Library Exhibitions

Past Exhibitions

Rare Books? Expect The Unexpected

30 October 2018 - 2 March 2019

An exhibition of things you wouldn’t expect to find in Rare Books. We have some unlikely-sounding things in the collections: comics; ephemeral-looking pamphlets; cheaply-printed books; things which are not that old and appear run-of-the-mill; things which aren’t even books. They are all here for a reason…

Astronomy Victorious: Understanding our Universe

27 July - 27 October 2018

Featuring Copernicus’ 1543 ground-breaking book On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, meteorites, star charts, scientific instruments and Katie Paterson’s contemporary artwork Timepieces, this exhibition charts our fascination with, exploration of and responses to outer space

Dawn of a New Era

13th April - 15 August 2018

The NHS was born on 5 July 1948. From Scotland’s pre-1948 experiments in state health care, to medical breakthroughs, public health challenges and patient power, this display highlights the past 70 years of our region’s medical history through the collections of Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA)

How? Why? What? Education Illustration from University Collections

30th March - 30th June 2018

Filled with illustrated school texts, how-to-guides, scientific diagrams, and children’s picture books, How? Why? What? explores the many ways in which drawn and painted images were used to enhance different forms and stages of learning in the mid-20th century. Curated in partnership with Edinburgh College of Art

Travelling Images: Venetian Illustrated Books from The University of Edinburgh Collections

13th April - 15 June 2018

During the Renaissance, Venice was one most important European centres for book production and trade. Writers, scholars and artists worked there in collaboration with specialised artisans to produce perfected editions, which were often lavishly illustrated. In this small display we present three of our most interesting Venetian illustrated books and trace the paths they took in their travels from Venice, to our own institution

Shored Against Ruin: Fragments from the University of Edinburgh Collections

8 December 2017 – 24 February 2018

Inspired by the recent gift of fragments from Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaic archways at Tottenham Court Road, Shored Against Ruin showcases fragments from across the University collections. Featuring artworks, 2nd century manuscripts, film, Victorian photographs, fossils and anatomical specimens, this exhibition questions the nature of a fragment and examines why we care for them, whilst also considering the hidden histories they can tell us

Incendiary Texts: Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation

10 November 2017 – 11 April 2018

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church and sparked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Featuring key publications by Luther, his supporters and those who opposed him, Incendiary Texts examines how these printed texts fuelled debate and controversy across 16th century Europe

Highlands to Hindustan: Indian Art from University of Edinburgh Collections

6th April - 1st July 2017

The University of Edinburgh enjoys a long-standing and productive relationship with India and an exhibition in the Library opening during the Fringe Festival this year, the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence, provides an excellent opportunity to showcase and celebrate the University’s historic collections relating to the sub-continent

These objects – books, manuscripts, sculptures and paintings – collected over a period of 300 years, span two millennia of art and culture and are rich both in variety and depth. Most of the objects have never been exhibited in public before; this will be the first ever public exhibition of University Collections devoted to the art and culture of South Asia

Sound Body, Sound Mind: A History of Healing Through the University’s Collections

28th July 2017- 4th November 2017

Before the 20th century, healing tended to focus on physical ailments and pains while the mental health of an individual was often sidelined and forgotten in hospitals. It was not recognized that if a person was mentally unwell, they could be treated. However with the advent of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in the early 20th century, this slowly changed and the importance of mental health began to be acknowledged. Today, wide ranges of therapies are available, and a holistic approach to healing is being given more value. By displaying collections related to the various healing practices undertaken before the 20th century in relation to the body, and the development in attitudes towards mental health and psychotherapy in the 20th century, this exhibition aims to highlight the shift in value within healing to a consideration of the mind as well as the body. This exhibition will be the first to utilize the newly renovated space in the library gallery allowing access to non-library users. Located at the front of the library, the new space serves as an introductory room before guiding the viewer into the main gallery space

Godfrey H Thomson: The man who tested Scotland's IQ

29th July 2016 - 20th October 2016

Professor Sir Godfrey Hilton Thomson (1881–1955) was a giant in educational research. In 1932, and again in 1947, he led ground-breaking studies to test the intelligence of every 11-year-old in Scotland

In his day, he was internationally recognised as an educator, an intelligence theorist, a statistician, and the largest-scale producer of IQ tests in Europe

Thomson simultaneously held the Chair of Education at the University of Edinburgh and the post of Director of Studies at the Edinburgh Provincial Training Centre at Moray House from 1925 until 1951

Throughout his career he worked to ensure that disadvantaged children had the opportunity for a good education. His academic and professional concerns, such as educational testing and social mobility, remain relevant today

Despite Thomson’s achievements during his lifetime, after his death he began to fade from public and academic memory. In 2008, a chance phone call facilitated the rescue of his personal and professional papers from his family home, just prior to its demolition

