Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Our Hogwarts Digital Collection

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

When Hogwarts librarian Irma Pince first appears in book one of the Harry Potter series, published twenty years ago this week, she is brandishing a feather duster and ordering young Harry out of the library where he’s pursing the noble (and ultimately world-saving) task of looking up the alchemist Nicholas Flamel.

Rare book room

Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

Pince doesn’t exactly scream poster-child for open access.  And yet, a chance look at our card catalog recently revealed that the Academy Library might have something in common with Hogwarts, aside from its ambiance (The Library’s Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, nestled on a locked mezzanine level of the Academy that visitors sometimes call its “Hogwarts floor,” frequently invites comparisons.)  That something is our collections.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The New York Academy of Medicine Library has launched a special digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.” Featuring rare books dating back to the fifteenth century, the collection reveals the history behind many of the creatures, plants and other magical elements that appear in the Harry Potter series.

The digital collection is organized as a fictional study aid for Hogwarts students preparing for their important magical exams, the O.W.L.s. The collection is organized into seven Hogwarts courses, featuring historical content related to each area of magical study. For example, the Transfiguration section focuses on alchemy and the work of Nicholas Flamel—a historical figure who is fictionalized in Rowling’s books.  Both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and seventeenth century scientific literature represent Nicholas Flamel as an important alchemist responsible for achieving the philosopher’s stone (the real Flamel was a wealthy manuscript seller, and likely never an alchemist himself).

Nicolas Flamel's Hieroglyphicks_watermark

Salmon, William. Medicina Practica, or the Practical Physician, 1707, featuring Nicholas Flamel’s Hieroglyphics.

The collection’s Care of Magical Creatures section features spectacular centuries-old drawings of dragons, unicorns and basilisks—plenty of prep material here to keep the attention of young wizards during this third year elective course.

The early naturalists Conrad Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi both devoted entire volumes of their encyclopedic works to serpents.   Some illustrations depicted snakes as we might see them in the natural world.  Others celebrated more fantastical serpentine creatures, including a seven headed-hydra and a basilisk.  Said to be the ruler of the serpents, the basilisk (from the Greek, basiliskos, for little king) looks a little like a turtle with a crown on his head.

Aldrovandi's Snakes_watermark

Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, pp. 270-271.

Aldrovandi's Basilisk_watermark

Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, p. 363.

Off campus proves to be where the wild (er) things are.  In book one of the series, Voldemort gains strength by ingesting the blood of a unicorn.  Rowling’s unicorns have healing properties and can act as antidotes to poison.  The qualities Rowling assigns to these beautiful and rarest of beasts echo their characterization in early modern natural history texts.  Several of these works —illustrated encyclopedias that depict and describe both real and fantastic animals in the sixteenth century—present the unicorn as powerful healers.

We’ve written already about the French apothecary Pierre Pomet’s illustrations of the five types of unicorns, and his assertion in his 1684 history of drugs that unicorn horns sold in most apothecary shops were actually the horns of narwhals.

Pomet's Unicorns_watermark

Pomet, Pierre. Histoire generale de drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux, & des mineraux…., 1694, p. 9.(Click Here for a coloring sheet of this image!)

Conrad Gessner’s 4500 page encyclopedia of animals, the Historia Animalium, also includes a depiction of a unicorn (below). Gessner writes that unicorn horn and wine together can counteract poisons, and assigns it other efficacious properties.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet a band of spirited and enigmatic centaurs in the Forbidden Forest.  Centaurs and mer-people fall into a category throughout the series of what Rowling refers to as “half-breeds”:  hybrid creatures who are part man or woman, and part animal. This category of beings is often diminished for being somehow less than fully human.  In the books, half-breeds don’t have the civil rights that other wizarding folk have. Hagrid, Dumbledore, and others are sympathetic to the creatures—In Harry’s fifth year, Dumbledore appoints one as Hogwarts’ Divination Professor.

While the History of Magic taught at Hogwarts is largely fictional, the Academy Library contains books in the real-life history of magic, including the 1658 manual Natural Magick by Giovanni Battista della Porta and a manual for witch-hunters by della Porta’s rival, Jean Bodin—two highlights of the digital collection. Another featured treasure is an actual bezoar (ours comes from the stomach of a cow, ca. 1862), and is used as a key potions ingredient by Hogwarts’ students.

As Hermione Granger says, “When in doubt, go to the library.” We hope you’ll heed her advice and check out our new digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.”

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#ColorOurCollections, Day 5

#ColorOurCollections-bannerfinal

It’s the final day of #ColorOurCollections, a week-long special collections coloring fest we’ve organized on social media. We are sad to see it go, and thank everyone who participated. Enjoy the final day of sharing and coloring items from nearly 200 cultural institutions from around the world (see our ever-growing list).

Every day on our blog, we’ve featured #ColorOurCollections coloring sheets from our library, along with content from participants worldwide. And don’t forget to download our full #ColorOurCollections coloring book.

