Wednesday, May 13, 2015


In honor of this week's National Geographic Bee, we invite you to visit the current exhibit in Special Collections -- “Mapmaking: Sources from the Geography Library, Map Library, and Special Collections.”

From the cover of Atlante geografico metodico (Novara, 1927). Department of Special Collections

The exhibit honors the path-breaking accomplishments of the History of Cartography Project, which has just published volume six, Cartography in the Twentieth Century.

Tom Tews of the Geography Library and Jaime Stoltenberg of the Robinson Map Library on campus worked with us to select items for the exhibit, which also includes materials from the History of Cartography Project collections. On display are maps, books, aerial photographs, and related items from the 16th century to the 21st, with most from the 20th century, in line with the focus of the publication it honors.

Many items on display carry a distinctly political message. For example, a “dream map” of intended German conquest in World War I (from the Andrew Laurie Stangel Collection in Special Collections) sits alongside a Map of the Western Theatre of War (1918) from the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. A War Atlas for Americans (1944) prepared with the assistance of the Office of War Information (from the Geography Library) illustrates the realities of World War II as delivered to bookshelves in American homes.  A large four-panel map (from the Map Library) dates from the late 1940s in the Soviet Union and celebrates (thirty years later) the achievements of the Red Army during the Russian civil war, complete with Stalin’s words of praise. From the collections of the History of Cartography Project, a necklace charm in the shape of a map of Kurdistan creates and represents Kurdistan as a contiguous and united nation-state, though it is currently divided between the internationally recognized states of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.

The exhibit also honors the important contributions of Arthur H. Robinson, founder of the Robinson Map Library, University of Wisconsin  Cartographic Laboratory, and Wisconsin State Cartographer's Office, and David Woodward, who, with J. B. Harley, founded the History of Cartography Project. Woodward was also a valued friend of the Department of Special Collections and accomplished book artist.

Hours for the exhibit (and for our reading room) are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Celebrating Shakespeare's Birthday

On this, Shakespeare's birthday, we celebrate as well the depth of the Peter Pauper Press Collection in the Department of Special Collections, the generous gift of James and Nancy Dast. We devoted an entire exhibit to the Peter Pauper Press in 2011, but individual titles from the Collection also find their way into other exhibits and class presentations in Special Collections, including our recent collaborations with Prof. Josh Calhoun of the English Department.

The Peter Pauper Press produced many volumes drawing on the works of Shakespeare, and we have been pleased to point them out to students in Prof. Calhoun's Shakespeare classes. Handsomely designed and produced at “prices even a pauper could afford,” such titles capitalized on the enduring popularity of Shakespeare's writings. They include, as shown here, editions smaller and larger of Hamlet,

and multiple editions of Shakespeare's verse, among the many books of poetry produced by the Peter Pauper Press.

Volumes of Shakespeare soliloquies and sonnets exemplify a certain Peter Pauper graphic style;

whereas this one is filled with pithy sentiments we owe to Shakespeare, such as “There's small choice in rotten apples,” from Taming of the shrew. 

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Watch this space for more about Shakespeare and the UW-Madison Libraries, as we, with our many campus and community partners, prepare for the visit in fall of 2016 of one of the Folger Library's copies of Shakespeare's First Folio -- part of a whole year of Shakespeare in Wisconsin.

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Hearty congratulations are also in order to James (Jim) Dast on his receipt of the Rotary Club Senior Service Award. We are so grateful for such steadfast library friends, donors, and supporters as Jim and Nancy Dast.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Aldo Leopold's "Sand County Almanac"

This weekend's community reading of Aldo Leopold's Sand county almanac at the UW-Madison Arboretum prompts us to highlight the rich resources related to Leopold in Special Collections and in the University Archives at UW-Madison.

We are honored to preserve and make available in Special Collections the Robert A. McCabe collection of the writings of Aldo Leopold, presented to the Libraries by Marie S. McCabe. The intriguing story of the collection and its path to the UW-Madison Libraries is recounted in the Messenger magazine for winter 1998/1999, digitized as part of the Friends of the UW-Madison Library collection. Among the notable archival material in the McCabe/Leopold collection in Special Collections are manuscript pages of Leopold's Sand county almanac, which McCabe collected from what he called the "round file" after a secretary had typed them. McCabe, who would succeed his mentor Leopold as department head, noted later in Aldo Leopold, the professor: "I don't know if [Leopold] knew I was collecting his discarded longhand writings, but he knew I was interested in their literary quality." Below, for example, a page dated 4/1/44 and entitled "Thinking Like a Mountain" shows clearly Leopold's writing and editorial process.

