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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Total Eclipse of the Heart(land)

August 18th, 2017

In honor of Monday’s total solar eclipse, the Spencer Research Library staff was curious about our collection holdings related to this celestial phenomenon. We found two reports detailing previous solar eclipses, one from South America in 1889 and one from the United States in 1900.

Selected from from the Report on the Total Eclipse of the Sun, 1889

Selected from from the Report on the Total Eclipse of the Sun, 1889

This image was developed using the negative from the exposure
created with the 18-inch reflector. Report on the Total Eclipse of the Sun,
Observed at Cayenne, French Guiana, South America, December 22, 1889

by S.W. Burnham and J.M. Schaeberle. Sacramento: A.J. Johnston,
Supt. State Printing, 1891. Call Number: C13311. Click images to enlarge.

The first report is from the Lick Observatory team’s visit to Cayenne, French Guiana, South America in 1889. The team left New York and traveled via boat to South America to observe and document the total solar eclipse on December 22nd. Despite some initial concerns about the weather, they were able to use several different lenses to create exposures of the eclipse that were later developed for further study.

Selected page from Total Eclipse of the Sun, May 28, 1900

Selected page from Total Eclipse of the Sun, May 28, 1900

The image shows what Charles Howard experienced when looking through
the telescope at the moment of the eclipse. Total Eclipse of the Sun,
May 28, 1900, Observed at Winton, North Carolina by Charles P. Howard
Hartford, Conn.: R.S. Peck & Co., printers and engravers, 1900.
Call Number: C13310. Click images to enlarge.

The second report is from Charles P. Howard’s visit to Winton, North Carolina, for the total solar eclipse in 1900. Howard joined the Trinity College team to observe and document the eclipse on May 28. Howard’s report also included images – created by the author – to convey his observations. His recorded thoughts show that he felt his images paled in comparison to the actual spectacle of the eclipse: ‘The view through the telescope, however, was far grander than the naked eye view and most awe-inspiring. Around the Sun was an appearance that almost made one exclaim, ‘the Sun is an enormous magnet, alive and hard at work.’” His illustration attempts to show the radiating waves he saw around the sun at the time of the eclipse.

If you are interested in learning more about the science behind a total solar eclipse, please take a look at Eclipse 101 from NASA!

Emily Beran
Public Services

All Creeping Things: A History of Herpetological Illustration

May 26th, 2015

All Creeping Things: A History of Herpetological Illustration, Spencer Library’s newest exhibit, opened on May 14, 2015. Guided by Special Collections Librarian Karen Cook, students Megan Sims, Sydney Goldstein, and Ryan Ridder created and installed the exhibit for an exhibit planning and design course (MUSE 703). Whitney Baker, Head of Conservation Services at KU Libraries, Special Collections Librarian Sally Haines, and Caitlin Donnelly, Head of Public Services at Spencer, also assisted the students with their project.

The exhibit was developed in conjunction with the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles conference being held at the University of Kansas in July and features herpetological illustrations from seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century books in Spencer Library’s Special Collections. Spencer has put on a few iterations of a similar exhibit for previous conferences. Each student had a unique perspective on their experience creating the exhibit.

Ryan Ridder

“One of our goals was to be distinct from Slithy Toves [a previous exhibit, by Sally Haines] and to present images that viewers familiar with that exhibition, and associated book, might not see as often. We ended up repeating a few irresistible images – the giant salamander, Agassiz’s turtles, and the famous frontispiece to Rössel von Rosenhof’s frog volume – but everything else you see is different. We thought touching on embryological illustrations would give our exhibit another unique slant.”

Photograph of Megan and Ryan installing books

Megan Sims and Ryan Ridder installing books in the cases. Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Goldstein

“I found this class to be both an overwhelming and an incredibly eye-opening experience. Coming from a graphic design background I’ve never gone through the steps of curating an exhibition or working off the computer. It was fun to rummage through a variety of books to select illustrations, figuring out how they will fit in the cases, selecting wall graphics, and working in a group. The most rewarding part was applying our vinyl title graphic ourselves. Overall, a great experience!”

Photograph of the MUSE 703 group hanging vinyl

Megan, Sydney, and Ryan hanging the vinyl title graphic.

Megan Sims

“I have installed many exhibits according to specific designs from clients, but this was my first experience selecting objects, designing signs and labels, and fabricating book mounts and wall graphics for an exhibit. Both the physical process and communication were challenging at times, but seeing the finished product was very rewarding. I’m excited for the conference members and the Lawrence community to see this exhibit!”

Photograph of the MUSE 703 exhibit team in front of title

Ryan Ridder, Sydney Goldstein, Megan Sims, and curator Karen Cook. Click image to enlarge.

All Creeping Things is free and open to the public through August 2015.

Megan Sims
Museum Studies Graduate Student

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

February 11th, 2015

Tomorrow, February 12, marks Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday. To mark this anniversary, we’re sharing a letter that Darwin wrote to James E. Todd in April 1882. At the time, Todd was a professor of natural science at Tabor College, a Christian college in Tabor, Iowa, that operated from 1853 to 1927. He went on to teach geology at KU from 1907 until his death in 1922.

Image of the first page of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Image of the second and third pages of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Image of the fourth page of a letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882

Letter, Charles Darwin to James E. Todd, 1882.
Call Number: MS C78. Click images to enlarge.

