As part of my visit to University of Chicago's Mansueto Library (field trip!), I stopped at Special Collections to meet with Alice Schreyer, Director of the Special Collections Research Center. Having just emerged from the underground robotic spectacle that is the automated storage and retrieval system (you owe it to yourself to watch this video - this place is amazing), I thought I had seen enough. Wrong!
After a short tour, Alice brought me into a well-lit research room with books arranged on a central table. Before us were some of the most notable books in scientific history. Not reproductions of the originals but actual printed copies produced when the books were originally published: a book from 1543 by Copernicus that shows the censoring due to the Catholic Church (remember: some people didn't take too kindly to that whole heliocentrism thing), a beautiful book on astronomy inscribed by Tycho Brahe also from the 1500's and a groundbreaking book on anatomy by Andreas Vesalius from 1543. It was amazing to see the books first hand, feel the imprint of the text and turn the pages.
Tycho Brahe's cover page. So beautiful!
Vesalius showing his groundbreaking work in human anatomy.
The coolest book to me was The Assayer (or Il Saggiatore) by Galileo Galilei published in 1623. In the back of the book, corrections were included addressing any typos that were found after the first round of printing (this was common in that era). In this particular book, Galileo had actually written, in his own handwriting, one of the corrections. And I got to touch the page. No gloves, no protective covering - just my finger tip. When I think about it logically, it doesn't make much sense, but to touch the same page that Galileo once did... it was awe inspiring.
Alice also shared with me Enrico Fermi's journal (according to scholars, it shows his brilliance even as an 18 year old) and James Franck's Nobel Prize (I got to hold it!). Both men were physicists and involved in the Manhattan Project. Again, there was something so cool about being up-close-and-personal with these original items.
While I was definitely treated like a VIP during my visit, the Special Collections at U of C are open to everyone. Not just students or hard-core researchers but the general public too. Being a library (as opposed to a museum) they're all about using the books, not just preserving or displaying them. So take advantage of it and stop by for a visit. You're all invited. The new Mansueto Library is beautiful and the treasures in Special Collections are just that: special.
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A digital marketing analyst from Chicago, Kevin is living inside the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere for 30 days.
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