Please note: The Aldo Leopold Foundation holds the rights to all of Leopold's unpublished material and works in non-extant publications. Written authorization from the Aldo Leopold Foundation is thus required prior to reproducing this or other Leopold manuscripts for publication or exhibition.

sample page from Aldo Leopold's manuscript draft of Sand County Almanac, Dept of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison

We encourage you to explore more fully

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Volta and Inflammable Airs

Today's Google doodle honoring the 270th birthday of Alessandro Volta

prompted us to explore works by Volta in two of our outstanding history of science collections, the Cole Collection of Chemistry and the Duveen Alchemy and Chemistry Collection.

Among our holdings are two 18th-century editions of Volta's letters on "inflammable airs from marshes," the first in Italian (published in Milan in 1777) and a French translation (published in Strasbourg the following year).

In these letters, Volta's first studies in pneumatics, he described his investigations of inflammable gases, primarily methane, which he had discovered late the previous year in Lago Maggiore. Volta's interest in this topic was piqued by the work of Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Marsilio Landriani, and Felice Fontana, among others.

Our two versions (1777 and 1778) of Volta's letters on inflammable gases deployed markedly different approaches to illustrating the phenomena and experimental apparatus in question. The original version, in Italian, featured engravings both decorative and informative mixed with letterpress; the French translation took a simpler tack, ornamenting the text with only a few decorative woodcuts.

Engravings in the Italian original illustrated experimental apparatus and instruments for measuring pneumatic phenomena: 

The publisher of the French translation instead gathered substantive illustrations together on a single engraved plate, a conventional practice for scientific publications of the period and, one assumes, less expensive. Because it could be viewed at the same time as any page of the text, such a plate is now called a throwout

For more information on Volta and the broad range of his interests and accomplishments, see, for example, the biography Volta: Science and culture in the Age of Enlightenment by Giuliano Pancaldi. Articles in Nuova Voltiana: Studies on Volta and his times  address many aspects of Volta's scientific work; they include studies of pneumatic chemistry and respirability by such scholars as Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Marco Beretta.  

By the way, in a piece in today's Guardian, "A welcome but misleading Google doodle," Charlotte Connelly, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge, took some issue with historical liberties taken by artist Mark Holmes in his design of today's Google doodle. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Snow Supplement

Since we in Madison are not destined to have much if any snow this week, enjoying instead temperatures in the upper 30s and some downright gray skies, we offer instead a view of snowflakes from the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert.

Shown here are details from plate 2 of 5 plates for Physique, from Recueil de planches, sur les sciences sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts méchaniques avec leur explication, 5e volume, 248 planches (Paris: Chez Briasson, David, Le Breton, 1767), from our full set of the Encyclopédie. The plate was drawn by Goussier, engraved by Benard.

According to the description on p. 15 of the same volume,

the illustrations representing the "different shapes of pieces of snow" were derived from an illustration in volume 6 of the Miscellanea berolinensia, the publication of the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

* * * 

We recently had occasion to notice this plate of weather-related illustrations while showing the Encyclopédie plates to students in one of four sections of History 119, Modern Europe 1500-1815 (Prof. Lee Wandel with teaching assistant Monica Ledesma). For an earlier version of this course we digitized other selected images from the Encyclopédie.

* * *

Illustrations of snowflakes also remind us of an exhibit entitled "Stormy Weather" several years ago in Special Collections. A checklist of that exhibit, curated by Sarah Boxhorn (Potratz), is available.

From that exhibit, we highlight here Cloud crystals: A snow flake album, "edited by a lady" (1865) -- part of our Cairns Collection of American Women Writers

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Secrets Reveal'd

We are delighted to announce that a digital version of our copy of the intriguingly titled Secrets reveal'd -- with copious annotations by Isaac Newton -- is now part of the UW Digital Collections: Thanks to Melissa McLimans and Cat Phan of the UW Digital Collections Center for making images of this volume available to a world-wide audience. The images were produced using the Indus Color Book Scanner 5002 in the Department of Special Collections.

