Farewell to a Fellow

The time has come for my CCEPS fellowship to come to an end.  It has been a long semester, and my work here at the library was amongst a great number of responsibilities I had to keep up with over these past months.  So part of me is amazed I actually completed all that I had set out to do!  Last Friday, I presented a culmination of my work to friends and faculty.  You can view the presentation here.  

I‘ve detailed many of my finds here on this blog, but in summary, I went through 25 books from Special Collections.  Looking back, many of the steps took much longer than I would have liked.  It was my goal to be fully immersed in the world of science during the Early Modern Era, but I had to be satisfied with understanding the books I had in front of me.  This was a new project for CCEPS, and I am incredibly thankful to the Special Collections librarians that I had a chance to work with.  The most challenging part was determining each next step as we came to it.  There were endless possibilities with how a project like this could pan out, and it was often quite hard deciding what was best/most doable.
Another great challenge was creating the website, which was also anticipated as the most exciting product of my work.  At least for me, navigating Omeka (with which we built the site) was very new.  Thankfully, it was also pretty intuitive and designed to be very straightforward.  The site is up and ready to be explored here.
One last triumph that I must share is that I was able to integrate my research as a CCEPS fellow into my research for senior thesis.  I will be writing on melancholy in 17th century drama and fiction (mostly focussing on Shakespeare) as well as contemporary nonfiction works within the genre of the humors.  So I will be textually analyzing three works from my collection: The Anatomy of Melancholy, The Touchstone of Complexions, and The Optick Glass of Humors.  I am beyond excited that I got such a great start on my topic.
My experience as a CCEPS fellow has been incredibly enriching, and I know I have grown a lot in my skills as a researcher, writer, and hopefully an educator.  I am so thankful for this opportunity.  All the best to the future fellows!
Yours affectionately,
Lindsey Betts

A Long Spell of Silence

I apologize for the lack of updates during the past weeks.  Following the scanning of my works, I proceeded to review all the images, conducting extra research on the authors and popular research surrounding the publication of the works.  This took much longer than I had anticipated, especially as I had to translate many of the text describing the images.  But let me not bore you with only a summary of the work I have been doing.  I’m really excited at this point, not only because I feel accomplished enough to blog about it, but also because I am taking some of the final steps towards a completed project.  Allow me to share some of the more interesting pages I have the privilege to include in my final exhibit.

An illustration from De Piscibus Libri by Ulysses Aldrovandi.

Being in Latin, as well as having its pictures scattered throughout the work, there was no sure way I could determine the exact context of this image.  Within this particular book, there are several surprising and bizarre creatures presented.  This one, which appears to be a fish with some sort of bony horn, its label being roughly translated to “utel fish with steel-toed pistis.”  The early modern era was one of transition, from theorizing about myths to observing facts.  Works like this serve to support this idea.

Pages from Memoirs for a Natural History of Animals, put together by the Academie de Sciences in France
This book was more or less a collection of dissection notes from the French scientific authorities at the time (it was published in 1688).  Here we see a pairing of text with explanatory illustrations.  The two creatures in the bottom image are both bears, but one has no fur, as to show the muscular and skeletal structure beneath.
A plate at the start of a fourth section in Conrad Gessner’s The Practise of New and Old Physicke.

The title of this book is particularly deceiving, as it actually pertained to several types of distillations.  This fourth book supposedly covers “many singular secret remedies.”  Distillation was connected to alchemy and medicine, or any practice where something new needed to be made out of ordinary elements.  With a dragon-like creature and a magical-looking tree, this section seems to relate to the more mysterious aspects of the practice of distillation.
A plate from Robert Boyle’s collection The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle
This is a set of etchings, showing Boyle’s famous air pump as well as other scientific apparatuses.  Throughout these works, I found many labeled charts and images that more often than not never related to any particular text.  I can only assume that in works like this one, which was a collection of Boyle’s essays and experiments, plates were inserted after being pulled from other books.
As I continue to work on the online exhibit (tasks which currently involve lots of cataloging and uploading of images) I will provide more of these “sneak peaks” to the contents of the collection.  There has been too much computer work for my liking, but overall I am enjoying my work as a CCEPS fellow very much.  And learning some of the ins and outs of information science has been very enlightening!

