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Discovering the Beauty of Science - Historic Texts at the Huntington Library

Christine Latulippe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) and Joe Latulippe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona)

In addition to exploring the beauty of science, visitors to the Huntington Library can admire the detail and opulence of historic texts and documents including fonts, colors, illustrations, fold-outs, and “pop-ups” that any graphic designer or layman will appreciate. As an example, the Munger Research Center at the Huntington holds a 1570 copy of Billingsley’s edition of Euclid’s Elements that contains pop-ups of three-dimensional geometric objects such as pyramids and perpendicular planes. Within the Beautiful Science exhibit, Isaac Newton’s "An Account of a New Kind of Telescope, invented by Mr. Isaac Newton" in the 1672 Philosophical Transactions contains a page that folds out to reveal a larger diagram than the regular page size will allow (see Figure 6, below). These special bookmaking effects can only truly be appreciated when viewing a manuscript in person; photographs don’t do justice to the sight, smell, and feel of authentic historical documents.

Newton's 1672 An Account of a New Kind of Telescope

Figure 6. A fold-out page from Isaac Newton’s 1672 "An Account of a New Kind of Telescope, invented by Mr. Isaac Newton" (photo by Christine Latulippe)

For a truly memorable experience, the 90,000 square foot Munger Research Center at the Huntington Library allows university faculty and scholars access to its documents and resources by appointment. Details can be found at the Huntington web site. This is an opportunity to view firsthand these scientific and artistic treasures in their original state. The Huntington’s science collections include the recently acquired 67,000 volume Burndy Library from the Dibner family of Connecticut, which consists of an extensive collection in the history of science and technology. After touring the Beautiful Science exhibit, we spent some time with the library’s Dibner Curator of the History of Science and Technology, Daniel Lewis, and were able to see some specific texts like a copy of Billingsley’s 1570 “pop-up” edition of Euclid’s Elements. This special experience was exciting for students and a nice culmination to our classroom and museum exploration of texts that allow us to understand the history of mathematics. As one student reflected, “It was amazing… [to be] one of the rare people to see these valuable books so closely.”