Around the Libraries in 180 Days (Give or Take): An Intern Recaps Her Libraries Experience

It’s hard to believe that my time at the Libraries has come to an end! Since there was a post about me here when I began my internship back in January, I thought I’d give a summary of what I’ve done since then.

Two-Tailed Mermaids and Dog-Headed Men: Looking at a 15th Century Herbal

The most interesting thing about the text, at least to me, is its variety of bizarre illustrative woodcuts. The first half of the text, “De Herbis,” contains many woodcuts of various plants. Three more sections follow, including the next section, “Tractatus de Animalibus,” which focuses on animals both real and imagined. Prüss immediately catches the reader’s attention with a detailed, labeled woodcut of a human skeleton, then continues with hundreds of odd woodcuts, some of which depict animals that the artist had clearly never seen.

An Anniversary for the Telephone and the Bell Henry Library

The invention of the telephone has a fraught and complicated history, but in spite of legal challenges and controversy, most can comfortably credit Alexander Graham Bell with its creation. On this day, October 9th, in 1876, Bell and Thomas A. Watson held the first two-way telephone conversation, one in Boston and the other in Cambridgeport, a town about two miles away. The conversation lasted some three hours, the dialogue transcribed in each location, both versions of which were published side-by-side in an effort to dispel any suspicion of trickery, and to demonstrate that “audible speech by telegraph” had been achieved. Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and a leading scientist in the field of electricity and magnetism, encouraged Bell in his pursuits. After Henry’s death, Bell purchased his library from his widow; Bell’s descendants donated the two collections, to be kept together, to the Smithsonian. After long being housed in the offices of the Joseph Henry Papers Project, the collections are now at the Dibner Library of the History more »

A Second Look Uncovers a First Edition: a Manuscript Page from Darwin’s Origin of Species

Within the span of about a month, the Dibner Library received two separate inquiries about our lone manuscript page from the draft of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. His popularity is unsurprising, especially during this anniversary year: 2009 is the year Darwin would have been 200, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species, events which are being actively commemorated here. One inquiry was from a gentleman named Milton D. Forsyth, Jr., who has been tracking down all extant leaves of the first draft of the Origin within his reach; the other from David Kohn, Director and General Editor of the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin Manuscripts Project (currently called the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution, a project linked to the Biodiversity Heritage Library). Both were seeking pages of the original draft, so I was disappointed to see the note on the back by Darwin’s daughter Henrietta Litchfield, describing the page as containing “the passage… from Chapter VII, p 264 of 5th edn, 1869…” more »

Schrödinger Manuscript Collection

He haunts physics textbooks. His cat is featured on T-shirts. He won a Nobel Prize. Who is he? A newly digitized manuscript collection can help us find out! Although Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887 – 1961) addressed topics from DNA to color theory, he is best known for his contributions to quantum mechanics, the study of matter and energy on an electron-size scale. Four letters, a galley proof, and an envelope in SIL’s Dibner Library provide insight into his daily life. An English letter to autograph collector Howes Norris, Jr. describes Schrödinger’s conception of knowledge and the human mind, in addition to offering advice for students nervous about exams. Since the mind contains knowledge “virtually, not actually, in the same way as the flint contains the spark,” an examiner should “act on them [students] as the steel does on the flint to display their virtual knowledge.” Next time you start to sweat about finals, remember Schrödinger’s take on the situation! In three letters to friend and fellow physicist Hans Thirring, more »

Happy 302nd to Leonhard Euler!

Leonhard Euler, an eminent mathematician and physicist, was born this day, April 15, in 1707, in Basel, Switzerland. According to Ronald S. Calinger, a Professor of History at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC who specializes in the history of mathematics, and Leonhard Euler in particular, Euler can be considered “the presiding mathematical genius of the Enlightenment.” Dr. Calinger was a Dibner Library Resident Scholar in 2007, during which he made substantial use of the Dibner's rare materials by Euler and his contemporaries while working on a full scale scientific and biographical study of Euler, the first such work in English. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Annual Meeting in February 2009, Calinger organized a symposium focusing on Euler and his achievements, From Enlightenment Lunar Theories to the Discovery of Extra Solar Planets. His presentation relied in part on research done during his term as a Dibner scholar. Calinger and students from two of his Catholic University classes come to the Dibner today, Euler’s birthday – a coincidence! more »

The Art of African Exploration

In the town of Ujiji in what is now Tanzania, Henry Morton Stanley, sent by a New York newspaper to track down the missing Dr. David Livingstone, finally found the man on this day, November 10, in 1871. Many had believed the ailing missionary and explorer to be dead.  Their meeting has become legendary – even in its day it was the focus of media attention.  African exploration was a hot topic in the Victorian era in both the U.S. and Britain, capitivating the public’s imagination with tales of adventure and discovery and paving the way for the West’s colonialist claims on the continent.  In a forthcoming SI Libraries exhibition, set to open December 9th at the National Museum of Natural History, African exploration is examined using an array of visual materials that emerged from that critical and complex time.  All but a few of the items on display come from the Russell E. Train Africana Collection (kept in the Cullman Library), a collection rich in illustrated and original materials.  Included in the exhibit are more »

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