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.

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 History Museum.

Greek Manuscripts

Almost 900 Greek manuscripts and some of the most important papyri, ranging in date from the first to the 18th centuries, are now included in the Digitised Manuscripts site. The first two phases of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project were generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the third phase was funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Friends of the British Library. A guide to the Greek Manuscripts collections, including articles, videos and collection highlights, is available here.

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.

Hebrew Manuscripts

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 have created The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts, a major project to conserve, catalogue and digitise 1,300 manuscripts from the collection.

Malay Manuscripts

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.

Medieval Manuscripts

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.

Medieval England and France, 700-1200

The national libraries of Great Britain and France have joined efforts in ‘The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200’ to digitise 400 illuminated manuscripts from each collection. The project focuses on manuscripts produced on either side of the English Channel over half a millennium of close cultural and political interaction. These manuscripts cover a variety of themes and topics, illustrating the width of intellectual inquiry and pursuit that transmitted inherited texts but also established new traditions. The project, generously funded by The Polonsky Foundation, makes these manuscripts available online free of charge. In November 2018 they may also be viewed together in a joint bilingual viewer to be developed by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and interpreted in the British Library’s ‘Medieval England and France, 700-1200’ website.

Music Manuscripts

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.

Persian Manuscripts

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 Barakat Trust.

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.

Thai Manuscripts

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.

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.