Rare Book Highlights: Pop Up! The Technical Encyclopedia Edition

Henri Desarces. Nouvelle encyclopédie pratique de mécanique et d’éelectricité. 4 volumes. Paris: Librairie Aristide Quillet, 1924. (TJ163 .D47 1924)

Okay, so it is not technically a pop-up book. But as a non-scientist and non-engineer, I find myself drawn most to the illustrations in scientific works. Plates with moveable layers are just gravy. (Look below for videos!)

And yet, scientific illustrations are more than just pretty pictures. They communicate complex concepts both to other experts in a highly specialized field, and also sometimes to general audiences.

This newly-purchased encyclopedia is clearly speaking to experts, as you can see by examining a few pages from any volume:

Two pages show technical text in French along with several scientific and mathematical diagrams.

Opening in vol. 1 of Nouvelle encyclopedie.

This encyclopedia uses a number of different illustration techniques, including half-tones, blueprints, and chromolithographs.

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And finally, the 4th “Atlas” volume contains chromolithographic plates with several layers of overlays that are just seriously cool:

The Nouvelle ecyclopédie is a comprehensive guide to the state of mechanics and electricity (volume 3 is entirely devoted to electricity) post-World War I. It was compiled by Henri Desarces, an engineer at École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris. He first published the work under the title Grande encyclopédie practique de méchanique et d’electricité in 1913. For this second revised and updated edition, Desarces collaborated with many other French engineers who were specialists in various fields. The French publisher Quillet was a well-known publisher of illustrated and accurate technical encyclopedias.

This is a wonderful addition to our engineering books, and I am excited to share it with classes and researchers!

Here’s a bonus video:


A conversation of books and prints

Amy N. Worthen: The World in Perspective, August 22 – December 17, 2017, Brunnier Art Museum, 295 Scheman Building, Iowa State University

Is there a book you’ve had a conversation with over the course of your life? Has its meaning changed each time you return to it? Has it influenced your own work?

Here is an opportunity to see such a conversation play out in the works of an artist.

Amy N. Worthen: The World in Perspective. Prints and Drawings

Introduction label to “Amy N. Worthen: The World in Perspective” at Brunnier Art Museum.

About a year ago, I was contacted by Adrienne Gennett, Assistant Curator of Collections and Education at Iowa State University Museums, about the possibility of Special Collections and University Archives loaning some early printed books for an exhibition featuring a locally-based printmaker to help illustrate the history of printmaking. I had never been involved in an exhibition loan, but I was excited by the idea of our collections reaching an audience outside the library’s walls. As I met first with Adrienne, and joined later by the artist, Amy Worthen, the ideas for the book portion of the exhibit began to take shape.

Amy Worthen sent me a list of books with prints that had been influential to her–both as an art historian and as an artist. Since she lives for part of the year in Venice, Italy, she also listed some of our early books printed in Venice.

As Amy and Adrienne paged through books here in Special Collections, I got a peak behind the curtain, listening to their curatorial conversations as they determined the interplay of historical to contemporary prints.

Two books open for display in a glass museum case.

Two volumes from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedie (call number AE25 .En185): the entry on Gravure (engraving) and a corresponding illustration from the plates volume.

After the final selections were made, other library staff contributed to getting the books ready for their exhibition debut. The library’s conservator, Sonya Barron, reviewed the items to identify any needed repairs. Preservation department staff member Jim Wilcox built the cradles to support the books. Finally, the books were ready for packing up and installation, completed by Sonya in collaboration with Museums curator Adrienne.

When I visited the exhibit, it was satisfying to see the final results. As Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist, I was delighted to see some familiar faces in a new setting, and viewing the results of Amy Worthen’s “conversations” with the early prints was illuminating.

One of the first cases you see when you enter the room lays the foundation for the exhibit. Two volumes are displayed side-by-side in a case. One is entirely text–the entry from Denis Diderot’s French Enlightenment Encyclopédie on “Gravure,” or engraving. To its right is one of the encyclopedia’s plates volumes, opened to an illustration of engraving tools. When you turn to your left, you see a corresponding case of engraving tools and a copper plate, etched with fine lines by the artist. Hanging above it on the wall is Worthen’s framed artist’s proof of Strumenti d’ Incisione (Engraving Tools), 1995, a true counterpart to the Encyclopédie‘s illustration–she created it to illustrate her entry on printmaking for the Grove Dictionary of Art.

