COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Before the 80,000-seat football stadium, before the sprawling campus and even before the first building at the University of South Carolina, there were the books. And now the university has, for the first time, put on display at once the earliest printed books in its collection.
"Our First Century: Early Printed Books, 1471 - 1571" at the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library provides a glimpse at early printed books at a time when the centuries old way of hand-writing manuscripts was giving way to the printing press.
In founding the university, then South Carolina College, in 1801, one of the first things state lawmakers did was provide money to send a member of the board of trustees and a member of the faculty to Europe to buy books and to buy scientific equipment. About half of the early volumes now on display were acquired by the university before the Civil War.
"I wanted to give people the opportunity to see a large group of very early printed books. In the Southeast you don't get to see that all that often," said Jeffrey Makala, the curator of the exhibit.
"When you are looking at these books you are looking at a strange world but also a familiar world," he said. "The subjects of these books are often strange and arcane and they are lost authorities we don't read today."
At the same time, visitors can see how early books were developing, including title pages, which were not used in manuscripts.
"You can see the relationship between text and illustration and how these early printers were solving problems in how to graphically or symbolically display information," said Makala, librarian for instruction and outreach at the university.