Opening Access to the University’s Medieval Past by Alexandra Healey


Precept of sasine by Alexander Lord Kilmaurs… (University of Glasgow Archive Services Ref: GUA BL/127)

The image sharing website Flickr provides a fantastic outreach tool for archives and special collections. By uploading digitised images of their collections, their contents are made accessible to an audience far greater than imagined by the items’ creators. Glasgow University Library has maintained a Flickr account since February 2009, to which the Archives Service regularly contributes. In that time, nearly 7000 images have been made public, the most popular of which, “Rubricated initial in Albertus Magnus [pseudo-]: Secreta mulierum et virorum (cum commento)” has received over 4000 views. Overall, there have been over one million views of Glasgow University Library and Archives Service’s images. Many other archives and heritage institutions have seen the benefit of using Flickr. These include organisations as diverse as The National Archives, The Reykjavik Museum of photography and the Stockholm Transport Museum. Not only does sharing images in this way extend access to more diverse audiences, it also helps preserve fragile items from unnecessary handling.

My name is Alexandra Healey and I feel very lucky to have been chosen to create one of Glasgow University Archives Services most recent Flickr albums as part of a Club 21 placement. I am currently studying for an MSc in Information Management and Preservation at the University, and am very interested in the way archives make use of social media to improve access to collections. Viewers of the images on Flickr are able to interact with archives in dynamic and collaborative ways through commenting, sharing and ‘favoriting’ features. This not only extends the audience of archival holdings, raising awareness of the items they contain, it also has the potential to lead to unanticipated users and uses of archival collections.


Resignation by David de Cadzow of a mortification… (University of Glasgow Archive Services Ref: GUA BL/261)

The collection from which the images in the new set were taken was the University of Glasgow Blackhouse Charters. This collection includes the oldest records held by the archive and dates between 1304 and 1717. A new catalogue of the Blackhouse Charters was completed and made available online last year. Aline Brodin, Erasmus Medieval Charters Intern, wrote a fascinating blog post at the time. This covered the history of the collection as well as the cataloguing process, and provides excellent background on the charters. She explained that the charters

recount the expansion and relocation of the University of Glasgow over the centuries through acts of transfer of property, settlements of court, donations, and royal grants. (A Brodin, 2013)

Digital images of 29 items from the collection were created at the University’s Photographic Unit. The resulting 117 images are of sufficiently high quality to enable viewers to read the script and see the seals in detail. These images were then uploaded to a dedicated set on the University Library’s Flickr site. Abridged information from the recently completed catalogue was added to each image, and links to the relevant catalogue entries were included. We then added thumbnails to the catalogue entries which will act as hyperlinks to the images in Flickr. By linking between these online resources researchers using the catalogue are directed to a valuable resource and Flickr users who have stumbled across the charter images are encouraged to explore the catalogue in more detail.

Example of writing - bl-453 - Oliver Cromwell

Detail from Charter of Oliver Cromwell… (University of Glasgow Archive Services Ref: GUA BL/453)

Example of writing - bl-394 - Mary Qof Scots

Detail from Letter under the privy seal by Mary Queen of Scots… (University of Glasgow Archive Services Ref: GUA BL/394)

The value of the charters as research aids is not diminished by the creation and upload of the digital images now publicly available on Flickr. For those interested in the intellectual content (such as those studying Latin or Scots), the Flickr set provides images of sufficient quality to scrutinize the text, without the need to travel to Glasgow.

Additionally, providing access for such researchers through digital images reduces the risk of damage to the fragile originals through handling. The originals, however, possess unique potential for more material forms of research, such as the storage media (for example, the type of parchment), the inks used, or the form of the seals.

The Flickr set of the digitised Blackhouse Charters brings these historically valuable documents, of great interest to scholars of the history of Glasgow and its university, to a much wider audience than previously. In addition, providing access via digitised versions protects the charters, extending the survival of the originals and maximising the potential for future research in physical and intellectual fields.

Categories: Archive Services

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1 reply


  1. The Photography Show 2015 | University of Glasgow Library

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