Oxford Dictionaries Word of 2013 Inspires Evening of Dance

Dancers on the floor with their smartphones.

Dancers on the floor with their smartphones.

“Please take out your phones. Please turn your ringers on, your volume on high. Please take phone calls. Please text. Please take photographs. If you tweet, set your profile from private to public. Tweet images and text with the hashtag #mxselfie. If you use Instagram, do the same. If you use Facebook, please like the Facebook Modernextension Dance Company page and post to our wall. In fact, please don’t stop doing these things from now until the performance ends. Please change your vantage point often. At the conclusion of a piece, offer your chair to a different person, go upstairs, downstairs. If a dancer interacts with you or takes a photograph with you, say yes.”

Those were the unusual instructions to the audience from Matt Karkutt, Wilson Library employee and Modernextension Dance Company member, before the UNC student ensemble performed “Self(i.e)” on Saturday, November 8. The creative improvisational program, inspired by the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013, selfie, provocatively examined how we communicate–and don’t–in our world of new technologies.

Conceived by Karkutt, the performance connected those in attendance virtually on vertiginous multiple levels–with real-time screening of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts behind the dancers–as well as physically–by bodily presence and movement in the Gerrard Hall space.

Selfie. page

MX-SELFIE-205x300An event with great positive energy, “Self(i.e.)” was the second collaboration between the Rare Book Collection and Modernextension. As Karkutt noted, the RBC, with its holdings ranging from cuneiform tablets to codices, “celebrates millennia of media.” “Self(i.e.)” publicity featured dancer Meredith Woodson at Wilson Library with smartphone in hand and Samuel Johnson’s legendary 1755 Dictionary of the English Language at her feet. Modernextension’s performance underscored the dual nature of the dictionary today as an online and physical book representing words “that are spoken and created in person and now online through virtual Media.”


The word SELF in Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1755), predecessor of the OED / Folio-2 J.B. 36 v.2 c. 1 / Presented by William A. Whitaker

Modernextension’s innovative performance came just a week before the OED announced its Word of the Year for 2014, “vape,” a verb that means to inhale or exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette.


The Oxford Dictionaries website

The RBC sees another subversive program in Modernextension’s future. Imagine the company (and the audience?) smoking their way across the floor of Gerrard Hall. Can we consider cigarettes a medium of communication?

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Tales of Terror

Happy Halloween to our followers!


Scarey happenings between two covers

For this “holiday” of ghosts and goblins, we offer you images from a recent acquisition, Tales of Terror (London, 1801), complete with its ghoulish full-plate illustrations.

The work was long attributed to M. G. “Monk” Lewis, master of the Gothic novel, who acquired his moniker for writing The Monk: A Romance–a sensationalist story of monastics and murder. However, twentieth-century scholarship has declared Tales of Terror to be a parody of his work.

Trick, or treat? Or both? Come into Wilson Library, and you decide.

Tales of Terror (London, 1801) PN6110.T5 L5 1801 c.2

Tales of Terror (London, 1801) PN6110.T5 L5 1801 c.2

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On the Road—at the Center of the Earth

Charles-Marie de La Condamine, Relation abrégée d’un voyage fait dans l’intérieur de l’Amérique méridionale (Maestrich, 1778) / F2546 .L148 1778

You can’t visit a country named Ecuador without setting foot on the equator. It wouldn’t be right. And so last month, when this blogger found herself in the small South American nation, she journeyed to Mitad del Mundo, the official site of the imaginary line midway between North and South poles.

The account of how the equatorial line was determined and drawn is one of the great scientific adventure stories of the Enlightenment. France’s Académie des Sciences sent Charles-Marie de La Condamine and other scientists to measure a degree of latitude at the equator in what they then called Peru (and in 1830 became the independent republic of Ecuador). The expedition sought to answer the vexing question of the earth’s shape: whether it bulged at the center as Isaac Newton posited, or whether it was egg-shaped as René Descartes had contended.

La Condamine and group were scooped by mathematician Pierre Louis Maupertius, who provided measurements from up in Lapland that supported a pumpkin-shaped earth. But La Condamine’s 1745 book about the Geodesic Mission to the Equator was still highly popular (Rare Book Collection F2546 .L148). La Condamine mapped the Amazon and studied the rubber and cinchona trees (the latter he correctly championed as the source of a substance beneficial against malaria, quinine).

