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Early Theses

The unique record of student work.

The rare book collections contain a remarkable body of student theses going back to the early 17th century. The collection allows us to trace the development of the thesis from an oral examination conducted in Latin, published as a single sheet which could be pasted on the wall - to modern scholarly research, now frequently supplemented with databases and digital images. The bulk of the thesis collection from the 18th and 19th centuries is medical; during the later period theses become increasingly substantial and illustrated with photographs and original drawings. A surprising number of medical students seem to have found reason to conduct their research in sunny locations such as the West Indies.

During the 20th century the breadth of disciplines which could be examined for a PhD widened considerably, and early in the 21st century it became a requirement to submit an electronic as well as a paper version for the Library. In total there are now over 20,000 theses in the collection.

The 4,000 pre-1830 theses are mainly catalogued online to a high standard. They are scattered across various locations in Special Collections, and can be located by keyword searches. The 1830-1985 theses are mainly not catalogued online and can be located using manual lists. Since 1985 all new theses received have been catalogued online with shelfmarks starting “Theses” and then arranged by year.