Another example of Amy Worthen’s prints in conversation with earlier pieces can be seen in the pairing of a print from Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Le antichità romane (1756) (call number NA1120 .P664a), with the artist’s Catacomb. The accompanying label reads, “When she was in college Worthen first saw original Piranesi etchings. She was greatly inspired by his approach to architecture – part documentation, part exaggeration, and part fantasy.” Both of the prints feature Roman catacombs, or underground burial sites.

Some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition are those with elements of whimsy and humor, such as The Department of Agriculture, depicting a cow seated at a desk inside the State Capitol building addressing a group of animals including 2 pigs and a litter of piglets, a rooster, and a big-horn sheep. I laughed out loud when I saw Worthen’s Self-Portrait as a Pineapple:

Print of black lines on yellow showing a pineapple form with a face underneath the leaves.

Self-Portrait as a Pineapple, 1970
Amy N. Worthen (American, b.1946)
Un-numbered
12 1/4 x 9 1/8 in. (31 x 23.2 cm)
Loaned by the artist

This is only a sneak peek at the exhibit. You’ll want to visit in person to see the eight books from Special Collections and more than one hundred prints, sketchbooks, and printing plates.

You still have time to stop by and see Amy N. Worthen: The World in Perspective. It is on exhibit through December 17, 2017, at Brunnier Art Museum in 295 Scheman Building.


Rare Books Highlights: Books from the Index librorum prohibitorum

This week is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read. Book banning and censorship have gone on for centuries, and one of the most prominent vehicles for such activity in the Western world was the Index librorum prohibitorum, the list of books banned by the Roman Catholic church for spreading heretical ideas. The Index made its first appearance in 1559 under Pope Paul IV, and it carried broad restrictions, including all books by heretical authors and printers, and books without identifiable authors or printers. The Pauline Index was not readily accepted because of the severity of its restrictions, and so it was replaced in 1564 by the Tridentine Index, coming out of the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic church’s 19th ecumenical council convened in response to the Protestant Reformation. This Index followed more narrow rules for prohibiting books. For example, books of a non-religious nature by a heretical author were not necessarily prohibited. The Tridentine Index laid the foundation for later editions of the Index. In 1571, the Sacred Congregation of the Index was established to oversee and periodically update the Index and to investigate particular cases of denounced writings. The final 20th edition of the Index appeared in 1948, and it was officially abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966.

This post highlights two famous astronomy books from our collections that spent time on the Index.

Nicolaus Copernicus. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Basileae, Ex Officina Henricpetrina, 1566. Call number: QB41 .C79d

Nicolaus Copernicus. Portrait from Toruń, beginning of the 16th century.

Copernicus overturned the long-held idea of an earth-centered universe in his De revolutionibus. He demonstrated mathematically that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun, and that the moon revolves around the Earth, as shown in the diagram below.

Page showing a diagram of the heliocentric solar system model from Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus.

The book was not censored immediately upon publication. Though the work received criticism for being in conflict with Joshua 10:13 from the Bible, in which the Sun is commanded to stand still in the sky, thus indicating that the Sun circles the Earth, it took over 70 years for the book, first published in 1543, to come under consideration by the Congregation of the Index, due in large part to the astronomical work of Galileo (see more below). In 1616, the Congregation placed the work on the Index “until corrected,” and in 1620 ten specific corrections to the text were outlined that were designed to make heliocentricism appear to be theoretical only and not a description of a natural phenomenon.

Some copies of the book were “corrected” by hand, especially copies owned by people living in Roman Catholic countries. The ISU copy is, perhaps unfortunately, not corrected. Check out this blog post from University of Rochester River Campus Libraries for examples of a corrected copy.

Coat of arms stamped in gold leaf on brown leather.

Coat of arms on the cover of ISU’s copy of De Revolutionibus.

Although lacking the corrections, the ISU copy does have some interesting elements. Check out the coat-of-arms on the binding. A note pasted inside the front cover indicates that this coat-of-arms was used by the “eldest son during father’s lifetime” of the Berkeley family, a family from the English nobility from a long-running Saxon line.

