Show themes

Discoveries that changed the world

Lines of thought

The wills of William Loring and William Hunden, both dated March 1416, bequeathed books to the library of the University of Cambridge. Their gifts are the earliest surviving references to a library specifically associated with the University. Six hundred years on it has grown from a small collection of manuscripts kept in chests into one of the world’s greatest university libraries. Today, we hold over eight million items, ranging from ancient clay tablets, illuminated medieval manuscripts and early printed books to electronic journals, e-books and digital archives. The physical library now fills more than 128 miles of shelving and unseen terabytes of digital content support a global community of scholarship.

Across six themes, this exhibition highlights key moments in the evolution of human thought. They show how the collections here in Cambridge represent and underpin some of the most significant developments in human history. The books, manuscripts, archives and digital objects we house do not stand in isolation. Thousands of lines of thought run through them, back into the past and forward into tomorrow’s teaching, learning, research and innovation.

Cambridge University Library’s 600th Anniversary has been generously supported by the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Selected items from the exhibition have been digitised in full and added to the Lines of Thought collection in Cambridge Digital Library. Highlighted items from the exhibition are also available in an iPad app, Words that Changed the World, accompanied by discussions by Cambridge University experts; it can be downloaded free from the App Store. An introductory film gives an overview of the themes of the exhibition.

Behind the scenes

Contributors to Remembering the Reformation
Lines of Thought films