WAYNE G. HAMMOND
The staff of the Chapin Library have been honored to work with Jay Pasachoff on behalf of his astronomy and astrophysics students, as they have steeped themselves in the history of their discipline through exposure to its most important books in original editions. This indeed is the purpose of the Chapin Library: to give students at Williams College historical perspective in their particular subjects, as well as to provide them with raw materials of research. It was with this aim that Alfred Clark Chapin, Williams Class of 1869, created for his alma mater one of the finest libraries of rare books and manuscripts at any American college or university, primarily in the service of undergraduate education. Williams students have long found it a distinct advantage, as well as a definite pleasure, to have access to a collection of this caliber, in which the History of Science has always been well represented.
Professor Pasachoff began to deposit his own distinguished collection of rare books in the Chapin Library in August 1984, beginning with Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius (1610) and Dialogo (1632), and Bayer’s Uranometria (1603). Although Mr. Chapin had purchased many significant books in this field, including original works by Copernicus, Tycho, and Kepler, the rare 1476 Calendarium by Regiomontanus, and a splendid copy of the 1496 Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest – listed, with later additions, elsewhere on this site – Galileo was conspicuous by his absence, nor were any of the great star atlases at hand. We gladly made room on our shelves for the newcomers. Before long, Jay began to deposit other books no less valuable and exciting, of which the Bode atlas of 1801 is certainly the most striking, and the Kepler Mysterium Cosmographicum, with its fold-out plate of geometric solids within the planetary orbits, perhaps the most intriguing. With Jay’s permission, we immediately began to use these in concert with Chapin holdings, each complementing the other, not only with his own students but also for classes in the history of mathematics and the history of art, and in a variety of exhibitions – for great books always span the disciplines.
An exhibition at the Chapin Library in 2003, The Heavens Revealed, gave us a welcome opportunity to reveal to a wider audience the superb quality of the Pasachoff library of astronomy books, and to honor Professor Pasachoff on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday and at the beginning of his thirty-second year of teaching at Williams. A handlist of the exhibition (PDF) may be read online. We had hoped also to produce in 2003, and still intend to publish if possible, a printed bibliographical catalogue of the collection, with descriptions by the present writer and brief essays by other hands. Circumstances, however, not least the transfer of the Chapin Library to temporary quarters in advance of new library construction, have so far delayed its completion. I apologize to the authors of the several essays, so generously and quickly provided, who have waited for them to appear for most of a decade, and trust that they will be pleased to see their work published on this web site in the interim, together with a short-title list of the Pasachoff collection and a checklist of astronomy holdings in the Chapin Library.
Wayne G. Hammond is Chapin Librarian at Williams College.
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