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Somerville College is delighted to receive a grant of $10,000 from Americans for Oxford supported by funds from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation to support the first phase of the John Stuart Mill Marginalia Online project.

This project involves identifying, recording, stabilising, digitising  and publishing online  the marginalia in the 1500 volumes that once belonged to the 19th Century economic and political philosopher John Stuart Mill, and his father  the Utilitarian philosopher James Mill.  The volumes are now the property of Somerville College, Oxford.

Somerville will use the grant from the Foundation to prepare the collection for digitisation by providing an up-front survey to identify and attribute the marginalia.  This information will then be made available to Somerville’s partners in this project, Professor Albert Pionke and the University of Alabama, who will use it to carry out the digitisation of the marginalia and build the web-based database that will make the marginalia available to a global audience.

When Somerville College was founded in 1879 the women students were denied access to the University’s library collections, so the College found other ways of providing books for its students and relied heavily on benefactors for donations. John Ruskin and William Morris had both given their works to the College in the nineteenth century but in 1906, three years after having built its own library, Somerville College received the tremendous news that John Stuart Mill’s step daughter Helen Taylor had left the College a large collection of books that had belonged to him. The gift amounted to almost 2000 volumes and was left unconditionally, to be used by the students.

In 1969 the College decided that the books deserved to be gathered together and included in its special collections. The librarian’s former bedroom was pressed into service as a dedicated space for them and bookshelves were constructed thanks to a legacy from former College Principal Helen Darbishire. Some of the books were repaired and the collection remained securely behind closed doors with a handful of scholars visiting it every year.

Works in the collection include an author-inscribed copy of Darwin’s The Descent of Man, an author-inscribed copy of Democracy in America by de Tocqueville, a heavily annotated copy of Emerson’s Essays, a first edition of Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature with extensive pencilled comments by James Mill and annotated copies of translations of Mill’s own work into other languages.

Over the last few years, interest in the collection has increased and the college is now planning not only to conserve and stabilise the books to preserve them from inevitable deterioration but also to preserve the pencilled marginalia, written by John Stuart Mill and his father the philosopher James Mill through a programme of digitisation which will also make them easier to read. We are most thankful to all those who supported the recent crowdfunding campaign to raise the essential funds needed to start this important project, which will bring into the public domain a scholarly resource that until now has been little known.

If you want to hear the latest news on the Mill library, please follow The John Stuart Mill Library Facebook page. 

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