University Library and Collections – favourites from our collections…

As part of our World Book Day celebrations, we’ve been exploring the theme of ‘Choice – curiosity has no age limits and neither do books.’ There can be no better examples of this than from our very own collections held within our archives, special collections and museums. With a vast range of books that are as fascinating today as they were when first written, they continue to generate a desire to discover and learn and will cultivate this curiosity for many, many years to come. 

With that in mind, we’ve asked some of our librarians and curators to choose their favourite book from our collections and share their insight into these incredible items… 

Michael Stansfield – Senior Manager Archives and Special Collections 

Tabula practice Gordonij dicte Lilium medicine  

This is my favourite book because it has so many stories to tell. Firstly, the text is a medical encyclopaedia of diseases by Bernard de Gordon, of the University of Montpellier, as lauded in the Canterbury Tales. Written in around 1304, it covers subjects from such as the early use of spectacles to medical ethics and the qualities needed in a good doctor. Then its printing in Venice in 1497 by the brothers John and Gregory de Gregorius with a fine printer’s device representing a fountain makes it a prized incunabulum. It has also clearly been through various hands with Giorno id San Pelegrino and Io. Benedetti having left their names in it. There are also lots of annotations indicating copious use by probably Italian medical students. Its ‘rustic’ binding is symptomatic of its practical use, but this binding also conceals further stories, being packed out with earlier manuscript fragments including some 13th century Hebrew. So many angles to explore in just one book, and only acquired 3 years ago, which is another story in itself! 

Tabula practice Gordonij dicte Lilium medicine (Shelfmark: SA 0170) 

Rachel Barclay – Curator of the Oriental Museum 

My favourite book in the Oriental Museum collections is a volume of the Hokusai Manga by the famous Japanese print artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).   

The original intention behind Hokusai Manga seems to have been to create an instruction manual for aspiring artists. However, the Manga proved to have a far wider appeal. The first volume achieved instant popularity when it was published in 1814 in Japan becoming the most popular picture book of the period. When the Manga became known in the West, similar acclaim followed.  

12 volumes were published during Hokusai’s lifetime and three more were issued posthumously. All 15 books contain pages of disconnected drawings – sometimes several to a page – ranging from pots and pans to landscapes, animals, flowers and studies of the human figure as pictured here. It has been called ’an encyclopedia of the image’, including more than 800 pages and 4000 individual pictures. Each volume has been reprinted many times to keep up with demand and it is still in print today. The Oriental Museum holds individual pages from several volumes and a complete copy of volume 9, which includes the wonderfully comic page shown here.

Hokusai Manga

Gemma Lewis – Curator of Museum of Archaeology and Durham Castle 

The Lanchester Diploma 

This is my favourite written document in the Museum of Archaeology. It is made of copper-alloy and is known as Lanchester Diploma. It would originally have consisted of two rectangular bronze plates attached together with wire, and even though it is now in eight fragments, most of the Latin inscription is still visible. It was found by a metal detectorist in 2016 and is possibly the oldest local document within our collection. It is also the first complete Roman Fleet Diploma discovered in the country.  

It was granted to a man called Tigernos in c.150 AD and gave him and his descendants Roman citizenship and the legal right of marriage. To earn the diploma, he had served in Classis Germanica – the Roman fleet in Germany, most likely for 26 years, before being honourably discharged on his retirement. The name Tigernos means ‘king’ or ‘master’, and his father’s name Magiotigernus means ‘great master’.  

There are many mysteries with this object. Firstly, the Latin name of Lanchester Roman Fort is Longovicium. Longo is Celtic for ship, vicium is Latin for street settlement. Is there a connection, especially as Lanchester is nearly 20 miles from the sea? Secondly, why was such an important object (it meant you didn’t have to pay tax) broken up, buried, and left? 

The Lanchester Diploma

Laura Littlefair – Curatorial Assistant at Durham Castle Museum 

This is my favourite book in the collections at the castle because it provides a fascinating snapshot of student life, some of which is based on the early days of Durham University. ‘The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green’ was written by a University College alumnus, Edward Bradley, who wrote under the pen name ‘Cuthbert Bede’. The book tells the fictitious story of student Verdant Green on his experiences as an Oxford undergraduate, subsequently becoming something of a cult book about Oxford. Bradley was told not to base the book in Durham, as the University was still in its infancy. Within the book, Bradley included his own cartoons to accompany the story, and in the castle collection we have a number of his illustrations which are based on the castle and the city of Durham.  

Edward Bradley was an English clergyman and novelist, who was educated at University College. He graduated from his BA in 1848 and took his licentiateship of theology in 1849 at Oxford, when he was studying to enter the church. Although his experience of life as an undergraduate is very different to students today – not least because gowns had to be worn wherever they went, and there were evening curfews to return to their accommodation – there are still plenty of similarities, especially writing essays, spending time in the library and exploring a new city! 

The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green

Danielle Westerhoff – Rare Books Librarian 

Asking a Rare Books Librarian about their favourite book in the collections they look after is a bit like asking a sweetshop owner about their favourite sweets. In other words, it’s not a very easy question to answer. Do I pick an old book or one that is well-known? A book with a pretty binding or one with lots of scribbles in it? Or perhaps a book with plenty of illustrations? A book that I couldn’t believe we actually have a copy of? What is my most favourite book out of many favourite books? 

In the end, I picked this one: The Cosmographia by Petrus Apianus, printed in Antwerp in 1584 in the version edited by Reinier Gemma Frisius (DUL SB 0045). The book is an exploration of the universe and a description of the world, using maps and measurements to calculate distances and to explain natural occurrences. There are several movable measuring tools present in the book (called volvelles) and there is a very sweet depiction of the greater and lesser bear constellations (ursa major and ursa minor). Apianus composed this work before the introduction of Gerard Mercator’s map projections and his depiction of the world look perhaps a little different from what we are used to. Not all of North America had been mapped. Australia and New Zealand were still unknown to the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere. 

The Cosmographia by Petrus Apianus (Shelfmark: DUL SB 0045) 
The Cosmographia by Petrus Apianus (Shelfmark: DUL SB 0045) 

Available to all Durham University staff and students, you can search all our collections via Discover – why not take a look and see what treasures you can find for yourself…  

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