Come check out our exhibit space outside the reading room!

Currently on display: Such Bold Enterprises: The Age of Enlightenment in Britain. (January 2017- ).“Enlightenment” was the dominant theme of Western European thought and art during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Characterized by burgeoning interest in empiricism, scientific observation, personal liberty, and progress, the period marked a clear desire on the part of contemporary thinkers to break with the conventions and dogmas of the past in search of new “universal” knowledge about the human condition and the wider world. In many ways a logical outgrowth of the humanist impulse which had characterized European thought since the Renaissance, it remains profoundly influential today — indeed, our modern concept of progress derives directly from Enlightenment ideas.

Although many of the leading thinkers of the age were French, Britain — and most especially the city of Edinburgh in Scotland — was an important centre of Enlightenment thought. Thinkers and writers such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, and John Locke stood on equal footing with their French contemporaries and their work has had a lasting influence on political and scientific thought. In this exhibit, we invite you to explore some of the seminal works by which these ideas and their architects first came to be known.

Exhibit - "Such Bold Enterprises": The Age of Enlightenment in Britain

Upcoming Exhibits: Diaries in Archives


Authors in Publishers’ Archives. (May 2016 - December 2016). McMaster University Library is the home of many large archives on Canadian publishing. The exhibition commemorates renowned authors from select publishers, whose personal papers are not located at McMaster Library.  Many of the authors are Governor General Award winners, Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal winners and Companions of the Order of Canada as well as two Nobel Prize recipients. The authors featured are: Leonard Cohen, L.M. Montgomery, Al Purdy, Margaret Atwood, Irving Layton (McClelland & Stewart Ltd.), Grey Owl, Marius Barbeau, W.O. Mitchell, Earle Birney, Mazo de la Roche, P.K. Page, Alice Munro, C.P. Snow (Macmillan of Canada), Timothy Findley, John Fowles, Desmond Morris, Robertson Davies, Suyin Han (Clarke Irwin), Rudyard Kipling, John Drinkwater (Copp Clark & Co.) and Stephen Leacock, Martha Ostenso, Bliss Carman (Dodd, Mead & Co). The scope of the exhibition is 20th century, with an emphasis on Canadian authors of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The inclusion of renowned international authors broadens the interest and scope culturally, and sheds light on Canadian publishing in the early decades of the 20th century when it was inextricably linked to government support as firms struggled to stay afloat by publishing Canadian editions of famous authors published by British and American firms. Images from the exhibit can be seen here.

Perspectives on Peace: a selection from the archives. (January 2016 - April 2016) The exhibition commemorates the campus-wide peace campaign, Perspectives on Peace, launched for 2015-2016, by President Patrick Deane. Select archives and books are showcased to allow us an opportunity to engage with documents created in the 20th and 21st centuries. They offer us a glimpse into the diversity of our archives: We reflect on the ways peace, human rights and justice have been pursued by writers, activists, musicians and performers. The following archives are on display:  Bertrand Russell, Vera Brittain, Claire Culhane, Bruce Cockburn, Basil Johnston, Louise Bennett, Farley Mowat, Bernard Trotter, Gerald Blake, CUCND/SUPA and Canadian Youth Congress. Images from the exhibit can be see here.

Materia Medica: early medical books from the Rare Book Collection (September 2015 - December 2015). The scope of the exhibit is books printed in Great Britain and the continent, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, with a concentration on the 18th century. The collection is comprehensive and includes several of the standard medical works such as The Universal Family Physician, and Surgeon: Containing a Familiar and Accurate Description of the Symptoms of Every Disorder ... With a System of Family Surgery, and Universal Herbal, and a Complete Dispensatory (1796) as well as specialized treatises on medically related themes and books of domestic medicine and self-help manuals and herbals for the lay to supplement the strong collection on spas and watering places. Presented in this display are books by pioneering physicians and scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Robert Boyle, Richard Mead, George Cheyne, Thomas  Syndenham , Erasmus Darwin and S.A.D. Tissot. Historic books on remedies and cures, ranging from a recipe for cure from the bite of a mad dog; to curing diseases “incidental to literary and sedentary persons”, to drinking spa water to cure all kinds of illness, the collection is varied in the types of medical information available to people in the 18th century. Lastly, some books which are examples of medical hoaxes and quackeries are displayed to show that such books also thrived because for some, limited medical knowledge meant that they were desperate for a cure. Images from the exhibit can be seen here.

New Literary Acquisitions (May 2015 - August 2015). The exhibition showcases some of our recent acquisitions of literary and cultural significance. It is a mélange of manuscripts, photographs, memorabilia, ephemera and first editions of books by Canadian authors such as Robert Sawyer, Trevor Cole, Terry Fallis, Juan Butler, David Freeman and Basil Johnston. The exhibition also includes published poetry broadsides from the Poem of the Month Club, as well as books and materials relating to the controversial poet, Hugo Sonnenshein (known as “Sonka”). Images from the exhibit can be seen here.

Sir John Franklin and the Search for a North-West Passage (January 2015 - April 2015). The name “Franklin” is almost synonymous with the search for the Northwest Passage. The two ships of the Franklin expedition, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and their crews, 128 members in all, set out in 1845 in quest of the Northwest Passage and disappeared in 1847. In 2015, the location of the second ship, the HMS Terror, remains a mystery. Franklin had commanded three expeditions, two on foot and one with the naval vessels the Erebus and Terror. The stories of explorations of two of Franklin’s voyages are replete with tales of unimaginable hardship and tragedy. The exhibition showcases key authors and their narratives of Arctic exploration and concentrates on contemporary accounts of expeditions undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries. These works were drawn from the rare book and map collections housed in the William Ready Division of Archives & Research Collections. Images from the exhibit can be seen here.

First World War: Commemorating 100 Years (September 2014 - December 2014). This exhibition showcases the diversity of our holdings--primarily Canadian and British--relating to this ‘Great War’. Items displayed include recently acquired archives, diaries, letters, photographs, sketch books and military memorabilia. 

Nobel Prize in Literature (January 2014 - August 2014). This is an exhibition of letters, manuscript pages, and other items from: Alice Munro, the first Canadian to be honoured with the prize, Bertrand Russell, Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett and fourteen other winners of this prestigious award. 

Holocaust Education Week (September 2013 - December 2013). Featured were letters, diaries, and other materials from Concentration Camp prisoners, resistance fighters, as well as a selection of air dropped leaflets. Images from the exhibit can be seen here.

Herbals, Botanicals and Gardening: A Selection of Rare Books from the 16th-19th Century (May 2013 - August 2013). This exhibit featured an exhibition of rare books, drawing from the Library’s rich print resources in the area of herbals, botanical and gardening literature from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

A Visual Feast: Archives and Books from Canadian Small and Private Presses and Fine Printing (February 2013-May 2013). Featured were Gerard Brender à Brandis, Guy Debenham, Locks' Press, Canadian small presses, Curvd H&z and a selection of private press books. A facebook page is available here with images.

McMaster 125: McMaster's 125th Anniversary (September 2012-December 2012). Featured were William McMaster, Susan Moulton McMaster and McMaster's presidents and students. A blog about this exhibit is available.

New Treasures: Highlights from Recent Acquisitions (March - August 2012)

This exhibition showcases some fascinating treasures, from photographs, to artifacts and textual records which the Library has received as donations in the last two years. Through donations of primary research materials, the Archives is able to enhance its collections and promote scholarhship. The archives include: Ian Thomas, Marta Hidy, Ballooning Collection, Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division, Guernica Editions Inc., Advertising Collection, Wilfrid T. Grenfell Collection. Images from the exhibit can be seen here.





Previous Exhibitions