Religious tracts and political pamphlets

Tract by Luther
Tract by
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Tracts and pamphlets are mass-produced short treatises on a single subject. They are usually polemical in nature. Religious or theological issues have been discussed in the form of tracts from the beginning of printing. The 16th to the 19th centuries saw a large-scale production of religious tracts. They focus, for instance, on indulgences in the 16th century, or on the issue of temperance in the 18th and 19th centuries. Tracts were also a very effective means of contributing to religious controversies: since they were produced cheaply, anybody with a strong opinion on a religious issue could have their contribution printed and circulated. In the main catalogue, a keyword search for 'tracts' will provide access to more than 4000 items in both the general and some special named collections.

The National Library of Scotland has a number of collections which are especially strong in the area of religious tracts.

Most notably, the Crawford Reformation and Lutheran Tracts are on long-term deposit here and can be accessed through a manual catalogue. The Crawford Borghese Collection consists of over 1200 tracts dealing with the Papal states. It has been fully catalogued and is available online. The Dieterichs Collection also contains a large number of 16th-century German theological tracts, which, however, have not been catalogued completely. The Protestant Institute Collection has about 50 volumes of religious tracts. The Copland Tracts, a collection of nine only-known-copies of early 16th-century tracts, belong to the Blairs College Library Collection.

Early tracts also form part of the Cathedral of the Isles Collection and the Lauriston Castle Collection, whereas 19th-century tracts can be found in the Cox Collection. They are all accessible through the main catalogue.

20th-century tract
A 20th-century tract.
Larger baptism
tract image

Political pamphlets became very popular from the 17th century on, for the same reasons as religious tracts: they were mass produced, cheap, and easily available.

The Library has several pamphlet series, each consisting of several thousand items and dealing with a wide range of topics. Some of the Special and Named Printed Collections are particularly strong in terms of political pamphlets. The Walter Blaikie Collection has a good representation of early political pamphlet literature; one of the topics is the legitimacy of the birth of James II's son in 1688. Nearly 12,000 political pamphlets form the Crawford English Tracts. They cover the years 1587 to 1912 and are particularly strong in the area of the English Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration. The 18th-century items can be found in a printed short title catalogue in the Special Collections Reading Room.

The Crawford French Revolution Tracts contain several thousand pamphlets published in Paris and the provinces. Most of the latter are available through the main catalogue. The Gray Collection has 30 volumes of British political pamphlets, and there are 120 pamphlet volumes covering the 16th to the 20th century in the Rosebery Collection. Modern 20th-century political pamphlets can be found in the James Ramsay MacDonald Collection and the MacNaughton Collection.

Further reading

  • 'Bibliotheca Lindesiana collations and notes no. 7. Catalogue of a collection of fifteen hundred tracts by Martin Luther and his contemporaries 1511-1598'. Privately printed, 1903 (shelfmark: NRR)
  • 'Bibliotheca Lindesiana. Catalogue of the printed books preserved at Haigh Hall, Wigan'. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1910 (NRR)
  • Pegg, Michael. 'A catalogue of German Reformation pamphlets (1516-1546) in libraries of Great Britain and Ireland'. Baden-Baden: Valentin Koerner, 1973 (NRR)
  • Pegg, Michael. 'Bibliotheca Lindesianaand other collections of German sixteenth-century pamphlets in libraries of Great Britain and Ireland'. Baden-Baden: Valentin Koerner, 1977 (NRR)
  • McLeod, W R & V B. 'Anglo-Scottish tracts, 1701-1714. A descriptive checklist'. Lawrence: University of Kansas Libraries, 1979 (NRR)


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