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UCL Special Collections

UCL's Library and Special Collections is one of the most highly-esteemed university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books, our collections continue to draw scholars, researchers, teachers, students to our reading rooms.

UCL Library Services has one of the finest Departments of Special Collections anywhere in UK Higher Education, housing over 7,000 linear metres of materials collected since the foundation of UCL in 1826.

Find out more on UCL's special collections

Below are some of our on-going projects

Unfolding the papers: Opening up UCL's Historic Material in the Field of Genetics

Sir Francis Galton Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) is of outstanding significance in the history of genetics. A cousin of Charles Darwin and founder of the modern eugenics movement, Galton pioneered many of the statistical methods of analysis used today; modern understandings in statistics, genetics, heredity and criminology were shaped by his work. The relationship between behaviour and genetics, or heredity, dates to his work. Galton also provided the first workable fingerprint classification system, adopted by the British Fingerprint Bureau, established at Scotland Yard in 1901.

The Galton Collection, comprising his papers plus unique fingerprints collection, forms the basis of the special collections relating to the history of genetics held at UCL. Extensive Galton fingerprint material is held by both UCL Special Collections and UCL Museum & Collections. These collections are complementary in that each focuses on a different, defined population – the former on teachers and students, the latter on criminals.

Galton’s statistical approach to heredity was greatly extended and developed by later colleagues, whose work also forms significant genetics collections held by UCL, most notably that of Karl Pearson, a towering figure in genetics, statistics and mathematics. One of his primary contributions was the development of the theory of linear regression and correlation, and he conducted ground-breaking work on classifying probability distributions. Like Galton, Pearson is a contradictory figure to modern eyes – a prominent free-thinker and socialist who advocated war against “inferior races”.

This project is currently being funded by the Wellcome Trust and will involve the Cataloguing a total of 24,270 items comprising 4,670 from the Galton Collections & 19,600 from related genetics collections; essential conservation & preservation of the collections; a detailed survey of the material to assess & report on its suitability for digitisation on the basis of technical, IPR, & ethical considerations, identifying all issues likely to affect the cost & quality of the digital images to be produced in Phase 2. (This will be subject to a further bid)

Find out more about the collection

Modern genetics and its foundations: The Digitisation of the Lionel Sharples Penrose & John B.S. Haldane Collections

Lionel Sharples Penrose (1898–1972) was a British psychiatrist, medical Geneticist, mathematician and chess theorist, who carried out pioneering work on the genetics of mental retardation.
Lionel Sharples Penrose He was a central figure in British medical genetics following World War II. From 1945 to 1965, he was recognised for his major contributions to human genetics especially in the field of mental handicaps.
Our attitudes and understanding in relation to human genetics comes partly from years of his wide-ranging personal research. This included for example his discovery of the maternal age effect in Down syndrome.

He occupied the Galton Chair at the Galton Laboratory at University College London from 1945 to 1965.

This digitisation project is currently being funded by The Wellcome Trust; the collection consists of his personal & professional papers. The material covers a variety of topics including his work in medical genetics, professional training & his research in Colchester. It is mostly paper based & includes a number of photographs. The collection is currently stored in 70 boxes.

To find out more about the collection, please see:

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964) was a British geneticist, biometrician and physiologist. His particular research interests were population genetics, enzyme Kinetics, evolution and heredity; he was the “…first to discover linkage in mammals, to map a human chromosome, and (with Penrose) to measure the mutation rate of a human gene”
Haldane became Professor of Genetics at University College London in 1933 and Professor of Biometry in 1937.
His greatest achievement was in developing a quantitative theory of evolution using concepts of changing gene frequency. His work unified the Darwinian theory of natural selection with Mendelian genetics and was an important contribution towards re-establishing natural selection as the accepted mechanism of evolutionary change.

This digitisation project is currently being funded by The Wellcome Trust; the collection consists of his personal & professional papers spanning a range of topics including his work on theoretical population genetics & statistical human genetics, it’s mostly paper based & contains some photographs. The collection is currently stored in 43 boxes.

