Here at the Digitization Centre we are fascinated and excited by the vast amount of primary-source material that our digitization work exposes us to.  Whether a document of historic significance, a beautiful illustration, or even a particularly fine typeface, we are frequently amazed by the materials we’re working to share with the world.  So much so, that not only will we crowd around to ogle a particularly interesting specimen, but we’ve started decorating our workplace with copies of some of our favorites.  But why stop there?  Surely, we can’t be the only ones geeky enough to appreciate such “gems” in our collections, and so we’ve decided to share them here with you.  Below you will find some of our favorites, hand-picked by staff from both existing and upcoming collections.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!   TIP: To view full resolution versions of the images on any size screen, click to enlarge and then right-click and select “open image in new tab.”

Relics from a Lost Age Part 2: Mysterious Histories

Posted on October 8, 2015 @1:38 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

Ready for part 2 of our postings on the cuneiform tablets in the Ancient Artefacts Collection? In the previous post we learned a little about the cuneiform tablets and provenance in general – with a cliff hanger of course.

What IS the provenance of Rare Books & Special Collections cuneiform tablets?

This post we will come closer to finding out. Lisa Cooper, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Art & Archaeology in UBC’s Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies Department, was able to help us start to unravel the mystery.

Arriving at UBC at some time in the early 20th century CE the tablets were accompanied by a typed note intended to provide information about their provenance. However the note was full of, at best, misinformation and at worst? Lies.


Looks official doesn’t it? Much of the information here is untrue!


The note endowed the tablets with significant cachet – including stating that the tablets had originated in the famed city of Ur (mentioned in the Bible, among other things). It also states that the tablets been excavated through a University dig between 1905 and 1912 by Yale University under the direction of Professor A.T. Clay. Sounds pretty important doesn’t it? Too bad not one part of it is true.

Another note full of misinformation accompanying the tablets.

We know today the first excavation of Ur wasn’t until 1922 – by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania. The professor in question, A.T. Clay, didn’t even visit Mesopotamia until 1920, about 10 years after the dates indicated in the notes.

So where did these tablets come from? How were they found? Who brought them to UBC?

blog post

Where did this guy come from? Who found him? Will we ever know for sure?

We still don’t know all the answers to these questions, but we are starting to learn more. Unprovenaced items like the RBSC tablets can end up being the subject of much discussion. The debate centers around the morality and legality of the acquisition of these items by western institutions. For more information on that debate, check out Professor Lisa Cooper’s UBC news piece on antiquities from the Middle East.

The little we can conjecture about the RBSC tablets is that they were likely purchased in an antiquities market in the early 20th century.

Someone may have translated the tablets, seen the Third dynasty of Ur marking the era, and mistakenly believed the tablets were from Ur. The mistranslation could have been because the tablets were originally translated 50-60 years ago – before we have the knowledge of the past we do now.

Put that misinformation together with someone looking to make a profit, or even just guessing at a possible provenace, and volia! You have items originating out of thin air.

Due to contextual information in the tablet writing, we now believe that three tablets originate from the Umma region and two come from Puzrish-Dagan region. As well, recent scholarship dates the reigns of Shulgi and Amar-Sin – the two kings mentioned in the tablets – to almost 300 years earlier than originally thought.

Tomorrow, who knows? With the provenance of many ancient items, including ones such as these, there is always more to uncover.

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Relics from a Lost Age: Cuneiform Tablets & Provenance

Posted on September 24, 2015 @1:42 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

Made in partnership with Rare Books and Special Collections and the From Stone to Screen project, the cuneiform tablets are among the most ancient objects Digital Initiatives has ever digitized! The tablets are part of Ancient Artefacts collection, which also includes Egyptian papyri.

Receipt by a temple official of “one sheep and one lamb on the thirteenth day of the month” for rent- Can you believe those prices?! Puts Vancouver to shame.

