Cambridge University Library

Special Projects

The special collections of the University Library are an extraordinary treasure trove … I discovered gems of information that transformed knowledge and my own approaches to it.

 Dr David Starkey, Historian 


Early 20th-century novels stored in the Tower

The special projects being undertaken at the Library at any given moment is long, diverse and constantly developing.

Current and recently completed projects, funded by generous grants from external sources include:

The Tower Project, funded by a grant of $1 million from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, was established in 2006 to create online catalogue records for nearly 200,000 19th-century British publications acquired by the Library under legal deposit legislation. The collection consists of publications – books, pamphlets, school textbooks, calendars, games, timetables, trade catalogues – that were relegated to the ‘secondary’ sheaf catalogue, being at the time considered unsuitable for inclusion in the ‘primary catalogues’ of an academic library but now essential research material for historians, sociologists, scholars of literary history, etc. The project was completed in 2011 and, thanks to a further grant of $348,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was succeeded by Tower Project Phase II, 'Triumph and Disaster: Britain 1910-1919', cataloguing books of popular interest published in Britain between 1910 and 1919.

The Arcadia Programme was a three-year programme funded by a generous grant from the Arcadia Fund to Cambridge University Library. The grant enabled the Library to explore the role of academic libraries in a digital age, create new programmes and services, particularly for undergraduates and also to improve the external environment of the library.

The Library’s collection of incunabula (books printed before 1501) is one of the most important in the world. Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, a new online catalogue is being prepared, to improve access to these rare, and in some cases, unique, books. The Incunabula Project blog is a focus for research activity around the collection as cataloguing progresses.

The Darwin Correspondence Project has as its goal to locate, research, and publish all letters written to and by Charles Darwin, the most celebrated naturalist of the nineteenth century. To date, the project has located a total of around 14,500 letters exchanged by Darwin and nearly 2000 correspondents around the world between 1821 and his death in 1882.

The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection is a window on the medieval world of the Mediterranean area. Its 140,000 manuscripts fragments, mainly in Hebrew and Arabic, shed light on the mundane as well as the religious and cultural activities of that world. The programme of conservation and research being conducted at the University Library, where they are housed, is leading to all manner of exciting discoveries about Jewish religious, communal and personal life, Hebrew culture, settlement in the land of Israel and relations with Muslims and Christians from as early as the ninth and tenth centuries.

Wherever there is an interest or a specialism, there is likely to be a special project that matches it. For more information about funding opportunities which correspond directly to your interests, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

special projects special projects
Letter from Darwin to Hooker in which he
announces his belief in evolution, 1844
Page from the Library’s unique copy of Chaucer’s
Queen Amelida and the false Arcyte, printed by
William Caxton at Westminster, ca. 1477