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Friday, 27 March 2015

Scottish Chapbooks Now Available Online

Yesterday, I had the honour of attending the launch of a new digital collection at the University of Guelph Library. Special Collections Librarian, Melissa McAfee and professor of Digital Humanities, Andrew Ross, have been working tirelessly and collaboratively to digitize the University's very large collection of Scottish Chapbooks. This exhaustive and extensive work culminated yesterday with the launch of the new website, Scottish Chapbooks (http://scottishchapbooks.org/)

Chapbooks were enormously popular among the working classes in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Typically in the 17th and 18th centuries they were geared toward adult readers and in the 19th century many were written as children's literature.

Chapbooks were cheap, crudely made books that were peddled by traveling salesmen, known as "chap men". Thus Chapbooks were books available from chap men.

The chapbooks were typically printed on a single sheet of  paper, folded to make eight, sixteen, or twenty-four pages. In Scotland, where literacy rates tended to be higher than elsewhere in the British Isles, chapbooks were in high demand.

Chapbooks became a very attractive and simple way to disseminate popular culture to the working class people, especially in rural areas. Chapbooks not only provided information, but also entertainment. In some instances chapbooks also provided, a somewhat biased view of history.

Chapbooks were inexpensively priced, often selling for one or two pennies each. The chapbooks would be shared among the members of the community and quite often also used as toilet paper or food wrappers once everyone had had a chance to read them.

The University of Guelph, Special Collections Department, has one of the largest collections of Scottish Chapbooks. They have now digitized these and made them available online for scholars, historians, genealogists, archivists and yes, even the average reader, to take enjoy.

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