Rare Book Highlights: Eclipse!

Do you have plans to watch the eclipse today? I do! As you read this, imagine me already stationed within the path of totality.

If you are experiencing eclipse fever, you may be interested, like I was, to know what books we have in Special Collections related to eclipses. A quick search of the library’s catalog brought back the following book with the subject heading, “Solar eclipses — Mathematics”:

Petrus Elvius. Exercitium mathematicum eclipsiographiam solis leviter adumbrans… Upsaliæ : Literis Wernerianis, 1710. Call number: QB541 E48x 1710.

Checking the shelves I found a small pamphlet bound in blue paper wrappers that have become entirely detached. It is kept in this protective four-flap binder:

The Elvius pamphlet in its four-flap binder. Written on the front cover is “Elvius et Milberg 1710”.

The title page begins with the line, “Auspice DEO!” (Under the auspices of God!). Although this was published early during the Age of Enlightenment, we can surmise that it took some time for the influence of religion on science to recede.

Auspice Deo! Exercitium Mathematicum Eclipsiographiam solis leviter adumbrans, quod consentiente ampliss. Facult. Philos. in Regia Academia Upsaliensi, Praeside viro celberrimo, Mag. Petro Elfvio, Math. Super. Profesi. Reg. & h. t. Fac. Phil. Decano Spectabili, Aequitori Bonorum Censurae modeste submittit

Elvius pamphlet title page.

Written in Latin, the Eclipsographia solis, as it is also known, contains an explanation of the mathematical calculations of eclipses, including their duration. At the beginning, after the dedication, there is this delightful fold-out set of diagrams:

Four black ink diagrams showing various angles across portions of a spear labelled with numbers and letters. One diagram includes a sun with a nose and mouth.

Diagrams in Elvius pamphlet.

What did people know about eclipses, or even the solar system in general, when this pamphlet was published in 1710? People have been awed by–and therefore have studied–the phenomenon of eclipses for millennia. The astronomer Gerald Hawkins contended in the 1960s that Stonehenge was used to predict eclipses. Eclipses were studied by the ancient Babylonian, Chinese, Arabic, and Greek astronomers. Anthony Aveni writes in his book In the Shadow of the Moon, “Beginning about the sixteenth century, eclipse observations of a scientific nature begin to enter historical records on the European continent” (p. 137). In 1543, with the publication of his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), Nicholas Copernicus revolutionized European astronomy by demonstrating mathematically that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was at the center of the universe. Galileo later defended the Copernican system in his 1632 publication Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems), which got him in trouble with Pope Urban VIII and led to his house arrest. Johannes Kepler improved on the work of Copernicus with his work on the laws of planetary motion, elucidated in his Astronomia nova (New Astronomy) published in 1609. Isaac Newton in 1687 published his Principia, in which he stated his laws of motion and universal gravitation. He also showed how Kepler’s laws followed the same principles as his law of gravity, proving that the same laws of motion govern objects both on the earth and in space.

It would seem by 1710, when our pamphlet was written, that European astronomers knew quite a bit about the solar system and the movement of the planets. In reality, it took some time for the new ideas about the solar system to be fully accepted. (Remember the “Auspice DEO!” of the title page?) Petrus Elvius, the author of our pamphlet, was a Swedish professor of astronomy at Uppsala University and lived from 1660 to 1718. According to his entry in the Swedish Biographical Dictionary (Svenskt biografiskt lexikon), his position on the Copernican system was not clear, and he expressed doubt over the validity of Newton’s law of universal gravitation in a letter 1711 letter to Emanuel Swedenborg, calling it “abstraction” and not physics.

Interestingly, this book was published 5 years before the May 3, 1715 total solar eclipse that crossed central England and Northern Europe. Edmond Halley, famous for calculating the orbit of the eponymously named Halley’s Comet, predicted the path of the eclipse with a very high degree of accuracy (within 4 minutes) and drew a map of its path across England. This map helped to promote popular interest in eclipse-watching (much like today), and it also set off a period of increasingly accurate eclipse mapping.

Happy eclipse day, everyone!

Work Cited

Aveni, Anthony. In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses. Yale University Press, 2017.