The full title of the work, attributed to George Starkey (1627-1665), is Secrets reveal'd: Or, an open entrance to the shut-palace of the King: Containing the greatest treasure in chymistry never yet so plainly discovered (London: Printed by W. Godbid for William Cooper ..., 1669).

Newton's annotations, which begin on the title page, speak to his careful, even cantakerous, reading of the work, as well as his deep interest in matters chemical and alchemical. 

This copy is part of the Duveen Collection in Special Collections, one of ten titles in our holdings that were owned by Newton. Expect to see more of these titles from Newton's library in UW Digital Collections over the coming months. 

Shown here: pages 16-17. 

For more about Newton's work on chemistry (or chymistry, as it was then spelled), please consult the rich resources of The Chymistry of Isaac Newton project at Indiana University. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Honoring the Sukov Collection

The history of the Little Magazines Collection in Special Collections began in the late 1950s, when Memorial Library acquired by purchase and donation the collection of Marvin Sukov, a Minneapolis psychiatrist and dedicated collector of largely non-commericial, avant-garde, experimental English-language literary magazines. These periodical publications are called little not because they are necessarily very small (though some are), but rather because their publication runs tend to be small, which in turn means that they have not always been acquired by academic and research libraries. Frequently they also deviate from a strict timetable for their publication, which poses its own challenges to acquiring and cataloging them.

We are pleased today to welcome to Special Collections members of Dr. Sukov's family and to call attention to aspects of Dr. Sukov's original collection and his generosity to the Libraries in the years following the original acquisition of his remarkable collection of little magazines.

The building itself bears witness to the importance of Dr. Sukov, in the form of a conference room in which many a lively discussion of the growth of the Libraries' collections has occurred.

Two bookplates also speak to the growth of the Sukov Collection. The first is what we presume to be Dr. Sukov's original bookplate (here, as affixed to the first volume of The criterion):

The second indicates the collection's new home once it arrived in Madison: 

The collection now resides in what is called the Department of Special Collections within Memorial Library, where it anchors an extensive, and growing, collection of little magazines. Shown here are a few very recent additions to the Little Magazines Collections, which enjoys much use by readers both local and afar.

For more about the Sukov Collection and how it grew, we refer you to Susan Barribeau's introduction to the Collection; for more about the Little Magazines Collection and how it continues to grow, the Little Magazine Collection blog edited by Oliver Bendorf. Susan Barribeau's participation in a lively Grolier Club event about little magazines was also noted here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

In Honor of "Our Funny University"

In honor of today's event, "Our Funny University," we have installed a modest exhibit on the first floor of Memorial Library entitled "Campus Humor Magazines Near and Far." These cases highlight extensive and lively collections of campus humor magazines in the University Archives and the Department of Special Collections. The magazines on display include UW’s own Sphinx and Octopus as well as campus humor magazines from other American colleges and universities.

These magazines address topics both light-hearted and controversial: some of the humor stands well the test of time, while other jokes and cartoons make today’s readers cringe. The University Archives holds the Sphinx and Octopus (and is seeking more issues); Special Collections holds a large collection of campus humor magazines from other institutions as assembled and donated to the Libraries by John and Barbara Dobbertin.

Most of the editors of such magazines were well aware of counterpart publications at other institutions. Indeed, “exchange” issues and columns admitted to the common practice
of raiding other campus humor magazines for material. The Dobbertin collection yields, among others, an issue of Pitt Panther from the University of Pittsburgh for October 1923, containing "Have You Heard This One?" Its sources included the Octopus (and be forewarned -- the sentiment is both dated and sexist).

