Watercolour of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from the lower part of the garden, thought to be the work of Christabel Airy. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Watercolour of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from the lower part of the garden, thought to be the work of Christabel Airy. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Since its launch in 2011, Cambridge Digital Library (CDL) has had more than 20 million page views from over 2.2million users accessing its collections from every country on the globe.

As “a home for the discovery of digitised material", the Digital Library brings together research and archives from the University of Cambridge and beyond, offering free access to rare and unique collections for researchers and the public.

With more than half a million images of almost 40,000 items, there are many unexpected discoveries to be made and the chance to learn more about the world around us.

Here, we look at some of the lesser known collections in the Digital Library and their significance and importance.

Royal Greenwich Observatory

Drawing and description of a machine for measuring currents by J. Vetter. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Drawing and description of a machine for measuring currents by J. Vetter. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Cambridge University Library (UL) is home to extensive archives from the Royal Greenwich Observatory consisting of all the surviving historical paper records from 1675 until circa 1980.

Six colour illustrations by G.W.U. Wedel. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Six colour illustrations by G.W.U. Wedel. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

In 2014, through a joint project between the UL, the National Maritime Museum and the AHRC-funded Board of Longitude Project, some of the paper archives were digitised and made available to the public.

The RGO collection is home to the complete surviving papers of the Board of Longitude which ran from 1714-1828. Made up of 22 commissioners, including parliamentarians, administrators, scholars and naval officers, the Board was tasked with judging proposals for determining longitude at sea and to fund experiments to find viable solutions.

John Anderson's instrument for finding apparent time and latitude. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

John Anderson's instrument for finding apparent time and latitude. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

The collection includes copies of the Board’s minutes, extensive correspondence with petitioners, some financial accounts, as well as a number of individual accounts such as the papers of Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal from 1765.

Drawing of globe instruments for taking the latitude of the sun and stars, and for finding the longitude. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Drawing of globe instruments for taking the latitude of the sun and stars, and for finding the longitude. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

The AHRC grant paved the way for further digitisation projects of the Royal Greenwich Observatory archive.

One of the additional collections to be digitised was material relating to the British expeditions of 1874 to observe the rare astronomical phenomenon of the Transit of Venus across the Sun. By making observations at exactly the same time, from multiple precise locations across the globe, astronomers were hoping to measure solar parallax, a method of measuring the distance between the Earth and the Sun, and in turn, give a better understanding to the scale of the universe.

Photograph of the Transit of Venus. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Photograph of the Transit of Venus. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Added to the Digital Library in 2016, the project was a collaboration with the University of Kent and the British Society for the History of Science, as well as descendants of Chief Astronomer George Tupman.

The 1874 expedition took astronomers all around the world, including to the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii, and the collection of journals gives an insight to the considerable organisation these expeditions took, through training observers, and planning voyages to ensuring equipment and supplies were available. Journals were kept by astronomers both before and during the expedition allowing us to journey with them.

Captain Tupman's Journal From 1873 to 1874. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Captain Tupman's Journal From 1873 to 1874. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

One of the observers to make the trip to the Sandwich Islands (known as Station B) was Lieutenant Evelyn James Wheelock Noble, who documented his and his comrades’ time on the islands in caricature drawings. We can follow the trip out to the islands and watch as Noble and his fellow observers set up and begin to record what they see, as well as interactions with the people they meet on the islands. 

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

The Life & Adventures of Station B. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman.

Captain George Lyon Tupman with the reflecting equatorial telescope that he set up in Hillfoot Observatory, Harrow. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman

Captain George Lyon Tupman with the reflecting equatorial telescope that he set up in Hillfoot Observatory, Harrow. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library, Charlotte Tupman

The RGO archives is also home to a collection of 35 drawings and watercolours created by the women who worked at the Royal Observatory and called it their home. Digitised in 2018 as part of a competition for UL staff, these artworks not only provide a record of the history of the observatory, they also provide a window in to the female experience of living and working at the observatory.  

