Cambridge University Library

Readers' Newsletter No. 16


Library offered Lottery grant of £4.79 million for Newton papers

The University Library has been offered a grant of £4.79 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the purchase of the Macclesfield Collection, one of the most important collections of scientific papers still in private hands. The grant represents 75% of the total purchase price of £6.37 million - the maximum the Lottery can provide - and leaves the Library with £1.58 million to find. An appeal has been launched to raise this amount to keep the papers in the UK and make them available to scholars and the public.

The Library already houses the principal archive of Newton's scientific papers, presented to the University by the 5th Earl of Portsmouth in 1872. This would be complemented by the Macclesfield Collection, which documents his work on gravitation, calculus, optics, chemistry and comets and on his most famous book, the Principia Mathematica. Material on some topics, such as the dispute with Leibniz over priority in the invention of differential calculus, is spread over both collections and, in some cases, replies to letters in one collection are to be found in the other. Apart from the correspondence, little of the material has been published and access to it has been restricted.

Newton's links with Cambridge were strong. He matriculated at Trinity in 1661 and became a Fellow in 1667. He was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1669 to 1709 and MP for the University on two occasions. In addition to the Portsmouth collection, the University Library holds manuscripts of his lectures as Lucasian Professor, and records of his Cambridge career are contained in the University Archives. The Macclesfield Collection would reinforce very fittingly the Library's rich holdings of scientific papers, including those of the only British scientist to rival Newton in impact and influence, Charles Darwin.

Newton had personal experience of the problems attending the University's responsibilities towards the preservation of scholarly materials. In a letter of 1683 to John Aubrey about the possible acquisition of an important private library, he wrote that the Vice Chancellor 'knows not yet whether ye University will purchase [it], their chest being at present very low'.

The campaign to attract benefactors to provide the sum that the Library needs to raise opened with expressions of support from prominent scientists, including Newton's successor as Lucasian Professor, Stephen Hawking, and Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, as well as figures from the media such as Bamber Gascoigne and Carol Vordermann, herself a former Cambridge mathematician. The appeal has already aroused great interest, and has attracted a number of donations, including a most generous gift of $250,000 from the Dibner fund, founder of the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT, and given in honour of the eminent Newton scholar, I. Bernard Cohen.

For further information please contact the Librarian (telephone (3)33045, email

The genesis of A Jewish archive from old Cairo

Stefan Reif directs the Genizah Research Unit and heads the Oriental Division at the University Library, and is Professor of Medieval Hebrew Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies. In his latest book, A Jewish archive from Old Cairo: the history of Cambridge University's Genizah Collection (Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey, 2000), he explains how Cairo came to have this unique Jewish archive; how Cambridge developed its interest in Hebraica and Judaica; and how several colourful figures effected the connection between the two centres. He also cites many remarkable texts that demonstrate the importance of the Genizah documents for cultural history and explains how work on the Collection has proceeded at Cambridge University Library over the course of a century. Here he muses on how the book came to be written.

It is now some 27 years since I took over responsibility for the world's greatest archive of early medieval Hebrew and Jewish manuscripts, the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection at Cambridge University Library. Brought to Cambridge in 1897 by the brilliant scholar of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature, Solomon Schechter, these 140,000 fragmentary Jewish documents from the Ben Ezra synagogue have ushered in a new age of learning about Jews and Judaism as they existed in the Mediterranean a thousand years ago. The texts that he and others found in what has become famous as 'the Cairo Genizah' have shed light not only on what Jewish scholars wrote in the biblical and rabbinic fields but also on the daily lives, loves and relations of Jews, Christians and Muslims. For those with an interest in uncovering the secrets of the past, the Genizah's contents are at least as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Almost from the outset of my involvement with these precious literary and documentary items, I was faced with a number of what appeared to be mutually exclusive needs. Serious and sound Genizah research had to be promoted; publication of the resultant data had to be arranged; and a climate had to be created in which there was enough information about the Genizah and its historical importance to encourage intelligent interest and financial support on the part of the broader public. Far from leading to frustration, such tensions encouraged a varied productivity. A Cambridge University Press series, some joint international research projects, and the emergence of a group of young scholars represented one side of the coin. On the other, there was a conservation programme, a popular newsletter, exhibitions, the media, and a Web-site(

As I learned, published and broadcast over the years on the Genizah manuscripts, I encountered reactions of various types. There were those that were captivated by the revolutionary nature of the material, while others were fascinated by the academic personalities involved. Some took an interest in the mundane matters of the medieval Mediterranean, leaving the technicalities of religion and literature to the specialists. What many had in common was the expressed desire to read a book that provided them with an instant introduction to all elements of the Genizah story. On being told that no such volume was in existence, their disappointment was palpable and they often suggested that one of my responsibilities must surely be to produce one. Interestingly, the same proposal was made by many professional scholars, anxious to see the production of a basic reference tool for themselves and their students.

It was with these suggestions in mind that I undertook an introduction to the Genizah Collection that was aimed at the educated and professional non-specialist, the scholar in other areas of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and the student in search of sound academic data and analysis couched in non-technical language. I knew I had achieved some degree of success when some of the publishing houses I approached classified it as too scholarly and others as insufficiently like a standard academic monograph. Such responses revealed more about the narrowness of some referees than about the validity of my approach. Today's scholars undoubtedly have duties towards the academy but also to the world beyond it. If they expect support for their more arcane efforts, they must supply educational material for the broader world, without compromising their intellectual and academic standards.

