Saturday, March 1, 2014

Not your typical museum

My sister and I grew up with a close family friend named Christopher.  His mom was our godmother.  We spent so much time together over the years that it just became simpler to say he was our cousin.  He really is part of the family.

For the past few years he has been working at the Wangensteen Historical Library at the University Of Minnesota.  Outside of hearing about his work restoring old books and his tales of a broken water pipe disaster a few years ago I wasn't really aware of what he did or what sort of place he worked.

Today our family payed a visit to view a Downton Abbey based display at the library.  That may seem a bit odd, but it really was a way to show historical documents and objects that tied into the historical timelines of the show.

The Downton stuff was cool, but it was when he brought us to the other room that I became really impressed.  We saw books that were HUNDREDS of years old.  Anatomy books with their contents based only on supposition and observation of animal corpses because when they were written, dissecting a human corpse was beyond taboo.  Less than twenty years after those "this is what we think we look like on the inside" books were published, Andreas Vesailus broke all the rules and started looking at human corpses and published the first anatomically correct books, "De humani corporis fabrica".  Check out this picture.  This was drawn by hand then given to a wood carver to turn into what was essentially a "stamp" for printing.

They had a hand written copy of the writings of Pope John XXI-the only Pope that was a physician.  He was only Pope for a year or so, and the fact he was doctor was somewhat of a scandal.   Many thought it was gods punishment for his dabbling in the dark arts of doctoring when he was killed by a collapsing roof.  There is a bit of interesting trivia in this image.  Note the pointing fingers in the margin.  These were used to highlight certain important points in the text.  The pointing finger that your mouse pointer turns into when passing over a hyperlink is based on this tradition

Next up was a STUNNING book that bankrupted the man who published it due to the cost of color printing and the prohibitive purchase price of the finished product.
Struggling for money the author sold the rights and it was published in English with Black and White illustrations
This was a beautiful East Asian acupuncture manual printed on delicate rice paper
This one blew me away.  A first edition Origin of The Species by some guy named Darwin.  They keep this in a vault.

Christopher had also lined up some old tools and devices to check out.  A tonsil remover from the 1800s, metal surgical "rings" used to repair intestines (reused after being "passed"), a  cup that leached medicinal chemicals present in the wood when steeped in hot water over night, and a little box that had spring loaded razor sharp blades for blood letting.

A salesman's sample kit of hand painted glass eyeballs

After checking out this we got to go into "the back" and look at the THOUSANDS of historical texts that they have, many waiting to be restored.
Gorgeous detail on this cover

And, just for humor's sake

1 comment:

queasyfish said...

Wow, cool story and great pictures, thanks.