April 27, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 15

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    Special Collections will exhibit historical documents that include scholarly works by Einstein, Curie and Newton

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    An upcoming exhibition[] john crerar collection of rare books in the history of science and medicine at the Department of Special Collections in the Joseph Regenstein Library will present a captivating look at the history of scientific scholarly publishing and the growth of a new medium of scientific communication.

    The exhibit, “The Scientific Article: From the Republic of Letters to the World Wide Web,” which will include nearly 150 items culled from the extensive science holdings of the Regenstein Library’s Special Collections, the John Crerar Library and the Chemistry Library, will feature a [einstein] department of special collectionscollection of 18th-century botanical illustrations, an original 1687 edition of Newton’s Principia and rare original offprints of Einstein’s relativity articles. The exhibition will be on display from Friday, May 5, until Monday, Aug. 21, in the Department of Special Collections at the Joseph Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St.

    Featuring ordinary examples of typical scholarly publications alongside original articles of significant historical interest, the exhibition will present a widely encompassing view of its subject. It draws upon books, letters, scientific journals, visual illustrationsand notebooks pertinent to the development of scientific articles to the present day.

    Joseph Harmon, Senior Technical Editor at Argonne National Laboratory and co-curator of the exhibition, said the display will provide viewers with a historical perspective on the changing nature of scientific communication––from its modest origins in 17th-century London and Paris to the global phenomenon it has become today.

    Harmon, who serves as co-curator with Alan Gross, professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, said the show will feature a visually striking array of printed materials. “To a greater extent than I think most people realize, the sciences rely heavily on visual imagery to represent important measurements and observations,” he said. “One of the strengths of this exhibition is the extent to which we were able to capture the vital role of the graphic arts in communicating scientific discovery.”

    As an example, Harmon pointed to Maria Sibylla Merian’s beautiful illustrations for Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam), a first-edition natural history text from 1705 that is one of Special Collections’ holdings. “The plates are absolutely spectacular,” he said. “Her technique prefigured the work of a later journal of natural history, Curtis’s Botanical Journal, which used hand-colored illustrations from 1790 until 1948.”

    The exhibition will feature other examples of visually innovative works, including early scientific graphs and charts. A special section of the exhibition will display some of the first published examples of Dimitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements––the backbone of modern chemistry.

    Harmon said that, overall, he has been struck by the enormous breadth of the collection[] john crerar collection of rare books in the history of science and medicine of scientific books and journals held by the University. “As we started to put together the show, I was amazed by the holdings in Special Collections,” he said. “More than 90 percent of what I had hoped to be able to include was available.”

    For her part, Alice Schreyer, Curator in Special Collections, said she has been delighted with the depth of subject knowledge that Harmon and Gross have brought to their tasks as outside curators. “This will be an amazing exhibition,” she remarked. “It really will showcase some of the landmark books in the library’s collections in quite a substantive way.”

    Schreyer pointed out that primary scientific texts always have been a great strength of the University’s collections. “When William Rainey Harper purchased the Berlin Collection in 1891, the University Library acquired some extraordinary sources for the history of science,” she explained. “Then in the 1980s, when the John Crerar Library joined the University’s collections, we added nearly 25,000 rare scientific publications.”

    In a moment when libraries and the researchers they serve are looking forward to the development of new methods for communicating their findings, Schreyer said that “The Scientific Article” is a particularly well-timed exhibition. “I think it will provide us with an invaluable historical perspective on more than 300 years of scientific communication in print form,” she said.

    Through the Spring and Summer Quarters, the Department of Special Collections will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Saturday. The gallery will be closed on Saturdays during interim periods, Sundays and Memorial Day, Monday, May 29. For more information, contact Special Collections at (773) 702-8705.

    Co-curators Harmon and Gross will be present for a special showing of the exhibition from 5 to 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 12.