Manuscripts and Special Collections

The Natural World

Travel literature has always fascinated the general public, especially when concerned with explorations in unfamiliar terrains. Published descriptions of exotic countries often combined artistic impressions with scientific data and records of the expedition’s physical progress.

The University collections also hold local observations concerning natural history and the environment. Evidence of man’s efforts to manage the natural world is plentiful within the records of estates, farms and domestic gardens.  Maps and papers which survive about land and water management, canal and railway developments, or other agencies for agricultural change help us to understand the features of our countryside today and its history.


Illustration from Sir John Ross

Illustration from Sir John Ross, A voyage of discovery made under the orders of the Admiralty… for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, and inquiring into the probability of a north-west passage (London, 1819) [Spec. Coll. Oversize G650.E18 ROS]

Sir John Ross (1777-1856) attempted in 1818 to locate a Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic. On instruction from the Admiralty, he noted the currents, tides, the state of ice and magnetism. Plants were collected and meteorological observations made. Although he failed in his objective, the data gathered on the voyage formed part of the growing body of knowledge about Arctic conditions in the nineteenth century. 


Page from British Merlin almanac

Entry for December, from Cardanus Riders, British Merlin… (London, 1680) [East Midlands Spec. Coll. Em. W8 ROB]

Almanacs traditionally included popular advice on husbandry alongside a calendar, astrological notes, and schedules of fairs and markets. Their small size and blank pages enabled them to be easily carried and used as notebooks by farmers and artisans. Riders British Merlin first appeared in 1656 and was still being issued annually in the nineteenth century. 


Memoranda book for a farm

Memoranda book for a farm in the Stragglethorpe, Holme Pierrepont and Cotgrave area, Nottinghamshire, 1814-1848 [MS 99]

Farm journals vary greatly in their content and value as historical evidence. This example gives a fascinating picture of the annual round of farm working 170 years ago. We do not know the name of the farmer, but we can see in some detail how his land was managed over a period of time. Other pages provide details of ewes and lambs and the development of his sheep stock.


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Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

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