Category: Digitisation

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 Originally made as a scroll, it was changed to a Senpuyo style of binding (a kind of folded bookbinding).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

‘A thing useful against evils’ – An Anglo-Saxon gospel book from Northumbria

By , 24 July 2013 9:10 am
CUL Kk.1.24, f. 179r

CUL MS Kk.1.24, f. 179r

For early medieval Christian communities, a gospel book was a treasured possession and, according to an Anglo-Saxon riddle, ‘a thing useful against evils’. The most outstanding example of an Anglo-Saxon gospel book is undoubtedly the Lindisfarne Gospels but this was a deluxe production. A much more typical example of the gospel books produced in eighth-century Northumbria is CUL MS Kk.1.24 which has just been digitised and is available in the Cambridge Digital Library. Its pages reveal many of the ways this precious book was used over the centuries. Keep reading …

Read all about it!

By , 30 April 2013 7:00 am
Francisquillo el Sastre

Francisquillo el Sastre (Frankie the Tailor) who cut up his victims with enormous scissors

Before the days of the internet, television and widespread daily newspapers, how did people find out about acts of wrongdoing, and before reading for pleasure became a mass occupation how did they get access to fictional or entertaining accounts of criminals and their crimes? In much of Western Europe this information was distributed in the form of cheap broadsides and pamphlets (known as chapbooks) sold by wandering dealers. These publications were the equivalent of the modern popular press, but they survive today only in very small numbers.

The University Library’s new exhibition, opening today to the public in the Milstein Exhibition Centre, displays some of our uniquely rich holdings of nineteenth-century Spanish chapbooks, and contrasts them with material produced in the same era for English readers. These were two dramatically different audiences: only about one in five Spaniards was able to read in 1860, whereas in England at that time some two-thirds of the population was literate. As a result, Spanish popular literature had dramatic visual content and text that was often in verse, to be easily remembered and shared. The English material on display, by contrast, used more sophisticated language to address a better-educated audience. Keep reading …

Cambridge University Library gives Newton papers to the world

By , 13 December 2011 11:52 am
Isaac Newton

Newton portrait (detail) reproduced with the kind permission of the Master and Fellows, Trinity College, Cambridge

Important manuscripts by Isaac Newton are released as the first collection of the new Cambridge Digital Library.

Isaac Newton’s own annotated copy of his Principia Mathematica is among his notebooks and manuscripts being made available online by Cambridge University Library.

The Library holds the world’s largest and most significant collection of the scientific works of Isaac Newton (1642–1727), described by many as the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived. His works will launch the new Cambridge Digital Library (

The project aims to make Cambridge a digital library for the world and will move on from Newton to some of the University Library’s other world-class collections in the realms of science and faith. These include the archive of the celebrated Board of Longitude and the papers of Charles Darwin.

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Darwin’s personal library put online

By , 25 June 2011 2:16 pm

Books from Darwin's library Notes and comments scribbled by Charles Darwin on the pages and margins of his own personal library have been made available online for the first time.

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