A pencil drawing of a south-west view of Flamsteed House, Greenwich by Elizabeth Smith. Flamsteed House, the original observatory building, was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675/76. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A pencil drawing of a south-west view of Flamsteed House, Greenwich by Elizabeth Smith. Flamsteed House, the original observatory building, was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675/76. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

In 1830, George Airy, who would later become Astronomer Royal, married Richarda Smith, and in 1836, the family moved in to Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Richarda took an active interest in her husband’s work, and as a talented amateur artist, Richarda would provide sketches of George’s lectures.

A pencil drawing of George Airy crossing the Front Court taking observations at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich by Elizabeth Smith in 1839. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Pencil drawing of Flamsteed House shows the Octagon Room with children playing with a dog on the lawn. Drawing by Elizabeth Smith in 1839. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Watercolour painting of the gardens known as ‘the Drying Ground’, thought to have been the work of Christabel Airy in 1847. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Watercolour painting of the Magnet House from the south-west, showing the thermometer support, the cover of the deep-sunk thermometer, and Great Shed.  © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A pencil drawing of George Airy crossing the Front Court taking observations at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich by Elizabeth Smith in 1839. ©Cambridge University Library

Pencil drawing of Flamsteed House shows the Octagon Room with children playing with a dog on the lawn. Drawing by Elizabeth Smith in 1839. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Watercolour painting of the gardens known as ‘the Drying Ground’, thought to have been the work of Christabel Airy in 1847. ©Cambridge University Library

Watercolour painting of the Magnet House from the south-west, showing the thermometer support, the cover of the deep-sunk thermometer, and Great Shed. ©Cambridge University Library

Richarda’s sister Elizabeth, also had a talent for drawing, and her 14 sketches of the grounds of the Observatory were presented as a gift to George Airy. They provide an important record of 19th century architecture and the grounds of the Observatory which underwent changes over later years.

The talent for art was passed on to George and Richarda’s daughter, Christabel Airy whose beautiful watercolour paintings can be viewed in the collection. Born at the Observatory in 1842, Christabel, along with her sister’s, was taught at home and spent all of her childhood, as well as most of her adult life, at the Observatory.

More information about the entire archive can be found here and is available to request and read in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Maps

Cantebrigia (Cambridge) in 1575 by George Braun. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Cantebrigia (Cambridge) in 1575 by George Braun. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

There are some 1.3 million maps in the Map Department at the UL, as well as more than 40,000 atlases and books on cartography. For centuries, maps have provided us with the tools for navigation and allow us to follow in the footsteps of those who lived before us.

Map of Britain at the time of the Saxon Heptarchy. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Map of Britain at the time of the Saxon Heptarchy. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

The maps and atlases in the collection cover the whole world in a variety of scales, from world maps showing ocean currents to hand drawn maps of the Cambridge backs. The collection dates from the 15th century up to the present day with many being regarded as works of art in their own right.

Map of the Shan region, showing border dispute between Burma and China, painted circa 1889. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Map of the Shan region, showing border dispute between Burma and China, painted circa 1889. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Portolan chart of the Aegean Sea and part of the Eastern Mediterranean

Portolan chart of the Aegean Sea and part of the Eastern Mediterranean

A beautiful and rare example of maps as artworks is a Portolan chart acquired by accident and discovered when archivists were cataloguing a collection of 200 Turkish maps. Hand drawn sea charts, Portolan charts are used for navigation and were mainly produced for the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The example held at the UL is thought to date from around 1650 and shows the islands and obstacles found on Aegean Sea charts.

Earliest known complete map of Cambridge drawn by Richard Lyne, 1574. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Plan of the Old University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, 1840. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

London and North Western Railway land at Cambridge and New Cattle Market. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Plans of Cambridgeshire County Gaol. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Earliest known complete map of Cambridge drawn by Richard Lyne, 1574. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Plan of the Old University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, 1840. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

London and North Western Railway land at Cambridge and New Cattle Market. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Plans of Cambridgeshire County Gaol. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A large part of the digital map collection shows the life and growth of Cambridge and the surrounding area. From the first complete plan of the city in 1574 by Richard Lyne...

to plans of the Old University Botanic Gardens in 1840...

as well as maps of the New Cattle Market and London and Northwesten Railway land from the early 1880. The growth of the city through the centuries is illustrated through maps.

The Map Room at the UL is available for use by any member of the library, during opening hours, and more details about finding and requesting maps can be found here.

