1 December 2009

Old books and allergies

Posted by Jessica Ball

Alas! Coursework strikes again, in the form of a rather intensive thesis proposal rewriting process, numerous projects on advanced topics in volcanology, and exams pretty much every week since September. (Perhaps an indication that I should quit taking classes for a bit, no matter how interesting I find them…) I feel bad for not posting much in the past couple of weeks, but blogging has to come after school obligations.

This topic popped into my head after I got fed up with my messy apartment and went on a cleaning and organizing spree, during which I probably shifted a few tens of pounds of books back to their shelves. A lot of my books are textbooks I’ve used in classes, or popular-science type volcanology books, but I’ve also got a small collection of older books about geology. One thing that I love to do is browse through the older journals and textbooks in the geology section of our library, and collect older texts that I find at book sales or used book shops. These are probably bad habits on my part, since I’m quite allergic to some sort of book mold, and I inevitably end up with itchy eyes and a nasty headache afterward.

But I can’t quit! It’s really fascinating to me to pick up an introductory geology text from, say, the pre-Wegener era, and see the old explanations for tectonic processes, or go even further back and find a 19th-century description of a field area that’s as much a travelogue as a geologic history. Old maps are just as cool; one thing that I need to do sometime this winter is make my way down to the Buffalo central library and go see their copy of the William Smith 1815 geologic map of Great Britain.

My favorite discovery, though, was in the geology library at my alma mater. I was trying to see what the oldest book in our collection was, and came across a 19th century intro geology text. There were a lot of scribbled notes in the margins – and by scribbled I mean “more elegant cursive than I will ever achieve” – but one of them wasn’t about geology. It read something like, “February 24, 1842…Rained all day.”

This just cracked me up. Although it’s not terribly likely that the book was ever used by a geologist at William & Mary back in the 19th century, that is just the sort of comment that I’d expect a bored student to write in the margins if they were sitting around Williamsburg in February, where it does, quite often, rain all day. Some long-dead student got bored with reading, just like I do sometimes…It was a neat way to connect with the past, and I’m always on the lookout for “new” old things, even if they make me sneeze.