The "exchange issues" for the Stanford Chaparral for April 1949 

and April 1950 also drew on the Octopus

We invite your additions to these collections: issues of the University of Wisconsin Octopus and Sphinx to the University Archives and issues of campus humor magazines from other institutions to Special Collections. Cheers!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Extinct Birds & Rare Books: The Example of the Great Auk

In conjunction with the first event of the fall semester sponsored by the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries, we will make available in our reading room rare books depicting bird species now extinct. A key source for this topic is Extinct birds by baron Lionel Walter Rothschild (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1907), part of the Thordarson Collection and available as well through UW Digital Collections. The subtitle of Rothschild's book told a depressing tale: "An attempt to unite in one volume a short account of those birds which have become extinct in historical times--that is, within the last six or seven hundred years. To which are added a few which still exist, but are on the verge of extinction."

One of these species was the great auk, or Alca impennis. Rothschild, a noted zoologist and collector, had in fact two specimens of the great auk in his own collection, noting that "The remains of the Great Auk and its eggs in collections are more numerous than one would think, considering the enormous prices paid for mounted specimens and eggs."

His book, filled with accounts of descriptions and illustrations of extinct birds as published in earlier books, pointed to a slightly confusing description and depiction of the great auk in the Exoticorum libri decem of Carolus Clusius (1605), who thought the bird a native of North America and called it a "Mergus Americanus." Rothschild did allow that the depiction in Clusius' work -- a woodcut -- was "a rather poor but perfectly recognizable figure" of the great auk.

Rothschild went on to credit the Museum Wormianum (1655), an account of the collection assembled by the Danish physician  naturalist, and university administrator Ole Worm (latinized as Olaus Wormius), with the "first comparatively good figure," by which Rothschild meant illustration, "from a specimen brought alive from the Faroe Islands."

Rothschild went on, "Curiously enough the figure shows a white ring round the neck, which no Great Auk, of course, possesses." Other authors have called attention to the fact that Worm kept the bird as a pet, hence the white collar around its neck. From my point of view, it is at least as interesting that the copperplate engraving of the great auk in the Museum Wormianum was one of the few engravings in this title, otherwise filled with woodcuts.

Worm (1588-1654) and his collection have attracted attention from historians of museums, art historians, historians of science, and artists. In turn, we call your attention, for example, to a history of Danish museums by Gudmund Boesen (gift of the William Reeder family to the Special Collections reference collection); reconstructions of Worm's museum by artists like Rosamond Purcell; and scholarship by historians of science and medicine like Jole Shackelford, who earned his Ph.D. from UW-Madison's department of history of science.


Many of the volumes we will show at the event on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, hail from the Thordarson Collection, rich as it is with lavishly illustrated works on ornithology. Others come from various other collections in the Department. Titles include:
  • Clusius, Carolus. Exoticorvm libri decem. Antwerp: Ex officinâ Plantianâ Raphelengii, 1605. Call number: LV L49 Cutter oversize.
  • Nieremberg, Juan Eusebio, S.J. Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta. Antwerp: Ex officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti. 1635. Call number: 1195438 non-current oversize.
  • Piso, Willem, et al. De Indiae utriusque re naturali et medica: Libri quatuordecim, quorum contenta pagina sequens exhibit. Amsterdam: Apud Ludovicum et Danielem Elzevirios, 1658. Call number: +LV +P67.
  • Worm, Ole. Museum Wormianum, seu, Historia rerum rariorum. Leiden: Ex Officina Elseviriorum, 1655. Call number: CA 15474 oversize. Bound with other titles.
  • Willughby, Francis. Ornithologiæ libri tres. London: Impensis Joannis Martyn, Regiæ Societatis typographi, 1676. Call number: 715372 non-current oversize.
  • Willughby, Francis. The ornithology of Francis Willughby. Additions by John Ray. London: Printed by A.C. for John Martyn, printer to the Royal Society ... , 1678. Call number: Thordarson T 2609 oversize.
  • Catesby, Mark. The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. 2 vols. London: Printed for Charles Marsh ... Thomas Wilcox ... and Benjamin Stichall ... , 1754. Call number: Thordarson T 505-506 flat.
  • Wilson, Alexander. American ornithology; or, The natural history of the birds of the United States: Illustrated with plates, engraved and colored from original drawings taken from nature. 9 vols. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1808-1814. Call number: Thordarson T 2610-2618 flat.
  • Audubon, John James. The birds of America: From drawings made in the United States and their territories. First octavo edition. New York: J.J. Audubon; Philadelphia: J.B. Chevalier, 1840-44. 7 vols. Thordarson T 152-158. 
  • Gould, John. The birds of Australia. 7 vols. London: Printed by Richard and John E. Taylor; pub. by the author, 1848-1869. Call number: Thordarson T 1747-1754 flat plus supplement. 
  • Strickland, Hugh Edward. The dodo and its kindred. London: Reeve, Benham, and Reeve, 1848. Call number: QE872 C7 S8 oversize.
  • Carroll, Lewis. Alice's adventures in Wonderland. With forty-two illustrations by John Tenniel. London: Macmillan, 1877. Call number: CA 6319.
  • Rothschild, Lionel Walter Rothschild, baron. Extinct birds. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1907. Call number: Thordarson T 1496 oversize.
  • Brink, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Cairns Collection PS3503 R56 C33 1961. 
We encourage you to attend the event on September 9, and then to revisit these titles, like others in the holdings of the Department of Special Collections, in our reading room, open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Matter of Scale: The Flamingo in Audubon's Birds of America