Considered today to be one of the most significant cultural contributions by the Sumerians, cuneiform is one of the earliest known systems of writing. The RBSC tablets were created during the 20th century BCE, between 2029 – 1973 BCE, over 4,000 years ago. Cuneiform translates to “wedge shaped” from the Latin word “cuneus” meaning wedge and refers to the shape of the writing. The marks were often made with a reed. It replaced the pictorial style of writing from the 31st century BCE to about the 1st century CE.


Another rental receipt – Rock receipts are starting to seem very handy- what if you get audited 1,000 years from now?

By the 2nd century CE the script had been replaced with Phoenician alphabet, and all knowledge of how to read the script was lost until the 19th century.

Most of the found cuneiform tablets have not been translated, as there are few qualified individuals in the world. Luckily here at UBC, we have qualified individuals willing to translate the ancient script. Today we can say they were written in Sumerian. Where they came from? That’s another story.

Determining the provenance is not easy and is sometimes impossible.

Provenance is a tricky thing especially when the items in question are thousands of years old. It’s made even trickier by people lying in order to give an object a history it doesn’t have, or even those with good intentions but inadequate or misleading information.

Which is exactly what happened with the history of these tablets. Want to know the misinformation, lies, and mysterious history behind these tablets? Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!


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Peek Behind the Scenes: The Tokyo War Crimes Trials & the Conde Fonds

Posted on September 14, 2015 @9:37 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

The David Conde Fonds is a long-standing project we’ve been working on in partnership with UBC’s Asian Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, and the University of Tokyo (thanks to a grant the latter organization received from the National Diet Library). We are happy to announce that many of the materials from the Conde fonds are now uploaded and available for consultation, including transcripts of the International Military Tribunal For the Far East (IMFTE).


First page of the IMFTE

The IMFTE, also know as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, convened on April 29,1946 to try the leaders of the Empire of Japan for war crimes. The range of crimes was significant including prisoner abuse, torture, rape, execution without trial and inhumane medical experiments, among others.

David Conde was a Canadian journalist working in Japan from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. He is best known for his reporting on the IMTFE trials from 1946-1948. This notoriety may be because General Douglas MacArthur threw Conde out of the trial about halfway through and banned him from further proceedings.


IMFTE charter

Conde’s time in the courtroom however, was not without benefit. Conde collected extensive documentation at these trials, as well as during his time in Japan, where he spent many years as a critical journalist of Japanese and American politics. Conde’s documentation provides a valuable resource for study of this important period in post-War history. The portions of the David Conde fonds that have been digitized can be accessed, along with a detailed finding aid for the fonds listing all materials,  here.

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Hijinks of BC Newspapers Uncovered

Posted on September 14, 2015 @9:38 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

BC Historical Newspapers is one of Digital Initiative’s largest and most popular collections—and for good reason! A treasure trove of information is to be discovered within them. With over 24 different papers published from 1887-1911, there is a lot to choose from. The news then wasn’t so much a bulletin of events, but rather a Facebook for a century that didn’t have the internet.

Many would send information to the newspaper, to post items about their doings.


This is definitely social media in print – Look it’s even got ads in-between real content.

The newspaper would also quiet generously post important information such as say… a flock of geese flying over town.


You thought I was kidding? Geese are the height of excitement in Fernie B.C. circa 1905

But the most interesting (and lets face it- hilarious) part of the whole endeavor is diving into the world of backstabbing and general catcalling these newspapers participated in, printing almost daily attacks on one another.

Often a few men owned the majority of the papers published in the region and would use multiple papers in their employ to attack their rivals. What’s more these guys did not pull their punches.

Here’s the District Ledger discussing the “paper bullets” (aka pot shots) the local papers sent at one another.3

Below a string of insults is first directed at other papers in general (comparing them to posters – though today that might not be such a bad thing), then to a specific editor of a rival newspaper, and finally at the populace general.


An attempt at humor in 1911- “water wagon” was a euphemism for not drinking alcohol.


