Mary Astell Announcement

On the 8th March (International Women’s Day) 2021, Magdalene College Old Library announced that a large collection of Mary Astell’s personal library has been identified among its collections. 

Dr M.E.J. Hughes, the Keeper of the Old Library, says of the find:

‘The identification of this important collection by our Deputy Librarian, Catherine Sutherland, has been a highlight of our year at the Old Library in Magdalene. It just goes to show why the maintenance of historic libraries is so important; and that there are secrets still to be revealed through the care and skill of the dedicated library staff. I look forward to a time soon when we can welcome researchers from around the world back into the College. And I am sure that Mary Astell’s volumes will prove a key resource for scholars across a range of disciplines, including Philosophy, Women’s Studies and the History of the Book.’

What follows is a round up of yesterday’s coverage and reaction to the announcement, which shall be added to periodically:

The University of Cambridge’s Communications Office has written an extensive feature on the books and uploaded an animated film to their Youtube channel. The news was also announced on the College Website and in Varsity, the student newspaper. Varsity also included the news in their review of 2021.

In the national press, there were articles in the printed and digital editions of the Times and Telegraph.

The full journal article about the identification of the books will appear in ‘The Library’ journal in 2022.

Professor Dame Athene Donald, who provided valuable insight into Astell’s scientific readings for the University’s feature, has followed up with her own blog entitled ‘Women as Natural Philosophers: Choosing to Challenge’.  Prof Donald also gave a brief radio interview on the BBC World Service (to jump straight to the interview, scroll along to 49 minutes).

An online panel discussion about the Mary Astell Collection took place in April 2021 hosted by Magdalene’s Alumni and Development Office, featuring Catherine Sutherland, Dr Teresa Bejan, Prof James Raven and hosted by Dr Jane Hughes. A recording of the event is available on YouTube. The Alumni and Development office also covered the topic in their alumni newsletter, Magdalene Matters.

All the books have been catalogued on the University’s ‘idiscover online catalogue. The catalogue records give further information about the unique features and provenance of each book. 

The first academic publications to make use of the Astell Collection began to appear in the spring of 2022. A bibliography of these works (as well as the more informal pieces described above) is present on the college website.

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