Friday, June 8, 2012

A Transit from Tahiti

The Green is set up for Commencement--covered with chairs, the stage and bleachers--but on Tuesday a crowd gathered on the grass to watch the last transit of Venus to occur this century. Venus won’t pass directly between the earth and the sun again until the year 2117. Surely Dartmouth students will be here to watch that one as well.

The 1769 transit of Venus provided the impetus for Captain James Cook's first voyage around the world. Cook was instructed to observe the transit from Tahiti; a precise measurement of the time it took for Venus to pass across the face of the sun would allow astronomers to calculate the distance between the sun and the earth.

Cook’s observations of the transit of Venus were less accurate than the Royal Society had hoped, but his exploration of Australia and successful circumnavigation of New Zealand made him a national hero. The journals of his first voyage were published in 1773 under the title: An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1773).

This large, three-volume account of Cook’s voyage was published with the general public in mind; readers interested in the particulars of Cook’s observations were directed to the Transactions of the Royal Philosophical Society. We’re fairly certain our copy once belonged to an armchair traveler -- it still carries a faint scent of tobacco.

See Cook’s observations for yourself by asking for Val G12 H313ac.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From the Yukon to Abilene

Our books have lives that we will never know. When you look at a 16th-century book, you know it has been in a lot of places and been held by many hands. Many of our books have a definite provenance--they have gained value by association with famous people and places--but most have had less glamorous, undocumented travels.

We just bought this interesting little tourist book, Scenes from the Land of the Midnight Sun (Dawson: Landahl's Emporium, [1908?]), featuring snippets from Robert Service's poetry laid over photographic scenes from the Yukon. If we can trust the inscription, our copy was purchased at Dawson in 1928, but it somehow managed to find its way to the Hilton Hotel in Abilene, Texas. You have to wonder, how did the parched and weary traveler arriving at the hotel respond to this book? In the Texas mid-day sun, was the cool of the midnight sun just a dream?

We purchased it from a Canadian book dealer, so we have interrupted its journey back to the Yukon. We think the Hanover winter and being ensconced in the Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration should make it feel at home, but will it long for the smell of cattle, dust and oil?

Ask for Stef F912.Y9 S25 1908 to see it.