Eclipse Monday: Celestial Observances

Today marks the first total solar eclipse in 38 years. Everyone in North America plus parts of South America, Africa, and Europe will see at least a partial solar eclipse.

From our History of Science book collection we have examples of 17th-19th century astronomers observing solar and lunar eclipses to test scientific theories and gain knowledge about the sun and our planet. James Ferguson, a Scottish self-taught astronomer published the 1756 bestseller Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles and Made Easy for Those Who Have Not Studied Mathematics and included a chapter “Of Eclipses: their number and periods. A large catalogue of ancient and modern eclipses” and feature these beautiful plates:

phases of solar and lunar eclipses

Plate XI. Solar and Lunar eclipses. 1803.

The Geometrical Construction of Solar and Lunar Eclipses

Plate XII. The Geometrical Construction of Solar and Lunar Eclipses. 1803.

From a more recent book, we have James Turrell’s Eclipse published in 2000 to commemorate the total solar eclipse of August 11, 1999 and Turrell’s creation of a perceptual space: The Elliptic Ecliptic, a Sky Space built on a hillside facing St. Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall, England. The book includes this beautiful aquatint:

aquatint solar eclipse print

Aquatint response print. James Turrell’s Eclipse. 2000

Today, we’ll be (safely) looking to the skies!

The Texan Emigrant


Among our Masterson Texana collection is this unusual little book about Texas.



Written by Col. Edward Stiff, the book acts as a biography of Col. Stiff, as well as a history of Texas. There are a few surprises inside, like this map.


Col. Stiff had very strong opinions about critics.


Also, this book plate from Yale is a bit unusual. I hope the book was obtained in an honest way.


Colorful Aesop


While looking for pigs in honor of National Pig Day in a variety of versions of Aesop’s Fables, something else popped up, hand painted illustrations. The painting is quite crude and may have been the work of someone bored rather than someone trying to decorate his/her favorite book. Regardless, it’s quite interesting and at times lovely.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Perhaps, this is the artist’s signature.


This book contains hundreds of illustrations, including a pig/hog. Happy National Pig Day!


Slave Narratives

Last week, we featured letters dealing with the transport of slaves. This week, we want to feature slave narratives.


This small, thin book is A Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis, a Colored Man, written by himself at the age of 54 from 1859.




The book focuses on Rev. Davis’s faith, as well as the steps he took to free himself, wife, and children from slavery. The link above explains the narrative in more detail.

The next book is Solomon Northrup‘s Twelve Years a Slave, recently made famous again by the 2013 film of the same name.





It looks like we might have found another treasure sitting unknown on the shelves. This is a first edition and perhaps a very early printing, since it lacks the engravings. There is a little note that explains why.




KTRU Tuesdays: Patten on Dickens

Dr. Robert Patten spent his academic career studying Charles Dickens. In this “To the Point” from December 18, 1978, Scott Hochberg talks with Dr. Patten about Charles Dickens’ views on Christmas.

Find out more about our Dickens’ holdings.

Image from: Rice University News & Media Relations; Board, Administration and Faculty Photo and Research files, ca. 1930-2000, UA 187, Box 60, Folder 17, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University

Freshmen in the Archives

This semester members of the Woodson have worked closely with professors who teach Freshman Writing Intensive Seminars (FWIS). It has been a great experience and a wonderful way to introduce new students to primary sources.

Amanda Focke helped with Sophia Hsu’s FWIS class, “Literature and Public Health.” Hsu’s students worked on archival research projects that culminated in multi-media group presentations and papers. In particular, the students worked with the human anatomy engravings in one of our most popular Enlightenment era rare books, Diderot’s Encyclopedie (published 1751-1766). This would have been one of the first scientific views of the human body published for a general audience. The students considered the following questions. How accurate is it? What did we know about the human body at that time?

Student looking at "The Psychiatric Bulletin"

Student looking at The Psychiatric Bulletin

Students also explored the journal known as the Psychiatric Bulletin: for the physician in general practice (1950s), full of dramatic illustrations, as well as the role of Rice Institute in the development of the artificial heart (late 1960s) as described in newspaper accounts. The students enjoyed the creative spark which using these fascinating primary sources gave to their writing tasks.

Norie Guthrie worked with two classes this semester: Burke Nixon’s “Medical Humanities: Literature, Medicine and the Practice of Empathy” and Dr. Andrew Klein’s “Popular Music and American Culture” course. Rice News did a wonderful write up about singer-songwriter Vince Bell visiting Nixon’s class.

For Dr. Klein’s class, singer-songwriter Richard Dobson spoke to the students about how he became a songwriter, his participation in Houston’s folk music scene, the craft of songwriting, and the current state of popular country music. The class also explored some of our collections from the Houston Folk Music Archive in an effort to understand how primary sources informed their ideas of this music scene.

As a final project, Dr. Klein’s students created websites about a specific scene and/or subculture. Two of the students made websites about the Houston folk scene and used a variety of primary and secondary sources in our collection. We can’t wait to see the results of their work.

Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”


Sometimes when writing blog posts, I plug keywords into the library’s catalog of our rare books. Since there’s a cold front coming through, I chose “cold.” While not surprising, one of the results was Truman Capote‘s important work that helped launch the true crime genre.



What is surprising is that our copy is a hard bound limited first edition. In fact, it’s 261 of 500 and signed by Capote.


It’s always fun to find extraordinary little gems hidden in our rare books collection.

With the Airmen: A Mystery


One of our largest rare book collections is the Benjamin Monroe Anderson Collection on the History of Aeronautics. Some of the books have beautiful covers like With the Airmen by Claude Grahame White and Harry Harper with colored illustrations by Cyrus Cuneo.


Now, here’s the mystery. This version of the book doesn’t contain a date. Furthermore, when I searched online, I couldn’t find an example of this particular cover. Instead, the one below is the common version.


The only clue about the our book’s publication date is that Auntie Syb. gifted it “Xmas 1925.”

Pulling Teeth


In the medical section of our rare books collection is a wonderful little book titled The Illustrated Practical Mesmerist, Curative and Scientific, 3rd edition by William Davey.

On the hunt to create a spooky gif, our student worker, Chad, found this great illustration. Despite being Mesmerized, the patient did feel a bit of pain.