 

 

Galileo Galilei. Dialogo di Galileo Galilei. Fiorenza i.e. Napoli, 1710. Call number: QB41 .G35 D5x 1710

Justus Sustermans’ Portrait of Galileo, 1636. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

The writings of Galileo and Copernicus are closely linked in their relation to the Index. In fact, he wrote as early as 1597 to both Johannes Kepler and a former colleague named Jacopo Mazzoni, sharing his support for Copernicus’ model of the solar system. Galileo’s work at this time focused largely on mechanics, but with the invention of the telescope in 1608, he turned his attentions to improving it. In 1610, Galileo took his improved telescope and starting looking to the heavens. Galileo made a number of famous discoveries, including four moons of Jupiter, which he published in a book titled Sidereus nuncius. His made later discoveries, including the phases of Venus, that removed objects to the Copernican system, and in 1613 he published Letters on Sunspots, in which he first spoke openly in favor of the Copernican system. Later than same year, theological objects to the Copernican system were raised, and Galileo rose to its defense. He wrote on the necessary separation between scientific investigation and theological issues, and he even went to Rome in late 1615 to advocate against the suppression of the Copernican system and to clear himself from any condemnation. Galileo failed to stop the 1616 edict against De revolutionibus, and while no actions were taken against him or his works, he was instructed to no longer defend Copernicanism.

In 1623, Pope Urban VIII was appointed in Rome. Galileo met with the new pope in 1624, and over the course of several meetings, the pope granted Galileo permission to write about the Copernican system, so long as he presented it as a theory. The result was Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The book took the form of a conversation between a spokesman for Copernicus, a spokesman for the Ptolemy and Aristotle (who promulgated a geocentric model of the solar system), and an educated layman for whose support the other two are vying. The follower of Ptolemy and Aristotle is named Simplicio, which looks suspiciously like a double entendre for a simple-minded person, since the Italian for simple is semplice. While on the surface Galileo remains uncommitted to the Copernican system, the course of the book systematically disproved the geocentric model of the universe. He also put the arguments used by Pope Urban VIII himself in conversations with Galileo into the mouth of Simplicio, which seems to have caused great personal offense to the pope. Upon publication of the Dialogo in 1632, copies were sent to Rome, and before long Galileo was ordered to appear before the Inquisition.

Galileo’s Dialogo was written as a conversation between three speakers, but it proved many mathematical points, as illustrated by the diagram on the right page.

The results of Galileo’s trial are well-known. He was found guilty of heresy in his support of the Copernican system and was forced to abjure those views. He was sentenced to imprisonment, but due to health issues the sentence was commuted to house arrest for the remainder of his life. Finally, the Dialogo was placed on the Index.

Galileo continued to write while under house arrest, publishing an important work in physics, Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences, in 1638. Because the publication of any of Galileo’s works had been banned, he had to have the manuscript smuggled out and published in Holland by Elzevir.

ISU’s copy of the Dialogo is a large-paper copy of the second vernacular edition, meaning the edition that was printed in Italian, rather than the original Latin. Published in 1710, almost 80 years after the first edition and 68 years after Galileo’s death in 1642, it was still a prohibited work. Perhaps that is why there is no publisher indicated and there is a disguised printing location–the title page says Florence, but bibliographic scholars have identified that it was actually published in Naples. This edition is important in that it contains, in addition to the Dialogue, several other related texts that were not available at the time of the first edition. Notably, it includes the first Italian printing of Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, in which he argued for the independence of science from religion, and a reprint of Paolo Foscarini’s Lettera, which was the first Italian work defending the Copernican theory. This last work was banned in 1616 at the same time as Copernicus’ De revolutionibus, and existing copies were burned. Also of interest is the Inquisition’s sentence of Galileo and his abjuration.

Both works by Galileo and Copernicus remained on the Index until 1835, when the Catholic Church abandoned its official opposition to heliocentrism.

 

This post was written with help from:

Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” Wikipedia. 30 August 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialogue_Concerning_the_Two_Chief_World_Systems

De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.” Wikipedia. 9 September 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_revolutionibus_orbium_coelestium

Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed. Scribner, 1981.

“Galileo Galilei.” Wikipedia. 18 September 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

Index Librorum Prohibitorum.” Wikipedia. 28 July 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum

“List of authors and works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.” Wikipedia. 23 June 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_authors_and_works_on_the_Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum

“Nicolaus Copernicus.” Wikipedia. 18 September 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus

Two New Sciences.” Wikipedia. 21 September 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_New_Sciences


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 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.