Boole Library Special Collections Resources: Concepts & Collaborations in Digital Humanities

“Holinshed’s Chronicles”

Last week, I had the pleasure of a visit to the Special Collections department at UCC library, under the watchful eye of Elaine Harrington, Boole Library Special Collections Librarian. The material on display for the class varied from a beautiful half leather-bound copy of George Frederic Handel’s Messiah, Composed in the year 1741 to a Book of recipes, cures and household hints (1829-1845). During this class, I had time to focus on the second edition, Volume 3 of Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
It is a large and heavy book, the front cover of which (heavy card bound in leather) was separated from the spine. The cover does need preservation work but the paper /leaves of the book are of very strong quality and in very good condition. It was set on foam blocks to protect the spine and cover from further damage. The book is part of a volume of three and is a large collaborative work describing the history of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Volume 3 covered the period from William The Conqueror 1066 to the mid-16th century. Holinshed’s Chronicles held by UCC are the second edition. It is an old spelling annotated edition.

Image of inner page of Holinshed's Chronicles
Page of Holinshed’s Chronicles (

The chronicles stem from multiple authors or contributors, and it is clear from reading the first pages on William The Conqueror that Historical accuracy is questionable, it proved very different from how I expected a History book to read. The chapter reads like a story in a novel, it conveys a curious account of manners and customs of the Elizabethan period in Britain. As a reader, you most certainly would be compelled to exercise your judgment as it may not be a reliable unbiased account, and you need to be watchful from what viewpoint the piece was written.
Being able to see, feel touch and be in the vicinity of such a rare, valuable and original book of historical importance was a treasured moment. In lectures recently, we discussed the topic of Aura, & Authenticity, Originality. The ideas and description of Aura outlined by Stuart Jeffery (2105) are the closest I have come to explain my perception of what Aura is. It is a subjective concept but “A key aspect of the aura is that sensation of being close to the past. This sensation, the thrill of proximity, is not essentially about the physical object itself, it is about the people who have been close to it in the past and our connections to them.” (Jeffery, S. 2015)

Elaine Harrington outlined to me that Dr. Edel Semple, School of English, UCC had given a public lecture on Culture night 2016. Her talk was on “Shakespeare’s Sources and the Boole Library’s Resources”. Elaine herself had written a Blog on the lecture that I found extremely interesting.

Free Image of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Dr. Semple outlined that Holinshed’s Chronicles have long been acknowledged as a key source for Shakespeare’s histories and plays including Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Richard III. With a little further reading online, I garnered that Shakespeare used Holinshed’s chronicles for more than a third of his plays, and they were a primary source for many other literary writers, such as Christopher Marlowe.

The Holinshed Chronicles have been digitized. Thanks to the tremendous project “The Holinshed Project” whose aim was “to stimulate a comprehensive reappraisal of the Chronicles as a work if historiography and a major source for imaginative writers.”

Image of The Holinshed Project webpage
Screenshot of The Holinshed Project web page

The team created a parallel text edition, developed a TEI comparator tool and with digital copies of both 1st and 2nd editions they set about preparing a database of the comparisons between both texts. It is a fantastic resource to have both editions and work such as this project available online to all.

I owe Dr. Orla Murphy many thanks for the opportunity of seeing even just a few of the gems in the Boole’s Special Collection, and Elaine Harrington a special mention as she is an invaluable source of information on these rare and valuable books. She really did offer me a wonderful although too brief an insight into the Special Collection held at UCC’s Boole Library


Holinshed, Raphael. The … Chronicles Comprising the Description and Historie of England, The Description and Historie of Ireland, the Description and Historie of Scotland. (London): Finished at the expenses of John Harison, George Bishop, Rafe Newberie, Henrie Denham, and Thomas Woodcocke, 1586-87. Volume 3.


Handel, George Frederic, Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio in Score with All the Additional Alterations Composed in the Year 1741. 

References Online:

Video: Explore Shakespeares adaptation of Holinshed’s Chronicles of Scotland in Macbeth.

The Holinshed Project

Special Collections:

Elaine Harrington, The Riverside Blog.

Stuart Jeffrey, Challenging Heritage Visualisation:
Beauty, Aura and Democratisation, Open Archaeology 2015; 1: 144–152.