Accolades for Ancestors catalogue!

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Ancestors: Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada in Historic Photographs 

Curators: Sarah Carter and Inez Lightning

6 September 2022 to 31 March 2023 (Open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, & Fridays from 1-4pm; Class/group visits may be requested for Mondays 1-4pm by writing to

Link to introductory exhibition

The Ancestors exhibition cataloguewinner of the Margaret McWilliams Book Award in the Popular History category, one of three finalists in the Women Writers category for a High Plains Book Award, and recognized with an honorable mention (8. Exhibition Catalogues) in the annual University & College Designers Association (UCDA) Awardsis available for purchase through University of Alberta Press or Indigo

This exhibition will explore a selection of photographs from a rich and diverse collection with potential for enhancing our understanding of the history, economies, culture, ceremonies, and art of the Indigenous Peoples of the western provinces. By sharing the many insights and perspectives generously provided to them by Elders and keepers of traditional knowledge, the curators hope to show us some of the ways that the photographs in this exhibition represent more than moments frozen in time; they carry stories and legacies into the future.

To learn from these photographs, it is crucial that we try to understand them in context. Most of these photographs were created in the nineteenth century by non-Indigenous photographers. Frequently sold as souvenirs or postcards, these images of Indigenous peoples were contrived and disseminated for commercial, ideological, and imperial reasons, and they seemed to satisfy a hunger for exotic, nostalgic, and romanticized depictions of so-called “vanishing” peoples.

Many of the photographs from the Indigenous Photograph Collection can be viewed online through the Internet Archive.

Those who want to learn more about the research for the exhibition may be interested in signing up for the online workshop: "Q&A with the Curators."

Peel's hours and services

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Bruce Peel Special Collections is open in a limited way. We are continuing to offer remote research services as well as a limited number of on-site research appointments for those who need to view rare materials in person. We look forward to hosting a new in-house exhibition in the fall term: Ancestors: Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada in Historic Photographs. In the meantime, please check out our recent digital exhibitions and check out the Peel Workshops scheduled for the fall term.

Hours for the upcoming fall term are posted here.

Remote Research Services: The Peel team continues 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 "Peel materials online"). 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.

Research appointments: To view materials held in Bruce Peel Special Collections, please write to us at to request an appointment well in advance, listing the requested materials including author, title, and call number for each item, and 
indicating which weekday afternoons would work (appointments are generally available Monday-Thursday 1-4pm). We will book research appointments on a first-come, first-served basis, so there may be a delay, but we will do our best to be accommodating. All normal reading room policies and protocols, designed to protect rare materials, remain in force.

COVID protocols: Although no longer required in all spaces, University of Alberta "strongly recommends" the use of face masks in locations such as Bruce Peel Special Collections which require staff and guests to work in "close proximity." You can be assured that we take all recommended precautions to protect researchers and members of the Peel team by limiting the number of researchers admitted to Peel’s reading room at one time and cleaning the spaces carefully in between researchers.

Like other locations of University of Alberta Library, Bruce Peel Special Collections is open to all researchers, including faculty, staff, students, and members of the general public. 

To find out about the services being offered by other library locations and service points, please check the University of Alberta Library 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. 

Take care!

Peel's newest digital exhibitions

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Bruce Peel Special Collections launched three new digital exhibitionseach prepared over several years—during the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, hosted online by University of Alberta in May-June 2021. If you are new to Peel's digital exhibitions, you will want to be sure to also check out Tinctor's Foul Treatise, an award-winning exhibition that has been attracting an extraordinary amount of interest and discussion for almost five years. 


Ancestors: Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada in Historic Photographs

Launched in 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 (Sarah Carter and Inez Lightning) remarking on the diversity and richness of the collection and its potential for understanding the lives portrayed in the photographs. It links to a digital collection in the Internet Archive with hundreds of photographs, offering free access to high-quality downloads. Note that the Photographies exhibition, described below, offers a useful companion to this exhibition/collection.


Launched in 2021, curated by Andrea Korda and Heather Caverhill, 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 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. Note that this exhibition offers a useful companion to the Ancestors exhibition/collection, described above.

Tinctor's Foul Treatise

In 1460, scholar Jean Tinctor penned an elaborate text, part sermon and part scholarly argument, condemning witches. One of the most unusual manuscripts housed in Bruce Peel Special Collections, and all the more disturbing for its polished 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.

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 topics ranging from illness and healing to nursery rhymes and haircuts, from religion and spirituality to race and gender, the artists’ books that are celebrated in this gorgeous exhibition (redesigned for the Omeka platform, updated and relaunched in 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.

