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.
"There were hundreds of years of old manuscript tradition that these early printers had to adopt because that is what a book looked like and felt like during the period," he said. "You can see how a lot of these early books are decorated in red and blue ink on top of the print — made to look as close as they can to a medieval manuscript and that is very much by design."
Works on display include everything from bibles and volumes on law to architecture, the works of authors from ancient Greece and Rome and volumes with early printed maps.
The oldest item, the Breslauer Bible, a manuscript Bible dating to about 1240 and the only complete English medieval Bible in the South is on display next to a similar one from the early days of printing so visitors can examine them side-by-side.
Elizabeth Sudduth, the director of the university's Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, said that the exhibit, which is on display through May 3, provides a glimpse of an important time in history when books, and the ideas and knowledge contained in them, were becoming widespread.
"This is our history. This is the history of learning and thought and communication," she said.
University of South Carolina Libraries: http://library.sc.edu/p/TCL ?