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Durham University

Special Collections


MLA designation logo

Bishop Cosin's Library and the Sudan Archive granted Designation Status

Two of the University Library's special collections were awarded Designated status under the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Designation Scheme. The scheme aims to identify and celebrate the pre-eminent collections of national and international importance held in England's non-national museums, libraries and archives. The scheme was launched in 1997 for museums only, and extended to libraries and archives in 2005: 38 collections in 28 libraries and archives have been designated in a first benchmarking round.

The University Librarian, Dr John Hall said: "This is a considerable honour that recognises the importance of the collections for scholarship. It also endorses the professionalism of library staff and the effectiveness of Durham University as custodian of these collections."

Mark Wood, Chair of MLA, which manages the Designation Scheme, said: "It's not just national institutions which hold our greatest treasures. Some of the nation's most important collections are in regional and independent museums, libraries and archives across the country. Under this important scheme, those collections are ‘Designated' as being of outstanding national and international importance."

The two collections Designated are:

Bishop Cosin's Library

Founded in 1669 by John Cosin (1595-1672), Bishop of Durham, as an endowed public library for local clergy and people of scholarly interests within the Diocese of Durham (which included Northumberland until 1882), and still housed in its original specially erected building, the Library is predominantly Cosin's personal collection, but also includes gifts from other benefactors. Today it is still a public library, of which since 1937 the University has been the statutory Trustee.

The medieval manuscripts include theological, liturgical, legal, literary, historical, medical, scientific, and culinary texts, and some on political theory. The printed stock contains over 5,000 titles, including 9 incunabula, over 600 foreign 16th century titles (including notable French material), 541 STC and 841 Wing items. A notable treasure is a 1619 Book of Common Prayer, annotated with Cosin's proposals for the 1662 revision.

Sudan Archive

Founded in 1957, the year after Sudanese independence, to collect and preserve the private papers of British officials who had served or lived in the Sudan during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium period (1899-1955), this is now the pre-eminent archive on the Sudan outside Khartoum, with 800 boxes of official, semi-official and personal papers from over 320 individuals, 50,000 photographs, 1,000 maps, 130 cinefilms, museum objects and sound recordings.

All levels of colonial society are represented, from Governor-General and senior officers of government, to Assistant District Commissioner, as well as from the technical and medical services, the army and the church. The Archive now includes the Mahdiyyah (1885-1898) and the period after independence and holds substantial numbers of papers relating to Egypt, the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine, Transjordan, and African states bordering on the Sudan.