Making Early European Books Open Access

The Wellcome Library’s Early Modern European Book collection is currently accessible at Early European Books online. At the moment, you need a login and to physically be in the UK to see these books. The Wellcome are in the process of making 10% of these holdings open access, and I’m getting to choose about 200 volumes for this purpose. Incunabula, so books from the first 50 years of printing, will be automatically included, so I’m looking through the catalogue at books printed after around 1500.

This is a really exciting project, and I’ve already found some really cool examples. I’ll be blogging about my favourite ones soon. For now though, I’m asking for help- if you have any requests for any early printed European books from the Wellcome Library that you’d like to be made open access, let me know!

The books are all from continental Europe and are in a variety of different languages. Most are in Latin, Italian, French and German, luckily the languages that I have! There are also books in Arabic, Czech and Hebrew and many more. My aim is to include a sample of each language that’s available.

I’m picking books based on a series of criteria, trying to find the most interesting examples. So, if there are four books of Ambroise Paré’s Surgery, I’d pick the most interesting. I’m particularly on the lookout for marginalia, whether printed or handwritten, and any interesting illustrations. Some of the books even have musical notation in.

I’m also thinking about the books in terms of themes. Obviously medicine and science are a key theme here, as that’s what the majority of the Wellcome’s collection is about. My own research interest intersects history of medicine and history of religion, so I’m also on the lookout for any mentions of religious practices, miracles, processions and the like. Magic too is important, as well as the natural world- and I’m really hoping to come across a plant or insect pressed in the pages of one of the books. Finally,  I’m looking out for the natural world- plants, water, animals- and I’ve already found a fantastic illustrated herbal.

I’m making a database of the books I’m choosing to show why I’ve selected them, so which criteria they fulfil as well as explaining why that particular volume is exciting. I’ll be blogging about some of the most exciting things I find. For now, I’ll have to go to the rare books room at the Wellcome library to take my own photos, but once this project is complete, you’ll be able to read the selected books online for free.

The books I choose won’t be made available straight away, but will hopefully be made accessible within the next six months.

If you’ve got any requests for books you’d like to be included please drop me a line at and tell me the title of the book, a brief note about why it should be included, and if possible, the ProQuest url. I’ll be working on this until 15 September, so you’ve got a little while to think about it.


About alexralee

History Early Career Scholar blogging in a personal capacity about research and writing.
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