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Special Collections & Archives: Seeing Euclid

SC&A includes manuscripts and archives, medieval to modern; early and finely printed books, and science fiction collections.

 

Seeing Euclid: a networked exhibition

From 4 June until 15 July, Special Collections is taking part in the Seeing Euclid exhibition alongside nearly 30 other institutions in Britain and Ireland, highlighting the legacy of Euclid’s Elements in Early Modern Britain and Ireland.

Euclidean geometry has held sway in Europe for nearly two and a half thousand years. It has been used by surveyors to map fields and architects to design buildings, and studied by generations of schoolchildren. Early thinkers turned to it as a source of philosophy; later readers saw in it a monument to the genius of the Greeks, or an exercise for improving the mind. Today Euclid is commemorated in place names, on postage stamps, and even as an interplanetary satellite.

The Elements of Geometry was written by Euclid of Alexandria around 300BCE and transmitted through the medieval world in Greek, Arabic, Latin and other languages. In the 17th century the Elements enjoyed a particular resurgence. Nearly 300 editions of the text appeared between 1482 and 1700, ranging in size from large library volumes to small pocket-books. The University of Liverpool exhibition highlights editions from the 16th and 17th centuries with evidence of many former owners, including, possibly, King Charles I.

The Euclid editions on display in the Harold Cohen Library are:

  • The first French edition of Euclid’s Elements (Paris, 1516)
  • 16th century edition with a long list of former owners (Basle, 1550)
  • The first English translation, with pop-up diagrams, (London, 1570)
  • Thomas White’s Euclides metaphysicus owned by a royal physician (London, 1658)