The results are in: Intaglio class final projects

It is not often that I get to see the results of my Special Collections instruction sessions in such a tangible way.  Back in February, I worked with April Katz’s Intaglio class, who came in to view and take photos of examples of intaglio prints from a variety of our rare books to incorporate into their own studio projects. In April I had the pleasure of attending the class’s final critique and seeing the fruits of their labor.

All of the prints were inspiring and beautiful to see. I am highlighting here a few in which I could clearly decipher where the inspiration came from in our collections.

Here, for example, is the work of Jen Wichers, who took as inspiration images from a book on French fashion from the 1780s (Cornu, Paul, et. al. Galerie des Modes et Costumes Francais. Paris: É. Lévy, 1912?. Call number: GT865 G132).

 

Anna Wagner was inspired by images of tools from Diderot’s French Enlightenment Encyclopédie (Diderot, Denis. Encyclopédie. Paris: Briasson, etc, 1751-65. Call number: AE25 En185) in these prints of hammers with entwined flowers.

One of our botanical books inspired this work by Alexandria Collins, which shows the interplay of the natural and the man-made. (Hooker, William Jackson. Flora boreali-americana. London: H.G. Bohn, 1840. Call  number: QK201 .H764f)

Here is a final set of photos of the work of Jordan Jorgensen, who was also inspired by Diderot. I like the interplay of the hand tool (scissors) and the larger machine (spinning wheel) and the faceless woman running it.

Thank you to April Katz’s ARTIS 357/557, Intaglio & Monotype class for allowing me to attend your final critique and show off your work on our blog. You did great work!

 


Rare Book Highlights: Railroad tourism to Iowa lakes

Nichols, C. S. Spirit Lake and the Okobojis. Steubenville: Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Ry., 1901.

Cover of the pamphlet, Spirit Lake and the Okobojis. Notice the Native American paddling a canoe through reeds in the green below the title.

During the summer, I love to spend time at a lake. Clear Lake in north central Iowa is a favorite of mine because it is the closest natural lake to where I live in Iowa. People have been leaving the heated cities behind to spend summers at lakes for a long time. Before the car made the Great American Roadtrip commonplace, the early tourism industry was greatly promoted by railways, as one of our recent acquisitions makes clear. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway published a travel guide in 1901 for Spirit Lake and the Okobojis, a group of glacial lakes in northwestern Iowa that is sometimes referred to as “Iowa’s Great Lakes.”

Crandall’s Lodge, Spirit Lake, North Shore

This 31-page pamphlet gives plenty of information for the potential traveler who might be considering these Iowa lakes for their summer destination, including a description of Spirit Lake, information on where to stay, points of interest, and things to do. Here is its description of Crandall’s Lodge, “the most noted” resort on Spirit Lake: “There are none of the restraints of a fashionable summer restort at Crandall’s Lodge, but visitors here come to have a good time, unhampered by anything that will prevent the fullest enjoyment. …The beach facing the Lodge is the finest on Spirit Lake. It is quite wide, floored with clean white sands, dipping so gently into the water that bathers can go out a great distance before getting beyond their depth. This is the most popular pastime at this resort, and the merry shouts of children in play upon the sand or sporting in the water are heard from morn till night. …The rooms are large, well furnished and comfortable. The table is supplied with an abundance of well cooked and well served food. The cream, milk and butter come to the table fresh from a herd of thirty-six thoroughbread cows, and the supply is never in the least stinted. The vegetables are fresh from its own garden, which is the especial pride of Mr. Orlando Crandall, the founder of the Lodge. The rates here are most reasonable. Transients are charged $2.00 per day or $10.00 per week, with special rates to families.” The Lodge is a good 6 1/2 miles from the railway station, but the proprietor will meet visitors at the station for the scenic drive along the lake to the lodging. A family friendly swimming beach, large rooms, local foods, and reasonable rates…what more could even a modern tourist ask for?

The young “bathers” look a little different from today, don’t they?

Where did these visitors come from? The B.C.R. & N. railway “has a direct line from Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis to Spirit Lake. It maintains a double daily service between Chicago and St. Paul and Minneapolis….”

Map of the Spirit Lake/Okoboji area showing the railway and attractions.