Bruce Peel Special Collections offers a wide range of digital exhibitions. Highlights include 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?), the cultural networks and narratives around food, farm to table, in Culinaria: A Taste of Food History on the Prairies, 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 Workshops, Fall 2022

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Peel Workshops, Fall term 2022
A series of introductory workshops

Take a moment to discover something new in the rare book library!

Students who have participated in Peel Workshops have found it deeply rewarding to work with primary materials, to learn about the history of books, to hold special rare books in their hands, and to discover what kinds of knowledge can be gleaned from the material objects themselves. For the fall term, we plan to offer a mix of small in-person and larger online workshops, as well as a couple of evening workshops (requested for the benefit of part-time students).

Registration opens at 8am on the first day of classes (September 1st), and is required. Find detailed workshop descriptions here. Please login using your UALBERTA ID to register here. If you join a waitlist you may be interested in knowing that there is usually some movement in the days right before the workshop.

Where did all this fascinating stuff come from?
In-person on Wednesday, September 14th at 10:00-11:00am (capped at 6 participants)
Forgeries, Fakes, and Facsimiles in the Rare Book Library
Online on Thursday, September 15th at 12:00-1:20pm (capped at 30 participants)
Where did all this fascinating stuff come from?
In-person on Tuesday, September 20th at 10:00-11:00am (capped at 6 participants)
Reading Between the Lines: Representations of Indigenous Peoples in Print Collections
Online on Wednesday, September 21st at 10:00-11:20am (capped at 30 participants)
Reading Between the Lines: Representations of Indigenous Peoples in Print Collections
Online on Thursday, September 22nd at 9:30-10:20am (for TYP students)
Online on Thursday, September 22nd at 11:00-11:50am (for TYP students)

Exploring the Diversities of the Book Form: Artists' Books
In-person on Monday, September 26th at 10:00-11:20am (capped at 6 people)

Where Do Our Ideas about Witchcraft Come From?
Online on Tuesday, September 27th at 12:30-1:50pm (capped at 30 participants)
The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (A Mystery Novel)
Online on Wednesday, September 28th at 6:00-7:30pm (capped at 30 participants)
Q&A with the Curators (Ancestors: Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada in Historic Photographs)
Online on Monday, October 3rd at 12:00-1:00pm (capped at 30 participants)
15th-Century Best Sellers: What Can Books of Hours Reveal About Their Earliest Owners?
Online on Tuesday, October 4th at 12:30-1:50pm (capped at 30 participants)
Aztec, Mixtec, and Mayan Pictorial Manuscripts
Online on Wednesday, October 5th at 12:00-1:00pm (capped at 30 participants)
Secrets of the Rare Book Library
Online on Monday, October 17th at 10:00-11:20am (capped at 30 participants)

Preserving Treasured Collections
Online on Tuesday, October 18th at 11:00-12:20 (capped at 30 participants)
Where Do Our Ideas about Witchcraft Come From?
Online on Monday, October 31st at 6:00-7:30pm (capped at 30 participants)

Peel materials online

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Bruce Peel Special Collections is currently offering a very limited number of research appointments each week, but many researchers will want to consider using digital resources where possible, and professors who are planning classes 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 continue to work 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 Digital Exhibitions - Expertly curated and filled with images of rare materials, Peel's award-winning digital exhibition program covers topics from the history of photography (Photographies) to Canadian Women Artists' Books to the source of some of the earliest ideas about witches and witch trials (Tinctor's Foul Treatise). They explore the papers (including photographs) of pioneering Western Canadian journalist Miriam Green Ellis, the complexities of interpreting primary historical 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 (Honorary Degree Books).

Digitized in Databases - Some of Peel's collections have been partially digitized through databases hosted by major publishers, including the Gregory Javitch Collection of books about Indigenous peoples and the Dr Ronald B. Madge Entomology Collection.

Internet Archive - A selection of Peel materials have been digitized through the Internet Archive, including Treaty parchments (for Treaties 4, 6, 7, & 8), the Tinctor manuscipt, a Medieval Book of Hours, a collection of English Playbills (1779-1949), the Indigenous Photograph Collectionas well as selections from the Gregory Javitch Collection of books about Indigenous peoples and the Dr Ronald B. Madge Entomology Collection.

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. 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 the curators of Tinctor's Foul Treatise and published by Pennsylvania State University Press (2016) as part of their Magic in History series. This edition is available through University of Alberta Library (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 online, a 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 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).