Physical Sciences

We have excellent holdings of historical material relating to the physical sciences. Relevant material may be found across our collections. To search by name or keyword, please use the rare books search (for printed material) and the manuscripts search (for unpublished material including notebooks, papers, photographs and drawings).

Some of our collections are particularly relevant for research into the following subjects:


The Ferguson collection is of international importance:

  • 7,500 volumes from the library of John Ferguson (1838-1916), bibliographer and Regius Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow University from 1874 to 1915
  • main strengths lie in alchemy, chemistry and related topics
  • includes 104 incunabula (books printed before 1501) and 317 manuscripts - almost all of the latter are of alchemical interest and several date back to the 15th century

This book of the month article features an alchemical item from the Ferguson collection:

A detailed description of the Ferguson collection is also available from the Alchemy website (external, independent resource)


  • Cullen Papers: drafts of lectures, medical notes, and correspondence of William Cullen (1710-1790), Lecturer in Chemistry and Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow, and later successively Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University
  • Ferguson collection: as described above, is the main collection for research in this area

Web exhibitions relating to chemistry:

  • Cullen Papers: highlights documents relating to Cullen's teaching and the foundation of the Chemistry Department at the University of Glasgow in 1747
  • Paracelsus: works by a 16th century physician, botanist and alchemist, published 1529-1793, mainly from the Ferguson Collection
  • University of Glasgow Chemistry Laboratory annuals from 1863-1869 (Book of the Month: December 2001)

Geographical and Earth Sciences

The following collection has a geological focus:

We have many example of early maps dispersed throughout the collections:

  • Maps for a Small Country: web exhibition featuring historical maps and atlases of Scotland from 16th to 19th centuries, a useful starting point
  • Murray: this collection is particularly good for Scottish maps


  • Kelvin Papers: books and papers of William Thomson, Baron Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907), Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Glasgow; mainly relating to scientific matters, includes correspondence with some of the leading scientists and physicists of the time
  • Old Library: includes books from the Natural Philosophy Class Libraries

Web exhibitions featuring related material:

  • William Thomson, Lord Kelvin: correspondence from the Kelvin collection, including letters to or from Boole, Darwin, Jenkin, Joule, Maxwell, Tait and Varley
  • Copernicus: De Revolutionibus Nuremberg: 1543 (Book of the Month: April 2008)