Uncovering Culture Shifts in a Mysterious Manuscript: Introducing The Lucubrator

To celebrate the first week of classes, we're sharing a series of student work completed last semester. Students in Dr. Juliette Paul's English 4300 class undertook a transcription and research project on an early American manuscript that has been in our collections for decades, but that we knew very little about.  We'll share their discoveries and insights here over the next nine weeks. -KH

by Emma Quinn

Post 1_Emma at her bookPeople often forget about the multitude of manuscripts that are forever lost, which is why discovering one previously unknown seems all the more incredible. Unearthing a mysterious manuscript entitled The Lucubrator (1794-97) is exactly what our class did this semester (English 4300, Spring 2016). As we studied early American literature, it made sense for us to examine the strange, little-known manuscript held in our Special Collections and Rare Books Library. Filled with essays illustrating the culture of the early United States, The Lucubrator seems to belong to the literature we studied. We believe the manuscript was once owned by James Noyes (1778-99), a young, patriotic, and accomplished New England writer whose name appears on the title page.

The University of Missouri’s copy of The Lucubrator is the only one known in the world. It consists of essays dated between 1794 and 1797 and includes titled such as “On the Planets being inhabited worlds,” “Oration on the American Independence,” and “Reflections on the Month of December.” The experience of studying the manuscript felt almost unreal—to be the first group of students to study a one-of-a-kind, handwritten, and heartfelt text. I was amazed to think that a real historical person had carved his pen ink into the delicate curled letters of the manuscript, and transcribed his thoughts and opinions into the form of essays, creating the book that we can now hold in the palm of one hand. Studying the faded and cracking pages in Special Collections made the author and his or her writings feel so much more present and real to me. How did the manuscript get here? Who was James Noyes, and why did he decide to write The Lucubrator, if he is indeed the author?

These are the questions we looked to answer; and it seems very likely that we have answered some of them. We can now imagine who James Noyes might have been and what he and other authors of his time liked to study, what their society was like, and what they aimed to accomplish during their lifetimes. We have found evidence that the manuscript was written in America; its author celebrates the creation of the United States, makes use of the American spellings of words, and quotes from a book published only in Philadelphia when the entry was made.[1]

We also discovered how important The Lucubrator’s essays were—both culturally and historically in the eighteenth century. For example, in the essay “On Female Education,” the author argues that women have similar rights to knowledge as men. Though this idea is not revolutionary today, it was so after the American Revolution. This manuscript might remind us that thinking differently can catch on and change an entire culture.

Post 1_American Independence

[1] The epigraph in the essay “On Female Education” is taken from James Neal’s An Essay on the Education and Genius of the Female Sex (Philadelphia, 1795).

Creating the Library of the Future

The University of Missouri Libraries are creating the library of the future as a partner in the HathiTrust, an international community of research libraries committed to the preservation and availability of the cultural record.  By digitizing and curating rare, fragile, and valuable scholarly materials, the University Libraries are helping to build an open access digital library available to scholars all over the world.  The HathiTrust Digital Library is online at https://www.hathitrust.org/.

Among the University of Missouri’s contributions to the project are seven volumes of the Vetusta Monumenta, a landmark publication held in fewer than twenty libraries worldwide.  Vetusta Monumenta provides important historical and cultural documentation of British antiquities, including the first published accounts of important single artifacts such as the Rosetta Stone, as well as visual evidence of monuments that have since been damaged or lost.  The Libraries’ high-resolution scans of this lavishly illustrated, large-format work reveal the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century copperplate engravings in minute detail.   Dr. Noah Heringman, a professor of English, collaborated with the Libraries on this project and is currently using the scans as the basis for a new scholarly edition of the work.

Hands-on History in Special Collections

If you teach at MU, Stephens College, Columbia College, or any of the surrounding schools, we'd like to invite you to explore Special Collections with your students this semester. As part of a class session in Special Collections, your students will have hands-on access to the most inspiring and intriguing materials the Libraries have to offer. And we librarians can make it easy for you by contributing presentations, helping to orient students to primary source research, creating customized course guides, and consulting with you on ideas for assignments or projects.