The Relation abrégée d’un voyage fait dans l’intérieur de l’Amérique méridionale was republished in 1778, with the same foldout map of the equator (above) and the transcription of La Condamine’s letter to Madame ***, which detailed the murder of the expedition’s surgeon in Cuenca. This later edition includes a foldout plate opposite the title-page, rendering the assassination in the context of the Andean landscape.


Bull ring in Cuenca, scene of the melée in which French surgeon Seniergues was murdered. / F2546 .L148 1778

Deborah Poole in her book Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World (Princeton, 1997) has examined this frontispiece choice as an example of evolving European conceptions of South America and representations of non-European peoples. Indeed, the later edition was published a few years before the last Inca revolt in 1780.

Today, European achievement and indigenous culture are both celebrated north of Quito at Mitad del Mundo, where a tower structure, surmounted by globe, officially marks the equator.  An allée with busts of expedition scientists leads up to the monument; inside, exhibits along the stairs to the top document Ecuador’s multiple non-European ethnic groups.

But the truth is the Geodesic Mission did not set foot near this site, and you aren’t on the equator there! The working methods of the 18th century–as well as later mapping that set the monument’s location–were somewhat off in fixing the center of the earth. Modern GPS technology has determined the equator to be 240 meters to the north of the “official” line.


Museo Intiñan and its sculptures from Pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas

On adjacent private property, the Museo Intiñan (above) claims to have the real equatorial line, although this is also disputed. Nonetheless, the museum seeks “to rescue and revive the ancestral worldview of a geographic center and to establish an ethno-ecological habitat at the ‘Middle of the World.'”

So maybe this corresponent didn’t set foot on the equator, but between these two sites, she got awfully close. Here’s to the power of place, planet, and sun for all cultures and ages and the volumes in the RBC that help tell the story.

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On the Road: The Manuscript Road Trip Reaches Chapel Hill

Ms526_detailLisa Fagin Davis’s popular virtual road trip has reached the Carolinas. Enjoy learning about some of UNC’s great medieval treasures, including one of its oldest Western manuscripts, a detail of which is shown above. Go to the lively blog and read the entry for this week, Carolina on My Mind.

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Tracing the Sinhala Script in the Rare Book Collection

The Rare Book Collection at UNC is proud of its global collections. Recently, we discovered a rare Sri Lankan imprint in our main library, Davis, and have arranged for its transfer to the RBC. The book, The Singhalese Translation of the New Testament (1820), is one of the earliest British books printed in the Sinhala language and a wonderful complement to the RBC’s collection of Sinhala olas, or palm leaf manuscripts.

Singhala_NewTestament_titlepage1 copy

Title page / RBC 225.59148 TS

Printing was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Dutch in 1734. The first book printed in Sri Lanka was published in 1737 using the first set of movable Sinhala type, which had been designed and cast by a local Dutch armorer. The Dutch printed a scant 22 books in Sinhala before ceding Ceylon (as it was then known) to the British in 1796. Although the British government took over the Dutch printing house and the Sinhala type founts, it was the religious societies—first the Columbo Auxiliary Bible Society (1812) followed by the Wesley Mission Society (1815)—that continued to print in the Sinhala language.

The Singhalese Translation of the New Testament is a major revision of an earlier, error-riddled edition published by the Colombo Auxiliary Bible Society in 1817. Much energy and money was devoted to the second edition, and a smaller, more compact Sinhala type font was specially commissioned for the octavo edition you see here. This book was intended to be widely distributed and easily carried. Printed at the Wesley Mission Press by a trained printer, this edition found praise among contemporaries for its typographical cleanness and elegance, as indeed it was by colonial standards.


