The Classroom in Special Collections
Special Collections prepared a “History of the Book” table exhibit for Prof. Jane Beal’s University Writing Program 101 course. The students were then asked to answer the following question: What were three of the most memorable and meaningful books that you saw in the “History of the Book” table exhibit in the Special Collections of Shields Library? The blog posts in the “Classroom in Special Collections” series will display their answers (permission granted by students mentioned below).
The three most significant works that I saw in this exhibit were the Book of Kells, Speght’s 1602 edition of Chaucer’s “Complete Works,” and the 14th century Italian Music Manuscript. The first one, the Book of Kells was exciting to see in class, because I have had the chance to see it at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. I enjoyed being able to see the copy of it in person, after seeing the original behind glass and only opened to one page. Speght’s 1602 edition of Chaucer’s “Complete Works” was significant, because I had to read those books in high school, like many others. Reading it out of a textbook in excerpts had a much different feeling than seeing the book in semi-original form with full color renditions. The final book that interested me was the 14th century Italian Music Manuscript. This book brought back great memories for me of my time in Italy. While staying in Florence I went to the Uffizi and saw many works of art, but the way the edges of the paper were decorated reminded me of the ceiling in the hallways of the Uffizi. The same reds and greens line the ceiling in beautiful ribbon and vine designs with little figures spread throughout them. In all, these works brought back memories of my recent and more distant past and gave me tangible examples of the works that I have experienced.
Before going in, I was unsure of my interest in old documents or books, but as we walked through the exhibit, three books really caught my attention. When I saw the Greek bible a sense of awe hit me. Seeing the construction of the leather bound book with the words written in such a foreign and ancient language on sheep skin pages, really struck me. I couldn’t believe I was looking at something that was written by someone almost 2,000 years ago right in front of me. As we moved up the tables, the next book to really catch my attention was Shakespeare’s 2nd Folio. These were the works studied in English classrooms all over the world, printed on the page from after Shakespeare’s death. The words on the page were the ones read by people hundreds of years ago, studying his work and taking it apart. The sense of awe from these two books paled in comparison to how I felt looking at the Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton. The words and concepts in this book changed science fundamentally, but also changed how people thought about our solar system. Isaac Newton developed the mathematics to explain physical phenomena and explained how the heliocentric idea of the time was wrong; the Earth wasn’t the center of the world. Physics, science, and technology owe their existence to the concepts in this book. I thought about how some of these books were lectured about in some class through powerpoint, but here they are, sitting in front of me. After leaving the library, all I could do was think about how amazing it was to be so close to the books and history that we study in class.