To help you get started, take a look at our Resources for Instructors Guide and browse our Teaching Spotlight for innovative ideas from your colleagues.  Ready to jump in?  Contact us for assignment or activity ideas, or go ahead and schedule a class session through our online form.

Another record-breaking year in Special Collections

Although not all of our June numbers are in yet, we've topped our previous year's reference and instruction statistics yet again. We led about 180 class sessions and tours with over 1,900 total participants.  We provided over 5,000 items from the collection for researchers and class use – an increase of almost 50% over last year.  And we also answered over 1,300 reference questions!

Thanks to all our students and faculty for helping us to make this a great year. We're looking forward to continued service in 2016-17.


Qo Libro e dela Sig[no]ra Laudomia Ricasoli Ridolfi.

One of the books in our collection, Prediche di Frate Hieronymo da Ferrara, 1496, (Predictions of Brother Jerome of Ferrara, known as Girolamo Savonarola), has an interesting provenance.

It was acquired in the late 1980s from H.P. Kraus, a renowned antiquarian bookseller in New York, who in turn got it from the library of Franz Joseph II of Liechtenstein (1906-1989), a fearless prince, who dared to resist the brutal pressure by the Soviets to release half a thousand Russian soldiers seeking political asylum at the end of the WWII, when the British readily gave in to similar demands by Stalin’s henchmen.

exlibris Prince L

However, at the beginning of the 17th century the Predictions belonged to a rich Florentine by the name of Laudomine (Laudomia) Ricasoli Ridolfi. We have autograph owner’s note: Qo Libro e dela Sig[no]ra Laudomia Ricasoli Ridolfi.

Signora Laudomine was the widow of Cosimo Ridolfi, who belonged to the upper crust of the Florentine aristocracy. Refusing to hold any public position, he preferred the life of a “rustic magus”, as he styled himself in the letter to Don Giovanni Medici. *

A closely knit group of people captivated by astrology, alchemy, and all kinds of arcane knowledge congregated around Don Giovanni, an illegitimate son of the Grand Duke of Florence Cosimo I. Don Giovanni, legitimized at the age of seven, bestowed with money and his own palace in Florence, was an accomplished military and civil engineer and among other pursuits cultivated the passion for rare books, especially the ones on the Florentine Inquisiton’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (a list of prohibited books).

His librarian Benedetto Blanis, who supplied the new books and meticulously catalogued his patron's library, was also a book dealer who ran his own shop in the Florentine Ghetto where rare manuscripts on the occult subjects were copied. Arrested by the Inquisiton twice, he spent two weeks in prison the first time, and several years the second.

From April 1619 to April 1620 Blanis was looking to acquire the library of Laudamine Ricasoli Ridolfi after the death of her husband. She detested her husband’s occult friends and as well as his books, but was not eager to give or sell them to Blanis either. Soon he learned that he had a rival — the General Inquisitor of Florence, Fr. Orazio Morandi, who shared his interest in thing arcane.

We do not know whom of the two– the inquisitor or the Jewish librarian, the good Segnora chose, perhaps, neither, because Katalog der Inkunabeln der Fürstlich Liechtenstein, where our copy is listed under the # 212, is silent on the matter. But then many of our books — just as most rarities — are shrouded in mystery.

open book

* Edward Goldberg, Jews and Magic in Medici Florence : the Secret World of Benedetto Blanis, U of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2011, p. 172.

All interesting information concerning the lives of Benedetto Blanis and Laudamina Ricasoli Ricardi was taken from the book cited above.

This week in Special Collections

Actually, this post should be called "The Last Two Weeks in Special Collections," since we're changing to a biweekly format for summer.  Campus and Ellis Library have been pretty quiet during intersession.  We're taking advantage of the lull to catch up on projects throughout the department, including featuring more about Special Collections on Tumblr.  We have lots of interesting materials waiting in the queue to share with you this summer, including a weekly series on comic supervillains, occasional peeks into the stacks, in-depth looks at our newest acquistions, videos, fore-edge paintings, forays into the field of digitization, and more.