Familiarizing Myself with the Digital World

This week has been a bit tedious.  Now that I had reviewed the collection of books I wish to use in my online exhibit, it was time to turn the material into something that could be digitally shared.  I took this past week and a half to scan the interesting pages and illustrations I had come across in my research.  I used the overhead camera that is located in the reading room of Special Collections for my task, becoming quite the master scanner by the end of my work.

This is about how each book had to be arranged under the camera.  For smaller editions, they could be opened completely and a whole two pages could be photographed.  There was plenty of creative propping and use of paper weights in order to have pages lie just so.

Many books had pull out illustrations or charts, which proved to be one of the more challenging parts of all this (one example pictured above).  Some of them could be arranged to take up the space a larger page would have needed to be scanned.  But some were just a little too big to be digitized to their full potential.
I found this very interesting, especially since these pull out pages were some of my favorite discoveries as I read through my collection.  These create almost a multi-media experience, forcing the reader to interact with the text a little bit.  They also serve as a great example as to why electronic books will never offer as much as physical editions.
With my scanned images ready to be used, I shall soon be working on the exhibit website, the final product of this semester’s work.

A Magickal End to the Week

Claremont McKenna College




/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;

This week was more reading than I ever thought I was capable of.
 I requested 11 new materials last week and, somehow, I actually was able
to go through all of them.  The most challenging were definitely those in Latin and German; but I was able to get the gist of their contents by
translating chapter headings and some of the prefaces.  The range on these
materials was pretty broad, but this gave me a diverse record of experiments
and proper research as well as some accounts that definitely sound more like
fiction than fact.

 Before I jump into this week’s findings, I have to share that I
did find a 1628 edition of Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy last week.  It’s
a fascinating collection that is more literary than scientific in many ways.
 Burton focuses on the science of the humors, which leads to discussion on
what causes changes in the different humors, from physical ailments to more
spiritual/emotional factors.  I will definitely have more to tell about
this work, as I intend to spend more time with this material, possibly for
thesis purposes.


Cover plate from The Anatomy

One material that was really interesting to me was A New Theory of the Earth by William Whiston.  I had a later edition that was printed in 1696.  By this time, Whiston had already established himself as another voice trying to reconcile science and Revelation.  As a science work written by a chaplain, this reminded me of Primitive Physick.  It included theories surrounding creation and “the deluge” (Noah’s flood), both concerned with comets and other heavenly bodies.  Whiston also included plenty of scripture references scattered throughout his explanations.


Cover plate of A New Theory with illustration of the solar system

Something that was quite new to me this week was translating some of these materials.  Well, I can’t say it was completely new because I did take multiple years of Latin way back when.  But still, I had expected all my materials to be in English.  One inevitable product of translating was the surprise of realizing what the book was actually about.  An example: Opera Omnia Medico-Practica Et Anatomica by Georgio Baglivi seemed at first to be mainly about practical medicine.  That’s what its first book was concerning, and the title itself translates to “The Complete Works of Medical Practice of Anatomy.”  What a surprise to find that the whole second section was devoted to “The Anatomy, Bite, and Effects of the Tarantula.”  Apparently, “tarantism” was a thing back in the early modern era and it was a disease thought to be caused by the bite of tarantulas, which were believed to be the most poisonous spider mostly because of their size.  There’s a phenomenon I will definitely be reading up on in my free time!

MagickPic3 copy.jpg

Who doesn’t love stumbling upon spider illustrations while innocently perusing through medical literature? Illustration from a 1719 edition.

Another interesting pattern I noticed throughout many of these materials were pull-out illustrations and diagrams.  Many of these were for explanations of tools and methods for distillation or larger diagrams of cosmic orbits.  I thought it was interesting to have these tangible additions to the textual information, and it adds to the narrative of the binding and printing of the book itself.

MagickPic4 copy.jpg

The cover pages of a 1664 edition of The Opticke of Humors, including its own pull out with a more elaborate title page and diagram of the planets.

And now for my most favorite material of the week: Natural Magick.  I don’t know what it was, but this was the most amusing thing I’ve read so far during this project.  John Baptista del Porta covers a huge range of topics, from scientific to ridiculously obscure, including the proper cooking of peacocks and how to beautify women (from dying hair to clearing blemishes).  My favorite was a chapter in his (literally) “random experiments” section that described how one might alter his appearance so his friends won’t recognize him.  I looked through a facsimile of a London edition from 1658; although he published his first edition in the late 1500s, this one still shows traces of the strong mythical influence of earlier science.  One section of hunting and gathering animals included advice on capturing the unicorn, of course.  

