Saturday, February 26, 2011

Classical Discovery of Classicist's Books

Does classical learning really take place outside a school context?

Absolutely! For a great example, check out this article about the detective work rare books librarians do ('Amazing' trove of Thomas Jefferson's books discovered), and read how the researchers involved model putting grammar and logic to work to achieve a valuable end.

This week, rare books librarians at Washington University of St. Louis revealed the discovery of 74 books from our third president's personal collection.

"It is so out of the blue and pretty amazing," said Washington University's rare books curator Erin Davis of the discovery that was announced on the U.S. holiday of President's Day. The books were among about 3,000 that were donated to the school in 1880 after the death of Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, and her husband, Joseph Coolidge.

Part of the researchers' job was a kind of detective work that involved knowledge of the Latin alphabet and an understanding of printing conventions:

In the hand-pressed books that were common in Jefferson's day, printers would place the letters of the alphabet — called signatures — at the bottom of some pages so that when the books were bound, the pages would be placed in the correct order. One way Jefferson marked his books was to place a small "T" in front of one of the "I" signature, which was significant because "I" is "J" in the Latin alphabet.

The researchers had to piece together what they knew about Jefferson's family history (how the books ended up at Washington University), languages, Jefferson's personal habits, and printing conventions to solve the mystery.

Now, thanks to their efforts, scholars are able to study Jefferson's handwritten notes on the archaeology book he used to design the University of Virginia.

Jefferson himself famously received a classical education (see this article from Memoria Press): "Jefferson received early training in Latin, Greek, and French from Reverend William Douglas, a Scottish clergyman. At the age of fourteen, Jefferson’s father died, and, at the express wish of his father, he continued his education with the Reverend James Maury, who ran a classical academy. After leaving Douglas’ academy, Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary, where his classical education continued along with his study of law."

Today, scholars are applying similar methods to uncover more information about this classically educated man.

What a great model for learning that gathers knowledge, then relates different categories of knowledge to each other in order to discover something new and share it with others!

For more information, why not read A Thomas Jefferson Education from the CC Bookstore?


MissMOE said...

Thanks for sharing this. My daughter wants to become a librarian and do something along these lines. Can't wait to ahare this with her.

1 Smart Mama said...

Good for her!