Research Spotlight #3: Marginalia in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

by Melanie Bigold

Two Cardiff University undergraduates are getting a unique opportunity to research marginalia in Cardiff’s new rare books collection. Emma Feloy and Lewis Coyne (pictured to the right), have been appointed research assistants to Dr Melanie Bigold’s project on Marginalia in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection. The posts are generously funded by the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), which provides summer placements for undergraduates in the university research environment, and supported by the staff in Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR).

The collection of 14,000 rare and antiquarian books, which was previously owned by the Cardiff Public library, arrived in SCOLAR in May 2010. Preliminary research suggests that the collection contains a significant amount of unique material in the form of marginalia. Initial figures based on a ten percent sampling indicates that thirty percent of the entire collection is likely to have marginal annotations or provenance history. Cataloguing of the collection has just begun, and Lewis and Emma’s research will help to ensure that provenance and marginalia information are included in the final catalogue. For now their research is focused on what the Cardiff Public Library designated the ‘Restoration Drama Collection’. These dramatic texts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries make up one of the most impressive elements of the new acquisition. With over 900 texts, the collection features considerable holdings of most of the major playwrights of the period, including many important later editions of Shakespeare.

The drama of the Restoration has been characterised by both contemporaries and modern critics as a genre that thrived on rapid innovation, adaptation, and theatrical abundance. We know it as a period of drama that catered to the tastes of a ‘merry’ king, as Rochester famously labelled Charles II, that introduced the actress to the English stage, that developed new theatrical scenery and machinery, and that did all sorts of wonderful and weird things to Shakespeare’s texts. Cardiff University’s collection of dramatic texts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mirrors this novelty and abundance not just in the breadth and comprehensiveness of its holdings, but because of its own ‘newness’ and re-emergence as a resource for critical enquiry. Rarely used since the 1950s, unpacking the possibilities of the collection will be a long process, but already it is apparent that this is a research collection that will play a significant role in the dissemination of textual knowledge for scholars, students, and the general public for generations to come.

More information about visiting SCOLAR and the Cardiff Rare Books can be found here:

More information about CUROP can be found here:


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