Peel Workshops

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This term, Peel Workshops are exploring topics ranging from technologies to activism to the history of ideas. It is the last chance to sign up for the always popular workshop, "Where Do Our Ideas About Witchcraft Come From?"

In the first workshop in the series, participants enjoyed lots of laughs while hearing Professor Ted Bishop's stories relating to his GG-nominated book, The Social Life of Ink, examining stellar examples of historic inks, and working together to make iron gall ink.

In the second, librarian Dr Linda Quirk shared her research on the first generation of Canadian women to work as professional authors with an enthusiastic crowd. Workshop participants examined early editions and learned about the influencers among the "Canadian Mob of Scribbling Women," and the profound changes they brought about.

Two popular workshops followed on historic "Photographies"led by Professor Andrea Kordaand the Peel team was happy to welcome a large contingent of students from Augustana campus for these. 

In one of the most anticipated workshops in the series, Professor John Considine (English) and Professor Greg Kondrak (Computing Science) offered an opportunity to delve into "The Irresistible Mystery of the Voynitch Manuscript." Workshop participants examined a fine-art facsimile of a Medieval manuscript penned in an encrypted language that has defied scholarly attempts to decipher it over centuries, learned what we do and do not know about this mystery, and heard from the U of A computer scientists who used AI research methods to try to identify the source language. 

Following this, in a workshop entitled "Caring for Your Collections," Peel Conservator Carolyn Morgan introduced basic strategies that can help to protect our treasures from damage and deterioration caused by handling and the environment. Participants were so engaged that they encouraged Carolyn to continue the workshop well beyond the scheduled time. 

These are just a few highlights from the Peel Workshops in January-February 2020. All workshops offer hands-on opportunities to closely examine rare materials for a deeper understanding of book history and print culture, and many inspire participants to think more deeply about issues relating to form and content, medium and message. 

Workshops are open to University of Alberta undergrad and grad students, faculty and staff. Advance registration is required and there are still a few openings available. Link to complete information and online registration here.

Thousands of years old, cuneiform tablets are still getting some buzz!

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A CBC Radio story profiles researchers who are working to reveal the hidden stories in cuneiform tablets: "Machine Learning Deciphers the World's Oldest Texts" (15 Dec 2018).

A story in University of Alberta's student newspaper, The Gateway (Feb 2019), profiles the small collection of cuneiform tablets housed in Bruce Peel Special Collections: "Four 4,000-year-old Tablets Make Up the Oldest Item[s] in the U of A's Library Collection."

An international story in The Guardian (10 Mar 2019), reveals the value of one very special cuneiform tablet: "Babylonian Treasure Seized at Heathrow to be Returned to Iraq: Stone Dating from Second Millennium BC was Claimed to be ‘for home decoration’."

Bruce Peel Special Collections is located in the basement of Rutherford South and is open Monday-Friday 12:30-4:30pm. Visitors are welcome to drop in to check out the current exhibition.  Researchers are welcome to examine rare materials in the supervised reading room, but are asked to request those materials in advance of their visit using the library catalogue or a Retrieval Request Form.

Image of legendary mountie Sam Steele posted in a BC pot shop

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What does Rod Macleod, Professor Emeritus in University of Alberta's Department of History and Classics, have to say about the dispute over an image of the legendary mountie Sam Steele hanging in the window of a BC pot shop and the resulting trademark dispute with the RCMP? See CBC News story (10 Dec 2019).

Portrait of Steele, ca. 1915

Earlier in the year, University of Alberta Press issued a major biography of Sam Steele by Rod Macleod, Professor Emeritus in U of A's Department of History and Classics. Link to the CBC's book review: "Feminist and Family Man: Book Shines New Light on Legendary Mountie Sam Steele." The paperback edition of the book is available from U of A Press and from Indigo and

A few copies of a special limited edition hardcover are still available for sale only through Bruce Peel Special Collections at a price of $75 (tax included). We only accept cash payments in Peel, but you can prepay by credit card by contacting Terry Gong (780-492-8320) in the accounting office.  If you wish to have one or more limited editions mailed to you, then please email your request to We charge $10/copy for shipping and handling.

For information about the Sir Samuel Steele Collection housed in University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections, check out the Steele website here.

In 2017, Bruce Peel Special Collections launched a digital exhibition curated by Alison Rukavina, a professor in the Department of English at Texas Tech University. In this exhibitionSam Steele's Forty Years in Canada: History or Fiction?Dr Rukavina reveals some of the reasons that it is difficult to distinguish historical fact from fiction when she explores the story behind the story for some of the most dramatic events recounted in Steele's 1915 memoir.

Where do ideas about witchcraft come from?

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Explore early ideas about witchcraft by learning about a very rare (and sinister) fifteenth-century manuscript housed in University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections.

Tinctor's Foul Treatise is an award-winning digital exhibition that unlocks the secrets of this special manuscript. Curated by Andrew Gow, Rob Desjardins, and François Pageau, the exhibition was mounted in October 2016 by University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections, and it is the winner of the prestigious 2018 Leab Award (Electronic Exhibitions) from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the American Library Association.

The Arras Witch Treatises is a full English-language translation of two important fifteenth-century source texts (Tinctor's Invectives and the anonymous Recollectioprepared by Andrew Gow, Rob Desjardins, and François Pageau and published by Pennsylvania State University Press (2016) as part of their Magic in History series. This edition is available through University of Alberta Libraries (BF 1582 A155 2016) and is widely available for sale.

Get a close look—through—at the copy of Tinctor's Invectives housed in University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections.

You can still check out Tinctor's Foul Manual, a very interesting one-hour documentary produced by Paul Kennedy for the CBC's Ideas that has been aired numerous times, most recently on 2 August 2016.

Read "The Travels of a Fifteenth-Century Demonological Manuscript: The University of Alberta's Copy of Jean Taincture's Invectives contre la secte de vaudrie," by Robert Desjardins, Francois Pageau, and Andrew Gow. Florilgelium 33 (26 Aug 2019).

Check out the story entitled "Rare Book was Catalyst for Witch Hunts," by Michael Hingston in U of A's alumni magazine, Thought Box (21 Oct 2016).

Check out Paula Simons' fascinating exploration of the ways that old ideas about witchcraft continue to haunt us today: "Politics, Powerful Women and Hunting Witches in a New Age of Superstition," Edmonton Journal (29 Oct 2016).  This story helpfully links to a relevant story by Simons: "Witch History takes flight in Rare Manuscript at U of A," Edmonton Journal (27 Oct 2012), and a related blog post "The Witch-Burner's Mein Kampf: Excerpts of Evil" (Oct 2012).