Thursday, December 10, 2009

Old primates in the library

The Isabel McDonald Library at the Oregon National Primate Research Center on OHSU's West Campus will soon be relocating its staff and books for a construction project which is expected to last several months. The collection will reopen in a newly earthquake-proofed space. It seems like a good time to highlight some of the fun and fantastic titles from the Primate's Historical Book Case, home to over 125 rare and classic books. By scoping out the collection now, you can sneak in to see some of these gems during the slow holiday season, or plan to visit them in their new space after renovation.

In the "high points" category, we have Histoire naturelle des singes et des makis by J.B. Audebert (Paris : Desray, an 8. [i.e. 1800]), the first monograph from the renowned illustrator, with sixty-three leaves of plates. There's also the nine-volume Oeuvres completes de Buffon avec les supplemens [sic], augmentees de la classification de G. Cuvier, et accompagnees de 700 vignettes gravees sur acier, representant au moins 900 animaux (Paris : P. Dumenil, 1835-1836)--because it's just not a zoological library without a set of the works of this premier French naturalist. Lastly, I'll point out Anatomie comparee du cerveau, dans les quatres classes des animaux vertebres by Etienne Renaud Augustin Serres (Paris : Gabon et compagnie; [etc., etc.], 1824-26), which is a classic work from this embryologist and comparative anatomist.

In the fun for all ages category, we have the children's book A description of some curious and uncommon creatures, omitted in the Description of three hundred animals, and likewise in the Supplement to that book; designed as an addition to those two treatises for the entertainment of young people. Compiled by the same hand (London, Printed for Richard Ware and Thomas Boreman, 1739). If kids could successfully read the title, they'd be treated to sixteen pretty pictures of animals. Nowadays, we have books with short snappy titles that run to 1,000 pages (Harry Potter, anyone?)

In the politically incorrect category, we have the offprint Contribution a l'anatomie des races negres : dissection d'un boschiman by Leo Testut ([Paris : Masson, 1884]), in which Testut really seems convinced that the primate called a "boschiman" was a member of the Bushmen peoples of Africa. Equally offensive to modern tastes is A philological essay concerning the pygmies of the ancients. By Edward Tyson ... A. D. 1699. New ed., with an introduction treating of pigmy races and fairy tales, by Bertram C. A. Windle (London : D. Nutt, 1894). There aren't many books that have as subject headings Dwarfs, Pygmies, and Fairies. Why keep these titles if the ideas they contain are so misleading? Precisely because they show modern readers how incomplete science bolstered mistaken views, and remind us all to be on our guard about the claims of 21st century scientists. A tendency to question authority can be a healthy habit.

Lastly, in the unexpected category, we have the exotic Un Chimpance Cubano by Dr. Louis Montane (Habana : "El Siglo XX", 1915); the topical (having just passed the anniversary of Pearl Harbor) A list of the mammals of the Japanese war area by G. H. H. Tate (New York : The American museum of natural history, 1944); and the wacky-sounding Do you speak Chimpanzee? An introduction to the study of the speech of animals and of primitive men, by Georg Schwidetsky (London : G. Routledge & sons, ltd., 1932). And Chimpanzee is much more complicated than pig latin.

There's lots more to see and explore in the historical collection of the Primate Center; for online exploration, all the books are cataloged in the OHSU Library Catalog. For real-time trips to visit the collection, contact library staff. Enjoy!

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