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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK
Exhibiting 'world-shaping' ideas
Nat Edwards
Project manager, John Murray Archive

Ideas that Shaped the World, is the tagline that the National Library of Scotland applied to the John Murray Archive when we formally acquired it just over a year ago.

The publishing machine
The library will also use state-of-the-art technology

It has been a daily pleasure throughout the last three years of my working life to spend time in the exalted company of people like Darwin, Byron, Livingstone, Peel, Disraeli, Scott, Babbage, Thackeray, Turner, and Austen to name but a few.

The list goes on: It's a veritable who's who in virtually every field of intellectual endeavour in 19th Century Britain.

And if high-minded themes like the theory of evolution weren't enough to pique your interest, the birth of contemporary phenomena like the cult of celebrity, travel writing and domestic cookery advice also loom large in this unique collection.

Our new permanent exhibition devoted to the archive uses 21st Century technology to bring these fascinating 19th Century stories, characters and ideas to life in a way that hasn't been done with an archive collection before.

Which Scot kept asking John Murray for 50 to tide him over?

What does a bassoon have to do with Charles Darwin?

When did Lord Byron awake one morning "and find myself famous"?

Why Mary Somerville have to memorise mathematical problems during the day and solve them by candlelight under her bedsheets in the dead of night?

Letter from James Hogg to John Murray (courtesy of the John Murray Archive)
Exhibits include a letter James Hogg wrote to John Murray

How did a frail woman advised to take up travel for medical reasons end up becoming the foremost female explorer of the Victorian age?

In the exhibition, you can look at the original letters alongside transcripts (both of which you can e-mail home to yourself).

You can visit a replica of the fireplace in which John Murray II burned the manuscript of Byron's memoir.

You can see windows on the world which show the historical context and world events which were occurring as the Murrays' story unfolds.

You can publish your own international bestseller on our publishing machine and, alongside the historical records, you can also get insights into the modern publishing industry from contemporary figures like Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh.

'Landmark' exhibition

For the National Library of Scotland and for me personally, this is a big day.

Today, the legendary Mr Michael Palin is coming to open our brand new exhibition, and on Wednesday, 27 June it will be open to the public.

This is a landmark for us: this exhibition is certainly beyond anything we've attempted before and, to my knowledge, there is nothing like it in the world of library or archival interpretation.

There is much more to come in terms of online resources, educational and outreach activity, travelling exhibitions and collaborations with institutions across Scotland, the UK and beyond.

I really hope people that will engage with it and find out more about these ideas that continue to shape the world.

The John Murray Archive Exhibition will be open to the public from Wednesday, 27 June.

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