As a reference librarian one of my favorite parts of my job is helping researchers find the answers to their (many) burning questions. Most often, this involves working with our patrons in the reading room. However, on several happy occasions, it has meant working with the PEM curatorial staff doing exhibition research and development. Most recently, the library has worked in close conjunction with the curatorial team working on Lunar Attractions, which just opened in the Art and Nature Center.
Over a year ago, members from the curatorial and interpretation departments emailed the reference team asking what we could find in the collection related to the moon, ranging from materials on lunar phases, technologies, and even superstitions and werewolf culture. After filling a cart with dozens of resources from the 1500s through to the present day, we had a show-and-tell and went through each item for potential research and exhibition value. At the end of the day, the exhibition designers chose five items from the library’s collection to go on display.
Framed and installed on the wall gallery in the exhibit, is a page from a manuscript collection belonging to Edward Holyoke (1689-1769). Holyoke was an amateur astronomer and former President of Harvard College. In this work, dated 1713, Holyoke drew a solar eclipse alongside his astronomical observations, complete with multiple faces of the man in the moon. This is a common motif in our collections related to astronomical research. In the image below, Nathaniel Bowditch made a similar artistic decision in his rendering of a solar eclipse from 1811.
In the drawer units in the first section of the exhibit, the library is represented by four books, Peter Parley’s Tales About the Sun, Moon, and Stars (1848), Telescope Teachings (1859), Sea Phantoms, or, Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and of Sailors (1892), and The Moon’s Face (1893). These books all relate to the theme of either Magic to Madness or Observing the Moon and can be found alongside such objects as Marvel comics, brooches, and occult spoons.
In the first book, Peter Parley explains to his young audience the features and scientific elements of the moon in an easily digestible and conversational format. Parley’s volume was apparently quite popular as there were many editions published from the mid-1840s through to the late 1870s.
Grove Karl Gilbert (1843-1918), author of The Moon’s Face, was an American geologist who was particularly interested in the genesis of craters, both on the Earth and on the moon. According to National Geographic: “he theorized that the craters were impact craters, perhaps the result of meteor strikes. He put forth this hypothesis, the first scientist ever to do so, in a 1893 paper, “The Moon’s Face, a study of the Origin of its Features,” which was published in a bulletin of the Philosophical Society of Washington and so, unfortunately, was little noticed by professional astronomers. It would lie there in obscurity until rediscovered in the 1960s, at which time it would be recognized as one of the most important papers ever written on the subject because, of course, he was right.” Gilbert was eventually rewarded for his work with his own named crater.
Check out Lunar Attractions, open now until September 4, 2017.