Treasures of Cambridge University Library go on display

Landmark documents and artefacts in the history of science and religion go on public view for the first time

March 14, 2016
A copy of the Gutenberg Bible on display at the Cambridge University Library
Source: Cambridge University Library
A copy of the Gutenberg Bible on display for a special exhibition at the Cambridge University Library

Iconic objects dating back up to 4,000 years have gone on display in an exhibition marking the 600th birthday of Cambridge University Library.

Lines of Thought: Discoveries that Changed the World is organised around six themes: From clay tablets to Twitter feed (Revolutions in human communication); The evolution of genetics (From Darwin to DNA); Beginning with the word (Communicating faith); On the shoulders of giants (Understanding gravity); Eternal lines (Telling the story of history) and Illustrating anatomy (Understanding the body).

Exhibits (more than 70 per cent never before presented publicly) include: a Babylonian tablet dated 2039 BCE; a 2,000-year-old copy of the Ten Commandments; the earliest known record of a human dissection in England; the earliest reliable text for 20 of Shakespeare’s plays; Newton’s own annotated copy of Principia Mathematica; Darwin’s first pencil sketch of Species Theory and his Primate Tree; Stephen Hawking’s draft typescript of A Brief History of Time.

Started in 1416 as a small collection of manuscripts locked in wooden chests, the Cambridge University Library now holds eight million books and manuscripts on 125 miles of shelving.

Over two million books can be directly accessed by readers, making it the largest open-access library in Europe.

To celebrate its 600th anniversary, the library has selected one item from each of the exhibition’s six themes to be digitised and made available with expert academic commentary within a free iPad app, Words that Changed the World.


Lines of Thought: Discoveries that Changed the World can be seen at the Cambridge University Library from 11 March to 30 September.

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