Archives Postcards

We’re joining in the fun of the Association of Canadian Archivists’ #ArchivesPostcards hashtag party today. Check out this beautiful postcard of Regina’s Victoria Park, which was penned 85 years ago tomorrow! The card is part of the Gladys Arnold collection at the U of R Archives.

To learn more about the Arnold collection, see

Image Credit: U of R Archives. Gladys Arnold fonds, 98-54 Box 5 (File 32), 1938.

Victorian Era Inventions and the Modern Library

Visit our in-library display “Victorian Era Inventions and the Modern Library” from now until May 31st to learn how Victorian era inventions provide the foundations for current library media collections and services. Step back in time to the Victorian Era and discover a world of cutting-edge technology that forever changed the way we see, hear, and capture the world around us.

Also be sure to check out the Library’s online leisure guide about Victoria Day:

English Coaching in the Library

With the arrival of the Spring/Summer semester, the UR International English Coach in the Archer Library is switching to a different schedule. For the next few months the English Coach will be in LY 107.1 (Pasqua Room) on Wednesdays 1:30 – 4:30 pm, and Thursdays 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.

Archival items related to Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation

With the coronation of King Charles III in the news last weekend, we dipped into our holdings to share these items related to Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation. These records were donated to the U of R Archives by Margaret Messer, an artist and former educator in the Faculty of Education. Margaret spent time in Europe in 1952-1953 as an exchange teacher at a girls school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Her account of this period in her life includes a detailed travel log, several letters to her mother, and a scrapbook of photos and memorabilia. Margaret watched Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation procession from Trafalgar Square.

More details on this collection are available at

Contact Archives to check it out:

Data in Everyday Life: Historic Data Collection – A Few of My Favourite Things

– By Kaetlyn Phillips

What’s the oldest example of data collection? When did we start using data tables? How long have we been making misleading data visualizations? It’s now so easy to collect, track, analyze, and share data that I thought I would share some examples of how we’ve collected data in the past. While data collection is often stereotyped as boring, the truth is, we’ve been counting and collecting data in various ways for as long as we’ve been around.

This list is not extensive or categorized in any particular way, these are honestly just really interesting pieces of data history and collection.

*One quick aside… many of these artifacts are housed in Western museums and have Western names due to their discovery occurring during periods of colonial expansion.

Ishango Bone

Image Credit: Mathematical Association of America

Found near the village of Ishango in what is now the Democratic Republic of Africa, The Ishango bone is 10 cm long and nearly 20,000 years old. It was most likely a bone from a large mammal and there are clear, organized groupings of notches. The notches are in groups of three and six (2×3), four and eight (2×4), and five and ten (2×5) notches. While the actual purpose of the notches has not yet been deciphered, there have been numerous theories including tally stick, an early calendar, or even addition and multiplication tool.

Sumerian Cuneiform Tablets

Image Credit: British Museum

Many cuneiform tablets from the Sumerian civilization are data records. Some of these represent large data collection and analysis undertakings, like census records. The census of Sumer is one of the oldest census records found thus far, dating back to 4,000 BCE. However, the smaller cuneiform tablets provide data records of everyday life including bills of sale and malt and barley production. The cuneiform tablet pictured is a record of the allocation of beer dating from 3100-3000 BCE.

Han Dynasty

Sorry no images for this one…

In 2 CE, the Han Dynasty undertook a census that is considered to not only be relatively accurate, but one of the most well known of examples of ancient census taking. The census recorded 57.67 million people living 12.36 million households.

England’s Domesday Book

Image Credit: The National Archives

Commissioned by William I in 1085, the Domesday Book is a highly detailed survey and valuation of land holdings, the likes of which were not undertaken within England again until the 19th century. It is similar to a census in that it helped the government determine taxes and services (this time services owed to the king!), but it wasn’t a full counting of the people living in the area mainly because it was incomplete. For instance, London is not included in the record.

Maya Codices

Image Credit: The Library of Congress

The Maya were excellent astronomers and based on the four surviving bark paper codices, we know they gathered data on the phases of Venus and developed advanced calendars and almanacs. The surviving codices date from 1100 to 1250 CE, but it’s possible older works were copied. There are only four surviving codices due to Catholic missionaries destroying most Mayan works in the 1500s CE to eradicate the Maya religion.

Inca Quipus

Image Credit: Museo Larco

Quipus are knotted cords used by the Inca to record countable information. Style of knot and the distance between knots show the decimal counting system used by the Inca. Likewise, different colours were used to denote objects or characteristics of the population being counted. The quipus system was an extremely effective given it was the main record system for a large empire.

