Tuesday 26 February 2019 – Lauren Kassell (Cambridge) – Written in the Stars: Digitising an Astrological Archive

This seminar is 5:15 pm – 6:15 pm, 26 February 2019, in Room 203 (the John S Cohen Room), second floor, Institute of Historical Research. The IHR is in the North block of Senate House, University of London. Find Senate House on Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. It will also be livestreamed.

Session chair: Mia Ridge


In the decades around 1600 a pair of English astrologers recorded 80,000 consultations. This is one of the largest surviving sets of private medical records in history. The Casebooks Project, a team of historians in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, has transformed this paper archive into a digital archive: https://casebooks.lib.cam.ac.uk.

A web-based search interface allows readers to search and read the cases and to situate any given case or person within the corpus as a whole. The underlying dataset can be downloaded. All 15,000 pages of the original manuscripts, held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, can be viewed through an image archive. Critical information about the astrologer-physicians, their patients, the history of astrological medicine and life in early modern England is provided on the website, together with material about how to use the casebooks for teaching and research.

An engagement framework ensured that this innovative combination of traditional scholarship and digital humanities produced work that is meaningful to a broad constituency of academics and laypeople. This talk reflects on lessons from the Casebooks Project for digital humanities and considers how our study of Forman’s and Napier’s records contributes to the history of knowledge.


Lauren Kassell is Professor of History of Science and Medicine in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Pembroke College. Since 2008, she has directed the Casebooks Project, funded by the Wellcome Trust. She is editor, with Nick Hopwood and Rebecca Flemming, of the field-defining Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day (CUP, 2018).

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