Today, the Godfrey Thomson Archive provides key insights into the life and work of this remarkable man. This exhibition tells his story

Brown Paper and Imagination: Revealing the Revel

31st July 2015 - 31st October 2015

Edinburgh College of Art’s yearly Revel, which dates back to 1909, brings together staff and students for a themed party with costumes, scenery, performances and dancing

This exhibition in the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library, includes a number of unique photographs of students at the Revel from the 1910s to the 1970s, a range of colourful ticket and programme designs, and a costume thought to have been part of the 1951 Revel - which had a Knights of the Round Table theme

Former student and celebrated artist John Bellany is known to have designed the set for the 1963 Revel. Former College Principal and painter William Gillies also features in a silent film showing students creating props and enjoying the event

Visual Dissection

31st July 2015 - 31st October 2015

Art and Anatomy are often treated as distinct subjects, yet there is a long history of collaboration between the disciplines. This exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to explore examples of this rich exchange of expertise. Through illustrations, models and virtual technologies, the close relationship between visual art and the science of anatomy will be revealed

Towards Dolly

31st July 2015 - 31st October 2015

Edinburgh has played a vital role in the science which tells us who we are – genetics

Dolly the sheep is a scientific icon and a household name. However, she is also a single chapter in a wider story which spans a century. Pioneers at Edinburgh and Roslin have embedded concepts like genetic engineering and stem cell research in the public consciousness, stimulating debate and revolutionising science and medicine

This exhibition celebrates the individuals and institutions who made, and continue to make, extraordinary advances in animal and human health. It will take you on a journey ‘Towards Dolly’ and beyond

Emma Gillies Rediscovered

5 Dec 2014 - 7 Mar 2015

Over the last two years, significant research has been carried out into the Edinburgh College of Art Collection. The project has resulted in the discovery of a number of highly significant works that add further colour to the history of Scottish art. One of the many extraordinary finds has been a collection of ceramics stored in a cupboard near to the Head of Painting's office at ECA. It became apparent early on that this collection was linked to Sir William Gillies in some way, as pieces from the collection appear in many of Gillies' still life paintings - some of which will be featured in the exhibition. Furthermore, this was an active ceramics collection - it was used for its original purpose as well as for the inspiration for art and, most importantly, they are fine works on their own merit

The World History of Rashid al-Din, 1314

2 Aug - 31 Oct 2014

The World History of Rashid al-Din, 1314: A Masterpiece of Islamic Painting, a major exhibition at the Main Library, University of Edinburgh in collaboration with Centre for Research Collections and the Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World

Curated by the Prince Alwaleed Centre and the Centre for Research Collections, the exhibition featured folios from the Jami’ al-Tawarikh (or “World History”) of Rashid al-Din: one of the most important illustrated medieval manuscripts to have survived from either East or West. Datable to 1314, it was produced in the city of Tabriz, a seat of power of the Ilkhanid rulers, descendants of the Mongol Chingiz Khan, who held sway over an empire encompassing Persia and large parts of present-day Azerbaijan and Turkey

50 Years, 50 Books

28 Mar - 14 Jun 2014

The exhibition featured highlights from fifty years of generous purchases made for the library collections by the Friends, including early editions of English drama and modern Scottish literary papers, beautifully illustrated ‘Birds of the Pacific Slope’ and facsimiles of medieval manuscript - including the famed Book of Kells. Many of these items in the exhibition were on public display for the very first time


6 Dec 2013 - 1 Mar 2014

For thousands of years the obscure and unfamiliar has remained a source of inquiry. Early collecting focused on the unclassified and unique, aiming to impress and enlighten. This exhibition will bring together the unexpected and will showcase the rare and remarkable highlights from the University's Collections

Cradle of Chemistry

1 Aug 2013 - 2 Nov 2013

The exhibition focused on key themes to illustrate the contribution our University has made to Chemistry: Cradle of Chemistry (how Edinburgh has shaped the world), Chemistry and Economy (how Chemistry has contributed to economy and policy), Chemistry and Discovery (significant discoveries and achievements)

Highlights include Joseph Black's balance (Black was the first to employ the analytical balance in chemical investigations) and Alexander Crum Brown's first model of sodium chloride, made with knitting needles and balls of wool!

Object Lessons


This exhibition is a selection from the University's large collections. It is just a tiny sample from a long history of collecting. The first University museum was begun before the end of the 17th century, but this is not just a story of casual acquisition. Collecting objects and images of objects, animal, vegetable or mineral, in order to study them, has long been central to learning. And not just in the study of the past. Collecting has also played a crucial part in the advancement of knowledge in medicine and the sciences. Indeed, this has been its primary role