To see quipus up close and see quipu data be converted to excel, I recommend these videos from the British Museum:

Inca Khipu: The record and writing system made entirely of knots

Migrating ancient Inca data to an opensource database

John Snow’s Death Maps

Image Credit: The Guardian

This John Snow knew something! In the 1850s in London, many diseases were believed to be spread by miasma or “bad air”. Germs and germ theory were not well understood (Pasteur would begin his work on germ theory in the late 1850s). When a massive cholera outbreak occurred in Soho, London in 1854, John Snow collected the death data and mapped the outbreak, hypothesizing that it was the Broad Street pump and not bad air causing the outbreak. Through his data collection, he was able to rule out why a brewery and workhouse didn’t have outbreaks, they had separate water and drink sources, and why there was a outlier death in a wealthier area, the deceased liked the taste of water from Broad Street and had someone fetch water for her. Using his data, Snow was able to have the pump handle removed to slow down the outbreak.

Florence Nightingale’s Data Visualization

Image Credit: David Rumsey Map Collection

Florence Nightingale knew that better sanitation would save lives during the Crimean War. However, trying to explain proper sanitation, death rates, and survival rates to politicians and Queen Victoria was not an easy task, so she enlisted a team to make an easy to understand data visualization. Her image worked and lives were saved, but with close evaluation, it’s obvious this is a misleading data visualization. It’s a great example of the careful balance that is needed when presenting data visualizations. I highly recommend the podcast Cautionary Tales – Florence Nightingale and Her Geeks Declare War on Death for a more detailed analysis.

The Knitting Spies

Image Credit: Madame Defarge knitting, Ralph Thomas, A Tale of Two Cities, 1958.


In A Tale of Two Cities, one of the most intriguing and slightly terrifying characters is Madame Defarge, who calmly reports people for crimes against the revolution and watches executions while constantly, constantly knitting. We later find out that her knitting is a code containing her list of names and their crimes. As a knitter, I loved this story and was surprised to find out that knitting was used to collect espionage data going back to the US Civil War. Women, especially older women knitting, were not suspicious and were able to observe and encode troop movements, and pass the data onto others. The frequency of knitting as espionage has been exaggerated, but it was used throughout history.

So there you have it, from bones to knitting needles, these are only a few examples of unique data collection. I’m on hiatus until September, so I hope everyone has a safe and fun summer!

Sources for the blog:

Swetz, F.J. (2014). Mathematical treasure: Ishango Bone, Convergence (March),

Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. (n.d.). 250: Ishango.

Zarrellli, N. (2022, March 16). The wartime spies who used knitting as an espionage tool. Atlas Obscura.

The British Museum. (n.d.). British Museum Society Tablet.

Office for National Statistics. (2016, January 18). Census-taking in the ancient world.

The National Archives. (n.d.) Domesday: Britain’s finest treasure.

Zorich, Z. (2013). The Maya Codices. Archaeology (February/March).

Library of Congress. (n.d.) The Dresden Codex.

Museo Larco. (n.d.). Inca Quipus.

Rogers, S. (2013, March 15). John Snow’s data journalism: the cholera map that changed the world. The Guardian. Hartford, T. (Host). Cautionary Tales [Audio Podcast]. Florence Nightingale and her geeks declare war on death.

Archer Book Club – May 2023

The next meeting of the Archer Book Club will be on May 17th, from 12-1 pm, and the selected book for this month is Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell. Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Zoom link information will be provided closer to the planned meeting.

More information about this month’s book selection can be found at:

Policy changes May 1st, 2023

Heads up! We are updating a few of our policies May 1st to help better serve our patrons. Changes include:

  • Overdue fines for regular loans will be eliminated. However, overdue fines will continue to be charged for laptops, reserve items, and recalled items. The elimination of overdue fines for regular loans will apply to Archer, Campion, Luther, and TPC Libraries. First Nations University Libraries will continue with their existing overdue fine policies.
  • Reserve items are declared lost three days after their due date. After reserve items have been declared lost, the patron is responsible for payment of their associated lost fees.
  • After 60 days, outstanding Archer Library lost charges on patron accounts will be transferred to Financial Services for collection. Lost items may be returned for refund of their lost fees prior to their transfer to Financial Services. However, lost fees will not be refunded after they have transferred to Financial Services.
  • Laptop loans are being extended from 3 days to 5 days. On the 5th borrowing day, laptops are due by 6:00 pm (extended from the previous due time of 12 noon.)

For further information on Archer Library’s fines and fees policies please see