It’s Tuesday Tea at the Library! We live in a truly fortunate age, when a young student can sit at home and examine up close some of the rarest and most important books in history — books that a few years ago would have been accessible only to scholars in the world’s largest libraries.
Monday of this week (19 February) was the birthday of the great Polish scholar and scientist Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543), and today on our virtual library visit we’re going to look at an exceptionally fine copy of Copernicus’ most famous book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), first published in 1543 in Nuremberg, in what is now Germany. “De Rev” (as history of science geeks call it) is one of the most important books ever published because it laid out a comprehensive sun-centered or heliocentric picture of the solar system, to replace the earlier earth-centered or geocentric picture.
Fewer than 300 copies of the original 1543 first edition of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium survive today. This copy been scanned and made available by RareBookRoom.org, a wonderful site that provides online access to a selection of the most important books ever written. The scans are very high resolution, so all the pages can be examined one by one in great detail, right down to old handwritten notes in the margins, and to the texture of the paper as the metal type pressed into it. Spend a few homeschool minutes today exploring this treasured work from the history of science:
- 📖 NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1543), from the Warnock Library (rarerookroom.org)
The text is in Latin — the language of all scientific books written at that time — and the printing is exceptionally beautiful. Zoom in on a few pages using the +/- scale at the top to get a full appreciation for this great work, not only of science, but of the printer’s art as well. (You’ll probably have to be working on a computer screen rather than a phone to do this.)
If you have some serious science students in your homeschool, introduce them this week to Nicolaus Copernicus and how he changed our understanding of the world.
What educational discoveries have you made at your library lately?
❡ Explore more: For a quick review of the Renaissance, the historical period in which Copernicus lived, turn to pages 250–253 in your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books), and for an overview of the Scientific Revolution that he helped to spark see pages 266–267.
❡ Books in the running brooks: The sidebar on the River Houses website (riverhouses.org) has links to several important online library collections that we like to explore. The WorldCat Library Finder will help you find all the libraries in your local area, and WorldCat itself (worldcat.org) will help you locate the nearest copy of any book you desire (well, almost any book). 😊