Rare Books | August 2020 | Alex Johnson

Discover the UK's Historic Books

Credit: Andi Sapey

John Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1632). Front binding with metal decorations.

While curators are scrambling to get shows back into exhibition spaces, a new project encouraging readers to get to know some of the book treasures in England’s libraries in East Anglia has launched online.

Discover Historic Books was put together during UK lockdown this year by the team behind the Unlocking The Archive project, a collaboration between the University of East Anglia (UEA), the National Trust's Blickling Estate property, and Norfolk Library and Information Service.

Visitors to the website can explore ancient books such as Daniel Heinsius’ 1629 In Praise of the Ass (Laus asini) and A History of Lapland by John Scheffer (1674) using interactive hotpoints to explain the text and all the nuts and bolts of the physical books, from Renaissance typefaces to yapp edges and printers’ marks.

Credit: Andi Sapey

Josephus, The Jewish War (1480). Opening page of printed text with hand-colored features.

The first twenty-four titles are already online including John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (1632) from King's Lynn Public Library, Britannia (1695) by William Camden from Norfolk Heritage Centre, and Josephus’s The Jewish War (1480, from Blickling).  

“The digital resource opens up a stunning range of beautiful, centuries-old books from these collections for people to explore,” said Dr. Sophie Butler, lecturer at UEA’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing and a co-leader of the project. “It includes groundbreaking books that changed the way Renaissance readers understood the world around them, as well as showing how learned books of the past can be relevant to urgent modern issues around nationhood, identity, trans-nationalism, women's history, and faith. The project will help to make these important, yet under-appreciated historic treasures available to new audiences.”