Islamic Manuscripts

Fragments of an Abbasid Qurʼān from the 3rd century A.H./ 9th century A.D. ( before 262/876), containing verses from the sura Āl ʿImrān (سورة آل عمران) © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragments of an Abbasid Qurʼān from the 3rd century A.H./ 9th century A.D. ( before 262/876), containing verses from the sura Āl ʿImrān (سورة آل عمران) © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century A.H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century A.H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragment of an Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragment of an Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragments of an Abbasid Qurʼān from the 3rd century A.H./ 9th century A.D. ( before 262/876), containing verses from the sura Āl ʿImrān (سورة آل عمران) © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragments of an Abbasid Qurʼān from the 3rd century A.H./ 9th century A.D. ( before 262/876), containing verses from the sura Āl ʿImrān (سورة آل عمران) © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century A.H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century A.H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragment of an Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Fragment of an Abbasid Qur'ān probably written in the third or fourth century H. / ninth or tenth century C.E. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

The UL is home to a significant collection of Islamic Manuscripts dating back to the origins of Arabic scholarship in Cambridge in the 1630s. It was during this time that the first Professorship of Arabic was founded and the first manuscript of the Qurʼān was donated to the UL by William Bedwell.

This collection gives an extraordinary insight into many aspects of the Islamic culture, including its history and learnings. It has been added to over the centuries making it a rich and unique collection.

Illustration 17 from Niẓāmī's Khamsah: Bahrām-i Gūr meets the Byzantine princess in the yellow pavilion. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Illustration 17 from Niẓāmī's Khamsah: Bahrām-i Gūr meets the Byzantine princess in the yellow pavilion. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Highlights of the collection include early fragments of Qurʼānic manuscripts copied during the 1st and 4th Centuries of Islam and a beautifully illustrated collection of Persian poetry by Niẓāmī Ganjavī.

Manuscript of Niẓāmī's Khamsah containing his five major poems.

Manuscript of Niẓāmī's Khamsah containing his five major poems.

Aljamiado manuscript containing a compendium of Islamic law written by Baray de Reminjo with the help of a young scholar known as Mancebo de Arévalo. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Aljamiado manuscript containing a compendium of Islamic law written by Baray de Reminjo with the help of a young scholar known as Mancebo de Arévalo. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated 16th Century [CE] copy of the Persian version of Qazwini's ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʼib al-mawjūdāt, "The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence", commonly known as "The cosmography of Qazwini". © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Illustration of a Throne from  of the Persian version of Qazwini's ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʼib al-mawjūdāt, "The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence", commonly known as "The cosmography of Qazwini". © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated 16th Century [CE] copy of the Persian version of Qazwini's ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʼib al-mawjūdāt, "The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence", commonly known as "The cosmography of Qazwini". ©Cambridge University Library

Illustration of a Throne from  of the Persian version of Qazwini's ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʼib al-mawjūdāt, "The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence", commonly known as "The cosmography of Qazwini". ©Cambridge University Library

Another highlight is a beautifully illuminated Persian copy of Qazwini's "The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence".

The book explores our understanding of the world and the creatures we share it with and highlights the cultural diversity of its sources.

The collection also includes an almost complete illustrated copy of the Shahnamah (Book of Kings), an epic poem written by the Persian poet Firdawsī between 977 and 1010 CE, thought to be the longest poem written by a single person and considered a literary masterpiece.

The poem, with Iran as its focus, narrates the history of humanity, starting at the creation of the world and continuing until the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century.

A richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah probably copied in the 16th/17th Century C.E - Isfandiyar's second labour: fighting the lions. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah probably copied in the 16th/17th Century C.E -Kayumars enthroned. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah probably copied in the 16th/17th Century C.E - A full scale battle between the armies of Iran and Turan. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah probably copied in the 16th/17th Century C.E. ©Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah probably copied in the 16th/17th Century C.E - . ©Cambridge University Library

A richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah probably copied in the 16th/17th Century C.E - A full scale battle between the armies of Iran and Turan. ©Cambridge University Library

Further information about the complete collection, and how Library users can access it, can be found here.