Abhidhānappadīpikā / Poleman 6642

By comparing an ola manuscript with the typography of The Singhalese translation, it is possible to study the relationship between Sinhala manuscript and print cultures. Scholars have argued that the rounded curves of the Sinhala script originated from the material constraints of writing on variegated palm leaves with a reed. Recently, Sri Lankan scholar and typography designer, Sumanthri Samarawickrama Jayaweera, has argued against such a reductive conclusion. You can listen to her engaging interview about the history of Sinhala printing and typography here. Jayaweera suggests that it was the introduction of colonial printing that ultimately changed how the Sinhala script was written—a process that might be traced in the RBC’s “new” copy of The Singhalese translation of the New Testament.

UNC’s ola collection, a gift of Dr. W.P. Jacocks, is not currently recorded in the online catalog but is described in H.I. Poleman’s Census of Indic Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (1967).

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Poets of the First World War

Here at the Rare Book Collection we are gearing up for the centennial of World War I, and we’re expecting an influx of students, scholars, and other curious visitors to work with our extensive international holdings of related materials. To prepare, we are combing the collection, assessing what we have, and looking for those special items that might be of particular interest.

One item of note is a first edition of Siegfried Sassoon’s The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, Sassoon’s first book of poetry about his experience at the front. Sassoon published this volume in 1917, the same year he began treatment for neurasthenia (more commonly known as “shell shock”) at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he met fellow poet Wilfred Owen.

Sassoon’s poems, at their most caustic, register his disgust with war authorities in Britain, whose casual use of propaganda from the safety of the home front Sassoon critiques. Other poems, like “To His Dead Body,” convey his deep affection for his fellow soldiers while unflinchingly recording their deaths: “When roaring gloom surged inward and you cried, / Groping for friendly hands, and clutched, and died, / Like racing smoke, swift from your lolling head / Phantoms of thought and memory thinned and fled.”

KIC Image

PR6037.A86 O43  / Courtesy of the Estate of George Sassoon

What makes our copy—a second printing of the first edition—special is that it reveals how Sassoon used his time at Craiglockhart to create literary networks with fellow poets. Pasted to the back endpaper is a letter from Sassoon to Douglas Ainslie, a Scottish poet who was known to Oscar and Constance Wilde as well as Arthur Conan Doyle. In the note, written on Craiglockhart stationery, Sassoon tells Ainslie that he regrets not being able to meet him for lunch but says he hopes they can meet at a later time. Sassoon admits that he is “keen to know whether you like my poems, & equally impatient to read your own.” Ainslie’s autograph on the front endpaper suggests that the book was his. All the pages are cut, so we can surmise that Ainslie read Sassoon’s work. One can only wonder what, in fact, he thought about it and whether the two men got the chance to meet!

We are most grateful to the Estate of George Sassoon, Siegfried Sassoon’s son, for kindly granting permission to reproduce this letter. Readers who wish to publish the letter should contact the estate.

The Rare Book Collection has print holdings of many World War I writers, in addition to the extensive Bowman Gray Collection of World War I posters, postcards, and pamphlets, as well as other documents relating to the war. We welcome readers to explore our holdings in the second floor reading room of Wilson Library.

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On the Road: The Plantin-Moretus Museum

Courtyard of the Plantin-Moretus Museum / Photo by Daphne Bissette

Courtyard of the Plantin-Moretus Museum / Photo by Daphne Bissette

During a recent visit to Belgium, I stepped back in time to the world of Renaissance printing at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp. The museum, honored in 2005 as a UNESCO World Heritage site, preserves the printing workshops, office, and private living quarters of the great printer-publisher Christophe Plantin and his son-and-law and successor Jan Moretus, just as they were in the 16th century, when the Officina Plantiniana was arguably the most important press in Europe.

The museum’s website boasts:

It is just as if after 440 years the working day is about to begin for the type founders, compositors, printers and proofreaders in the world-famous printing works. The oldest printing presses in the world are there, intact and ready to roll. The offices and shop echo with conversations between Christoffel Plantijn and aristocratic and scholarly clients from all over the world.

This correspondent found that description entirely true. The dark-paneled workroom with its row of venerable ancient printing presses and the rows on rows of type in dozens of fonts in oak cases  fired the imagination to reconstruct the hustle and bustle of a workday in Plantin’s busy shop. As a sometime-proofreader for Rare Book Collection publications, I felt a special sense of solidarity with Plantin’s invisible proofreaders, seeing their massive wooden desks under the sixteenth century windows, imagining them piled high with stacks of proofs waiting to be corrected.