Now, who’s ready to join me at the lake?


Rare Book Highlights: Marginalia in Hasselquist’s Voyages and Travels in the Levant

Map of the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by the Greek islands, Anatolia, Cyrpus, the Near East, and Northern Africa.

Map of Hasselquist’s Travels to the Levant from the year 1749 to 1752.

Hasselquist, Fredrik. Voyages and Travels in the Levant; in the Years 1749, 50, 51, 52. London: Printed for L. Davis and C. Reymers, 1766. Call number: QH43 H27iE

The former owner of this book left no record of his (or her?) identity; there is no bookplate or owner signature to tell us who the arm chair traveler was. But he left traces of his musings in the marginal notes and underlinings scattered through the book.

The book describes the Levant, a historical geographic term referring to the Eastern Mediterranean countries, and Hasselquist began his travels in Smyrna, an ancient Turkish city now called İzmir, and continued through Egypt and the modern-day countries of Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Cyprus. Hasselquist was an 18th century Swedish naturalist and student of Carl Linnaeus, the botanist who developed the modern scientific system of naming organisms by genus and species called binomial nomenclature. Linnaeus gave a lecture in which he lamented that the natural history of the Holy Land was little known, prompting Hasselquist, at the age of 27, to undertake the voyage for scientific study. He traveled for four years, collecting natural history specimens and taking notes on the natural history and the customs of the countries’ inhabitants, but he died in Smyra on his way home. His notes and collections reached Sweden, where Linneas published his notes in 1757 under the title Iter Palæstinum, Eller Resa til Heliga Landet, Förrättad Ifrån år 1749 til 1752. The book was translated into English in 1766.

The owner of our copy seems to have been most interested in the areas of Turkey and Egypt, given the concentration of marginalia in those sections of the book.

Here are some markings of note:

Two pages of printed text. Includes pointing hands drawn in ink in margins and a handwritten note that is not entirely legible.

Marginalia: pointing hands called “manicules” and marginal note, “Similar to the dance [?] amongst the Spaniards V. Barett’s Travels”. [click for larger image]

Our reader used manicules, or hands with pointing fingers, to point out passages comparing the roads in Smyrna unfavorably to the roads in Sweden, and describing the country estate of the Dutch Consul Hochpied containing a variety of exotic birds. On the facing page, he highlights a passage describing a traditional dance and notes its similarities to a Spanish dance described in another travel book.

Note reads, “n.b. women’s howl compared to frogs croak.” [click for larger image]

In the chapter describing Alexandria, Hasselquist describes a group of women giving invitations to a feast, who walked along making loud noises described as “shrill” and “quavering,” meant, as he was told, to signify the women’s joy. In a gloss on the text, the reader has written, “Women’s howl compared to frog’s croak.”

Notes read, “a good observation of an Arabian” and “n.b. – hospitality of the Arabs” [click for larger image]

Referring to a description of the moderate eating habits of some local men, the reader has noted, “* a good observation of an Arabian.” Later he notes a passage describing the “hospitality of the Arabs.”

Who was our mysterious book owner? Clearly, it was someone avidly interested in the customs of cultures foreign to his own. This was no passive reader, but one who wished to return to specific passages of interest. Living at the tail end of the Age of Exploration, there would have been many books to feed his interest in exotic locales. Can you imagine how fascinating it would be to discover other books from this reader’s library, to find out which regions and countries were of particular interest? This book provides just a glimpse.


Rare Book Highlights: Carver’s Travels

Title page of Carver’s Travels through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768.

Carver, Jonathan. Travels through the Interior Parts of North America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768. London, 1781. Call number: F597 .C32 1781x

This month I would like to highlight one of our recent acquisitions. For those of us living in the Upper Midwest, this book gives a glimpse of the region just before the time of the American Revolution.

Portrait of Jonathan Carver from the fontispiece of his Travels.

Jonathan Carver was born in Massachusetts in 1710 when it was still an English colony. He joined the Massachusetts militia in 1755 and fought in the French and Indian War. At the end of the war, he set out west to explore the new territory that the British acquired as a result of the war.

He traveled into modern day Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas, finding his way to the headwaters of the Mississippi River and traveling around the Great Lakes.

