Category: Special Collections

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Teacher Spotlight: September 2012 Edition – Dr. Rabia Gregory

Dr. Rabia Gregory, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at the University of Missouri, is the focus of the first Teacher Spotlight of the new school year.  Her primary interest is in medieval women’s religious literature, and she can often be found teaching courses at Mizzou on Historical Christianity, and Women and Religions.  Dr. Gregory is a frequent visitor to Special Collections and has often brought her classes to learn about the primary sources we have here.  We were pleased to get a chance to talk to her at the beginning of the semester.

SC: How have you incorporated Special Collections into your teaching?

Gregory: I initially only took upper-level and graduate seminars to Special Collections and designed the visits to help students learn to work with sources in the original. Last spring I attempted to bring a large introductory lecture course to Special Collections.  I designed a new assignment asking the undergraduates to spend time with a manuscript or an early printed book and then write about it as if they were, themselves, professional historians.

SC: What sort of outcomes or effects on your students have you observed after visiting the Special Collections department?

Gregory: I noticed a variety of responses, particularly with the large lecture class. Some students were so excited that they snapped photos of manuscripts to share with old teachers or with family members. Others came back to visit with friends and classmates. And some were completely disinterested, trying to sneak out of the room even before class was over. Learning how books were made and used really changed the ways that my class responded to primary sources in translation. They less frequently asked "why" different sources offered competing versions of history or why miracles were recorded. Instead they were interested in why those versions of history had been considered important enough to put into something so expensive and time-consuming as a manuscript.

SC: What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

Gregory: Plan ahead, make sure that the visit has a clear pedagogic purpose for your class and that the students have a way of finding meaning from the objects they will (most likely) not be able to read. Do talk with the Special Collections staff and get their input on the assignments, a semester in advance if you can! And make sure that you explain clearly to your students and teaching assistants the purpose of the assignment.

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Posted in Classes, Special Collections, Spotlight

Descartes…L’Homme the Journey to Print

Title page from L'Homme

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French thinker of the empiricist thinker. Descartes was born in la Haye, in Touraine. He was the son of a provincial governor, Joachim Descartes, and his wife Jeanne Brochard.  After a short career of practicing law he went to fight under Maurice of Nassau, in the rebellion against the Spanish. In 1619, he had a series of visions that compelled him to devote his life to science. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the protestant Dutch republic where his teachings and experiments would be more accepted. While there he corresponded and tutored a number of pupils that followed and studied his Cartesian teachings and his traité des passions, the study of emotions.

 

L'Homme cover with acid specklingThe copy in the collection is bound in calf skin, a common binding of the 17th and 18th centuries. The speckling technique used on it was created by sprinkling acid over the leather and then wiping it clean after a period of time. This technique has created problems in some specimens in today’s world as the acid continues to erode the boards. The printer of this text, Jacques Le Gras, was the original publisher. Shortly afterward, the text was moved to a different printing house and released in a larger run from the printers Charles Angot and Théodore Girard.

The book itself is best described in the Heirs of Hippocrates (1974) text, “This first French edition is the original text as composed by Descartes and is edited by his good friend, Claude Clerselier (1614-1684). This edition also contains the first printing of his treatise ‘De la formation du foetus,’ completed just before his death. The fine woodcuts in this edition were partly based on Descartes’ drawings from the manuscript and partly prepared by the co-editors, Louis de la Forge (1632-1666?) and Gerard van Gutschoven (fl. 1660) … Descartes was prepared to publish this book in 1633 but decided to withhold it when he learned of Galileo’s condemnation by the Church. As a result, the first edition was not published until 1662 [in Latin], twelve years after Descartes’ death … It is sometimes called the first book on physiology, and that could be argued, but there is no doubt that the Cartesian philosophy exerted a tremendous effect on the evolution of medicine.”

Eye with muscle purportedly drawn by DescartesDescartes decision to withhold this text from the public may have spared him from the kind of persecution Galileo endured upon the publication of his Dialogs, 1632. However, Descartes did not escape allegations that his beliefs were atheistic and pelagianistic, which is the idea that people, can avoid sin without God’s grace. These accusations started in the 1640s when the rector at the university at Utrecht began making these charges. These denunciations regarding his atheistic thoughts become more heated as scholars from Leiden, a university town, became involved.  At one point in the summer of 1647, Descartes returned to France for the second time in that decade, where he contemplated staying to escape these charges. He did return to the Dutch republic, but by the end of the decade he had traveled to Stockholm to tutor Christina of Sweden. The arrangement for tutoring her was extremely strenuous, she required sessions before dawn in the brisk air of the Swedish winter. By February 1650, he had fallen ill and ultimately died from pneumonia.

Image from L'Homme drawn by an illustrator other than Descartes.The journey to publish L’homme was led by Claude Clerselier, a staunch Catholic, who came into the ownership of Descartes’ papers via his brother-in-law, the French ambassador to Sweden. Clerselier edited this text and considerable correspondence, which helped shape Descartes’ image in the following years. The quality of the 1664 French edition made Clerselier the understood guardian of Descartes’ body of manuscripts. The book itself is interesting because Descartes’ essay is the smallest portion of the over four hundred page text. The accompanying essays, forwards and remarks make up the majority of the pages. Clerselier’s remarks include, among other things, a reasoning of the illustrations included, of which many were provided by Florentius Shuyl and Clerselier himself. One image of particular interest was drawn by Descartes. Clerselier kept the original drawing, an eye held by muscle, to prove it was Descartes work. However, there is a notable difference in the artistic styles between the eye and some of the other pieces, particularly in their background detail.  The additional contributions to the text include Louis de La Forge’s remarks that expand on the Descartes text and attempt to clarify the conceptual leaps Descartes makes in L’Homme.

This exceptional text was purchased in the spring of 2010 by University of Missouri Ellis Library Special Collections and Rare Books, through a donation by Mr. Richard Toft.

 

Bibliographic Information:

L’homme

A Paris: Chez Iacques Le Gras, au Palais, à l’entrée de la Gallerie des Prisonniers, MDCLXIV, [1664]

QP29 .D44 1664

 

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Posted in New Books, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

John Miles Foley’s Lord Library Donation Lecture

University of Missouri Professor John Miles Foley, director for The Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, presented a talk entitled, “Albert Lord and the Study of Oral Tradition,” on Thursday, February 10th, 2011. Below is a full length version of Professor Foley’s Lord Library Donation Lecture.

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