Book collection donated to U of C

The University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute acquired a rare collection of over 2,400 neuroscience research books including some over 450 years old last month.

The collection was sold by collector Dr. Robert Gordon, a retired neurologist from Houston Texas, who assembled the texts over the last thirty years. The acquisition of the collection, valued at $600,000, was made possible through the support of philanthropists Brenda and Jamie Mackie. The couple donated half of the amount needed to purchase and digitize the $400,000 collection.

“It’s a tremendous resource,” explained Thomas Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources. “It brings to Calgary one of the very best collections in the world on the history of the neurosciences.”

Jean Fernel’s Role of Occult Qualities is the oldest book in the collection, dating back to 1560. Rene Descartes is also represented in the collection with De Homine, published in 1662. Both books were published posthumously due to fears of reprisal from both church and state.

Though some of the authors wrote these texts five hundred years in the past, the U of C argues that their contribution to the history of neuroscience is relevant today.

“This is not just seen as a research resource, although it can support undergraduate and graduate research, but it also seen as part of our basic support, as a library, for the neurosciences,” said Hickerson.

The collection will be available to students through the Health Sciences library.

Once the books are digitized, they will be shared with the world.

“One of the fascinating things about this collection is that with technology there are ways that we can interpret and read these books that we don’t even know of yet,” remarked David Daley, conservator for the archives and special collections.

Technologies like optical character recognition will enable the collection to be cross-examined and cross-indexed with great ease.

The condition of the collection is also part of the appeal. In a collection of this age there is a likelihood that many of the pages will be stained or in disrepair due to improper handling. The U of C sent a staff member to examine the collection before it was purchased.

“These books have long outlived their originators, the people who made them, and they will long outlive us too,” observed Daley.

“I think about the fact that some of the books in the collection may well have been handled or read or seen by some of the authors who a century later wrote the next round of studies,” said Hickerson.

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