Peel welcomes Congress 2021 delegates with new digital exhibitions!

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Although we had hoped to welcome Congress 2021 delegates to the University of Alberta campus and to invite you to visit Bruce Peel Special Collections to enjoy a special in-house exhibition, circumstances have sent us in another direction. Instead, we are pleased to offer you a selection of new digital exhibitions and to draw your attention to one of our best. Enjoy!

Ancestors: Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada in Historic Photographs 

Curated by Sarah Carter and Inez Lightning 

Launched in May 2021, this introductory digital exhibition provides a brief overview of a forthcoming in-house exhibition of historic photographs of Indigenous peoples of Western Canada. The exhibition features audio commentary from the curators remarking on the diversity and richness of the collection and its potential for understanding the lives portrayed in the photographs. It will also link to a digital database of hundreds of photographs from the collection offering free access to high-quality downloads. Note that the Photographies exhibition, described below, offers a useful companion to this exhibition/collection.


Curated by Andrea Korda and Heather Caverhill

Launched in May 2021, Photographies explores the many technologies, materials, and practices—in other words, the many “photographies”—that make up the history of photography from its origins in the late-eighteenth century to the present. This exhibition, an Open Access Educational Resource, offers photography enthusiasts, students, and instructors free access to images and content that are not available elsewhere. The exhibition is arranged around a series of questions, beginning with “What is Photography?” and moves on to consider how photographs shape memory and identity, circulate knowledge, and become works of art. 

Tinctor’s Foul Treatise

Curated by Andrew Gow, Robert Desjardins, and François Pageau

Medieval scholar Jean Tinctor penned a manuscript that is the source of some of our earliest ideas about witchcraft. All the more disturbing for its scholarly approach, Tinctor’s treatise was written to defend early witch trials—the torture and execution of those accused of practicing witchcraft, normally the most vulnerable members of society—and as a call to arms to princes and church leaders to take a stand against what he imagined to be a growing evil. Tinctor’s Foul Treatise is an award-winning digital exhibition, launched in October 2016, with more relevance to the present times than it might at first seem.

Canadian Women Artists’ Books

Team curated

Pushing the limits of the traditional book form and constructed using a wide variety of formats and materials, artists’ books first emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as an expression of social and political activism, a way to "talk back" to mass production and mass media. Today, these hand-made unique or limited edition art objects are sought by collectors and studied by scholars, and the best of them continue to challenge many of our preconceptions. Exploring a range of topics ranging from illness and healing to landscape and animals, from religion and spirituality to nursery rhymes, haircuts, hats, and gender, the artists’ books that are celebrated in this gorgeous exhibition (updated and relaunched in May 2021) have wide-ranging appeal. Bruce Peel Special Collections was able to secure special permission from the Canadian women artists represented in this exhibition to show their work, and anyone who wishes to reproduce these images for social media or other purposes should contact the artists directly for copyright permission.

In addition, Bruce Peel Special Collections' digital exhibitions offer the opportunity to explore the papers (including photographs) of pioneering Western Canadian journalist Miriam Green Ellis, the complexities of working with primary source materials (Sam Steele's Forty Years in Canada: History or Fiction?), and some of the most frequently-requested rare books in Bruce Peel Special Collections, i.e., those purchased as Honorary Degree Books to help celebrate the accomplishments of the University of Alberta's honorary degree recipients from 1987 to the present day.



Peel offers limited service

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Bruce Peel Special Collections expects to remain closed to the public until at least September 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions and a large inventory project currently underway. 

We will continue to do our best to serve researchers' needs remotely by answering questions about rare materials, providing researchers with images of materials not otherwise available (whenever possible), and providing links to digital resources that may help to meet current research and teaching needs (see "Working with primary materials from home (Digital Peel)."  If you have questions that relate to materials housed in Bruce Peel Special Collections, you can send us an email at and you can be assured that we will respond on a timely basis.

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 COVID-19 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.  

Take care!

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!

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).

Or this recent article: "300 years on, will thousands of women burned as witches finally get justice?" The Guardian (13 Sept 2020).