The Birkwood Collection

Catalogue Entry for the Birkwood Collection

MS 3061 in the University's Digital Repository

Catalogue Entry for MS 3061

Thomas Reid (1710-96) is internationally known as the chief representative of the Scottish School of Common Sense.

Born near Aberdeen, Reid studied at Marischal College in New Aberdeen, graduating AM in 1726. He was ordained into the Church of Scotland and became the minister of Kincardine O’Neil in Aberdeenshire. It was during this period that he studied Hume's Treatise, and by the time he was appointed to a regentship at King's College Aberdeen - though his duties required him to teach a wide range of subjects - his principal interest lay in philosophy.

In 1764 he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. His major works are An inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764), Essays on Intellectual Powers of Man (1785) and Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788). These established him both as a trenchant critic of Hume and a major figure in the formulation of the Common Sense alternative. Reid's philosophical ideas remain of great interest. They are marked by a striking lucidity of thought and expression. The substantial amount of manuscripts that have been preserved shows that his intellectual interests were far wider than those represented in his published works. He was a considerable mathematician, he concerned himself with most of the natural and social sciences of his day, and he was actively engaged both in the universities he served and in wider society.

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The Birkwood Collection comprises over 800 items relating to the writings and teachings of Thomas Reid. The manuscripts range from fair copies of his published works and of papers on specific topics to miscellaneous research notes, abstracts of works read, occasional mathematical calculations and, especially, a very extensive collection of his lecture notes. The first interim listing provided for Aberdeen University Library was compiled by A. T. W. Liddell in 1958. The manuscripts had by this time already lost their original coherence, and Liddell 's identification of the relationship between different lecture notes and drafts of papers prompted the first efforts to re establish a logical sequence within the collection. This work was continued by David Fate Norton, to the extent that in 1977 a new location list was provided, relating the recent physical rearrangements of the papers to that described in Liddell's catalogue.

However, in spite of the accepted reorganisation of the collection, the papers had not been adequately catalogued, until, in 1998, with support from the Carnegie Trust, Reid Project, established by the Department of Philosophy, produced a highly detailed catalogue of Reid's manuscripts. The work was funded by the AHRB and carried out by a full-time research assistant, Giovanni Grandi, with guidance supplied by an advisory board. The collection is closely linked to and supplements the 10-volume Edinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid.

The organisation of the present site (which has been constructed as part of the programme funded by the JFC's Initiative for Specialised Research Collections in the Humanities replicates the eight major sections into which the papers were organised: e.g. MS 2131/1-8. Each section is further divided into sub-sections by use of Roman numerals: e.g. MS 2131/6/I-V. Each sub-section is divided so as to describe discrete pieces: e.g. MS 2131/1/II/05 is a notebook numbered pp. 1-92; and each page of the notebook has been separately digitised.
Many of Reid's papers, however, were not paginated at the time of composition. In order to indicate the intended sequence within the digital files, their individual (file) names include a page numbering system (p01, p02 etc).

View the MS 3061 Collection
Special Libraries and Archives holds another substantial collection of Thomas Reid papers. MS 3061 should be considered in conjunction with MS 2131, the Birkwood Collection, from which they had been detached early in the 20th century. It is hoped that further work on the cataloguing of MS 2131 and MS 3061 may enable a more organic arrangement of the papers in MS 2131.

The collection comprises some thirty items and includes essays and notes by Reid on a variety of topics, from 'Observations on the modern system of materialism', through 'Some thoughts on the Utopian system', to 'What are the consequences of the diminution of our coin by wearing'. It includes a number of critical accounts on Joseph Priestley, (1733-1804), theologian and natural philosopher; George Berkeley, (1685–1753), Church of Ireland bishop and philosopher; Joseph Butler (1692-1752), moral philosopher and theologian, and John Locke, (1632-1704), philosopher.

This collection has recently been entirely digitised and is available from the catalogue entry, MS 3061, or directly via the University’s Digital Repository.
It remains an aim of the Department of Philosophy and the Special Collections Centre to bring together, into a unified resource, in a single electronic environment, both the detailed catalogue and the digitised collection.

A searchable index of the the papers of Thomas Reid held in University of Aberdeen Library is available for download here. The index has been converted from its original Microsoft Access format to a .xls file, and is compatible with a wide range of spreadsheet software, including Microsoft Excel and Apple Numbers. This index was assembled by Dr. Giovanni B. Grandi in 1999.

  • Papers of Aberdeen Philosophical Society (1758 - 1773)
  • Papers of James Beattie (1735 - 1803), professor of moral philosophy and logic, poet, essayist and moral philosopher
  • Papers of Thomas Gordon (1714-1797), professor of Greek, and Robert Eden Scott (1770-1811), professor of moral philosophy, King’s College, Aberdeen
  • Papers of David Skene (1731 - 1770), M.D.
  • Papers of John Gregory (1724 - 1773), physician and professor of medicine at King's College, Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh in the Gregory Papers
  • Papers of George Campbell (1719-1796), Church of Scotland minister and Principal at Marischal College, Aberdeen

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