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Collaboration with Library for a rare book adds to exhibition

Posted on May 15, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Adrienne Gennett

Creating Global Understanding is a collaborative exhibition, between University Museums and the World Languages and Cultures department. Collaborations are so important in everything we do at University Museums and this exhibition was a perfect opportunity to not only collaborate with faculty, but also with the Library. In the past few years I have worked several times with the Library to borrow rare and historic books for various exhibitions. I first borrowed the Encyclopédie for an exhibition of the Iowa printmaker and curator, Amy Worthen. The exhibition included both the volume open to the written entry for engraving, along with the volume of plates showing the page that included images of engraving tools and processes. The addition of these historic volumes were perfect accompaniments to the prints of Worthen, helping to explain the history and work behind the creation of the prints on exhibition.

When Dr. Michèle Schaal and I were developing the Creating Global Understanding exhibition and thinking about objects for the French section, I remembered the Encyclopédie and we both agreed it would be an important addition to the exhibition. Working with the Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist, Amy Bishop, and Conservator, Sofia (Sonya) Barron, to secure the loan, we were able to reuse the specially made cradle for the Worthen exhibition to exhibit the volume of plates again in this new exhibition. In Creating Global Understanding the volume is open to a plate with images of astronomical science equipment, referencing the many science and engineering fields studied at Iowa State, while also reminding visitors of the great importance the 18th century period of Enlightenment had on those fields that continue to be studied at Iowa State. 

These campus collaborations are crucial, they allow exhibitions to be more inclusive of viewpoints and materials from across the university. Not only are they fun for me, but they give each of us a better understanding of the primary resources available on campus that can be used to create wonderful projects -- made better because we collaborated.

~ Adrienne Gennett, Associate Curator


And here is the entry for the Encyclopédie from Creating Global Understanding:

The Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopedia, or Reasoned Dictionary of Sciences, Arts, and Crafts) was published between 1751 and 1772 by a group of some of France’s leading philosophers. The collection is regarded as one of the most famous examples of Enlightenment thinking and its intent was to change the way people think and to expand access to knowledge. The 17-volume work contains detailed engravings and in-depth entries that cover everything from philosophical questions to how to construct mechanical devices for use in daily life. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert were the original editors; articles from experts cover science, medicine, physics, religion, and political theory, with Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu among the best-known contributors. The project was considered controversial due to the radical decision to organize the work based on human reason rather than religious teachings or accepted understandings of nature. This humanistic approach went against governmental and Church power structures of the time. The work was temporarily suppressed several times and some of its contributors were arrested. By including varying viewpoints and veiled sarcasm in the entries, Diderot was able to push the work through to publication. The Encyclopédistesare frequently identified as Enlightenment philosophers whose ideas are seen as paving the way for the French Revolution. Their approach to making knowledge accessible to all became the basis for future educational projects around the world. 

~ Dr. Melissa Deininger, Lecturer of French


Recueil de planches, sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts méchaniques, avec leur explication ..., 1762–72
Denis Diderot (French, 1713–1784)
Paris, Briasson etc.
Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives
AE25 En185 plates, vol. 5

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