Another insult was published in the Creston Review and is completely indecipherable without either a good dictionary or the internet.


Anyone want to give translating that a go? Put it in our comments

The best backstory though is the one of the Creston Review paper, which was owned by paper conglomerate J.J. Atherton, who owned a number of papers in the BC area. According to his daughter Atherton was a terrible gambler, both in that he loved to try is luck and that he hadn’t much luck to begin with.  Due to this, he lost the Creston Review to a rival publisher after a game of cards!

The paper, under new ownership, went on to jab him in print in the coming months in the best way possible- with nicknames and questioning his sanity.


Of course Jay Jay jabbed right back using one of his other papers.


Who knew there was so much gossip to be had in 100 year old papers? And there is plenty more where that came from. Check out the interesting world of the BC Historical Newspapers for yourself. And stay tuned, we will be adding more newspapers soon!

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Percy Broughton Journals: A Mysterious Missionary Revealed

Posted on August 25, 2015 @12:21 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

What might drive a man to eat his own coat? The answer can be found in the newly digitized journal of Percy Broughton, an Anglican missionary. The journal itself originates from the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the digitization is a joint project filed under Special Projects with Digital Initiatives.


Percy’s Signature which appears at the beginning of his day journal.

Broughton, a missionary whom we know little about, served the Church Missionary Society in Lake Harbour (Kimmirut) on Baffin Island from 1911 to 1912. His most famous circulating story is that of eating part of his own deerskin coat while being stranded outdoors for two days after losing his Inuit guides  .

But eating his own wardrobe wasn’t his only adventure outlined in his journal. Broughton discusses his experiences, expenses, and trips taken through Europe, East Asia, South Africa, Australia, the South Pacific as well as various parts of Canada. He also incorporates descriptions of everyday life from the hardships of Inuit and mission life, to sickness, to lack of food. Other notations include biblical notations for sermons, lists of names of sick people with dates, baptismal records, and commentary on World War I.


The journal entry for New Year’s Day 1912. The “Hobo band …raised the most hideous row” the night before.

The log is laid out as a day journal with writings for multiple years appearing on the same page. Broughton’s writings appear both before and after his trip to Baffin Island, a journey that changed the course of his life.


The same day of the year is recorded on the same page for several years in a day journal. Check out the difference on this page before and after Broughton’s trip north.

Check out his journal here or just click on the pages.

If you are interested to see more a number of things he collected on his journeys are now housed in the MOA. You can check them out here.


Some of the information for this blogpost was retrieved here:

Harper, Kenn. “Percy Broughton, the Unknown Missionary – Part 2.” Nunatsiq Online. NUNATSIAQ NEWS, 11 Nov. 2010. Web. <http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/taissumani_nov._12/>.

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Free: Love, Peace & Posters Circa 1968-1973

Posted on August 19, 2015 @3:34 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

Posters are meant to grab your undivided attention. The colors, the pictures, and the words are all arranged for maximum shock value. Few posters demonstrate the arresting perfection of the medium better than the eye-catching Berkeley 1968-1973 Poster Collection.poster5

The 250 posters, from UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections, are a small but insightful slice of history. In the decades leading up to the 1960-1970s posters were a means of state propaganda as well as popular protest. The art of the poster had evolved into an effective method of seizing the immediate attention of the passerby and requiring them to interact with an idea, thought or feeling.

A time poster

This poster could be a reference to the popular Byrds Song Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season) released in 1965, which in and of itself was a reference to rereading of the of Ecclesiastes 3:3 from the Bible.


This poster likely is referring to the US using Japan islands as a base for their operations in the Vietnam War. The Japanese text on the poster translates to “release”















By 1970 sharing thoughts and feelings were the name of the game. The US President Nixon had declared that US forces would enter Cambodia, something that expanded the already controversial Vietnam War.


