Here in Canberra, The National Library of Australia currently has the most exquisite exhibition of handwritten manuscripts on loan from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library). Ten centuries of treasures are on display and the list of contributors is enough to make any academic weak at the knees. As the preamble states, in a world where “we increasingly communicate through emails, blogs and tweets, and as handwriting recedes into the past, it is timely to pause and consider the volume of words written by hand over the past 1000 years”. So am I saying stop reading this blog and go to the library….well yes temporarily, then you can come back and keep reading this blog.
For those who didn’t drop what they were doing and run to the library, the exhibition includes documents handwritten by some of the most famous figures in the history of science, philosophy, exploration, politics, religion, music and art. While all the works were incredibly impressive I have a slight bias toward those penned by scientists, and felt the overwhelming urge to break the glass and touch the paper that had been touched by the hands of these great men and women. I doubted that brilliance would rub off this way, so I simply pored over them instead. For the lovers of mathematics and physics I have seen the writing of Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, René Descartes and Albert Einstein. For the naturalists I highly recommend the scientific drawings and musings of Alexander von Humbolt (who is attributed as founding the discipline of biogeography), Johann Reinhold Forster when on board the good ship Resolution with Captain Cook as Commander (1772–1775) and THE Charles Darwin (no explanation needed). The biologists will gasp at standing so close to manuscripts by the fathers of microbiology: Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek (think microscopy) and Louis Pasteur (as in pasteurization and vaccination) while the original penmanship of Alfred Nobel (of the prize and patent for dynamite fame) and Marie Curie will please those with a proclivity for the more destructive side of chemistry.
The exhibition runs until the 18th of March and admission is free. However it is an idea to register in advance as it is understandably very popular. For more information see the National Library’s site, here, then come back tomorrow to read the blog.