November 29, 2012

The System of Saturn

Christiaan Huygens (1629–95) was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, into a prominent Dutch family. Unlike his grandfather, father, and brother who all served as secretaries and diplomats to the ruling house of Orange, Huygens dedicated himself to science and mathematics. He published three mathematical books, produced a manuscript on hydrostatics, wrote a work on the collision of elastic bodies, did research on centrifugal force, and invented the pendulum clock. Huygens was especially intrigued by the planet Saturn, whose protruding “handles” were visible through the telescopes of the day but impossible to explain. With his brother Constantijn, Huygens built a powerful telescope with which he hoped to unravel the mystery of Saturn’s unusual appearance. Huygens discovered Saturn’s moon, Titan, and he put forward the theory that the planet was surrounded by a thin, flat ring. In 1659, Huygens published his Systema Saturnium, in which he calculated that Saturn’s moon took just under 16 days to orbit the planet and presented the evidence for his theory that Saturn was surrounded by a ring tilted 20 degrees to the plane of Saturn’s orbit. American inventor, book collector, and philanthropist Bern Dibner (1897–1988) selected Systema Saturnium as one of the “Heralds of Science,” the 200 most significant titles in the development of Western science and technology.


This document, known as the Neapolitan Ovid, can be traced with certainty to the region of Puglia (Apulia) in southern Italy, where it most likely was copied at the Monastery of San Benedetto di Bari. The work is a testament to the oldest manuscript tradition relating to the Metamorphoses, a Latin narrative poem by the first-century Roman poet Ovid, which was popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. The codex includes illustrations in bright colors that reflect the several styles that combined in southern Italy in the 11th century under the influence of the Normans, gradually replacing older Langobard and Arab traditions. Also apparent are influences from Byzantium and the Levant. The manuscript is written in a Bari variant of the Beneventan script, the national script of southern Italy between 800 and 1200. Now in the custody of the National Library in Naples, the codex once belonged to the Neapolitan convent of San Giovanni a Carbonara.

History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark: To the Sources of the Missouri, thence Across the Rocky Mountains and down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean

This account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, published in 1814, is based on the detailed journals kept by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the leaders of expedition. The book begins with “Life of Captain Lewis,” written by Thomas Jefferson, which reproduces Jefferson’s detailed instructions to Lewis regarding the goals of the expedition. “The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, and such principal streams of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregan [sic], Colorado, or any other river, may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across the continent, for purposes of commerce.” The 29-man Corps of Discovery set out from St. Louis on May 14, 1804. In the next 28 months, Lewis and Clark traveled more than 12,000 kilometers through unfamiliar terrain inhabited by Indian tribes. By the end of 1804, they had made it to the Great Bend of the Missouri River. In 1805, they journeyed up the Missouri, across the Rocky Mountains, and down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. After suffering through a dismal winter, the members of the expedition began their long return journey, finally reaching Saint Louis on September 23, 1806.

General Map of the City of Lisbon, 1785

This detailed map of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, is the work of cartographer Franc D. Milient. In 1755, Lisbon was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake followed by a tidal wave. The chief minister at that time, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), also known as the first Marquis of Pombal, decided to raze what remained of the city center and rebuild it according to contemporary ideas about urban planning. The reconstruction can be seen in this map, which shows the orderly layout of the downtown along a grid. Carvalho e Melo also tested architectural models for their ability to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. As a result of his policies, the reconstructed buildings in the center of Lisbon can be thought of as the world’s first earthquake-proof buildings.


Morgan Philips Price (1885–1973) was a British journalist, photographer, and politician who wrote several books about Russia. He studied science at Cambridge University. In 1910 he joined a British scientific expedition to explore the headwaters of the Enesei River in central Siberia with two friends, writer, photographer, and cartographer Douglas Carruthers, and J.H. Miller, a zoologist and big-game hunter. Siberia is Price’s account of the expedition and his travels on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, his stay in the city of Krasnoiarsk, and his visit to the Siberian provincial town of Minusinsk. The book, published in 1914, is illustrated with photographs and maps. It includes chapters on the history of the colonization and social evolution of Siberia, economic conditions in western and central Siberia, and the economic future of Siberia. The concluding chapter is devoted to Mongolia, which Price also visited. Mongolia had been a Chinese province since 1691, but became an autonomous state under Russian protection in 1912. Price was an enthusiast for Siberia and its economic prospects, and saw many parallels between its development and that of Canada. He later reported on the Russian Revolution for the Manchester Guardian and served as a member of Parliament.

Austral Africa: Losing It or Ruling It; Being Incidents and Experiences in Bechuanaland, Cape Colony, and England

John Mackenzie (1835–99) was a Scottish missionary who was sent by the London Missionary Society to South Africa in 1858. He lived at Shoshong in present-day Botswana in 1862–76. Mackenzie believed that the Ngwato and other African peoples with whom he worked were threatened by Boer freebooters encroaching on their territory from the south, as well as by politicians such as Cecil Rhodes who wanted to see extensive territories to the north annexed to the British Cape Colony. He thus began a campaign for the establishment of what became the Bechuanaland Protectorate, to be ruled directly from Britain. Austral Africa: Losing It or Ruling It is Mackenzie’s account of events leading to the establishment of the protectorate. Influenced by Mackenzie, in January 1885 the British cabinet decided to send a military expedition to South Africa to assert British sovereignty over the contested territory. Sir Charles Warren (1840–1927) led a force of 4,000 imperial troops northward from Cape Town. After making treaties with several African chiefs, Warren announced the establishment of the protectorate in March 1885. Mackenzie accompanied Warren, and Austral Africa contains a detailed account of the expedition. The book, published in two volumes in 1887 and including maps, photographs, and illustrations, remains an important source for the early history of Botswana.