His book is part travelogue, part natural history text. He describes not only the land he passes through, but also the native peoples he meets, including their customs and way of life. The second half of the book describes the animals and plants he discovers along the way.

Colored illustration of a male Native American on the left, dressed in a loin-cloth and leggings and carrying a musket and ax, with a woman and child on the right. The child is nake, and the woman is wearing a white dress with a pink skirt underneath.

Colored plate depicting “A Man and Woman of the Ottagaumies.”

In the text, Carver describes coming upon “the Great Town of the Saukies,” or Sauk people–one of the Native American tribes that moved into Iowa in the 1700s. This particular town was located on the Wisconsin River (“Ouisconsin River”) in that what is now Wisconsin, but perhaps it gives a sense of how these same people may have lived in Iowa (through the lens, of course, of a European colonial of the time). He writes,

“This is the largest and best built Indian town I ever saw. It contains about ninety houses, each large enough for several families. These are built of hewn plank neatly jointed, and covered with bark so compactly as to keep out the most penetrating rains. Before the doors are placed comfortable sheds, in which the inhabitants sit, when the weather will permit, and smoak their pipes. The streets are regular and spacious; so that it appears more like a civilized town than the abode of savages. The land near the town is very good. In their plantations, which lie adjacent to their houses, and which are neatly laid out, they raise great quantities of Indian corn, beans, melons, &c. so that this place is esteemed the best market for traders to furnish themselves with provisions, of any within eight hundred miles of it” (46-47).

Detailed view of map showing Carver’s planned travel area. In the lower right quadrant of the image is shown “Saukies Chief Town.”

Carver also describes the animals he encountered, including the “Tyger of America,” which, he says, “resembles in shape those of Africa and Asia, but is considerably smaller. Nor does it appear to be so fierce and ravenous as they are. The colour of it is a darkish fallow, and it is entirely free from spots” (442). Which American cat is he describing, do you think? My guess is the bobcat.

Colored image shows the stalk, leaves, and flowers of the tobacco plant, as well as the caterpillar that feeds on the plant.

Although there are no plates illustrating the animals listed in the book, there is a colored plate illustrating the Tobacco Plant.

In addition to describing the native plants and animals of the region, Carver also describes the starchy plants that the Native Americans grew or harvested, including maize, wild rice, beans, and squash. The New England colonists may have been familiar with corn from their early interactions with the natives in the area, but for Carver’s audiences in England, the plant was likely still a strange exotic. Given its importance to the Iowa economy, it may be interesting to see how he describes this early species of “MAIZE or INDIAN CORN.” The stalks grow “six to ten feet high.” The kernals he calls “seeds,” describing them as “large as peas, and like them quite naked and smooth, but of a roundish surface, rather compressed. One spike generally consists of about six hundred grains, which are placed closely together in rows to the number of eight or ten, and sometimes twelve.”  “This corn is very wholesome,” he continues, “easy of digestion, and yields as good nourishment as any other sort” (522).

Wouldn’t Carver be surprised to see Iowa today with its acres and acres of corn fields?

This book was purchased with funds from the Margaret Mae Gross Memorial Endowment.


Rare Books Highlights: Squire on the Longitude

A book open to two pages showing interspered text and rows of symbols.

Pages of Squire’s Proposal showing symbols of her own invention.

Squire, Jane. A proposal to determine our longitude. London: Printed for the author, and sold by S. Cope … and by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1743. Call number: QB225 S66x, 1743.

Women’s History Month was established to honor the contribution of women to society, and Jane Squire was not at all shy about putting herself forward as a women with a contribution to make.

Squire was an eighteenth century British woman and the only woman to participate openly when the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714 that offered a reward to whomever could establish a workable method for determining longitude at sea. Latitude was much easier to calculate than longitude, and the inability to accurately determine a ship’s east-west location sometimes resulted in shipwrecks.