MagickPic6 copy.jpg

The above mentioned passage.  But I had to also include the part about how to “make Wheezles come together,” because how could I not?

Phoenixes and Unicorn Horns and Primitive Physick

Research has been going well.  More and more materials are finding their way into my already large horde of 17th century science literature.  Navigating the search engine is not as straightforward as it seems, which means I’m still learning to use the right terms to get me what I want.  Nonetheless, I am finding more and more every time I sit down to search through special collections.

Some of the most amusing things I’ve found in going through these materials is the blatant intermixing of myth and science.  Early on, I noticed some notions of travel literature and scientific reports being less-than-accurate concerning zoology and even metallurgy.

Here, from a collection of The Works of Sir Thomas Brown, is a description of the Unicorn.  I particularly enjoyed this encyclopedic section of different animals, plants, minerals, etc. because it gave all the names of the subject in different languages and described their significance in different parts of the world.
From that same work is a description of the Phoenix.  Sir Thomas Brown also included the literary significance of some of these creatures, when applicable.
One book that piqued my interest was Primitive Physick by John Wesley.  For such a medically-inclined book to be written by this well-known theologian and philosopher was surprising to me and I quickly starting finding secondary sources to help me learn more about it.  It’s fascinating what Wesley was doing, because in this early modern era when the spiritual and the physical were bingeing to diverge, he argued that they were still very related.  Half of the work served as a space for this sort of argument, and the rest followed the tradition of medical receipts.
Within this edition, there also existed some marginalia from an unknown source.  The notes were mostly additions to the prescriptions and medical instructions.
As I continue on, it is very clear that this period was one of ambiguity when it came to where to draw the line between the medieval and the modern.  In my next blog, I will share more about my work with The Anatomy of Melancholy.  But this illustration from A Concordance of Years shows that the heavenly and the physical were definitely seen as intertwined, or at least that man’s body was governed by elements outside of himself.

My Descent into the Rabbit Hole

As explained in my last post, my project for this semester surrounds the early modern science movement and the literature that came out of it.  Oh the joys of our wonderful library database!  While learning how to be efficient in my exploration of the contents of special collections, I have definitely taken steps in becoming more of an expert on the ways of our database.  One finding leads to another and before long, I have found many primary sources for this project.  Take a look at some of the first books I discovered:

The [Probably Too Ambitious] Historie of the World, translated from Plinius Secondus
A page from Memoir’s For a Natural History of Animals, by Claude Perrault 


Some Considerations Touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy, by Robert Boyle
Hopefully these examples make it clear that there were many names and terms associated with science literature that did not at first seem very intuitive.  Using “natural,” “philosophy,” and even “physick” proved to help broaden my sources.  And of course, once I found one decent source, it usually led me to even more.
I am very excited to be widening my research, from more medical/physician based literature to now astrology and alchemy.  At the same time, it was frustrating to have to become more general in my quest for wider breadth of knowledge.  This is because I was hoping to use my work at CCEPS this semester to help guide my personal research for my thesis next semester.  Hoping to narrow down a topic has been increasingly difficult as I keep jumping from one lead to the next.  But that will have to be something I figure out on my own.

A Wild CCEPS Fellow Appears!

Hello one and all.  As the CCEPS Archival Fellow for the fall of 2015, I would like to introduce myself.  My name is Lindsey and I am a senior Literature major (Biology minor) at Claremont McKenna College.  I am beyond excited for this semester at the Special Collections because not only do I love books, but I particularly love old books.  What’s that, you say?  The Special Collections has plenty of old books?  Well then, this is definitely the place for me.

Let me tell you a little bit about my project for this fellowship.  I will be researching what resources the collection has related to 17th-18th century natural history, early modern era science, etc.  Working alongside Lisa and the other Collections faculty, we would like to bring you something that exhibits what the library has in this area of literature, as well as tell a historical narrative about the intersection of science and literature during this key time of development in subjects such as philosophy, physicks (medicine), and even theology.

I will blog again soon to share some of the interesting works I have already found.  Cheers!