To find out more about the collection, please see:

Digitisation of the UCL's Special Collections related to Greek Literature & History

There are many rare books, manuscripts and early printed books which relate to Greek Literature and Culture. Some of the most noteworthy pieces include one of the first copies of the Bible printed in Greek and the Euclid Collection. Forming part of the Graves Library, the Euclid Collection includes over 400 volumes of the works of the mathematician Euclid. The collection contains eighty-three of the editions of works by Euclid printed before 1640, including the edition princeps published by Erhard Ratdolt at Venice in 1482.

Rare & early printed books as well as original archaeological site excavation reports reflecting the Ancient Greek diaspora, which saw Greece dominate the seas of the Ancient World are being digitised thanks to The Stavros Niarchos Foundation who have continuously supported UCL in her bid to improve access for scholars, students and the public to a collection of fascinating items connected to Ancient Greece from UCL Special Collections.

The digitisation of these materials will ensure this unique collection is available to anyone who is interested in, and has a need to use, these remarkable materials, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.

To find out more about the collection, please see:

Conservation of Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica / Autore by Isaac. Newton. [1st edition, 1st issue.]

Sir Isaac Newton Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was a physicist and mathematician who is commonly regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time, best known for discovering the law of gravity, creating the field of calculus, and finding out that white light is composed of many colours. He is also really known for inventing three standard laws of motion, referred to as "Newton's Laws" and as a key figure in the scientific revolution.

His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Latin for "Mathematical Principles of Natural Science", often referred to as simply “The Principia”, is a work in three books by Sir Newton with the support of his friend the astronomer Edmond Halley, was first published by Joseph Streater in 1687, it marked a turning point in the history of physics, with Newton documenting his theories that today form the foundation of classical mechanics.

Contained within the book's pages are his famous laws of motion, the law of universal gravitation, and a derivation of Kepler's laws of plantetary motion.

UCL has recently received a grant from The Mercers to conserve “The Principia” to a usable condition ready to be consulted by those who have an interest in its contents and for display purposes, and for its long term preservation.


UCL Library Services is a partner in EuropeanaTravel which has been funded by the European Community under its eContentplus Programme. The project is led by the National Library of Estonia and its overall objective is to digitise content on the theme of travel and tourism.

Project website: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ls/europeanatravel

Transcribe Bentham

Jeremy Bentham UCL Library Services holds 60,000 folios of manuscripts of the philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). A new project, Transcribe Bentham is using this corpus to test the feasibility of outsourcing the work of manuscript transcription to members of the public.

Transcribe Bentham will initially digitise 10,000 folios, and create a suite of transcription training tools. The project is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, led by the UCL Bentham Project, in collaboration with UCL Library Services and UCL Department of Information Studies. It is part of the work of the new UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

Project website: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/transcribe-bentham

Journal de-duplication project

The Library services faces space and cost pressures when it comes to preserving research materials, the de-duplication of low use journals ensures that valuable space is freed to make room to meet the pressures of providing much needed infrastructures for students and researchers.

The UK Research Reserve (UKRR) is a partnership between the British Library and the Higher Education sector. Member libraries provide details of materials they wish to dispose of, and the UKRR coordinates the process of ensuring that sufficient copies of the journal are retained across the membership base.

The UKRR fund offers a secure solution to storing & preserving low use print research journals. It allows Higher Education libraries to de-duplicate their journal holdings of a title if two copies are held by other UKRR members, ensuring continued access to low-use journals, whilst allowing libraries to release space to meet the changing needs of their users.

The Consolidated Bentham Papers Repository (CBPR)

This will be a major innovation in scholarly communication, bringing together research excellence & public participation within the context of an under-explored resource of outstanding historical significance & philosophical importance


  1. An innovative & effective crowdsourcing tool that will be released on an open-source basis, for re-use & customisation by other institutions;
  2. A searchable digital repository, curated by UCL Library Services, of the papers of the philosopher & reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748.1832), consisting of digital images of 75,000 folios of original manuscripts (including those held by the British Library) & associated transcripts
  3. Articles submitted to relevant scholarly & professional publications describing & evaluating the initiative.

This project is currently funded by Andrew Mellon foundation under the Scholarly Communications and Information Technology Program.

Find out more »

Last modified 14 August 2013

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