UON led team examines rare collection of books

Friday, 3 May 2019

Early modern literature scholar Professor Ros Smith will lead a team of researchers on a project that will examine the previously untapped resource of the Emmerson Collection.

Emmerson collection of books

The Emmerson collection is a recently acquired collection of 5,000 early modern rare books that have never been studied nor made available to the public and is housed at the State Library Victoria.

The project, ‘Transforming the early modern archive: the Emmerson Collection at SLV’brings together an international, cross disciplinary team of 6 researchers from 4 institutions in Australia and New Zealand.

Led by Centre for 21stCentury Humanities member Professor Ros Smith, members of the team include the University of Newcastle’s Professor Paul Salzman and Associate Professor TrishaPender. This project was one of only 5 funded by the Australian Research Council in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Creative Arts in the last round, and was awarded $247 000 for 3 years.

Professor Smith said she and her and her team of early modern scholars, specialist librarians and digital designers are aiming to discover what the collection contains, to establish its significance nationally and internationally, and to develop new digital pathways for its use by a range of end-users, from the general public to early modern scholars.

“Spanning political, religious, philosophical and literary works, the collection is a rich resource for historians and literary scholars. Its significance lies not just in the sheer quantity and quality of the books, but also in the important provenance of items, including works originally owned by significant figures at the time of Charles I’s reign,” Professor Smith said.

One of the world’s largest collections of rare English printed works, it features books and pamphlets from the 15th to 18th centuries, mostly produced in England. The collection has a particular emphasis on the reign of King Charles I and the English Civil War, fought during the 1640s. Comparable collections belong to the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Highlights include:

  • The collected writings of King James I, printed in 1616, and given to his son Charles, then Prince of Wales, who would later become King Charles I. The copy is cased in a personalised binding.
  • A 1485 bible printed in Nuremburg. The copy belonged to William Juxon (1582–1663), Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, and is signed by him.
  • A bound volume of the illustrated news sheet Mercurius Civicus Londons Intelligencer, covering the early years of the English Civil War from 1643 to 1646. Published weekly, it is considered the first major city newspaper.
  • Early editions of literary greats including John Milton’s Paradise lost, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels and Laurence Sterne’s The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, along with editions of works by John Dryden, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Daniel Defoe.
  • A vast number of pamphlets and tracts printed and circulated during the English Civil War of the 1640s.

“It’s exciting to be given the opportunity to examine this national treasure and uncover what lies inside,” Professor Smith said.

Bibliophile and scholar John McLaren Emmerson QC (1938 – 2014) amassed the collection over 40 years. His family donated the collection to the State Library in 2015.

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