Friday, May 06, 2011

Bones and book plates

American Museum of Natural History, New York
AMNH photo by Sean Ng via Flickr

I've been developing a preternatural obsession with the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Public Library and the amazing hidden collections they hold. I love stories of dark hallways, historic treasures and rooms filled with historic documents waiting to be rifled through. I like to think I'd have the research stamina to pour over documents in search of that one piece of evidence that would make my argument. There's also a little part of me that likes to dream that one day my personal papers will end up at a place like this and be part of someone else's research expedition. I even draw little doodles throughout my notebook specifically to entertain future generations ;-)

American Museum of Natural History
AMNH photo by Charlyn Wee via Flickr

My fascination has partly been triggered by the Special Agent Pendergast series I've been reading by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. While working at a bookstore for years, I continually passed these books by with no more than a glance. Thanks to a free e-book included with another purchase (great ploy, guys) I was introduced to their writing and the series. Fun! The two books I've read involve mysteries surrounding the museum and take you intimately inside various nooks and crannies of the building. There are even a couple of trips to the New York Public Library for research.

New York Public Library
NYPL photo by Timo via Flickr

My desire to make my pilgrimage to the New York Public Library (NYPL) was further fueled by a couple of recent articles. Did you know NYPL has over 40,000 menus from around the world? I never would have guessed they catalogued seemingly arcane bits of paper; however, they make an intriguing case about how analyzing these menus can tell us a lot about different regions and the eating habits of people. I love it. Anyway, they're looking for help in transcribing some of the menus they've scanned in, and you can help. The second article was one of The Paris Review's cultural diaries. The writer Amelie Nothomb was treated to a private tour of NYPL and got a chance to check out some of their treasures, including unpublished letters written by Marie Curie, a chemistry paper written by a sixteen-year-old Hemingway, the desk where Charles Dickens wrote, and Virginia Woolf’s cane that was left on the banks of the river where she drowned herself.

New York Public Library #5
NYPL photo by an untrained eye via Flickr

Seriously interesting stuff.

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