State-of-the-art exhibition brings John Murray Archive to life

Charles Darwin, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and David Livingstone are just four of the famous historical figures whose stories will be brought to life in a major new exhibition which will open at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) on Wednesday 27 June.

Using exciting interactive technology, the John Murray Archive Exhibition will showcase 11 characters from the archive. Legends like Darwin and Byron and less well known but significant figures, such as 'Queen of Science' Mary Somerville and 19th century domestic goddess Maria Rundell, will feature. The cast of characters will be refreshed and rotated over time in order to ensure that the exhibition is one which is will bring visitors back time and again.

Visitors will be able to see a recreation of the fireplace in Albemarle Street where John Murray II famously burned the memoirs of Lord Byron. On display will be the letter in which Darwin pitched the idea for On the Origin of Species and a drawing by David Livingstone as he camped in the rain on the southern edge of Lake Nyassa (now Lake Malawi). The state-of-the-art technology used in the exhibition will allow visitors to view transcripts of the letters, learn about their background and even e-mail a copy home to study at their leisure, as well as learning more about the characters' stories: their works, their social lives and gossip, and their attitudes.

National Librarian Martyn Wade said: 'It is wonderful to see the results of several years' hard work from a large number of very talented and committed people coming to fruition in the form of this exhibition. To pack this much fascinating material, information and excitement into one exhibition is a remarkable achievement and I hope that many people from Scotland and beyond will come to the National Library of Scotland to experience it for themselves.'

John Murray Archive Project Manager Nat Edwards said: 'The exhibition uses display technology that has never before been used in a library or archival exhibition. We have turned reading letters into an exciting, interactive experience and bridged the gap between the very best ideas of the 19th century and the very best ideas of the 21st. I can't wait to share this with our visitors.'

Michael Palin said: 'The John Murray Archive is a uniquely rich collection, bringing together travellers who were poets, politicians, scientists, missionaries, archaeologists and adventurers, who all share the gift of being able to write. This is a gold-mine for anyone who loves the magic of travel.'

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded £17.7 million towards the acquisition and interpretation of the Archive. HLF Director Carole Souter said: 'The John Murray Archive encapsulates the nation's cultural legacy from a critical period of intellectual development. This state of the art exhibition gives people a great chance to explore the treasures of the collection and to discover how the literature, politics, beliefs and discoveries of the past continue to shape our lives today.'

Culture Minister Linda Fabiani said: 'This is an outstanding acquisition which highlights the strong literary history of Scotland and enhances our cultural profile both at home and abroad. Great enjoyment and educational benefits will come from the John Murray Archive.'

The exhibition marks one of the key stages in the Library delivering its promise to make the archive accessible to the people of Scotland and beyond. This work will continue with a series of education and outreach activities. One innovative project now under way sees primary school children from Mull producing their own modern-day travel guide based on the travel handbooks published by the Murrays in the 19th century.

A travelling exhibition themed on the publishing industry and containing material on Darwin, Livingstone and Byron will soon be setting off for the Highlands and other collaborative projects are also under way with institutions such as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, as well as a range of other activities both national and international. NLS has also embarked on an ambitious digitisation programme which will allow people across Scotland and throughout the world to view both scanned images and full transcriptions of thousands of items from the archive.

The John Murray Archive arrived at NLS in 2006 with significant financial support from the Scottish Executive and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Library is continuing its fundraising campaign to raise the remaining £5 million required to complete the purchase.

NLS Director of Development Giles Dove said: 'I think when people and organisations can actually see, through the exhibition and our other activities, just what a wonderful resource this archive is, they will be even more encouraged to have a stake in it for themselves by donating to the campaign for the John Murray Archive.'

NLS have also published a book to tie-in with the opening of the exhibition. Ideas that Shaped the World: An Introduction to the John Murray Archive, edited by David McClay and with a foreword by Magnus Linklater, offers a fascinating glimpse into the political, social and intellectual life of the firm's heyday via the correspondence between authors and publisher. Richly illustrated throughout and drawing on unique source material from the archive, with chapters written by the JMA curatorial and cataloguing team, the book provides insights into not only what a publisher's archive tells us about their authors and the world they inhabited, but also the journey of an idea from its genesis to its publication.

The book is in softback format, 52 pages and priced £6.50. It is available to buy direct from NLS or online at


National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge

Tel: 0131 623 3700


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25 June 2007

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