Here are a few highlights from the last two weeks.  







Browse all our posts (including lots of wonderful content shared from other libraries) at http://muspeccoll.tumblr.com/

Staff Spotlight: Amy Spencer

For this Staff Spotlight, we sat down with Amy Spencer.  Amy recently graduated with a double major in linguistics and theatre design and a minor in Russian, and she's been our Special Collections undergraduate assistant for four years.  She's moving on to new adventures at the end of next month, and we will miss her!

tumblr_o2ayrgqAri1tutadzo6_1280What are your plans after graduation?  
Spend the summer in Columbia, working with the MU Theatre Department, then off to the University of Illinois in the fall to start grad school for Library and Information Science.

What type of work do you do in Special Collections? 
I do a lot of different things around the department.  I do a lot of reshelving of materials after patrons and classes use them.  I answer questions at the desk and occassionally write posts for our blog.  Every once in a while I'll design a display for our reading room, but mostly I just help out with whatever needs done that day or what the librarians need me to do to help them. [Editor’s note: The librarians would like to suggest that Amy’s job has been to come up with new and inventive solutions for any and all vexatious problems that have come up during her tenure here.]

What is a typical day like?  
I usually start off my shift at the reference desk in our reading room.  While I'm there, I'll do some blogging or another computer-based project.  Once I'm off the desk, I'll do something like reshelving or pulling books for a class.  Recently my big project has been going through our Spec-M collection and straightening items on the shelf and pulling things that need re-housed.  So that's something I've put a lot of time in on when nothing else needs done that day.

What has been your favorite project since you've been here?
A couple of years ago, the annual display we do in conjunction with the Life Sciences Symposium was themed "The Science of Superheroes," and I got to help with a big part of that display since I like comics so much.  It was a lot of fun to get to help with that and really get to dive into our comics collection.


This week in Special Collections

The highlight of this week was our presentation on teaching diversity with material culture at the Celebration of Teaching, along with our friends at the Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Museum, the Museum of Art and Archaeology, the State Historical Society of Missouri, and the Mizzou Botanical Garden.  If you'd like to incorporate objects, artifacts, documents, and landscapes into your teaching, let us know! We'd be happy to help, and we're always ready to team up with other collecting institutions on campus.

Our weekly digest of posts will be converting over to a bi-weekly format for the summer, but you can still follow along with us on Tumblr.

This Week on Tumblr








This week in Special Collections

This was the final week of the semester!  We saw lots of students wrapping up projects and putting finishing touches on papers, and we can't wait to share some of their research with you over the coming weeks.

This Week's Tumblr Posts






Don’t Miss These Library Presentations at Celebration of Teaching

Librarians from MU Libraries will be offering two different presentations at the Celebration of Teaching this year. Don't miss it!  Register for free at the Celebration of Teaching website.

Check out the Libraries!  New Services and Resources

May 18, 10:00-10:50 am, room 30, Cornell Hall

Grace Atkins and Judy Maseles will be presenting on learning management systems and open educational resources.  The Libraries can now deliver customized library landing pages with subject-specific LibGuides, Databases, E-Reserves, and subject-expert librarians right inside your Blackboard or Canvas platform. High-quality, peer-reviewed, Open Educational Resources can also be found all over the open web. But which ones are the best for MU instructors and their courses? Learn about all of the work that is happening on campus to support instructor use and creation of OERs and how you can incorporate library resources within your courses.  

240819Diverse Objects, Diversity Discussions: Teaching Strategies with Material Culture

May 18, 3:00-3:50 pm, room 44, Cornell Hall

Museums, libraries, and archives are places where students can meet the world’s many cultures and explore ethnic and gender diversity in their own communities. In this interactive session, participants will be encouraged to craft their own strategies for teaching using artifacts and primary sources from several collections on the University of Missouri campus. Professionals from several different campus collections will also offer their perspectives on teaching and assignment strategies, and the types of collection materials available. This session may be a first step for faculty interested in setting up consultations with librarians, archivists, or curators who can contribute to their courses.