Jane Squire boldly put forward her proposal, expecting it to be taken seriously, even though it was not considered proper at the time for women to engage in navigation and mathematics, especially for monetary gain. In a letter to Sir Thomas Hanmer, published in the book, she counters the objection with a hint of sly wit:

The Term Mathematick, I with great Ease resign to Men; but to count, to measure, &c. which are now generally suppos’d to be included in it; are so naturally, the Properties of every reasonable Creature, that it is impossible to renounce them, and deserve that Honour. (30)

And later she writes, in a frequently-quoted passage, “I do not remember any Play-thing, that does not appear to me a mathematical Instrument; nor any mathematical Instrument, that does not appear to me a Play-thing: I see not, therefore why I should confine myself to Needles, Cards, and Dice; much less to such Sorts of them only, as are at present in Use” (31).

If you are interested in learning more about Squire’s unusual and sometimes difficult life, I highly recommend the blog post, “The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire,” from the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge.

Our copy of Squire’s Proposal is a second edition, bound in leather and decorated with some unusual symbols that seem to be Squire’s invention and can be seen within the text in the image that heads this post. According to the aforementioned CRASSH blog post, this is the common binding for this book, which is interesting at a time when most books were sold unbound.

Shows front cover of book bound in leather with a black circle in the center fo the cover with cross-shaped symbols stamped in gold into the circle.

Front cover of Squire’s Proposal, showing symbols stamped into the leather binding.

Inside the front cover, there is evidence of an interesting provenance, or ownership history, for our copy, indicating that it was owned by at least two notable people.

Inside front cover of a book showing a bookplate in the center with a coat of arms of a birth of pray with wings extended rising out of a crown surrounded by a ring with the words White Wallingwells. Second bookplate is a simple name in white on gray reading Harrison D. Horblit

Two bookplates inside ISU’s copy of Squire’s Proposal.

The round armorial bookplate in the center has the words “White” and “Wallingwells” in the circle and appears to belong to the White Baronetcy of Tuxford and Wallingwells in County of Nottingham, England. Sir Thomas Woollaston White, 1st Baronet, lived from 1767-1816, and could easily have added this book to his library. The plain name plate reading “Harrison D. Horblit” indicates the noted collector of rare books in the history of science, navigation, and mathematics. Horblit is the author of One hundred books famous in science: based on an exhibition at the Grolier Club (call number: Q124 H781o), now a common reference book for rare book collectors and librarians–though it does not include Squire’s Proposal. It is pretty exciting to have a book with such an interesting provenance!

The copy also includes the fold-out summary of the proposal.

Unfolded large sheet of paper with many sections of text and charts of symbols

Fold out summary of Squire’s proposal bound into the front of the book.

This summary gives a visual demonstration of the proposal’s complexity. The CRASSH blog post describes the proposed method as based on “real astronomical research and intellectual trends” but not easy to put into practice. “The scheme centred on dividing the heavens into more than a million segments which could be recognised visually, so that young sailors would not need advanced mathematics, and which were described through a new universal language.”

This book presents an interesting element in the history of navigation and a woman who was not afraid to tread in new paths.

Cited

“The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire.” CRASSH blog, Posted 1 Dec. 2014, CRASSH: Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities, www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/blog/post/the-lady-of-the-longitude. Accessed 28 March 2017.


Rare Book Highlights: the oldest book

Large books sits in an open box with sides raised at angles to support the book when it is opened.

Quaestiones de veritate sitting in its cradle box specially designed by a former intern with the library’s Preservation Department.

Saint Thomas Aquinas. Quaestiones de veritate. Colonie: Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck, 1475. Call number: XI 1475 T36.

It is certainly not the oldest book in the world, but it is the oldest book at Iowa State University Library. This copy of St. Thomas Aquinas‘s work, known in English as Disputed Questions on Truth and originally written in the 13th century, was printed by Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck in 1475 in Cologne, Germany.  It is what is referred to as an incunabulum, or “incunable,” a book printed in Europe before the year 1501. “Incunabula” is a Latin word that translates to “swaddling clothes,” and it refers to books from “the cradle of printing” period–the first 50 years of printing following Gutenberg‘s invention of moveable type and the printing press. These are the first European books that were made in a mechanized fashion, after centuries of scribes in monasteries painstakingly copying books by hand.

