Vampires Suck

Stoker's Dracula

(Your blood, that is.)  How does one even begin to write about vampires with any sort of completeness?  Every culture’s got one – some version of a creature that rises from the dead and preys on the life force of the living (either the blood or something more abstract, such as energy or the soul) to sustain itself.  Reflecting this, Dracula and his brethren abound on the shelves of Special Collections – particularly our comics collection where the dramatic nature of the vampire lends itself perfectly to a graphic medium.

While vampires have been around for ages, it was Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that made them much more prevalent in literature and popular culture.  In more modern times, vampires’ popularity has spiked again with television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and bestselling book series like Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and the Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlene Harris.

Let’s start with Dracula then, shall we?

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This 2004 adaption of Stoker’s Dracula presents the comic in a dramatic black and white contrast that plays up the drama of the story.

Blood of Dracula

Another series featuring the Count is Apple Comics’s Blood of Dracula, where each issue contains an installment of three different stories featuring Dracula in his own time, in the future, and anywhere in between.  This issue even comes with a record of songs composed to supplement the stories!Blood of Dracula RecordNot to be outdone, Warp Graphics (which later turned over most of its titles to Apple Comics) pitted Dracula against Jack the Ripper in its 1986 mini-series Blood of the Innocent.

Blood of the Innocent

In addition to its large spread in comics, the story of Dracula has also been taken to the stage over the years, as seen in these scenes from a 1978 production starring Frank Langella as the famous feind and famous illustrator Edward Gorey designing the scenery and costumes. Dracula

Stoker wasn’t the only one to write about vampires, though.  Folk stories teemed with different versions of the vampire.  This image from a book of Russian folk tales shows the warlock from the tale “The Soldier and The Vampire” who comes back from the dead each night to terrorize a town by cursing a newlywed couple and drawing their blood until he is outwitted and killed by a clever soldier.

The Soldier and The Vampire

In modern vampire culture, many vampires choose to live among us and forgo the drinking of human blood for that of animals.  Two such “vegetarian” vampires are main characters in Vertigo’s series Blood + Water.  Adam Heller, a man slowly dying of AIDS finds out his friends are actually vampires when they turn him into one in order to cure him and save his life.

Blood + Water

Men aren’t the only ones to play large roles in vampire stories.  Vampirella, the vampire superheroine from the planet Drakulon, fights evil vampires on our world in an effort to save her own.  She appears in a number of comic series and a direct to video movie.
Vampirella Classic #1

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Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter book series was adapted by Marvel in 2006.  The leading lady, Anita Blake, lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri as a professional zombie raiser, vampire hunter, and consultant for the police’s supernatural department.

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Including the scores of other stories both modern and old as Dracula himself, it’s clear that not matter what way you slice it, vampires have a powerful prescence in cultures throughout the world.  So this Halloween if you’re finding yourself going batty for vampires, come see us at Special Collections, where we’ve got plenty of vampire stories you can really sink your teeth into.

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Posted in Comic Collection

Johannes de Sacrobosco and the sphere of the universe

Contrary to what you may have learned in school, people in the Middle Ages knew quite well that the world was round.  Johannes de Sacrobosco made sure of that fact.

Sacrobosco was one of the leading astronomers, educators, and science communicators of the Middle Ages.  We don’t know very much about his life: he wrote during the early thirteenth century, might have been English, and likely spent his career at the University of Paris.  Even with this lack of personal information, Sacrobosco was a household name among scholars.  Everybody who studied astronomy from the thirteenth century through the seventeenth century started out by reading his books.  You might think of him as the medieval equivalent of Carl Sagan – but with much more staying power.

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Using compelling visuals and simple language, Sphaera was a beginning astronomy textbook that taught generations of people to think about the basic math and science that underlay their experience of the natural world.  The text was so popular that it still exists in hundreds of medieval manuscript copies, and it may have been the very first astronomical work to be printed.  Between 1472 and 1673, over two hundred printed editions were published, keeping it continuously in print for two centuries, a record unmatched by any other text on astronomy.  Even after it was superseded by newer knowledge, publishers issued the book with commentaries to keep it up-to-date.

Sphaera has four chapters dealing with spherical nature of the universe, spheres in the heavens, the heavens as observed from various geographic points on Earth (which illustrates that the Earth itself is a sphere), and an explanation of Ptolemy’s theory of planetary motion and eclipses.   Printed editions of Sphaera included numerous images: geometric diagrams, naturalistic images, pictures of armillary spheres and other instruments.  One common diagram illustrates a ship and a tower to demonstrate the idea that the earth is spherical; the curvature of the ocean obstructs the view of the tower for the observer on the deck of the ship, while the observer on the mast is able to see it above the bulge of the water.

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In a recent article in the journal Isis, Kathleen Crowther and Peter Barker argued that the images in Sphaera are meant to train the inner eye and help the reader develop his own mental model of the cosmos.  Some editions had volvelles that could be turned with the fingers, but in most printings of Sphaera, the reader was expected to manipulate the images mentally.  We decided to help ourselves (and you all) by turning some of the diagrams from the 1569 edition into gifs that move on their own. Watch the universe spin!

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Spinning gifs aside, Sacrobosco’s work was an important introduction to Ptolemaic astronomy, and the diagrams and other illustrations were important because they helped readers visualize his ideas.  Sacrobosco’s text provided a basis for later work by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler.  In some sense, our own understanding of the cosmos adds to or corrects the mental models he started building over seven centuries ago.

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We have two editions of Sphaera in Special Collections: one published in Paris in 1572, and another published in Venice in 1569 (that’s the one we’re showing here). Both were edited and augmented by the French mathematician and historian Elie Vinet. The 1569 Venice edition was reprinted from the Paris edition of the same year (the note “Ex postrema impressione Lutetiae” means “From the final Paris impression”). While many editions of Sphaera can be found in rare book libraries throughout the United States and Europe, the 1569 Venice edition seems to be a bit scarcer than most. A quick check of WorldCat reveals only three copies in research libraries in the United States; the bibliography and census of Sacrobosco editions maintained Roberto de Andrade Martins at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, reveals two additional copies, for a total of five.

Want to know more about Sacrobosco?  Check out these resources.

  • Roberto de Andrade Martins. Johannes de Sacrobosco: Editions of the Tractatus de Sphaera. University of São Paulo, Brazil, n.d.
  • Kathleen M. Crowther and Peter Barker. “Training the Intelligent Eye: Understanding Illustrations in Early Modern Astronomy Texts.” Isis 104 (September 2013), pp. 429-470. doi:10.1086/673269
  • Adam Mosley, Johannes de Sacrobosco, University of Cambridge, 1999.
  • Olaf Pedersen, “In Quest of Sacrobosco.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 16 (1985), pp. 175-221.
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Posted in Rare Book Collection

Puppen-Hand Colored Plates

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Hand colored plates by Lotte Pritzel

Images taken from Puppen by Rainer Maria Rilke

Munich, 1921

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Posted in Special Collections
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