This semester, the Special Collections & Archives Graduate Assistants are delving into the world of rare books!
The Special Collections & Archives at Florida State University has an impressive collection of rare books–from Sumerian cuneiform tablets (created in approximately 2000 BCE) to the Grove Press Collection (published in the 20th century) and almost everything in between. Some areas of particular collecting strength include the French Revolution and Napoleonic era, early English Bibles, poetry about childhood, and the history of Florida.
Students and researchers can always access the materials held by Special Collections & Archives in the Special Collections Research Center Reading Room. But students can also engage with rare books and archival materials from Special Collections & Archives as part of a classroom visit. An instruction session is a unique opportunity for students to analyze rare books and manuscripts in the classroom setting. With the background knowledge they’ve gained in class, students are able to learn from and interact with primary source materials.
Part of the Graduate Assistants’ job this semester has been to assist Katie McCormick, Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives, with preparing for the different class instruction sessions in Special Collections & Archives. Before a classroom visit takes place, there are meetings with the class instructor to discuss the goals for the
session. This helps us determine what materials from the collection might best serve the instructor’s focus. While sometimes the professor knows exactly what materials he or she wants to see, because of our knowledge of the collection, the Special Collections staff are often able to suggest additional items in the collection that might complement the themes the instructor wishes to stress.
One of the great things about assisting with classroom instruction has been this opportunity to discover different aspects of the collection. With each class I assist, I learn new things about the rare volumes held in Special Collections & Archives.
In preparing for a graduate class on “Renaissance Observation,” I discovered the 1584 volume of the Cosmographia by Peter Apian. Peter Apian (1495-1552) was a German mathematics professor and printer. His Cosmographia is one example of the popular Renaissance genre of cosmography. In the sixteenth century, cosmography combined areas as diverse as astronomy, natural history, and geography. Written in Latin, Peter Apian’s Cosmographia is an exploration of sixteenth century astronomy. One unique aspect of Apian’s Cosmographia is its mathematical focus. The 1584 edition held by Special Collections contains moving diagrams that help to illustrate his astronomical concepts. In the illustration pictured below, the images of the zodiac are used to map the night sky.
Other examples of the Renaissance cosmography genre held by Special Collections include Sebastian Munster’s 1550 edition of Cosmographia. First published in 1544, Munster’s Cosmographia is counted as the first German description and categorizations of the world. Munster’s Cosmographia focuses on geography, the customs of different cultures, and the history of animals and plants. Its detailed illustrations are considered particularly important.
You can find these volumes (and many others) in the Special Collections Research Center weekdays, from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.
Rebecca L. Bramlett is a graduate assistant in the Special Collections & Archives Division. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science at Florida State University.