Leiden is not only the oldest university in the Netherlands, but also has a European reputation for publishing scientific books since the 16th century. Because of the freedom of the press and the high quality of printing, scholars from all over Europe printed their books in this city. Like Descartes, who lived in the Netherlands for a long time and wrote his world-famous Discours de la méthode (with the well-known phrase “I think, therefore I am”) in Leiden, where he laid an important foundation for scientific research.
Or the last book of Galileo Galilei, whose previous books were published by Italian publishers. In his dialogue on the two world systems, he offended the Pope, putting him on a list of banned books and forbidding publishers in Italy from publishing his books. This is how he ended up at Elzevier, the official printing office of Leiden University. It appeared in 1638 and introduced a new method of science, as Galileo attached special importance to mathematics.
This year Leiden is the European City of Science. It is also the reason for the publication of Books That Wrote History, in which 29 authors discuss the scientific significance of 26 famous books from the collection of Leiden University Libraries. In the summer exhibition Books That Made History, 25 books were also on display at the Rijksmuseum van Uden from June 22 to September 4, 2022.
These are just two other examples of books that made history. The 26 books from the Leiden University Library collection will be reviewed in chapters written by different scholars. To make a selection from the collection, a special commission was created, which is guided by the question of books that have determined our understanding of the world to this day. This results in a very diverse mix of scientific disciplines, which means that the book reads like a train.
Since 1875 it has been Leiden University logo (also reflected in the logo) Praesidium Libertatis, a Latin word meaning “fortress of freedom.” Karel Stolker, former president of the University of Magnificus, points this out in the introduction. This freedom allowed Leiden to play an important role in the dissemination of ideas from thinkers from all over Europe.
Leiden University Libraries
The book also discusses the status of women and people of color. The thesis of Anna Maria van Schurmann, the first female student to be admitted to university in the Netherlands, is a private thesis. In this book, published in Leiden in 1641, I wrote, among other things, that women are as suitable for art and science as men. She was accepted to the University of Utrecht, where she attended separate lectures from her male colleagues with a curtain. But many male scientists put her book on their shelves.
Equally special is the story We Are Slaves of Suriname by Anton de Kom. This book was discovered in 1969 in the university library by a student in Leiden from the Suriname Student Union, who took it with him to distribute to her fellow students. It was the first book on the history of Suriname not written from the perspective of a colonial ruler. De Kom was a former son of slaves from Suriname, and his book is a fierce indictment of racism and exploitation. This student’s action ensured that the book was now known to a large audience.
Thus there is a lot to discover in the books that wrote history (such as the creation of WNT, the world’s largest dictionary). All words are well written for a wide audience and have an interesting length. The illustrations also contribute to the pleasure of reading. If you still want to see books in real life, act fast. They will be on display at the National Museum of Antiquities until the beginning of September.
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