Today’s coloring sheets come from Ulisse Aldrovandi (featured earlier this week) and another great naturalist, Conrad Gesner. Gesner (1516-1565) was from Switzerland and contributed to fields including medicine, linguistics, botany, and zoology. His most famous work is the Historia Animalium, an enormous five-volume encyclopedia on animals. The Academy is lucky to have a beautifully hand-colored copy of the volume on birds, Historiæ animalium liber III, which was the subject of a blog post. Fortunately for #ColorOurCollections, our copies of the 1551 Historiæ animalium Liber I, and the 1563 German translation Thierbuch are uncolored.

Lynx from Aldrovandi's De quadrupedib. digitatis viviparis, 1637. Click to download the PDF coloring sheet.

Lynx from Aldrovandi’s De quadrupedib. digitatis viviparis, 1637. Click to download the PDF coloring sheet.

Elephant from Gesner, Historiae Animalium, Liber I, 1551. Click to download the PDF coloring sheet.

Elephant from Gesner, Historiae Animalium, Liber I, 1551. Click to download the PDF coloring sheet.

This afternoon, we will post a list of all the coloring books, pages, and albums shared by #ColorOurCollections participants—keep your eyes on this space! This morning, we have three we are excited to spotlight.

Indiana University’s Lilly Library posted its coloring book yesterday. The dragon turned weapon may be one of the most astonishing illustrations we’ve seen in some time.

Roberto Valturio. De re militari. Verona, 1472. U101 .V2 vault. Courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Roberto Valturio. De re militari. Verona, 1472. U101 .V2 vault. Courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University.

The Cooper Hewitt also posted a coloring book yesterday. If you are gung-ho about adult coloring books, this one will be right up your alley. It is full of stunning Katagami patterns.

Katagami, Water Pattern, late 19th–early 20th century; Designed by Unknown ; Japan; cut mulberry paper treated with persimmon tannin and silk thread; 41.3 x 28 cm (16 1/4 x 11 in.) Mat: 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14 in.) Frame 50.2 x 39.7 cm (19 3/4 x 15 5/8 in.) 19 x 34.2 cm (7 1/2 x 13 7/16 in.); 1976-103-111 http://cprhw.tt/o/2CLkk/. Courtesey of Cooper Hewitt.

Katagami, Water Pattern, late 19th–early 20th century; Designed by Unknown ; Japan; cut mulberry paper treated with persimmon tannin and silk thread; 41.3 x 28 cm (16 1/4 x 11 in.) Mat: 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14 in.) Frame 50.2 x 39.7 cm (19 3/4 x 15 5/8 in.) 19 x 34.2 cm (71/2 x 13 7/16 in.); 1976-103-111 http://cprhw.tt/o/2CLkk/. Courtesey of the Cooper Hewitt.

Finally, we don’t know how we’ve gotten this far into the week without featuring the coloring book from the New York Public Library. Librarians from across the library’s divisions teamed up to select public domain images from the library’s collections. We have yet to see someone color in these hieroglyphs—are you up to the challenge?

[Rappresentazione zodiacale in tre quadri consecutivi]. Image ID: 425361. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

[Rappresentazione zodiacale in tre quadri consecutivi]. Image ID: 425361. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

We thank everyone for coloring with us this week. Keep those markers and colored pencils in a safe place: we plan to bring back #ColorOurCollections the first week of February, 2017.

#ColorOurCollections Begins!

It’s the first day of #ColorOurCollections, a week-long special collections coloring fest we’re organizing on social media. More than 50 institutions (see our growing list) will share images from their collections for you to download and color from now through Friday. You are invited to share your results using the hashtag.

Every day on our blog, we will feature two #ColorOurCollections coloring sheets from our library, along with content from participants worldwide. You can also download our full #ColorOurCollections coloring book.

Our first coloring sheet shows the five types of unicorns depicted in Pierre Pomet’s 1694 Histoire generale des drogues. The horns of these mythical creatures were believed to have medicinal properties, although, as Pomet admits, “unicorn horn” was usually the tusk of a narwhal. For more on Pomet and unicorns, read this blog post.

Click to download the PDF coloring sheet featuring the unicorns in Pomet, Histoire general des drogues, 1694.

Click to download the PDF coloring sheet featuring the unicorns in Pomet, Histoire general des drogues, 1694.

Our second coloring sheet features another horned animal, found in Gesner’s Historia animalium, Liber I. As we know, rhinoceroses do not have horns on their backs; Gesner’s rhino can be traced back to a 1515 print by Albrecht Durer, which was unsurprisingly not drawn from life. As unicorns and horned-back rhinos don’t exist, there’s no need to strive for realism. We’d love to see the most fantastically colorful beasts you can imagine! Don’t forget to tag @nyamhistory and include #ColorOurCollections.

Click to download the PDF coloring sheet featuring the rhino in Gesner, Historiae Animalium, Liber I, 1551

Click to download the PDF coloring sheet featuring the rhino in Gesner, Historiae Animalium, Liber I, 1551

We are thrilled that special collections across the pond agreed to join #ColorOurCollections, even with the Americanized spelling in the hashtag. Last week, the University of Strathclyde’s Archives and Special Collections, Europeana, and the Bodleian Libraries all released coloring books. Click on each organization to download, print, and color.

