Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Sloane Printed Books Collection online at British Library website

Press release from the British Library:

The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue

New web resource from the British Library and the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL www.bl.uk/catalogues/sloane

The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue, a joint initiative by the British Library and the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, is now available on the British Library website. The catalogue aims to ‘virtually' reunite the printed book collections formerly owned by the renowned physician, scientist and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660 – 1753). His collection, comprising around 40,000 printed books, was one of the largest libraries in Europe of its time and is particularly significant for its holdings of medical and scientific material.

In addition to his work as a physician and scientist, Sir Hans Sloane was President of the Royal Society and one of the great collectors of his age. His extensive, varied and important collection was one of the founding collections of the British Museum, and his manuscripts and most of his printed books now form part of the British Library. The manuscripts remain together as a collection, but his collection of around 40,000 printed books was not originally kept together, with significant numbers of volumes from the collection being sold as ‘duplicate' copies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of which can now be found in university and research collections across the world.

The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue aims to provide a 'virtual' re-creation of Sloane's printed collections. It will offer the opportunity to see Sloane's library as a whole for the first time in over 250 years, and illustrate Sloane's place in the scientific and intellectual networks at a critical time in the development of modern science.

Around 15,000 books are already listed on the new catalogue. A two-year project (April 2008-2010) funded by a Wellcome Trust grant under its Research Resources in Medical History scheme will build on this work to identify Sloane's books both in the British Library and elsewhere, continually expanding the catalogue over the lifetime of the project.

Manuscript notes and annotations can tell us much about the way these books were used, and from whom Sloane acquired them. Although the library's strengths were in science and medicine, Sloane collected very widely, and the project team has discovered that he owned items as disparate as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton in 1485, and a Jamaica Almanack from 1673. In this new catalogue, bibliographical records are enhanced with the inclusion of Sloane's own numbers or other identifying marks, and information about previous owners. A number of records include information on the physical state and condition of the items.

The new catalogue opens up Sloane's library for research into what he owned, how he used it, from whom he acquired items, and how the collection was managed. Sloane's library offers information which will enable researchers to understand how knowledge was transmitted, which books were particularly prized, and what uses physicians and scientists made of them.

Lists of medicines and remedies, lists of books owned, even pressed plants and a laundry list have been found in the collection: all these help to bring to life the way these books were used. As the Sloane Printed Books Project continues, researchers will be able to see more clearly how a great physician and scientist at a time of significant discoveries and progress built up and used his library, and how knowledge was made available within his community.

Alison Walker, Lead Researcher of The Sloane Printed Books Project, commented:
“The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue is an important new resource which opens up the library of a great collector. We can learn much about Sir Hans Sloane, his career, and the intellectual and scientific circles in which he lived by looking at what material he acquired and how it was used. This new catalogue aims to reconstruct Sloane's library to shed new light on scientific and intellectual networks in at a critical time in the development of modern science.”

Professor Hal Cook, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, said: "Sir Hans Sloane was an avid collector of books throughout his lifetime, as we might expect from one of the foremost intellectual figures in eighteenth century London. The prospect of reuniting his entire library as a virtual collection is tremendously exciting, and offers researchers around the world the chance to make much more use of this unique historical resource."


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