Furman acquires ‘a landmark in human history’
There are a handful of astronomers in history whose contributions were so extraordinary that they became a household name.
Galileo is one of them.
And now Furman University has acquired a book written by the famed Italian astronomer and physicist that is being used in the classroom and admired by students and faculty alike.
Published in 1699, “Dialogue Concerning the Two World Chief Systems” is actually two works of Galileo bound together, said Jeffrey Makala, associate director for special collections and university archivist.
It’s a complete fifth edition – the fourth in Latin – and Galileo’s second work on mathematics, he said.
“I had a chance to pore through it,” he said, “and we don’t have anything quite like it here in the collection.”
Makala said he had been looking to acquire a rare Wordsworth volume when the pandemic hit and the deal fell through. Then Furman physics professor David Turner came across the Galileo tome, which was being offered by a bookbinder in the area.
The two decided to go for it.
“This was a real fun thing for me,” said Turner. “I’ve been fond of old books for a long time.”
To make the purchase, Makala tapped the Wells Family Endowment for Special Collections, which was recently established by Robert Brabham ’68, and his wife, Edla.
Turner said he agreed to pay half as a gift to the library because it illustrates the liberal arts and sciences notion that he considers to be Furman’s greatest strength.
So far, he said, he’s used the book in his Survey of Science for Non-Science Majors class and plans to use it in Physics 111 as well. A plan is underway to make and bind five copies, one for Turner and four for the library. These copies will be available for check out, said Turner, who said that providing such access is in the spirit of Galileo: To put this work in the hands of the people.
“Dialogue” is the book that argues for the Copernican theory that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the solar system, Makala said. It’s also the book that got him into trouble with the Pope, he said.
“In the 17th century, the (Catholic) Church was still trying to hold onto power and control,” he said, “and science and the printing press and Protestant reformers were trying to challenge the Church in print.”
In addition, Turner said, the original publication from 1642 included a drawing of three characters, one of whom was considered to be a fool and resembled the Pope.
“This is what really started the trouble between Galileo and the Pope,” he said. “The Pope took this quite personally.”
The men said that Galileo is often called the father of modern science because he used the telescope to prove that the solar system is heliocentric.
“In many ways, this (book) is a landmark in human history,” added Turner. “It begins the modern scientific age.”
The book, which was obtained in September, will be used in a variety of classes from science and history to religion, Makala said. People also can come to the Special Collections reading room at the library to study it, he said.
But most of the time, it will be stored in a dark, climate-controlled closed stack equipped with alarms, Makala said. Meanwhile, Turner said he hopes to have some copies made to make the book more broadly accessible.
Makala said he’s been waiting to make a major acquisition using the three-year-old Wells Endowment, and that this was the first opportunity he had to get a volume the school normally wouldn’t be able to acquire.
“It’s a milestone text in the history of ideas, of science,” said Makala, who collects materials for Furman from across about 1,000 years. “It’s totally cool.”