The Whipple's special collections comprise a wide range of printed material dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries which, for reasons of rarity and/or significance, are managed separately from the modern teaching and research collections elsewhere in the Library. They span a broad spectrum of topics within the history of science, technology and medicine, reflecting both the eclectic interests of our original benefactor, Mr Robert Stewart Whipple, and the growth of the discipline of HPS in Cambridge since the 1950s.
The special collections are in active use to support research and teaching in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and beyond. They are also available to visiting students and academics, and to all with a genuine research interest in the material (please view our admissions policy for further information about eligibility and how to arrange a visit).
In addition, we are pleased to be developing a stronger outreach profile in collaboration with our colleagues in the Whipple Museum to bring the Whipple's printed collections to wider audiences through exhibitions, school visits and public events. Our blog offers regular profiles of featured items, with occasional guest posts from students and researchers working on the collections.
The Library's foundation collection donated to the University by Mr Whipple in 1944, comprises approx. 1200 printed books, and has been supplemented over the years since by a combination of further donations, purchases, and transfers from other scientific libraries in Cambridge. Together, the collections now span approx. 8000 volumes, plus a further 5000 pamphlets.
Some of the more notable sub-collections include:
- the Sleeman and the Steward Collections of books on chemistry and physics
- books presented by George Parker Bidder (concerning biological sciences from the nineteenth century onwards)
- a selection of books originally presented to the Cavendish Laboratory by James Clerk Maxwell
- the library of Gerd Buchdahl, philosopher of science and first Head of Department at HPS
- a specialist collection of C19 and C20 books on phrenology complementing the archive of the British Phrenological Society
- the Foster Collection of pamphlets and offprints of pioneer physiologist Michael Foster.
Discovering the collections
Our downloadable leaflet and this website provide further information about our collections in summary form. Full catalogue records for individual items, in many cases including valuable provenance information, are publicly accessible via the University's online catalogue interface iDiscover (and until the summer of 2017 also via Newton). Please use this catalogue to determine whether we hold particular items.
Staff are happy to answer more detailed enquiries as time and expertise permit (contact us), but please note that we cannot offer a comprehensive research service.