Saturday, June 07, 2008

Little Serendipities Go A Long Way

I am a planner by nature. If I find out that we are traveling somewhere (and it doesn't have to be far; if we are going to be away from home for more than a couple of hours, that's enough) or having company, out come the paper and pencil, I pull up MapQuest and Google on the computer, and the research and planning begin. And although I get great pleasure out of planning little (and big) excursions, it is often those little serendipities that provide the most pleasure and the greatest memories. We recently experienced one of these little serendipities, and I know it is something I will always remember.

My parents came to visit a few weeks ago. They had never been to our new place here in Dixie, and since our new home is over 1,000 miles from their place, we haven't seen each other in almost a year. With the price of gas soaring as it is, who knows when we'll get together again, so I decided to try and plan some short trips that would give them a good taste of the area in their short trip plus include some places our family hadn't had a chance to explore yet. One of the places we went was the University Museum. Our family had been there before, but it is quite an impressive little museum. They have a wonderful antiquities collection that includes pottery, coins, mosaics, and busts as well as a doll collection, a Civil War (or should I say "War Between the States" or "War of Northern Aggression") collection, a small but broadly representational art collection, and a collection of historical scientific instruments that my children always find fascinating and wish they could touch. Tucked off on the side is a small room that usually houses a temporary exhibit. Terzo was very disappointed when he investigated back there this time and found that the Art of the Faulkners exhibit that we had seen on our last trip was gone. "Now it's just some old books," he lamented to me. Not connecting his statement with some information Frodo had given me earlier in the semester, I took my time moseying back to the exhibit and stood only feet from it is a I re-examined a sketch created and autographed by Kurt Vonnegut that is part of the museum's regular collection. Frodo was just behind me as I finally made my way to the "old books" and I could hear him gasp as we entered, "These are the Remnant Trust books. Remember, Hon, I told you about these? Cool."

At the beginning of the spring semester, Frodo mentioned that the University was going to host a tour by the Remnant Trust. The tour consisted of books considered significant because of their age, rarity, or influence on the world, but even cooler, you not only got to see the books, but you also got to touch them. When I went to the University Museum's website to see if I could take the kids over to leek at the books, I came across this notice:

These books are available for professors to use in their classes under supervision in the museum. The books cannot be removed from the museum. We can accommodate groups up to 70 in our [gallery], up to 40 in our classroom and up to 10 in our board room. For larger classes special arrangements may be possible. We need two weeks notice to arrange to host your class at the museum. Our regular hours are 9:30-4:30 Tues.-Sat. We will try to accommodate classes that meet outside of those hours when ever possible but we cannot guarantee that. Call... to book a class.

Drat. We weren't going to be able to go. Frodo was hoping to arrange a time for his university students to go to the exhibit, but he wasn't able to get a hold of the correct person to arrange an appointment. With the end of the semester, we figured his chance to view the exhibit had gone.

Fast forward to my parents' visit two weeks after the semester ended. The RT was late in picking up the collection, so the University Museum still had it on display! As we were oohing and aahing over the books in the display cases, a museum employee approached us and asked if we wanted the curator to open the cases for us and give us a closer look at the books. Minutes later, we were getting a personal lesson on the books on display.

This is the curator showing us a handwritten, illuminated manuscript (on parchment, I might add) of the Magna Carta from 1350. 1350!

Then, it got even better:

That's Frodo and Primo holding and casually thumbing through a handwritten, illuminated manuscript of the Magna Carta from 1350. How cool is that?!

Here is a closer view. (Handwritten! 1350! Did I mention that it was handwritten and illuminated on parchment in 1350?)

The curator shared the books in all the display cases then left them open for us to go back and pick up and leaf through the ones we wanted and to ask questions.

What other books were there? Well...

Secondo's favorite was the illuminated copy of St. Augustine's City of God c. 1494 (two short years after "in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.")

I tried to take a picture of her flipping through it, but every time she suspected she was being watched, she took her hands off the book. See, here she is doing the "Me? I wasn't touching the book. I was just standing here rubbing my eye" move. I think she had "don't touch the exhibits" going through her head no matter how many times we were told to feel free to pick up and examine the books.

A first edition of Thomas Paine's Common Sense... printed in England in 1776.

If you ask Primo which book was her favorite, she will tell you it was this one, Summa Theologica Pars Secunda c. 1497. From the accompanying plaque:
"One of only three known copies in the world. One in the British Museum in London and the other in the Newbury in Chicago. This is the most perfect of the three."

See the large blanks in the copy? This copy was supposed to be illuminated, but apparently no one got around to it.

Although she says Aquinas' book was her favorite, Primo spent most of her time paging through this 1862 copy of William the Conqueror's Doomsday Book.

Terzo's favorite was this print of the Boston Massacre made from the plate created by Paul Revere and his silversmiths. (The curator was impressed that Primo knew that the Boston Massacre was instigated by the children of Patriots, and some Patriots, throwing snowballs at the British soldiers... although something was bound to happen sooner or later after months of military occupation in Boston.)

Frodo had a hard time nailing down a favorite. Besides City of God, the Magna Carta, and Summa Theologica which I have already shared, he probably would list the two works by Frederick Douglass that were included in the display.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1945)

My Bondage & My Freedom (1855) signed by Frederick Douglass

On the top of a list of Frodo's favorites, if he had been forced to rank them, would have been the copy of John Calvin's Institutes printed in 1578. William Shakespeare was apprenticing at the print shop where this edition was printed and probably set some of the type for the volume. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the book. I got a picture of the plaque, but not the book. (Mom, do you have a picture of Calvin's Institutes?) Not sure how that happened. I was probably distracted by my favorites in the collection.

William Penn's The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience c. 1670.

I was also amazed to see the Minutes of the Second Continental Congress from 1778 and the Illinois broadside of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. (Each president signed all broadsides sent to his home state.) I couldn't get a good picture of the broadside because it was framed under glass, and I have no idea why I don't have a picture of the minutes. (Mom? Did you get one?)

Other books in the collection were William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law, 1771 (above), Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication on the Rights of Women, Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Document (1787), and Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733) by Voltaire.

What a great day!


The Ridge School said...

Very cool indeed!


Anonymous said...

I'm just curious, did they say why it was okay to hold the books without the neat-o white gloves?

(I would have expected them to use gloves. . .)

That is very cool indeed though!

Jules said...

Very cool, indeed. What a fun day. And so many people would not have enjoyed and understood it to the extent that your family was able to.

Heather said...

Wow! That sounds like an amazing experience!

Brittney said...

Oh...I am so green with envy! I love illuminated manuscripts! What a fantastic opportunity your family had! Thanks for sharing!