We have talked before about our luxurious hand-colored copy of the eleven-volume Blaeu Atlas, Geographia (Amsterdam, 1662), but never delved into a curious digression in the first volume. As you move along through maps of northern Europe in a fairly predictable pattern, you suddenly find yourself zeroing in on unexpected details on the island of Hvæna. There, the atlas takes the reader on a tour of Tycho Brahe's observatory with fourteen full-page or double-page engraved illustrations.
Why this obsession? It is likely that Joan Blaeu was giving a nod to his father Willem Blaeu who started the family mapmaking business. Willem had been a student under Brahe at Hvæna, and it was during his time with Brahe that he developed his skills constructing globes. It is also a gesture to Joan Blaeu's own qualifications. The attention given to Brahe's measurement instruments suggests a certain level of technical expertise, thus elevating the already grand atlas through association.
To enjoy a walk through Brahe's observatory at Hvæna, ask for volume 1 of Rare G1015.B48 1662.
Before Mercator, pilots used charts that showed the location of ports and coastal features and provided directions on how to navigate between these points of reference. Details of the coast were critical as vessels often chose to sail closer to land to mitigate potential open sea and weather hazards. These earlier maps were known as portolan charts - a name derived from the Italian - and are often fantastically detailed and depict the coastlines of the major land masses with stunning accuracy.
Our portolan chart was made by Nicolas Comberford around 1657 in Redcliffe, England and depicts the Mediterranean and Black Sea. True to the style, numerous coastal towns and cities are pinpointed and the small islands of the area are numbered and listed in tables in the interior spaces of the adjoining countries. As with most portolan charts, the interior land masses are left largely blank since the focus of the chart was navigation on the water. Unlike most portolans, Comberford has not included the standard compass lines connecting major destinations, opting instead for a more open grid to demonstrate direction and relative distance.
The chart is constructed of vellum attached to hinged and folded oak boards. Despite its use on ship, the map shows very little water staining and is brilliantly colored with gold leaf accents. Though the map apparently belonged to a Captain John Smyth, this is, alas, not the Captain Smith of Virginia fame. That Captain Smith died before the creation of this chart.
Ask for Codex 657940 to see the chart.
On March 28, 1979, one of the two nuclear reactors at the Three Mile Island facility in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown. Radioactive material was released into the atmosphere in the form of hazardous gas and iodine. Due to the severity of the accident and the initial confusion following it, a presidential commission was established to investigate the cause and report on the actions of the various entities involved.
Dartmouth President John Kemeny was chosen to lead the commission, which eventually established that the plant had suffered a loss of coolant. A faulty valve and a failure of the operators to correctly diagnose the problem in the initial stages of the accident also contributed to the severity of the event.
John Kemeny's papers contain many items related to his work on the commission, including several drafts of his acceptance. One starts:
This is an awesome responsibility! I have tried to think of every reason why I should not accept. But when the President of the United States asks... the only possible answers is "yes".
The Thayer School of Engineering and the Dickey Center are sponsoring a symposium on nuclear energy with a focus on the 35th anniversary of the Three Mile Island event this Friday, March 28. The event is free and open to the public.
John Kenemy's papers are available by asking for MS-988. A guide to the collection is available.
This fascinating exhibit from the King Collection of historic scientific instruments depicts the history of science education at Dartmouth. Come see this display of historic instruments used at Dartmouth, videos demonstrating the instruments in use, and replicas and hands-on activities that demonstrate the scientific principles behind the originals.
“Lights, Camera, Science!” is a student-curated exhibit, the work of students in “Reading Artifacts” (CoCo 12), a class taught by Prof. Richard Kremer of the Department of History.
Event opening Thursday! Read on …
Come to the event opening reception this Thursday, March 6 from 7 – 8:30 pm, in Kresge Library and on the 3rd floor of Fairchild Tower, just outside Kresge!