Page 4 of the coloring book from the University of Strathclyde’s Archives and Special Collections, featuring Tscep von wonders, Brussels, 1514?

Page 4 of the coloring book from the University of Strathclyde’s Archives and Special Collections, featuring Tscep von wonders, Brussels, 1514?

How do special collections decide which images to select for coloring? James Madison University Libraries Special Collections described their process on their blog. We especially love the Alice and Wonderland title page. Download their full coloring book.

A coloring page selected by James Madison University Libraries, featuring a 1910 illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland.

A coloring page selected by James Madison University Libraries, featuring a 1910 illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland.

Our final feature of the day comes from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries who will keep you coloring for years! Enjoy their unbelievable Flickr album with more than 1,000 images representing their member libraries. Still want more? Enjoy the coloring sheets on their Pinterest board, which you can also download in coloring book form.

A coloring sheet from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, featuring Seguy, Papillons, 1925.

A coloring sheet from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, featuring Seguy, Papillons, 1925.

Keep following #ColorOurCollections on your favorite social media outlets. And take a look at our Pinterest boards, where we are pinning images shared by participating special collections along with images colored by fans.

Coming Soon at the Center: Gessner, Coloring, Lobotomy, Digital Humanities

The coming weeks are busy ones for the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. We hope you’ll join us for these upcoming events.

Ann Blair

Ann Blair

This Saturday, January 30, at 11 am, Harvard historian Ann Blair will give a free Bibliography Week lecture, Credit, thanks, and blame in the works of Conrad Gessner (1516-1565).” Blair will show how the Zürich physician and natural historian used the print medium to promote his forth-coming publications. Gessner also sought contributions of manuscripts, images, and help from scholars all over Europe. Register online.

February 1-5 is #ColorOurCollections Week, a special collections coloring fest we’ve organized on social media. More than 30 institutions will share images from their collections, and followers are invited to color the images and share their results. Email us at library@nyam.org for more details; we’ll add your institution to our Twitter list if you’d like to participate. Watch the hashtag and join in the fun! And watch this space: We’ll feature coloring content on the blog all next week.

Collections Care Assistant Emily Moyer and Archivist Rebecca Pou #ColorOurCollections.

Collections Care Assistant Emily Moyer and Archivist Rebecca Pou #ColorOurCollections.

Miriam Posner

Miriam Posner

On February 9 at 6 pm, Miriam Posner, University of California, Los Angeles, will offer a free lecture Walter Freeman and the Visual Culture of Lobotomy.” Between 1936 and 1967, Freeman, a prominent neurologist, lobotomized as many as 3,500 Americans. Freeman also took patients’ photographs before their operations and years—even decades—later. Posner will detail her efforts to understand why Freeman was so devoted to photography, using computer-assisted image-mining and analysis techniques. This lecture will appeal to a wide-range of interests, including medical photography, data analysis, mid-twentieth century America, and the history of mental health. Register online.

Heidi Knoblauch

Heidi Knoblauch

The following day from 1 pm–5 pm, Posner will be joined by Heidi Knoblauch, Bard College, for a “Digital Humanities: Visualizing Data” workshop. The program will begin with a discussion of what people mean when they say “digital humanities,” followed by a hands-on section on how to find and structure data using Palladio, a tool for visualizing humanities data. The workshop costs $25 and is limited to 30 participants. Register online.

We hope to see you online and at our on-site events!

Happy Bird-day, Conrad Gesner (Item of the Month)

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Gesner_historiae_v3_1585_395-bMarch 26 marks the birthday of the man behind one of my favorite books in our collection.

Conrad Gesner was born in Zurich in 1516. His family was not wealthy, but thanks to various benefactors he was able to study and travel to Straussburg, Paris, Basel, and elsewhere. He became knowledgeable in many topics, including linguistics, botany, and zoology. He also received a medical degree and was a practicing physician.

His most famous work, Historia Animalium, is a well-illustrated, enormous encyclopedia on animals. The work was influential not only due to the quality and quantity of the woodcuts, but also because of its descriptions. Gesner relied heavily on existing works about animals, but he also included his own observations and enlisted many contributors who provided descriptions and specimens.1,2

Five volumes were published in total, the first in 1551 and the last, posthumously, in 1587. The first volume was on quadrupeds that gave birth to live young, the second on quadrupeds that laid eggs, the third on birds, the fourth on fish and aquatic animals, and the last on serpents. Since it is Gesner’s bird-day (get it?), we’re celebrating with some of his flying friends from Liber III of the Historia Animalium. In our copy, a 1585 edition, the woodcuts are hand-colored and many of the birds’ French names were added in by an early reader.

Click on an image to view the gallery:

References

1. Locy, William A. The growth of biology. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1925.

2. Locy, William A. Biology and its makers. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915.