The Digitised Manuscripts site contains many different kinds of manuscripts, archives and documents. Much
of the content available here has been digitised as part of the British Library’s digitisation projects,
details of which are given below.
There are more than 600 Greek manuscripts ranging in date from the 9th century to the 18th century included
in the Digitised Manuscripts site. These were digitised during two phases of a project funded generously by
the Stavros Niarchos Foundation between 2008 and 2010.
They include manuscripts from the British Library’s Additional, Harley, Arundel and Royal manuscript collections,
which demonstrate the range of Greek manuscripts, and include some of the highlights of the Library's collections.
The British Library holds approximately 1,000 Greek manuscripts, and intends to digitise the remainder in the next
three years. Newly digitised Greek manuscripts will be announced on the
Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog.
Harley Scientific Manuscripts
The Harley Science Project, funded by William and Judith Bollinger, makes available images and descriptions of
150 medieval and modern scientific manuscripts from the British Library’s Harley collection. The Project also
incorporates updated records of seventy-two medical manuscripts that were created in 2005–2007 for the Harley
Medical Manuscripts Catalogue funded by the Wellcome Trust.
The Harley collection, created by the statesman Robert Harley (1661–1724) and his son Edward Harley, is
particularly rich in scientific material. The manuscripts selected for the project range in date from the
9th century to the 17th century, and are written in a variety of European languages (including Latin, Old
and Middle English, Middle Dutch, Anglo-Norman and Old French, German, Irish, Italian and Spanish). They
comprise texts relating to early scientific knowledge, such as astronomy, astrology, the computus, mathematics,
physics, botany, medicine and veterinary science.
Royal Illuminated Manuscripts
In 1757 King George II presented approximately 2,000 manuscripts to the newly founded British Museum. Since that
time, the manuscripts have remained together as the Royal collection. This collection preserves the medieval and
Renaissance library of the kings and queens of England, and includes some of the most important examples of
medieval painting of both English and Continental origin that survive in illuminated manuscripts.
From 11 November 2011 to 13 March 2012, around 150 of these manuscripts were featured in a major exhibition at
the British Library: Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. Descriptions and images of these and nearly
400 others are available on the online
Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
Over half of the manuscripts included in the exhibition are now available on the Digitised Manuscripts website
as part of a project funded by the AHRC. These manuscripts were chosen based on their importance for current
research, including textual, historical and art-historical studies. Around fifteen manuscripts were selected in
response to suggestions from the broader academic community received through the
Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog
and email requests.
Botany in British India
This project, generously funded by the AHRC, has digitised 120 files from the India Office Records relating to
botanical enquiry in India between 1780 and 1860. The records were first identified in an AHRC-funded publication,
Science and the Changing Environment in India, 1780-1920: a guide to sources in the India Office Records (British
Library, 2010). Among the subjects covered are: botanical gardens; botanical collecting; the use of plants as
foodstuffs, industrial products and medicines. The records also show the work of pioneering botanists such as
William Roxburgh, John Forbes Royle, and Nathaniel Wallich. Detailed catalogue records accompany the digital
images. For a full list of files, see Botany in British India.
Related records have been digitised for Wallich and
Indian Natural History, a collaborative project between the British Library, Kew Gardens and the Natural
Some of the British Library’s most important music manuscripts are featured in Digitised Manuscripts, including
the autograph scores of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier (‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’), Book II,
and Henry Purcell’s large autograph scorebooks. From earlier times, there is the medieval song ‘Sumer is icumen in’ (in
the miscellany Harley MS 978), and Henry VIII’s choirbook, Royal MS 11 E XI.
Most recently, the British Library has digitised its complete collection of manuscripts of Benjamin Britten, along
with the Stefan Zweig Music Collection, one of the most remarkable collections of music manuscripts ever assembled.
This was digitised with the support of the Derek Butler Trust and contains 143 music manuscripts of composers ranging
from Bach, Haydn and Mozart to Beethoven, Wagner and Ravel. Details of all newly-digitised music manuscripts are posted
on the Music in the British Library Blog.
The complete collection of Malay manuscripts in the British Library is to be digitised through the support of William
and Judith Bollinger, in collaboration with the National Library of Singapore.
The British Library holds over a hundred manuscript texts and several hundred letters and documents written in Malay
in Jawi (Arabic) script, dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and originating from present-day Indonesia,
Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the southern Philippines. The collection is particularly strong in literary,
historical and legal texts. The first phase of the project (2013) will include manuscripts from the historic British
Museum collections, while the second phase (2014) will focus on the India Office collections. Newly digitised Malay
manuscripts will be announced on the Asian and
African Studies Blog.
Over fifty Thai manuscripts and the Chakrabongse Archive of Royal Letters have been digitised with the generous
support of the Royal Thai Government, in celebration of the occasion of the eightieth birthday anniversary of His
Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand on 5 December 2007.
The majority of Thai manuscripts included in this project are illuminated Buddhist folding books (samut khoi)
from central Thailand dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Among the highlights are several Phra Malai
manuscripts, The Ten Birth Tales, a Traiphum cosmology, a Kammavaca manuscript for the
ordination of monks, a Royal Elephant Treatise, an important Thai historical chronicle (copied by royal scribes
c.1840) and Henry Mouhot's Alphabets and Inscriptions.
The Royal Letters were written by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and his sons King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) and Prince
Chakrabongse between 1896 and 1915 while Prince Chakrabongse lived and studied in Britain and Russia. They cover
a range of personal and political topics and are an important source for the understanding of the history of
relations between Thailand and European countries.
US Civil War Materials
This is a collection of materials relating to the US Civil War, 1861–1865, with a focus on British connections
to the conflict. This project is sponsored by the American Trust for the British Library. Read more about the
project on the Team Americas Blog.
The Persian Manuscripts collection at the British Library is one of the most significant collections in the world
in terms of both its size and importance. It consists of over 11,000 works in almost as many volumes, originating from
the whole of the Islamic world, in particular Iran, Central Asia and India, ranging in time from the 12th century to
recent years. The collection represents most of the traditional fields of humanities and religious studies and includes
many rare texts in addition to examples of some of the finest Mughal, Timurid and Safavid illustrated manuscripts.
The British Library is currently engaged in a project to catalogue the collection and enable digital access to 50
priority manuscripts. The project has been generously supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the Bahari Foundation,
the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the
Many of our most important medieval manuscripts are being digitized and added to the website on an ongoing basis,
as part of the Library’s commitment to the preservation and conservation of these manuscripts, and to providing access
to all who would like to do research on them.
The British Library’s Hebrew manuscripts collection is one of the finest and most important in the world. The
collection is a vivid testimony of the creativity and intense scribal activities of Eastern and Western Jewish
communities for over 1,000 years. Thanks to a major grant from the Polonsky Foundation and support from funders
including the American Trust for the British Library, the Ruth and Jack Lunzer Charitable Trust, the Edith and
Ferdinand Porjes Charitable Trust, the Shoresh Charitable Trust, the Maurice Wohl Charitable Trust, and an anonymous
funder, we are undertaking a major project to conserve, catalogue and digitise 1,250 manuscripts from the collection.
Digitised Manuscripts Website
One of the primary reasons for the success of the Digitised Manuscripts website has been its elegant yet simple user
interface, whose design by a digital media agency was made possible by the generous financial support of the
Stavros Niarchos Foundation.