Student opposition to this was widespread, and many student leaders called for a national student strike against the war. Their student activism significant part of a worldwide movement at that time, and the posters in this collection were an outgrowth of that activism. Some of the posters have acronyms for the student groups that produced them, like 4973 and RAPE.



Students often clashed with University and government officials during these years over what the University represented.

Many of the posters themselves were posters were produced on found material- from computer paper such as used continuous form paper, poster, or cardboard paper.


Take a close look at this poster – you can see the printed ink bleeding through from the back, as well as the dot-matrix line prints on the edges of the poster.

Check out the rest of the colorful collection! Get some peace and love into your soul- for free!



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What’s on Deck: Art, Poetry, and the Oldest Literary Magazine in Western Canada

Posted on August 14, 2015 @10:17 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

This week we’re exploring one of our most exciting projects and developing partnerships right now –the digitization of PRISM international!

PRISM international one of the oldest literary magazines published here in Vancouver by the Creative Writing Program at UBC. A quarterly magazine established way back in 1959, PRISM’s  goal, as stated on their website, is to “publish the best in contemporary writing and translation from Canada and around the world.” Writing from PRISM has been featured everywhere from Best American Short Stories to The Journey Prism Stories. Past published authors including Canadians like Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, as well as famous international authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Seamus Heaney.

With such amazing material, we are thrilled to be working with PRISM on digitizing their entire published collection! We even have a special intern assigned to the task – Yoav!

Yoav began by dis-binding, also known as chopping up, the more available copies of PRISM, before feeding them into a special multipage scanner – if you’re interested in seeing the process behind this check out our blog here.


Dis-binded PRISM magazines


The rarer copies were scanned on a larger scanner that is set up to take pictures of each page without breaking the magazine into pieces.

More recently Yoav has begun to work on Photoshop editing each page for optimal quality and to input metadata on each magazine. Good metadata is important! One might even call it– A Love Note to the Future.


All this will take awhile but, according to Yoav, it’s definitely worth the wait. “This is one of the most exciting projects to work on… with really interesting visual art, and poems. You just stumble across cool things.” He explained. “When I was scanning I even made a short list of things I’d like to read later [from PRISM].”


When all that work is finished a huge treasure trove of art, poetry, and stories from around the globe and closer to home will be available online!


Even better, PRISM is going to be one of our ongoing partnerships. This means that each time a new PRISM magazine comes out we will be digitizing that and adding it to our collection. So be a peach and keep checking back for more information!


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Discover Lost Ancient Egyptian Papyri!

Posted on September 18, 2015 @2:44 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

Maybe you’ve heard the buzz here. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for learning a little more about ancient dinner invitations or old papyri from Egypt- either way you’ve come to the right place! This week’s blog is all about the newly digitized ancient artifacts up on our website right now!

The two ancient papyri pieces, believed to have originated in the second century AD, have been stored at one of our favorite collaborators, Rare Books and Special Collections, since 1932. Historian (and skilled papryrologist!) Arthur Edward Romilly Boak, in conjunction with the University of Michigan where he was a professor, donated the papyri in 1932 to the UBC Library.

The first scrap is an invitation to a Sarapis dinner – a.k.a a dinner honoring the Egyptian God Sarapis who represented both abundance and resurrection.


Invitation to a dinner honouring a god …Translation: Ancient Egyptians like to party down

The second is a fragment of a letter from an anonymous writer to his/her mother. As with all letters written to mothers, the writer promises come visit soon and in turn asks the mother visit the writer at their home as well.


Whether it’s AD or BC letters to your mother never change.

These letters remained under wraps until 2014 when Classics PhD student Chelsea Gardner went to RBSC to check out out more about Stone to Screen projects here!

One of the genius (is genius-superhero going too far?) librarians at RBSC told Gardner about the papyri. Gardner alerted Professor Toph Marshall to the papyri, and he has since written a paper on them and submitted it for publication.

These papyri are part of a collection known as Ancient Artifacts. Stay tuned for more information on the cuneiform tablets, mentioned above, coming soon!

