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Generations: Reproduction, Heredity, and Epigenetics

What do old books have to do with cutting-edge science?  More than you might think.

Coste0044This year, the annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium is considering a relatively new scientific field: epigenetics.  “Epigenetics refers to the study of traits that are heritable but not caused by changes in the DNA sequence,” writes Dr. Karthik Panchanathan, an assistant professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Missouri.  “In some cases, events that happen during an individual’s life can sometimes result in epigenetic changes that are subsequently heritable. This is a form of Lamarckian inheritance, the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring.”

This year’s Life Sciences and Society Symposium considers the implications of epigenetics for human health and behavior.  Speakers will discuss what epigenetics means, how the environment affects genetic expression, and how the fast-changing field of epigenetics is transforming medicine and society.  See a lineup of speakers and register for the symposium on the Life Sciences and Society program website.

Special Collections is participating in the symposium with an exhibition of rare books and an opening lecture to kick off the symposium week. Although the scientific study of epigenetics dates only to the middle of the twentieth century, scientists have puzzled over related questions of heredity and development for hundreds of years.  Does it matter whether you inherit a trait from your mother or father?  How do your earliest stages of development influence the rest of your life?  Which characteristics are inborn, and which are learned?  These are questions being asked by epigenetics researchers today, and they are the questions we consider in a historical sense in the exhibition, through an in-depth look at topics such as early theories of generation, maternal imagination, child development, and original sin.

GenesCultureEvolution-gateway-bDr. Panchanathan will open the exhibit with a lecture entitled “Genes, Culture and Evolution.” Humans are unique among animals in the degree to which adaptive behavior is shaped by both genes and culture. Cultural transmission is a form of Lamarckian inheritance: individuals pass on cultural traits which they learned during their lifetime to their offspring. In this talk, Dr. Panchanathan will discuss how anthropologists think about and model cultural evolution. In particular, Dr. Panchanathan will discuss how and why natural selection on genes resulted in the human capacity for culture; how cultural evolution is similar to and different from genetic evolution; and how cultural processes have shaped our genes, so-called gene-culture co-evolution.

Dr. Panchanathan’s presentation is on Monday, March 9, at 1:00 PM in the Government Documents area in Ellis Library.  Generations: Reproduction, Heredity, and Epigenetics will be on display in the Ellis Library Colonnade March 5-30, 2015.




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Aldus Manutius Romanus, 1449-1515

We do not know the exact place and time of Aldus’s birth. Most scholars agree that he was born around 1449 near Rome, and died on February 6, 1515, apparently after a long illness in Venice.


At about 1501 Aldus adopted his famous printer’s device of dolphin and anchor. According to the popular legend, Cardinal Pietro Bembo gave Aldus a denarius of Vespasian, on the reverse of which was the image of a dolphin entwined with the anchor.

Aldus’s motto σπεῦδε βραδέως (make haste slowly), or festina lente in Latin, is attributed to Augustus by Suetonius.

“The Prince of Humanists”, Erasmus, made a cheeky compliment to the “Prince of Printers” in his Adages: “Aldus, making haste slowly, has acquired as much gold as he has reputation, and richly deserves both.” The more delicate Bembo thought that the image was to symbolize Aldus’s aim to “produce much by slow action”.

It would became the most famous printer’s device of Aldus’s time, pirated by the contemporary publishers and just crooked printers, coveted by book collectors of all times.  Demand for Aldine texts was high. Aldus once remarked that the pace of work in his shop was such that “with both hands occupied and surrounded by pressmen who are clamorous for work, there is scarcely even time to blow my nose.”

Between 1494 and 1515 he produced some 134 editions: 68 in Latin, 58 in Greek, and 8 in Italian. A typical edition ran to 1000 to 2000 copies.

Aldus Manutius Romanus, 1449-1515 will be on exhibit in the Ellis Library Colonnade through February 2015.

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Vesalius at 500 exhibit opens today at Ellis Library


December 31, 2014, will mark the five hundredth birthday of Andreas Vesalius, one of the most important anatomists in the history of medicine. The MU Libraries will commemorate this historic occasion with an exhibition entitled Vesalius at 500: Student, Scholar, and Surgeon, on view November 5-30 in the Ellis Library Colonnade.

Andreas Vesalius is frequently called the father of modern human anatomy. Born in 1514 in modern-day Belgium, he studied at the Universities of Louvain, Paris, and Padua before becoming a professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Padua. His primary contribution to the history of medicine was his emphasis on dissection and firsthand observation. Vesalius differed from his colleagues because he used his observations to challenge ancient and often inaccurate Greek and Roman medical writings, which formed the basis of all medical knowledge for over a thousand years.

presentation-flyerVesalius at 500 showcases materials from the Libraries’ collections that helped to shape Vesalius’ career, including medieval manuscripts and early printed books on medicine. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Vesalius’ most famous work, De Humani Corporis Fabrica. The Libraries hold two copies of this important book, a second edition printed in 1555, and a later edition from 1568. Recognizing MU’s strength in human and animal medical research, the exhibition considers Vesalius’ effect on the history of veterinary medicine with several early illustrated works on animal anatomy. Works of Renaissance science are also included in order to situate Vesalius within the world of sixteenth-century scientific thought.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Dr. Gheorghe M. Constantinescu, a professor of veterinary anatomy in the College of Veterinary Medicine at MU, will present “Andreas Vesalius: On the 500th Anniversary of His Birth” on November 12 at 12:00 pm. Dr. Constantinescu is a medical illustrator and author investigating the gross anatomy of domestic and laboratory animals. His presentation will be held in room 4f51a in Ellis Library.

Vesalius at 500: Student, Scholar, and Surgeon is curated by a team of rare book librarians from the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library, the Zalk Veterinary Medical Library, and Ellis Library’s Special Collections and Rare Books department. The exhibition draws on MU Libraries’ special collections of more than 100,000 original artworks, manuscripts, rare books, and historic documents. The collections, exhibition, and lecture are all free and open to the public.

The gallery below contains a selection of images from De Humani Corporis Fabrica, and we will share more materials from the exhibition over the course of November.

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New Exhibit! Terrific Tales: From Fairies to Fables


“Terrific Tales: From Fairies to Fables” on exhibit in the Library Colonnade.  The exhibit is brought to you by Special Collections and will be on display July 1st –  August 15th.

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New exhibit! Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic Novel

Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic Novel

Yesterday I posed a question on Facebook: What do Albrecht Durer, Thomas Rowlandson, Frans Masereel, and Art Spiegelman have in common?  The answer: they all published works of sequential art, which are now on view in our latest exhibition, Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic Novel.

Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic NovelIf, as the popular saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, then pictures and words together form an even more powerful tool for communication, expression, and storytelling than either would alone.

The materials in this exhibition are from the Rare Book Collection and the Comic Art Collection. In each, artists and writers have used sequential art to construct narratives that are complex, subtle, sophisticated, and powerful. Rather than presenting an evolutionary history of visual storytelling, these selections allow us to situate woodcuts, engravings, comic strips, and graphic novels in a long tradition of word- and image-making, in order to consider the roles of image and narrative in our culture.

Beyond Words will be on view in the Ellis Library Colonnade May 3-31, 2013.

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