An article about this letter in Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (Vol. 48, No. 3, December 1945) describes the circumstances in which it was written, although the author’s speculation that the document was “Darwin’s last letter” appears to be erroneous.

In April 1882, James E. Todd…published in the American Naturalist (volume 16, pages 281-287) a paper, “On the Flowers of Solanum Rostratum and Cassia Chamaecrista.” The paper soon came to the attention of Charles Darwin, then in his seventy-fourth year. Almost immediately Darwin wrote the letter to Professor Todd [shown here]…

The most extraordinary feature of the letter is its date, written nine days before Darwin’s death on April 19, 1882. Darwin had been in poor health for some time and beginning in December 1881 underwent a series of heart attacks. He rallied from these attacks and, as the letter indicates, by April was still mentally active and planning work for the future. Five days after writing the letter his final illness began…

Dr. Fritz Müller, referred to by Darwin in the letter [above], carried on an extensive correspondence with Darwin for many years, although the two naturalists never met (317).

Charles Darwin spent decades gathering evidence for evolution before publishing his groundbreaking book, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859. As demonstrated by his letter to Professor Todd, he remained active in scientific research until the end of his life.

Want to learn more about Charles Darwin? Spencer Research Library holds copies of many of his published writings, including a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species. You can find these sources by searching the KU Libraries online catalog. Spencer’s collections also contain two additional letters from Darwin; transcriptions of both documents are available online (letter to Emma Gärtner and Charles Lyell). As always, however, anyone interested in seeing these materials in their original physical form are welcome to do so at Spencer!

Digital copies of many sources by and about Darwin are also available; see the Darwin Correspondence Project and Darwin Online.

A transcription of Darwin’s letter to Professor Todd, also from the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science article quoted above, follows.

April 10 1882.

Beckenham, Kent.
Railway Station
Orpington. S. E. R.

Dear Sir

I hope that you will excuse the liberty which as a stranger I take in begging a favor of you. I have read with unusual interest your very interesting paper in the American Naturalist on the structure of the flowers of Solanum rostratum, & I shd. [should] be grateful if you would send me some seed in a small box (telling me whether to plant in as annual, so that I may know when to sow the seeds), in order that I may have the pleasure of seeing the flowers & experimenting on them. But if you intend to experiment on them, of course you will not send me the seeds, as I shd. be very unwilling to interfere in any way with your work. I shd. also rather like to look at the flowers of Cassia chamaecrista.

Many years ago I tried some experiments in a remotely analogous case & this year am trying others. I described what I was doing to Dr. Fritz Müller (Blumenau, St. Catharina, Brazil) & he has told me that he believes that in certain plants producing 2 sets of anthers of a different colour, the bees collect the pollen from one of the sets alone. He wd. [would] therefore be much interested in your paper, if you have a spare copy that you could send him. I think, but my memory now often fails me, that he has published on the subject in Kosmos.

Hoping that you will excuse me, I remain, Dear Sir
Yours faithfully
Ch. Darwin

P. S. In my little book on the Fertilization of Orchids, you will find under Mormodes ignea, an account of a flower laterally asymmetrical, & what I think that I called right-handed or left-handed flowers.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Viper Militia

October 5th, 2012

In his book on the viper, Nouvelles experiences sur la vipere, Parisian apothecary Moyse (or Moïse) Charas takes to task Italian physician, naturalist, and poet Francesco Redi (1626-1697), for his scientific study of viper bites, the first such research ever. Charas was of the opinion (and not alone in it) that venom per se was harmless and that death was caused by poisonous spirits injected into the victim by the mind of an infuriated viper. Charas’s title-page shows two vipers entwined as in the caduceus, or staff of Mercury, one of the symbols of the medical profession. The Aesculapian staff, after the Greco-Roman God of medicine and healing, Aesculapius, is branched at the top with a single snake twined around it; it is the official insignia of the American Medical Association.

Image of Engraved title page from Moyse Charas' Nouvelles experiences sur la viperre (1669)

Charas, Moyse (1618-1698). Nouvelles experiences sur la vipere.
A Paris: chez l’auteur et Olivier de Varennes, 1669. Ellis Omnia B30.
Click image to enlarge.

Charas recommended viper as a staple of the diet and as a preventive and cure for a good many diseases. His 17th century compatriot and contemporary Pierre Pomet (1658-1699) recommended distilled salts of viper to prevent measles, smallpox, plague, and scurvy, and to cure gout, rheumatisum, and venereal disease. Viper heart was prescribed for mealcholia. In another book, Trakat über den Theriak, Charas extols theriac, an anti-leprosy medicine made from powdered snake and used since antiquity; in medieval Europe the powder was formed into tablets, stamped with a snake image, and used against the bubonic plague. But that ain’t nothin’; our American frontiersmen gladly bought greasy-kid-stuff from snake-oil salesmen who took their money and swore the oil would grow hair back on their heads and cure the goiter to boot.

On the added engraved title-page of the Spencer Library’s copy (pictured above) is the inscription of the book’s former owner, French pharmacist and botanist Jean Leon Soubeiran (1827-1892). Soubeiran was the author of books on materia medica from all the kingdoms of nature–plant, animal, and mineral–including one on the venom of poisonous snakes.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conservations.