With its designation as ISU’s Oldest Book, this Aquinas sees a lot of use. We trot it out for visiting VIPs getting a tour of the library. We show it to alumni, and occasionally to eager groups of students who heard something about a really old book. And this book is worth seeing. Not only because it is “really old,” but because it demonstrates a lot about how early books were made.

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The cover shows signs of being quite ornamental. Leather was stretched over wooden boards, and the leather was stamped with hot metal tools. These tools created diamond patterns and stamps of what looks like a deer, birds, fleur de lis, and other floral and geometric shapes. There are holes in four corners and in the center that likely once held bosses (click here for another blog post featuring bosses), and there are signs of clasps at the edges of the front and back covers.

Shows an open book. On the left side is a sheet with two columns of handwritten text.

Manuscript leaf used to attach the covers to the book.

Opening up the book, there are more interesting things to see. Above, you can see a manuscript leaf (a page that has been written by hand) that had been used as a front endpaper covering the wooden board of the cover. It was a common practice for early bookbinders to use manuscript waste or print waste in this way. Here is a close-up view of the manuscript writing:

Close up of the manuscript inside the front cover of the book.

Close up of the manuscript inside the front cover of the book.

The inside back cover is similar, but here, a strip of the paper has been torn away to reveal the cords laced in the board. The pages of a book are sewn onto a series of cords. These cords are then attached to the boards, as can be seen below. On the spine, you can see evidence of the cords hidden underneath the leather in what are known as raised bands.

Looking into the pages of the text itself, we see that the pages of the printed text look very similar to the manuscript pages lining the boards. In both the  manuscript and printed leaves, the page layout is very similar with two columns of text and wide margins that was commonly used for medieval manuscripts. The typeface was designed to resemble the form of letters in medieval scripts.

Two facing pages of a book. Each page has two columns of text. There are large red initial capital letters and other red markings added to the text by pen.

Inside pages of Quaestiones de veritate.

What also stands out are the red initial capital letters at the beginning of sections of the text. These features were also brought into printing from the medieval manuscript tradition. These initials could be decorated in various ways, and could sometimes contain elaborate figures and scenes. Here they are simple red letter forms, but I find them no less appealing for their simplicity.

The pages also contain numerous other red markings in the text. This is referred to as rubrication and is usually used to indicate the end of one section of text and the beginning of another, and sometimes to announce the subject of the section or its purpose. The word “rubrication” comes from the Latin rubrico, meaning “to color red.” A completed text was given to a special scribe known as a rubricator who would add the additional red markings. Here we see this early printed work following a similar process.

Thanks for coming on this tour of our oldest book in the collection. Now you can see why it gets so much attention!


Rare Book Highlights: Benjamin Franklin and electricity

Franklin, Benjamin. Experiments and observations on electricity, made at Philadelphia in America. London: Printed for F. Newbery, 1774. Call number: QC516 F854e5

Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 47, London: Royal Society of London, 1751-52. Call number: Q41 R812p

We’ve all heard the story of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity by tying a key to a kite and flying it during a thunderstorm. But have you ever thought about how that story was documented?

Diagrams of leyden jars, lightnight rods, and various electrical experiments

The title page and frontispiece of Benjamin Franklin’s “Experiments and Observations on Electricity.”

As usual,the truth of the matter is a little more complicated than what we learned as children. Mythbusters performed an experiment to show that Ben would have been killed by the electric shock if he had actually touched the key. Other scholars note, however, that the charge in the key came from the surrounding atmosphere, and not from a lightning strike, making the charge much lower in intensity. Nor did Franklin exactly discover electricity. At the time, electricity was known and studied, but only in its static form (Carter 119). Franklin did prove through his experiments that lightning is a form of electricity, and he first proposed the use of lightning rods on buildings, masts of ships, or other tall structures, to attract the lightning away from the building and conduct the electric shock down into the ground.

Ben Franklin conducted a number of electrical experiments throughout the 18th century, along with a community of scientists throughout Europe. He shared the results of his experiments by letter, and he enjoyed a particular correspondence with Peter Collinson, a British scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society of London.  In his letters to Collinson, he described his experiments with Leyden jars, charged clouds, and lightning rods. Many of these letters were read at meetings of the Royal Society, where the experiments were discussed. Several other men of science performed their own experiments, and shared the results of these experiments through papers read at Royal Society meetings and through correspondence to Franklin and others.