Urgent Action Service for Inter-Library loans

The Inter-Library Loans Department is now offering an additional service to readers. If a periodical is held in the British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC) in Yorkshire or in the Science Reference Information Service in London it may be possible to obtain photocopies of periodical articles for readers within two days (or in some circumstances, the same day). Readers complete the usual periodicals request form and copyright declaration and the request is then faxed to BLDSC within minutes. The BLDSC charges the Library at least three times the usual fee and it is therefore necessary to charge readers accordingly. For articles sent by post (usually arriving the next day) the cost is £6.00; for articles sent by fax (possibly arriving the same day) the cost is £8.00.

All photocopies, whether sent by post or fax, will be received at the University Library and should be collected from the Inter-Library Loans desk.

Please note:: This service is available only when the Inter-Library Loans desk is open; it cannot be requested in the main Reading Room.

Oxford English Dictionary online

A University Library subscription to the newly-published online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, provides electronic access both within the Library and across the University to the full text of the 20-volume print edition. Updated quarterly, it contains entries for over half a million words, tracing their usage through 2.5 million quotations. Access is available at

New electronic resources

Through a joint subscription with the Faculty of Economics, the EconLit database has been made available on the University's ERL server. EconLit provides bibliographic citations, with selected abstracts, to the international literature on economics since 1969. It includes Abstracts of Working Papers in Economics from the Cambridge University Press database, the Index of Economic Articles in Journals and Collective Volumes and the full text of the Journal of Economic Literature book reviews.

The Philosopher's Index, funded jointly by the University Library, the Whipple Library, and the Faculty of Philosophy, is also on offer via the ERL server. A bibliographical and abstracting database indexing scholarly articles on philosophy and related interdisciplinary fields - aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics - published since 1940, its coverage includes the philosophy of other disciplines such as education, history, law, religion, and science. Access to both databases is available for users in the University at

Two major collections of electronic journals have been added to the Library's holdings: Project Muse journals, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, adds 90 titles in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, while the addition of electronic versions of 95 Oxford University Press journals widens access to the titles which are also received in print format under legal deposit arrangements.

The Royal Society of Literature

The University Library has recently published, in association with the Royal Society of Literature, a brief history of the Society, whose archive is now held by the Library (as reported in Newsletter number 14).

The Royal Society of Literature: a portrait, by Isabel Quigly, is a lively account of a characteristic British institution. It provides many signposts towards the routes of possible research opened up by the archive's availability to scholars in the University Library. It is available from the Library Offices at £7.00 (telephone: (3)33048; email

University Library: provisional periodical subscriptions

The University Library has taken out a provisional subscription, for one year, to the following journals, and the level of use will be monitored in order to ascertain whether a longer-term subscription is justified. West Room pigeonhole locations are given in brackets for each title.

Azure: ideas for the Jewish nation 			(X.155)

The Ben Hecht story & news 				(W.279)

Journal of arts management, law and society 		(0.71)

Lithuanian historical studies 				(T.53)

Childhood revisited

With the success of the Harry Potter novels dominating the news, this seems an appropriate time to celebrate the achievements of J.K. Rowling's predecessors. The Library's latest exhibition draws on the legal deposit collections to explore the development of British children's literature over the last 250 years, concentrating on fiction by women authors.

From the publication of the first children's novel, Sarah Fielding's The governess, in 1749, to the present day, women have played a leading role in the development of children's fiction; yet their contribution has often been undervalued, with relatively few achieving lasting fame. The University Library's exhibition examines the development of different genres - such as animal stories, family novels, fantasy, adventure and school stories - showing that, although the emphasis has changed, the essential aim of most authors has remained the same: to entertain and to teach, using fiction as a tool in the religious, moral or social education of the young.

The early period is represented by little-known writers such as Sarah Trimmer and Mary Martha Sherwood, but also by women better known for their works for adults: Mary Wollstonecraft and Maria Edgeworth. The late nineteenth century brings, among others, E. Nesbit, Beatrix Potter and Hesba Stretton. Once into the twentieth century, visitors of nine or ninety are equally likely to meet familiar friends: from Just William, Peter Rabbit and the Chalet School girls to the Famous Five, Prince Cinders and Harry Potter. Why not revisit your childhood with a trip to the Exhibition Centre?

The journey to Hogwarts: women writing for children, 1750-2000

3 October 2000 to 17 March 2001
(closed 24 December to 1 January)

Opening hours: 	Monday-Friday 		09.00 - 18.00
		Saturday 		09.00 - 12.30

The Exhibition Centre is open to the public and admission is free.

The exhibition is sponsored by Bloomsbury Publishing plc

The Friends of Cambridge University Library

Forthcoming meetings:

Meetings are held in the Morison Room, University Library.

Saturday 21 October, at 11.30am

Sir Frank Kermode

'Cambridge and twentieth-century criticism'

This talk will be proceeded at 11.00am by the Annual General Meeting.

Coffee will be served from 10.30am. Friday 10 November, at 5.00pm.

Jacqueline Sanson

Directeur Général-Adjoint et Directeur des Collections, Bibliothèque nationale de France

'The changes at the Bibliothèque nationale de France'

This event is supported by the French Embassy in London

Wednesday 15 November, at 5.00pm

John Rowe Townsend

'How children's books began'

Saturday events are free of charge to Friends. Members wishing to attend weekday evening meetings pay at a special rate of 2.50 per head, to help us recover costs. Non-members are welcome at all talks; the admission charge is 3.50.

Editor: Ray Scrivens ISSN:1360-9033

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