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UBC Library @ 100 : King John and the Digital Archives Adventure

Posted on August 7, 2015 @4:28 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

UBC library is turning 100 this year! To celebrate we’re going deep into the archives- the digital archives. Learn a little more about the history of the library, specifically UBC’s first librarian John Ridington, through the magic of UBC Archives Photograph Collections! Don’t worry, he’s a pretty interesting dude. You can even visit his room in the Barber Center today- the Ridington Room (also sometimes referred to as the the Harry Potter room… for looking like something out of Hogwarts.)


Meet John Ridington, UBC’s first librarian and resident hipster (complete with fancy facial hair, pipe, and selfie taking abilities)

Ridington was hired in August 1914 to oversee UBC’s collections as “acting librarian.” In 1919 he was promoted to University Librarian- a post he would keep until his retirement in April 1940. But those are just the facts – word on the street a.k.a information gathered by the very reputable UBC Archives – was that Ridington was a bit of an authoritarian dictator, nicknamed by the students as “King John.” “King John’s Castle” was of course, the Main Library at UBC, a place where he would frequently issue decrees to keep his subjects in line.

The students took to making fun of his pronouncements and made fake notices issued by King John. One of the favorites in 1930 was the posted note: “Due to the shortage of library janitors, you are requested to walk only on the black tiles.”


Main Library concourse circa the 1920’s Check out that famous (and dirty) floor!


In fact many students believed the note and attempted to comply!

He might have been a strict librarian but, man, he was a librarian who knew how to take a good picture. Check out these photos from the archives–


Ridington chilling in front of library reading and smoking an old school pipe. As one does.


Hanging with his homies


Perfecting his glower.


Click on the pictures to check out the digital archives version and the check out more cool digital photos of UBC it’s library over the years here. If you want to learn more about Ridington his family fonds are here. Finally learn more about celebrating 100 years of UBC library here.


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How We Digitize: Manuscript Makeover

Posted on July 31, 2015 @10:26 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

One of our oldest books, the Logroño Antiphonary, is getting a digital restyling!

logrono picture

Illuminated image from the Spanish Chant Manuscripts!

Part of the Western Manuscripts collection from Rare Books and Special Collections, the Logroño Antiphonary*, known more commonly as the Spanish Chant Manuscripts, is a gorgeous collection of Gregorian chants, hymns and psalms complied by the Catholic church in Logroño, Spain. The text is what is known as an illuminated manuscript, meaning it has many examples of beautiful drawings often decorated with burnished gold foil.

Originally dating from sometime between 1575 and 1625 the Spanish Chant Manuscripts are magnificent in their aged elegance. The first digital copies are much younger than that. They were created only six years ago with a single DSLR camera! But like any beauty of great repute time wears on and staying ship shape requires a few touch-ups.

So at DI we are re-imaging each page in the book at a higher resolution with more sophisticated technology.

Hey, what’s this “more sophisticated technology”?

We place the book on a large flatbed. Using what’s known as a TTI scanner we photograph each page very carefully. The TTI has two banks of lights, which illuminate the image on a flatbed below. The camera is above the flatbed.


Lights! Camera! Action! – Roy Stibravy holds up the cover of this fragile text to keep it intact

The camera is set up to take four pictures at once. Through the magic of the image-processing program Capture Flow, the four images are stitched together for a more complete image. After editing in Adobe Photoshop the images are uploaded to the web so you can access them!


This screen is set up to show exactly what the images look like when they are being taken and stitched togeter.

Right now we are still in the picture taking and image-editing phase. We’ll keep you updated when these new beauties will be uploaded to the Internet! But if you can’t wait check out the older images here. Then take a look at Western Manuscripts collection!


*In case you are wondering, as I was, what an antiphonary means- it is a book that contains religious choral music sung in a ‘call and response’ between two choirs. Which is, go figure, exactly what the Spanish Chant Manuscripts are!

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