Sterne, by permission of the Master and Fellows of Jesus College, Cambridge

Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), one of the most celebrated comic writers of his and perhaps of all time, celebrates his tercentenary this year. Sterne’s special relationship with Cambridge has continued from the eighteenth century to the present day: he was an undergraduate at Jesus College, which had strong family associations, whilst Cambridge University Library now houses one of the most significant collections of work by and about Sterne. We are marking this tercentenary with a virtual exhibition of a selection of just a few items from this wonderful collection.

Sterne fully launched his career as a fiction-writer with The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman. Hailed as one of the great comic novels, it was published in five instalments over a period of seven years between 1759 and 1767. Sterne’s contemporaries found Tristram Shandy to be quaint, eccentric, infuriating, baffling, amusing, entertaining, prurient – but above all it attracted the public’s attention, especially at first. Its games with typography provided one source of comment: Sterne is inordinately fond of the dash and the asterisk, uses diagrams and pictures in the text, and even includes black, marbled, and blank pages to confound and amuse his readers. Keep reading …

Britten and Purcell: the arc of universal harmony

By , 18 November 2013 9:04 am
Britten on Aldeburgh Beach, 1959

Britten on Aldeburgh Beach, 1959, courtesy of

The University Library is celebrating the centenary of the birth of one of Britain’s greatest composers, Benjamin Britten, with a display in the Entrance Hall exhibition cases. Best known for works such as Peter Grimes, the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and the great War Requiem, Britten’s works are innovative, imaginative, with a deep understanding particularly of the human voice, and the musical tradition from which he emerged.

He was also greatly admired as a performer, not only of his own compositions, but of others such as Mozart, Schubert and Mahler. It was in the music of Purcell, however, that the synthesis of Britten the composer and Britten the performer was at its most inspired. Britten’s many realisations of works by Purcell provided him with a stimulating creative challenge resulting in a highly personal, yet wholly apt, embodiment of the Purcellian spirit. This special creative affinity with Purcell also had a significant influence on Britten’s own vocal and dramatic style. This exhibition explores that inner harmony between two men who, during their lifetimes, embodied the spirit of English music. Further information will be available on the MusicB3 blog from 22 November (St Cecilia’s day, and Britten’s birthday). The exhibition can be viewed during Library opening hours until 14 December.

Rare Spanish plays on display

By , 24 October 2013 10:30 am

Theatregoers, from the cover of ‘Una cabeza de ministro!’ (1847)

The Library has recently acquired a remarkable collection of 1,852 comedias sueltas; these are short plays printed in Spain between the seventeenth and the nineteenth century, generally on poor-quality paper, and mostly unbound. A selection of these is currently on display in the Library Entrance Hall cases.

In Spain, the term comedias was used for full-length plays, both serious and comic. The new collection contains works by major playwrights of the eighteenth century (such as Luciano Francisco Comella, José de Cañizares and Gaspar de Zavala y Zamora), re-workings of Golden Age classics (featuring Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega and Tirso de Molina), plays by authors of the canon (including Leandro Fernández de Moratín, Francisco Martínez de la Rosa, Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch, Bretón de los Herreros, José Zorrilla, Manuel Tamayo y Baus, and López de Ayala), some translations and adaptations of European plays, and a number of plays by minor dramatists, whose works are very rare. Most of the sueltas are in Spanish, the majority belonging to the nineteenth century. Keep reading …

Donation to digitise Japanese treasures

By , 8 October 2013 4:12 pm
Professor Peter Kornicki, Honorary Keeper of Japanese Books, Professor Mikiko Ishii and University Librarian Anne Jarvis

Professor Peter Kornicki, Honorary Keeper of Japanese Books, Professor Mikiko Ishii and University Librarian Anne Jarvis

Treasures from the University Library’s Japanese Collections are to be digitised and made freely available to a global audience, thanks to a gift from Professor Mikiko Ishii.

Japan possesses an exceptionally rich heritage of manuscripts and printed works, and the University Library is fortunate enough to own some fine examples of this written and illustrated culture.

The treasures include four examples of the Hyakumantō darani (Buddhist invocations of the one million pagodas), commissioned by the Empress Shotoku (717–770) and amongst the oldest printed materials in the world. Each is enclosed inside a small wooden pagoda and was printed probably with wood-blocks between the years 764 and 770. Amongst the manuscripts is a handwritten story of a mouse (Nezumi no soshi), dating from the 18th century and illustrated with coloured paints. The images include a performance of two mice with two animal tamers, one of the latter wearing a costume of Nanbanjin (literally meaning ‘Southern barbarian’), the word referring to the early European visitors from Spain and Portugal. Originally made as a scroll, it was changed to a Senpuyo style of binding (a kind of folded bookbinding).

Professor Ishii, who for many years has been a regular visitor to the University Library from Kanagawa University, Japan, said ‘I have been visiting the University Library two or three times a year since the 1970s, making extensive use of the materials it holds and receiving great support from the librarians for my academic papers and books.  It is a great honour for me to be able to make a donation for digitising the Library’s Japanese  treasures. It is a humble gift to show my great gratitude to the Library and its librarians. I hope this will give the Library the opportunity to expand its digitisation programme so that many more people can access the materials of this world famous Library wherever they are’.

University Librarian Anne Jarvis said, ‘Professor Ishii’s generous donation will enable the Library to digitise its important early Japanese materials and to share them with anyone in the world through the Cambridge Digital Library’ (

If you would like to see some of the treasures before they are digitised, an exhibition is currently on show in the Entrance Hall cases at the University Library, and runs until 23 October 2013.

Nezumi no soshi

A detail from Nezumi no soshi, the story of a mouse

The display includes the two items mentioned above—one of the Library’s examples of the Hyakumantō darani, together with a wooden pagoda, and Nezumi no soshi, the handwritten story of a mouse, which was discovered by Professor Ishii when she was a lector at the Faculty of Oriental Studies in the 1970s. Also on show is Shaku makaen ron san gensho, another fine example of Japan’s early printed culture, which is a work of commentaries of Buddhism and was printed at Mount Koya in 1288.

Other objects on display give a select sample of our collection of later printed items. Oumajirushi is a compilation of Samurai banners of the 17th century, colourfully decorated in gold and silver, while Ansei kenmonshi is a 19th-century work reporting on the heavy damage caused by the Great Earthquake of the Ansei period. Nanshoku hiyoku no tori, an example of popular everyday stories (a genre known as ukiyozoshi) of the 18th century, deals with the subject of male homosexuality.

For more information on the Japanese Collections at Cambridge University Library, see