While the Libraries’ rare book holdings in the area of history are selective, they include some fine collections and individual titles. Early works include Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum (Latin and German editions, 1493), and a number of accounts of the New World published by the Renaissance engraver Theodor DeBry. Other historical materials include collections of political pamphlets relating to the French Revolution and to 20th-century Russia. Important works in the history of science include Diderot and d’Alembert’s monumental Encyclopédie and Galileo’s Dialogo (1632), in which the astronomer challenges ecclesiastical orthodoxy to defend the Copernican system. Three St. Louis collectors—Richard S. Hawes, Arthur C. Hoskins, and Stratford Lee Morton—have presented distinguished Americana collections to the University, and as a result of these and other gifts, the Department houses strong collections on St. Louis, Missouri, and the Mississippi Valley, including early St. Louis imprints, atlases, geographic dictionaries, illustrated books, and travel accounts. The collections also include a number of books relating to the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition, or World’s Fair, held in St. Louis in 1904. University Archives holds additional collections on St. Louis and Missouri history.
The James E. and Joan Singer Schiele Print Collection, 1848-1876, consists of Civil War prints and other historical images. The prints include portraits, battle scenes, and political cartoons representing a variety of printing techniques from woodcut to chromolithograph. A highlight of the collection is a set of thirty-six Kurz & Allison prints. The entire collection consists of over 160 artistic pieces. These prints make up a visual overview of historical events during one of the nation's most tumultuous times, and provide a strong background for cultural and historical studies.
The Arnold Semeiology Collection is perhaps the most varied and unusual of the rare book collections. Broadly concerned with the history of communications, its particular strengths are in the areas of cryptography; artificial memory; decipherment of ancient writing systems; universal languages; and early developments in stenography, Braille, languages for the deaf, and various forms of non-verbal communication. After his initial gift, Arnold worked with Special Collections for roughly 30 years to develop and expand the collection to some 1,600 volumes. The collection includes materials from 1490 to the present, and the Department continues to make additions, most recently through the purchase of Francis Guelker's collection of books on 20th-century cryptography.
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The Brisman Collection in Jewish Studies was purchased by Washington University in 1972 from Shimeon Brisman, a Judaic bibliographer at the UCLA Library and expert in Hebrew bibliography. Several hundred of the collection's nearly 3,600 volumes are located in Special Collections (the rest are in Olin Library's general collection). Half the volumes are in Hebrew. An impressive array of bibliographic works makes up approximately one-fourth of the collection. Several hundred works of modern Yiddish prose and poetry, as well as hundreds of rabbinical commentaries, responsa, and liturgical literature are also included.