On display through August 1 (this Friday!) in our exhibit "Books of Nature" is the magnificent illustration of the American flamingo in Audubon's double-elephant folio Birds of America. Our copy (in four volumes) of Audubon's Birds is part of the Thordarson Collection, which includes many titles with hand-colored ornithological illustrations.

The flamingo, like the other birds depicted in Audubon's masterwork, was shown at life size. For small and medium birds, pages of rather smaller compass would have sufficed. Not so for large birds  like the eagle, cranes, egrets, and the flamingo, which filled, or more than filled, the oversize pages -- hence Audubon's insistence on using the paper designated as double elephant folio. Our copy, for example, is 100 centimeters tall.

Despite the generous size of the pages, the flamingo was one of those birds that required a particular pose to allow it to be depicted at life size. What Audubon called the American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber, Linn., Old Male) was shown in plate CCCCXXXI (431) with a gracefully bent neck, the better to feed in shallow lagoons and lakes. Here is a closeup of the head of the "Old Male," close by its foot:

close-up view of flamingo from Audubon's double elephant folio Birds of America (Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Modern sources indicate that the male American, or common, or Caribbean flamingo is some 40-48 inches tall, weighs 8 pounds, and has a wingspan of 5 feet. In Audubon's companion textual work, Ornithological biography, he wrote of the flamingo's "glowing tints" and wingspan of 66 inches, and described the flamingo's nest as no bigger than the crown of a hat.

In the first octavo edition of the Birds, published in New York in 1840-1844 in 7 volumes, the lavish illustrations of the double elephant folio were redone at approximately 1/4 of the original size, but still handcolored. Our copy of this octavo edition, likewise from the Thordarson Collection, is 26 centimeters tall, and depicts the flamingo in a similar pose:

This octavo edition adds 65 images to the 435 of the double elephant folio edition, with text revised from that in the Ornithological biography, and rearranged according to Audubon's one-volume Synopsis of the Birds of North America of 1839, itself only 22 centimeters tall.


The University of Wisconsin-Madison has other associations with the flamingo. The UW Digital Collections contain images from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Zoological Museum Galapagos Collections, including this photograph of the Phoenicopterus ruber (greater flamingos) taken by Helene Marsh in Ecuador in 1991.

photograph of the Phoenicopterus ruber (greater flamingos) taken by Helene Marsh in Ecuador in 1991, digitized as part of the UW-Madison Zoological Museum Galapagos Collections, UW Digital Collections

And, famously, the Pail and Shovel Party populated Bascom Hill with more than a thousand plastic pink flamingos to greet students on the first day of classes in 1979. For more information, see the Wisconsin Historical Society description of their plastic flamingo from the episode, itself derived from the wonderfully titled history of college pranks, Neil Steinberg's If at all possible, involve a cow (1992). The stunt still held appeal in 1990, when a graduate's mortarboard featured a balloon version, as shown on the homepage for the University Archives.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

1914-2014: Commemorating an Event in Sarajevo

This past weekend, news outlets noted an important anniversary: the centenary of the assassination in Sarajevo of archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, an event generally identified as precipitating what we now know as World War I.

While there are many depictions of this critical event on June 28, 1914, we call attention here to what transpired in Sarajevo just a few minutes prior.

