Month: February 2012

Haverford’s New Rare Book

The title page of Haverford’s new rare book: Ptolemy’s Centiloquium (1519)

As early as Monday Haverford’s Special Collection will have a new book: Claudius Ptolemy, Centum Ptolemaei sententiae ad Syrum fratrem à Pontano è graeco in latinum tralatae, atque expositae. Eiusdem Pontani libri XIIII (Aldine, 1519). For a number of reasons I am excited about this book. Perhaps obviously, my own research interests make this an important book—Ptolemy’s Centiloquium was one of the most widely used texts for teaching and practicing astrology in the early sixteenth century. More broadly this book indicates Haverford’s and the library’s commitment to Special Collections and acquiring new material to facilitate and extend faculty research. In our modern, iPad-Kindle-Nook, deliver-to-desktop, on-line centric world, we can easily loose sight of the wide range of materials that enable scholars to do their research. For me and scholars like me our research would be impossible without collections of books. In this way, to quote a colleague, the library is like the “laboratory for the humanities” and this book is an instrument in our research.

Collecting Everyday Objects

Related the article in the Smithsonian Magazine I discussed in Collecting Salt Shakers … is this article in the NY Times: “A Family History, Liberally Peppered.

Mr. Hoffman poses with his collection of pepper mills.

In this case, another quotidian table utensil, the lowly pepper mill, has been extracted from the world of utility and elevated to an objet d’art. For the family, collecting these pepper mills is equivalent to collecting art: “It becomes more about buying an art piece than a functioning piece.”

To read more on this, see my post at PACHS: “On Pepper Mills.” While there, you might peruse my growing collection of posts on collecting: “On Salt Shakers and Chinese Takeout Menus” and “On Collecting and Collectors.”

Collecting Salt Shakers …

An article in the Smithsonian reports on an enormous collection of salt and pepper shakers: “Would You Like Some Salt and Pepper? How About 80,000 Shakers’ Worth?.”

Why collection 80,000 salt & pepper shakers?

This collection, despite receiving the imprimatur of the Smithsonian, is no better or worse than Harley Spiller’s collection of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus: Inspector Collector: Chinese Menus. In both cases the collectors are exercising authority and establishing expertise by collecting, arranging, and controlling access to their objects.

For more on this, see my post at On Salt Shakers and Chinese Takeout Menus

Art History and History of Science

Elizabeth Kessler spoke recently at Bryn Mawr College on artist appropriations of astronomical photographs. In her talk, titled “Retaking the Universe: Appropriation and Astronomical Artifacts,” she explored the ways three different artists “appropriated” photographs of stars, redeveloping them or cropping them or converting them into pencil drawings. She focused on the work of Linda Connor, Thomas Ruff, and Vija Celmins.

The poster for Elizabeth Kessler’s lecture at Bryn Mawr College<

Connor worked through the Lick Observatory photo archives selecting photographs made in the late 19th century by E.E. Barnard. Barnard’s photographs are, like most stellar photographs, emulsions on glass plates. Connor redeveloped the plates, leaving the traces of the edges. Kessler claimed that for Connor, these traces reminded us that what we see depends on practices and technologies. Connor’s approach echoed Barnard’s, who also considered his photographs as the product of a skilled technician and practice. This raises a number of questions: Connor, Kessler claimed, had to deny any authorship to the photos she was reproducing. Yet they were clearly the product of somebody, as Barnard’s very fingerprints and signature revealed.

Read the rest of my summary at Artifacts and Artists: E. Kessler on Astronomical Photos