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Thursday, 29 October 2020 17:45

Transactions of the American Philosophical Association

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Lately, I’ve returned to one of my favorite sections of the closed stacks, the old and rare books. There are some wonderful treasures here, and though many do not relate directly to Montgomery County, they give us some insight into what our county’s inhabitants were reading 200 years ago.

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On a bottom shelf, I found several volumes of the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, the society’s purpose is the “promoting of useful knowledge.” The word “philosophy” had a broader meaning in the Eighteenth Century, encompassing all scientific knowledge. The broadness of the society’s interests is demonstrated by the variety of subjects covered by the papers delivered before the society in its early decades.

The first volume was published in 1789, but the papers contained in it go back to 1768. The first article is an account of an orrery (a model of the solar system) built by David Rittenhouse of Norriton. Several articles are dedicated to the transit of Venus, an event Rittenhouse was the first to document from North America.

venus

Several of the papers have wonderful illustrations, some included in the text and some on large foldout sheets. This small illustration of a German double pick or sarkling iron is from a paper on vine cultivation. The first volume also contains letters and papers on curing raisins, distilling persimmons, and extracting oil from sunflower seeds.

pick

Much of the second volume, published in 1825, is devoted to insects of North America, though I’m not sorry to say there are no illustrations of them. There is this cool drawing of an alligator. While much of the volume concerns animals, plants, and minerals in North America, one paper is a study of the language of the Berbers in North Africa by the US Consul at Algiers, William Shaler.

alligator

berber

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