Great Library of Alexandria was a beacon of inspiration for the elite
scholars of the time. Though the library was burned partially in 391
- and most completely in 642 - libraries have become repositories of
culture around the world, cataloging the whole of human experience.
With everything from a one of a kind, never published
manuscript by Mark Twain to Shakespeare folios, a diary kept by George
Washington and a leaf from a Gutenberg King James Bible, the Burton
Historical Collections and Rare Book Room, located in the Main Branch
of the Detroit Public Library, is just such a treasury.
Amidst the collections holdings is a rare edition of one
of history's most influential scientific texts: Polish astronomer Nicolaus
Copernicus's De revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions
of Heavenly Spheres) which is kept securely in the library's vault.
work was first published in 1543 - the year of Copernicus's death. The
DPL copy is from the second printing in 1566. According to Harvard astronomer
and Copernicus scholar Owen Gingerich, the DPL acquired its copy in
1963 from the private collection of the Duke of Lerma in Spain.
In De revolutionibus, Copernicus proposed that
the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the universe. He was not
the first scientist to suggest this. The Greek astronomer Aristarchus
of Samos (no relation to one-time Alexandrian librarian, Aristarchus
of Samothrace) had proposed a heliocentric model in the 3rd century
B.C. - but astronomers of Copernicus's day still believed that everything
revolved around them.
removing the earth from its special place in the universe, Copernicus's
theory eroded the ancient distinction between "the heavens"
and "the earth" and touched off a series of major scientific
and cultural revolutions that led to a better understanding of humanity's
place in the universe. - Scott Ligon and Nick Sousanis, with contributions
from Lauren Fox.
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