“On behalf of the Reading Artifacts class and Kresge Library, we’d like to invite you to the opening of our student-curated “Lights, Camera, Science” exhibit this Thursday, March 6 from 7 – 8:30 pm. Come enjoy Lou’s cakes and beverages, as well as our display of historic instruments used at Dartmouth in science education, videos demonstrating the instruments in use, and replicas and hands-on activities that demonstrate the principles behind the originals. We hope that you can join us!”
By the time 1582 rolled around, the Julian calendar was no longer accurate and the refined Gregorian calendar was slated to become the daily planner of choice. Great Britain obviously thought that this required further study and waited until 1751 to pass an act "regulating the Commencement of the Year, and correcting the calendar now in use." In order to prevent widespread confusion and panic, the act decreed that January would become the "first month of the year 1752." Prior to this March had been the usual start of the new year.
We have a small pamphlet purportedly printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1751. It reproduces a London Society of Friends pamphlet that briefly explains the act, provides readers with a small conversion table for the calendar switch, and gives a history of the names of the months and the days of the week.
According to the pamphlet, January is named for the Roman god Janus, February for the rituals surrounding sacrifices to the "Heathen God Pan," March for the god Mars and so on. The historical provenance of the names of the days of the week are likewise discussed and the pamphlet notes, rather snidely, that the "continued Use of these Names of Days, derived from such gross Idolatry of the Heathen, is a demonstration, how little the Purity of the Christian Religion was understood by the Generality of those who came into the publick Profession of it." A bit of we now know better than the unwashed masses who came before.
To avoid this morass of heathen superstition, the pamphlet then goes on to recommend the use of numerical designations for months and days, something the authors claimed was the "most Ancient" and "the most plain, simple and rational" method.
The pamphlet is dated "the sixth Day of the Seventh Month, 1751."
Ask for Presses F854f.
The last few blog posts have been a bit disturbing--first a woman being flayed alive, and then poor Molly Goosey being served up for Thanksgiving dinner. So its time for something a little more empowering: a reclaiming of the body. Inspired by an anatomical model, "Torso Woman," Casey Gardner created a stunning triptych flap-book, Body of Inquiry (Berkeley: Casey Gardner: Set in Motion Press: Still Wild Books, 2011). The book harkens back to historical flap books like this 1702 edition in our collections (Remmelin's Survey of the Microcosme, or the Anatomy of the Bodies of Man and Woman) to create a new understanding of the politics of the body.
In Gardner's hands the flaps do more than reveal the basic anatomy of her subject. They provide the author with an opportunity to meditate on life, the body and its many parts, and the literal and metaphoric meanings attached to those parts.
Interestingly, Remmelin originally created his flap books for the use of "Physicians, Chyrurgeons, Statuaries, Painters, etc." Over 300 years later, an artist has successfully taken him up on his offer.
To see Body of Inquiry, ask for Presses S492bod. The Survey of the Microcosme is Rare QM21 .R4513.
In 1810, a group of Dartmouth Medical School students was caught removing a body from the Norwich, Vermont, cemetery. Bodies for dissection were hard to come by at the time and grave robbing was not as uncommon a practice as one might think. Normally, medical schools obtained bodies from prisons as condemned criminals were often further punished by having their bodies given over to science. However this offered only a limited supply of cadavers for study. The same year Dartmouth opened its medical school, the state of New Hampshire stiffened the penalties for grave robbing knowing that there would be increased demand for the dead.
This letter of apology is telling of the students' attitudes toward the public. In their apology, stated "with the most pungent sensations" they put the burden back onto the people of the town:
Painful considerations force themselves upon us, with increased effect, when we contemplate our fellow citizens, in the neighboring villages, trembling for the relics of their dead, which, they have long been educated, to hold sacred; the unlawful removal of which, in their view, can be nothing short of sacrilege.
The villagers are reduced to trembling, uneducated peons who seem unable to differentiate between the relic and the reality. It seems the medical students are not so much sorry about what they did, but that the superstitious townspeople believe it wrong.
There are gruesome stories in the Archives. This letter is featured in the current exhibit, The Body: Depressed, Flayed, and Stolen from the Grave curated by members of Sienna Craig's "The Values of Medicine" class. It will be on display through June 20th, after which you can ask for Mss 810900.6.