Mapping Stars

Exhibitions on book history are relatively rare in Finland, but the National Library of Finland makes a great exception: a continuous flow of exhibitions on books and and their writers, producers, and readers is one of its most visible activities. During the renovation of late 1990s the National Library opened new exhibition rooms and has ever since shown its own treasures as well as invited scholars and book collectors to show their wide learning and special collections.

The current main exhibition in the Gallery of the library is The View From Paradise. The History of the Maps of the Heavens. The exhibition shows the history of viewing, illustrating and mapping of heavens from Antiquity to the present day from the scientific, cultural and historical perspectives. The exhibition was planned by professor Tapio Markkanen, and the event belongs to the activities of the International Year of Astronomy (2009).

The exhibition displays treasures from the National Library’s collections. Many of the maps come from the Nordenskiöld Collection. This collection is probably the most famous collection of the library. Scientist and explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832–1901) collected thousands of maps (mostly historical), geographical literature and travel books, and nowadays the collection is inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.

The exhibition is divided in three parts: first it shows the development of astronomy from the Antiquity to the Renaissance. The oldest works displayed date from the late 15th century. Ptolemy's Almagest was the key title for astronomical information until the explorations ond scientific works of Tycho Brahe and Nikolaus Copernicus – also shown at the exhibition – changed the view. The exhibition also show important books which moulded people's understanding but have since been forgotten: Alessandro Piccolomini is presented as one of the early writers to popularize astronomy in the 16th century.

The second part of the exhibition belongs to star cataloguing, and shows Finnish scholars at their work. Finland had its own place in the global research networks since the 18th century, when French scientist Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis traveled to North of Finland to measure a degree of latitude along a line of longitude to investigate whether the earth was flattened at its poles. During the early 19th century Finnish astronomers began to participate in the international mapping efforts. But all was not professional: also hobbyists’ star atlases and guidebooks from the 1800s to the present day are also shown.

Finally the exhibitions shows pieces of traditional equipment as well as pictures of the University of Helsinki Observatory, built in 1834. The Department of Astronomy used the observatory until last year.

The View from Paradise closes at the end of April. Soon after, the library will open a new exhibition What could kill the Book. The Book Now and in the Future in the gallery. In the Rotunda the library is also preparing to open an exhibition on Kalevala, the Finnish national epic which was first published 175 years ago. Both will be open during SHARP's annual conference in August.

1 comment:

  1. In addition to the events mentioned in the blog, the National Library of Finland will have yet another book history exhibition during next summer. "The new reading culture in the Finland of the 1700s: Favourite books from fiction to travel accounts" will open in May at the café of the library. The exhibition is steered and arranged by Library Director of SKS Cecilia af Forselles, who is also a member of the organizing committee of the "Book Culture from Below - The 18th Annual SHARP Conference".