Working with primary materials from home (Digital Peel)

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We know that some research methods require hands-on access to print originals, and we look forward to being able to accommodate this kind of research when it is safe to do so, but it seems that COVID-19 may require us all to have contingency plans in place for some time. 

Researchers will want to consider using digital resources where possible, and professors who are planning classes for the coming academic year are encouraged to make use of rare materials that can be examined either as print originals or using digital reproductions, so that all options are available to your students.  

In order to help you to identify digital reproductions of primary source materials, we are working to add relevant links to the Research Collections page on Peel's website. Such links will help you to find digital content that has been created by U of A Library, by our colleagues at other institutions, and through collaborative projects, such as the very extensive HathiTrust database.  Also, please note that University of Alberta Library subscribes to numerous online databases, including many that offer digitized primary source materials.

Here are some highlights of Peel's digital resources:

  • Peel's Prairie Provinces database - This database offers digital access to materials from many institutions, much of it from Library & Archives Canada, but it also features some materials housed in Bruce Peel Special Collections, including Prairie Postcards and the Sam Steele Family Archive (Canadian police, military, and Klondike gold rush history).

Good luck with your research and please take care!


COVID-19 Update (Peel closed)

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UPDATED 20 MAY 2020

Bruce Peel Special Collections is currently closed as part of the University of Alberta's overall strategy to address COVID-19. 

To find out whether other University of Alberta Library locations and service points are open or closed, please check the University of Alberta website for current information.  

If you require general reference support from University of Alberta Library, please consider using the chat service through the University of Alberta Library website.  

If you have questions that relate to materials housed in Bruce Peel Special Collections, you can send us an email at bpsc@ualberta.ca and you can be assured that we will respond on a timely basis.

Take care!


Big win for the Peel team!

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There are five Leabs awarded annually to libraries across North America and the
Caribbean by the ALA/ACRL Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS). 
Each copy included a hand-tied fly

Most of the major American rare book libraries have won once or twice, but the only academic libraries to win five or more Leab awards in this century are University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections (with six wins) and Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (with five wins). A complete list of Leab winners (2001-2020) can be found here.

Bruce Peel Special Collections' Leab Awards:

  • 2020 - Fishing with Flies (a brochure for an exhibition entitled A Contemplative Angler: Selections from the Bruce P. Dancik Collection of Angling Books)
  • 2019 - Experiment: Printing the Canadian Imagination
  • 2018 - Tinctor's Foul Treatise (link to full digital exhibition here)
  • 2015 - "Wow, open this!" Paper Engineering in Books and Artist's Books
  • 2014 - All Under Heaven: The Chinese World in Maps, Pictures, and Texts
  • 2004 - First Impressions: The Fledgling Years of Black Sparrow Press, 1966-1970

Congratulations to the Peel team and to all contributors!

A glimpse of Experiment: Printing the Canadian Imagination

Information about Peel's award-winning current, digital, and previous exhibitions, as well as information about how to access the exhibition catalogues for current or past exhibitions can be found 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.

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 Fran├žois 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 Fran├žois 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 Archive.org—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).