This image, showing the departure from Sarajevo's town hall of the archduke, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, is one of hundreds of picture postcards in the Andrew Laurie Stangel Collection (call number CA 17439) in the Department of Special Collections. As Dr. Stangel describes the card, “Shortly before this scene was photographed, a bomb was thrown at the open touring car in which archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were riding as their motorcade entered Sarajevo and proceeded along the north bank (Appel Quay) of the Miljacka River towards the Town Hall. The bomb exploded without injury to the archduke and his wife; it wounded instead a senior officer in the car behind them.”

More than 200 of the postcards from the Stangel Collection have been expertly digitized by the UW Digital Collections Center — and are available as “The Fine Art of Propaganda, Hand-Delivered: GREETINGS FROM THE FATHERLAND!: German Picture Postcards and History, 1914-1945.” A search there for the keyword “Sarajevo” will yield more images relevant to the events leading up to the guns of August 1914.

We call your attention as well as to the forthcoming exhibit “1914: Then Came Armageddon” in the Department of Special Collections, along with the larger World War I collection within the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. One of the books to be displayed reproduces work of the photographic section of the French army, source of the image below; the whole work is also available through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Mendota Seminar, the Works of Shakespeare, and Special Collections

We are delighted to welcome to Special Collections one session of this summer's Mendota Seminar and to continue our collaboration with Prof. Josh Calhoun of the Department of English, who has made much use of our holdings in his teaching and has encouraged his students to dig deeper into aspects of print culture in Shakespeare's time (and beyond).

The Mendota Seminar session will showcase some of our holdings of Shakespeare's works and underscore opportunities for undergraduate and graduate teaching using rare books and manuscripts. Watch this space for details about the books Prof. Calhoun's students will be describing to seminar participants.

We also call to your attention Dennis Chaptman's University of Wisconsin-Madison news item "Rare texts, technology tell Shakespeare’s story in seminar" and Tom Ziemer's piece (on the website of the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison) about Prof. Calhoun and the continuing relevance of Shakespeare's "rich tapestry."

On Saturday Mendota Seminar participants will see, among other examples of Shakespeare's "enduring legacy," our copy of the Second Folio.

title page of Shakespeare's Second Folio

This wonderful volume, the very generous gift of Ann Nelson, was profiled in the magazine of the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries (pp.  8-9) in 1997. Ann Nelson made the gift to Special Collections in memory of her late husband, Prof. Harold "Bud" Nelson, who was director of the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 1966 to 1975 and was a member of its faculty for 26 years. Ann Nelson served as president of the board of the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries in 2001-2002.

The volume, which features a binding by the firm Riviere & Son of London,

detail from inside front cover of Shakespeare's Second Folio, showing "Bound by Riviere & Sons"

was once owned by John Horne Tooke (1736–1812), described by Michael T. Davis in the Oxford dictionary of national biography as a "radical and philologist," who devoted "much attention to the etymologies of words and grammatical standards concerning prepositions and conjunctions." We see evidence of this fine attention to detail in Tooke's annotations in our copy of the Second Folio.

John Horne Tooke's annotations on "The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida" (sic) from Shakespeare's Second Folio


Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day in Special Collections

In honor of Pi Day (March 14 = 3/14) we offer two excerpts from 18th-century mathematics books in our holdings. The first, from a work by David Gregory (1659-1708) published in English translation as A treatise of practical geometry in three parts (Edinburgh, 1745),

addressed the problem of finding the circumference of a circle knowing its diameter.

Gregory (or his translator) did not use the word pi or the Greek character π in this context, referring instead to the work of the 17th-century Dutch mathematician Ludolf van Ceulen establishing the quantity with much greater precision than our shorthand approximation to two decimal places (3.14).  (The passage in question used a rather odd Latinized form of van Ceulen's first name). Special Collections also holds an 18th-century edition of van Ceulen's work.

In a foldout plate in his Geometrical and graphical essays of 1791,

the instrument-maker George Adams (1750-1795) included diagrams of polygons inscribed in a circle or circumscribing it:  

Thanks to Anthony Lattis for zeroing in on Gregory's and Adams' treatments of π.