Scanning cuneiform tablets

Update! The CDLI has uploaded our tablets to their database, and translated the first two. See:

We are often asked about the oldest books in our collection. While the earliest printed book dates to 1471, and our manuscripts date back to the 5th century, our Babylonian cuneiform tablets can be considered the oldest “books” in the collection.

We’ve just scanned all three of them, for the first time, in order to contribute complete images of them to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative at UCLA, a collaborative project to document all the surviving tablets in the world. All three were acquired in the 1960s as part of a suite of early examples of writing put together as a teaching collection by The Foliophiles. These groups of tablets and manuscript fragments were primarily sold to colleges and universities to round out their teaching collections in book and manuscript history.

We have two tablets and one cone. The tablets are generally recognized to have recorded the records of business transactions, debts, or contracts. The cone, which has been shorn off and is only partially intact, generally recorded a prayer. The cone was then added to a temple wall, preserving the prayer within the walls of a sacred space.

The CDLI require images of all sides of the object so an accurate reconstruction, including transcription and translation, can eventually take place. How does one scan an oblong or oddly-shaped 3000+ year old object? Carefully, and using foam supports! As you can see above, the resulting images came out quite well.



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Our new exhibition

On display now through February 28, 2012:

“A Quieter and Less Eventful Life”:

Ernest Hemingway on Writing and Other Pursuits

This exhibition has, as its heart, Ernest Hemingway’s thoughts on writing and the writing life. Especially in letters to his friends and literary colleagues, Hemingway could be extremely candid about his writing process, how the business of literature operated, and how he attempted to strike a balance between his writing and his personal life. In the documents on display here, one can see apparent contradictions emerge in Hemingway’s desire to have the contemplative life of a fiction writer – the “quieter and less eventful life” he alludes to, only somewhat ironically, in an Esquire article from 1935, and the other components of his extremely active life: his passions as a sportsman; his life as a husband and father; together with his interests in crafting a public persona for himself as war correspondent and literary lion.

It has been 10 years since our initial acquisition of the Hemingway collection assembled by the Speiser family, and made possible through the generosity of Edward S. Hallman (1930-2007) and Ellen Speiser Katz. Since then, thanks to continued support from the Donald C. Easterling-Edward S. Hallman Foundation, the University of South Carolina Libraries have been able to acquire a number of important Hemingway items, especially Hemingway letters that concern writing and the profession of authorship, and that are on display here, many for the first time.

The majority of items in this exhibition come from the Speiser and Easterling-Hallman Foundation Collection of Ernest Hemingway. Items from other collections in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections are so noted.



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Our new catalog is here!


We’ve just received the first copies of our latest exhibition catalog, Beyond Domesticity, U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915. The exhibition, mounted earlier this year, was curated by English faculty members Katherine Adams and Cynthia Davis, with assistance from Sarah Conlon from McKissick Museum and me. Here are couple of teaser images from it. We’re going to mount the entire catalog as a downloadable .pdf file shortly, and also bring up a website for the exhibition with the complete exhibit text and a greater number of images that couldn’t fit into the catalog proper. If you’d like a paper copy, please get in touch with me.


Posted in American literature, Exhibitions, Women authors | Leave a comment