Balancing the Books in Rare Books

As the old Sam Cooke song goes: Don’t know much trigonometry Don’t know much about algebra, Don’t know what a slide rule is for But I do know that one and one is two, And I do know something about early printing and history. And books of firsts are always fun. So there is much to love about Luca Pacioli’s Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Summary of arithmetic, geometry, proportions more »

‘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 more »

Unearthing an 18th-Century Librarian-Gardener

Rare book cataloging can require some detective work. A recent case for me involved a record of ancient coins in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, transferred to the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library for cataloging from the National Museum of American History’s National Numismatic Collection. This is also a tale of how a book can reveal unexpected histories.

America’s First Known African American Scientist and Mathematician

At the beginning of February, Black History Month, the former slave Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was much in the news. The most prominent African American of the 19th century, he first moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1870s after his home in Rochester, New York burned down. Here he published his newspaper, The New National Era. From 1877 until his death in 1895, Douglass lived and worked in a stately Victorian house, more »

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 more »

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?

The End of the Tour – and Still No Hard Feelings

The Sailing Club of the Chesapeake, to commemorate the American Bicentennial, invited members of England’s Royal Yachting Association to journey to the Eastern Seaboard for the “No Hard Feelings Cruise.” Sixty-two British sailors took up the offer, and with more than 300 others, embarked on eighty-nine yachts to race and explore the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in 1976.

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