Collinson gathered Franklin’s letters together and published them in London in 1751 under the title Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America. Five editions were printed by 1769, and editions in French, German, and Italian, were published not long after. Franklin’s work in electricity established his international reputation as a scientist, and this publication is considered to be “the most important scientific book of eighteenth-century America” (Carter 119).

Iowa State University library holds a copy published in 1774, the fifth edition by the printer F. Newbery of London. A description of the famous kite experiment can be found in Letter XI, from Oct. 19, 1752, shown below.

ISU also holds the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, where many of the letters from Franklin to Collinson and others are published. A different letter to Collinson describing the kite experiment is published in the Transactions. It was dated from Philadelphia on October 1, 1752, and it was read two-and-a-half months later, on Dec. 21, 1752.

Others were studying electricity at the same time. The same volume of Philosophical Transactions includes “An Account of the Effects of Lightning at Southmolton in Devonshire, by Joseph Palmer, Esquire,” which was read to the Society on January 9, 1752, and “An Account of the Phaenomena of Electricity in vacuo, with Some Observations thereupon, by Mr. Wm. Watson, F.R.S.,” read February 20, 1752.

Even if Ben Franklin did not “discover electricity,” he certainly made important contributions to the general understanding of the nature of electricity and lightning.

Work Cited

Carter, John, and Percy H. Muir. Printing and the Mind of Man. Karl Pressler, 1983.


Friday Fun!

Today Professor Lisa Ossian, from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC),  brought her Western Civilization & U.S. History classes to learn about primary source research in  Special Collections & University Archives. Some of the students headed into our reading room or the library’s Media Center afterwards to start their research for their assignment.

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Contact us for more information on our instruction program.


Behind the Scenes – Homecoming 2016

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put together a pop-up exhibit? Last Friday, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) exhibited about two dozen items for three hours for Iowa State’s Homecoming. The temporary exhibit was open to the public, but our focus was alumni visiting for Homecoming. Today’s post is about our process.

Dry Run

Back in mid-August, we invited the Alumni Center to drop by and see what items we thought we’d include in the October Homecoming exhibit. This dry run entailed staff from the department brainstorming on what items would be best to put on exhibit and what order they should be displayed. Labels were made and the classroom was rearranged into an exhibit space. Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, dropped by and gave us feedback on how we set the room up and what kinds of materials may engage alumni more. We also discussed what reproductions SCUA could provide for digital display over at the Alumni Center.

Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, looks at our oldest book with Amy Bishop, Rare Book and Manuscripts Archivist. University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and Collections Archivist, Laura Sullivan, in background.

Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, looks at our oldest book with Amy Bishop, Rare Book and Manuscripts Archivist. University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and Collections Archivist, Laura Sullivan, in background (Photo by Rachel Seale)

Two weeks out

We made sure to promote our Homecoming event in the library and in our social media. We enlisted the help of Monica Gillen, the Communication Specialist for the library, and Jody Kalvik, Instruction, Program Coordinator. Monica helped get the word out and Jody designed flyers, posters, a banner, and our signage.

The week before before Homecoming

We did one last practice run. We tweaked our list of items on display and took into account Heather’s set-up advice. We also invited Sonya Barron, Conservator, to drop by. Sonya ensured our items were sturdy enough to display, offered to provide mounts, and advised us how to safely display materials. We also made final decisions on what would be in the temporary exhibit and what order we wanted to display items, there was some rearrangement.  Pictures were taken of materials so we’d know how to set up the following week.

Two of our rare books propped up in book cradles (Photo b Rachel Seale)

Two of our rare books propped up in book cradles (Photo by Rachel Seale)

The week of Homecoming

Now that we had our exhibit finalists, we had to finish drafting and mounting the labels.

Friday of Homecoming!

We spent the morning setting up and our doors opened at 1 pm. We were so pleased at the opportunity to show off our treasures.

Thank you to everyone who visited us last Friday at 405 Parks Library. To those that missed seeing our treasures on display, drop by and see us sometime. We’re open from 9-5, Monday-Friday.