The Museum also includes the living quarters of the Plantin family: the damask-and-tapestry-draped drawing rooms with paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Plantin’s almost-contemporary and fellow Antwerp citizen; the Plantin’s handsome private library; and several rooms hung with costly Spanish gilt leather. The lushness of these spaces, in contrast to the brisk practicality of the offices and workrooms, is an invitation to imagine the private life of a man who was at once eminently learned and humane, invested in the philosophical and religious discourse of his times, but also a shrewd capitalist and entrepreneur. Plantin rose from relatively obscure beginnings to become, in today’s terms, a multimillionaire, exemplifying his personal motto labore et constantia (“by labor and constancy”) in his business life.

Plantin device

Plantin device with his motto

A Frenchman by birth, Christophe Plantin settled in Antwerp at the age of about 28 or 29 with his wife Jeanne Rivié and their young daughter after learning bookbinding and the bookselling trade in Normandy. A few years later, while walking alone at night, he was attacked by a gang of men who mistook him for someone else; they inflicted a wound to his arm. Unable to continue work as a binder, Plantin turned to publishing, becoming known for the excellent typography of his editions. He cemented his reputation with the publication of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, a printing masterpiece and landmark scholarly effort bringing together Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac biblical texts, a handsome copy of which is on display in the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

The Rare Book Collection’s holdings in early printing include several volumes by Plantin, notable among which is his 1568 imprint Carmina novem illustrium feminarum, “Songs of Nine Illustrious Women,” an anthology compiled by Plantin of songs and lyric, elegiac, and bucolic poetry by Greek poetesses, including Sappho, and commentary on these poems from Latin authors. The volume illustrates not only Plantin’s erudition and devotion to the classics, but also his skill in employing beautiful typefaces, for example, this Greek one designed by Robert Granjon.

Carmina / PA3447 .O7 1568

Carmina / PA3447 .O7 1568


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Moving from Manuscript to Print

Books from the early days of printing bear witness to the unique period when the printing press was supplanting the centuries-long manuscript tradition as the primary means of transmitting texts.

One underappreciated way that early printed books are indebted to manuscripts is their typefaces, many of which are based on contemporary manuscript hands. Aldus Manutius (1449-1515), the illustrious Venetian printer, was a pioneer in this respect. He employed the Bolognese type-designer Francesco Griffo, who developed what we now know as italic type from “cancelleresca corsiva,” the papal chancellery hand. Aldus popularized Griffo’s italic type by using it in his popular pocket-size affordably-priced editions of the Latin classics because it saved space (only later did italic type come to be used as an emphatic font, as it is today). Aldus’s printer’s device of a dolphin wound around an anchor is represented on one of the colorful banners of printers’ and publishers’ devices on the first floor of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Davis Library.


In Epistolas Ciceronis ad Atticum, Pauli Manutii commentarius / PA6299 .M3 1557

Another visible way that books may reveal their debt to manuscripts is their bindings, like the 1557 Aldine imprint pictured above. The damage to the book’s spine reveals that it was reinforced with manuscript waste—handwritten texts, often on vellum, which were commonly used to strengthen the interior structure of books. Usually, these were manuscripts or scraps lying around a printer’s shop. “Vellum was such a valuable material that even material with writing on it was often used to reinforce the interior structure of books,” said Jan Paris, UNC’s Conservator for Special Collections. Sometimes, manuscript waste was used to bind the outside of books, but more often it was hidden in the structure, visible only when the outermost binding was damaged.

The book pictured above, which recently came to the attention of a Rare Books staff member, is a product of this period of transition from manuscripts to printed books. It is a 1557 Aldine imprint, by Aldus’s son Paulus Manutius, who assumed control of his father’s press in 1533 after it had been managed by his uncles, the Asolani, following Aldus Manutius the Elder’s death in 1515. Paulus Manutius was an avid Latinist, especially devoted to Cicero. This imprint is a reminder of Aldus, a pioneer in typefaces derived from manuscript hands, even as it is a reminder of the more concrete ways in which early books relied on their manuscript predecessors.