Voices of Civilian Internment:
WW2 Singapore

May 2020 marked 75 years since VE Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe. It is sometimes forgotten that troops continued to fight around the world, including Asia, where the surrender of the Japanese did not happen until September 1945.

"To those who laughed" - A personal narrative of William Churchill's experience at Changi and Sime Road. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

"To those who laughed" - A personal narrative of William Churchill's experience at Changi and Sime Road. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

While war raged in Europe, in the Far East, British civil servants remained in their posts and civilians continued to run their businesses to support the war effort. The attempted evacuation of women and children from Malaya (now Malaysia) in December 1941 was thwarted by the speed of the Japanese invasion, and many civilians fled to Singapore. Weeks of shelling followed and three days after the surrender of Singapore, on 17 February 1942, all remaining British civilians of European descent were required to report for internment at camps in Singapore, initially at Changi and later at Sime Road . Some 2,500 civilians were confined.

The archive, which arrived at the UL in 1993, consists of two types of material from the men’s camp – official camp records and poignant personal memoirs of those incarcerated and brings to life the experiences of civilians interned at the camps following the fall of Malaya to the Japanese.  

Included in the collection are the records of Norman Jarrett, who had been Food Controller in Malaya before the war, and acted as camp Quartermaster during his internment. Here, Jarrett details purchases and delivery of food and other items such as clothing.

© Image copyright Cambridge University Library

© Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Documents relating to various Red Cross supplies delivered in 1942, 1943 and 1945 include letters written by internees requesting goods such as footwear and other clothing.   

Also in the collection are the records of John Weekley, a mining engineer before the war, who acted as one of the camp commandants. Recorded are the internee arrivals to the camps, both male and female, as well as a number of documents gathered by Weekley concerning the administration of the camps, camp discipline and relations with Japanese authorities, among others topics.

One of the documents collected by Weekly. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

One of the documents collected by Weekly. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Letter relating to the release, contents and distribution of Red Cross supplies delivered in 1945. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Letter relating to the release, contents and distribution of Red Cross supplies delivered in 1945. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A list of male internees to Sime Road in March 1945. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A list of male internees to Sime Road in March 1945. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

The collection contains various accounts of life in the camps. One such is written by William Foster Norton Churchill who had worked in the Malayan Civil Service before interment.

His personal narrative, "To Those Who Laughed" told of his life in the Japanese Internment Camps in Singapore between 1942-1944. Illustrated by a fellow internee, the prison officer Robert William Edwin Harper, the memoir was presented to the British Association of Malaya in 1963 by Churchill's family.

© Image copyright Cambridge University Library

© Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Churchill went on to put together an outline for a television script inspired by the Double Tenth incident in October 1943 when civilian internees were arrested and tortured by Japanese military police who incorrectly believed the internees had helped instigate a raid on Singapore Harbour.

Outline for a television screenplay set in Changi Gaol inspired by the Double Tenth incident. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Outline for a television screenplay set in Changi Gaol inspired by the Double Tenth incident. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Though a gruesome subject, the outline script is a good example of the wide variety of items that are searchable on the CDL.

Some internees took to using their artistic talents to record their experiences. Mary Angela Bateman was an art teacher, who was interned in Changi, and was interned in Changi, drew this sketch of men at work in the camp sometime between 1942-1945.

A mounted sketch of a male work party by Mary Angela Bateman. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

A mounted sketch of a male work party by Mary Angela Bateman. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

The completeness of this collection is, in part, due to the efforts of Hugh Bryson who, as Secretary of the British Association of Malaysia and Singapore, collected the original documents from its members and reached out to encourage them to write about their memories and their lives  whilst interned in the camps.   

The collection was digitised with thanks to the Wellcome Trust and the complete collection can be explored here.

Manuscript song book used by the Changi Male Voice Party in the Changi Internment Camp, Singapore, 1942-1945. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Manuscript song book used by the Changi Male Voice Party in the Changi Internment Camp, Singapore, 1942-1945. © Image copyright Cambridge University Library

Photo: @AlicetheCamera

Photo: @AlicetheCamera

"Cambridge University Library collections represent an invaluable contribution to world heritage spanning four thousand years of human thought. Cambridge Digital Library seeks to open up this knowledge to the widest possible global audience, for research, for education or for simple curiosity and wonder.”

Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian and Director of Library Services