Since its only about an hours drive from Damascus where I’m teaching this weekend I decided to combine his lecture with a visit to the new exhibit at the Peabody Library -Eureka!: Rare Books in the History of Scientific Discovery, and a dinner with a good friend who is in grad school at U of M.
The Eureka! exhibit was awe inspiring. Books by Copernicus, Galileo and Ben Franklin for starters.
The highlight for me was a French translation from 1722 of Newton’s Optics. It had a finely drawn illustration on the frontispiece based on Newton’s original drawing of his prism experiment. I wish I could have taken a photo of it – but that was not allowed. Instead I got a photo of me standing by the display case grinning from ear to ear.
I learned about the exhibit from an article in the Washington Post on Sunday. It explains why I was so excited to be able to see the books and their illustrations.
The architect/lover of libraries in me was even more thrilled when I went into the main reading room. Oooh la la! Its a floor to skylit ceiling arcade of books. I was in heaven. They were getting ready for some kind of gala event. What a posh place to spend an evening!
After catching up with my friend over dinner, I ended up five minutes late to the Main Building at MICA. There was a small crowd at the door to what turned out to be a way too small lecture room. Fire codes did not permit more to enter so we stood outside and listened. Gurney’s descriptions were so vivid that I didn’t need to see his slides. Though, of course, I was kicking myself for being late.
One of my favorites of the many stories he told was about visiting with a friend who is a fire chief. Gurney brought along a drawing just in case he was asked how Dinotopians fight fires. His friend picked it apart. And then later sent his ideas along with calculations to support the engineering. Lesson learned – its always a good idea to brainstorm with experts. In the final version (see above), his friend is the model for the Fire Chief.
When Gurney started blogging for his book tour in 2007 he said “I’m trying to do the same thing Arthur Denison did on his travels and record what he saw, heard, and thought during his journey.” Tonight he mentioned that he didn’t have internet at his house until a month ago, that until then he blogged from coffee shops, fast food places and libraries. All those little journeys to share his big journey with us. That generosity impressed me the most.
I’m snug in bed back in Damascus and contemplating the sharing of ideas. It used to be – and still is – the provenance of books and lectures in great halls of learning. Now, for better or worse, we have the internet. Thanks to Gurney for using both the old and new ways of sharing so well. I’m proud of myself for venturing out on this cold, rainy night in a strange city. Many good memories. All in all an inspiring evening.