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Tag: Smithsonian Libraries

Beer on Board in the Age of Sail

Fierce ship of war in Lazari Bayfii Annotationes in legem II De captiuis & postliminio reuersis (1537; link)

Brewing and seafaring are mainstays of ancient human endeavors. Beer was first fermented by at least the 5th millennium BC in Mesopotamia. From the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of the Fertile Crescent, the grain beverage either traveled along trade routes or was spontaneously developed in other ancient civilizations (including Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, Norse, Aztec, Chinese) before landing in northern Europe in the early medieval period. Producing beer became a standard domestic chore in households, and later, on a slightly larger scale, in taverns and monasteries.

‘The whole man at once:’ scientific identities at the Dibner Library — Edward Jenner

“George Sarton, a founder of the history of science as an academic discipline, argued that scholars should pay close attention to portraits. These images, he said, can give you ‘the whole man at once.’ With a ‘great portrait,’ Sarton believed, ‘you are given immediately some fundamental knowledge of him, which even the longest descriptions and discussions would fail to evoke.’ Sarton’s ideas led Bern Dibner to purchase portrait prints of men and women of science and technology. Many of these are now in the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology.”

Deborah Jean Warner, Curator, Physical Sciences Collection  

Looking Closely: Two Women in Book History

The Smithsonian Libraries does not contain an overwhelming number of notable bookbindings in its collections. Unlike some other research institutions, fine or interesting covers are not a collecting focus or reason for acquiring a title. Many of our books have had a hard life, well-used over the decades by staff and researchers in the museums’ departments. These survivors have often been rebound in library buckram (sturdy but oh so boring) or been slapped with labels and barcodes (from an earlier time of library practice). So it is always a thrill to come across a striking specimen of an original binding.

The Wondrous Winter Wonderland that was 16th-Century Sweden

An entry into this magical season can be gained through the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus, first published in Rome in 1555. It is a work greatly valued by Smithsonian curators and researchers and other scholars, since the author – a true Renaissance man – wrote down his geographical, anthropological and naturalistic observations of a land unknown to much of Europe of the time. In the present day, the book’s vivid descriptions and woodcut illustrations offer a wealth for modern study: early shipbuilding, fishing and whaling practices, meteorology, agriculture and mining techniques, warfare, daily occupations and religious practices of the Scandinavian peoples. It also provides wonderful images for what we have come to perceive as traditional for the winter holidays.

Joe Froggers: The Weight of the Past in a Cookie

Interested in culinary history and books? Join us on Wednesday, November 16th for our Annual Adopt-a-Book Evening, featuring a food and drink theme!

Slavery and freedom, the Revolutionary War, New England’s maritime culture and life, Colonial revivalism, trade, women’s role in the economy, the development of regional cuisines, the not-fully-explored history of African Americans in the North. More than just molasses, spices and rum, there is a heady mix of history in the Joe Frogger. Can all these ingredients of America’s past be found in a cookie?