Spine detail / PA6299 .M3 1557

Our curiosity was piqued by the manuscript waste on the spine. What was the text? UNC Professor of Classics and paleographer Bob Babcock determined that the manuscript is written in a fourteenth-century Italian Gothic hand. The text is religious—the third line mentions “Isaias,” or Isaiah—but is difficult to identify because such a small section is visible. Careful peeking down the spine and on the corners where the binding has been torn away shows more manuscript writing in what appears to be the same hand.


Occasionally, modern-day conservators find valuable manuscript or printed sources in the bindings of early books. When UNC acquired its first millionth volume in 1960, a 1483 imprint of John Gower’s Confessio amantis by William Caxton, the first British printer, further study of the volume revealed a second Gower imprint—a 1481 indulgence of Pope Sixtus IV that had been used to reinforce the binding. A binder removed the indulgence and restored the binding in 1975.

This spring, Cataloging Librarian Barbara Tysinger made another discovery when she noticed the manuscript fragment binding of Johann Wittich’s 1589 book Bericht von den wunderbaren bezoardischen Steinen (“Report of the wonderful bezoar stones”). Professor Babcock and other campus experts determined the fragment contains part of the Apocryphal book of Judith from a twelfth century lectionary. An additional fifteenth century manuscript, from Albertus Magnus’s De animalibus lies mostly obscured beneath the lectionary fragment.

All this reminds us that the Manuscript Road Trip is in the South and will be visiting Chapel Hill soon.

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In Memoriam George E. Stuart (1935–2014)

The Rare Book Collection and the University Library mourn the loss of George Stuart (Ph.D. 1975), beloved good friend and benefactor.

George Stuart at Chapel Hill / photo by Melinda Y. Stuart

George Stuart at Chapel Hill / photo by Melinda Y. Stuart


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Le Grand Siècle Chez RBC


Emmanuel Bury, professor at the Université de Versailles, and Fabien Montcher, Ahmanson-Getty fellow, Clark Library, UCLA, looking at Philippe de Commyne’s Memoirs in the Imprimerie Royale edition

A week ago, on a stormy Thursday, May 15, Wilson Library gave shelter to sessions of the 2014 Conference of the North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature (NASSCFL).

At lunch hour, the Rare Book Collection mounted a selection of outstanding and eclectic imprints from the Grand Siècle, to the delight of the very knowledgeable conference attendees, who left behind their sandwiches and drinks for some bibliographical nourishment.


Katherine Dauge-Roth, associate professor at Bowdoin College, examines a book in the “Women as Agent and Object” section

Materials were grouped thematically: “Arts & Science,” “L’Imprimerie Royale,” “Mazarinades,” “History & Literature,” and “Women as Agents and Objects.” Clearly, there was something for everyone, as well as much surprise that such French literary resources resided in Chapel Hill. In particular, the extensive collection of Mazarinadespamphlets published during the French civil wars known as the Frondeelicited a fair degree of wonder. RBC’s cataloging of the approximately 1,000 titles overlapped with the publication of Hubert Carrier’s two-volume opus, Les mazarinades (Geneva, 1989-1991), which consequently failed to note UNC’s impressive holdings. Examples on display and the two drawers of shelflist cards received much attention.


Mazarin 1665 front

Mazarin 1665 title-page

Mazarin 1665 past page

Mazarin 1665 last page











Professor Ellen Welch, of UNC’s Department of Romance Languages & Literatures (and a co-organizer for the NASSCFL conference), has certainly used the Mazarinade collection to great advantage with her advanced French literature courses.  A recent class did in-depth analysis of a small selection and produced an informative website.


Adrian Sicler, La chiromance royale et novvelle (Lyon, 1666) / BF922 .S5

The 2014 NASSCFL conference display was enjoyed not only by conference attendees but also by Wilson Library employees, who found new books to love. A particular favorite is Adrian Sicler’s scarce cabbalistic palmistry text (left). And our recent acquisition of a rare edition of Melusine has already inspired a post on Wilson Library’s tumblr.

François Nodot, Histoire de Melusine (Paris, 1698) / GR75.M44 N6 1698

François Nodot, Histoire de Melusine (Paris, 1698) / GR75.M44 N6 1698 /Hanes Foundation

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