Climate change may seem like a recent revelation, especially since it has only become a topic of public conversation in recent decades, but our understanding of environmental challenges actually dates back centuries.
Today, a Â£ 1.65million ($ 2.21million) collection of rare printed works – part of which is on display at the Sharjah International Book Fair – shows how far our planetary concerns have grown. .
The collection of Peter Harrington, Europe’s largest rare book dealer, includes 840 works spanning five centuries of scientific, artistic and literary investigation. It was presented on the eve of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference as a collection retracing “the long journey that has brought us to our current pivotal moment”.
Title One hundred seconds at midnight, the collection is named after the end of the world clock, a symbol designed in 1947 to represent the growing global man-made catastrophe. The most recent update to the clock is from January 2021.
“It is now closer to midnight than it has ever been”, one reads One hundred seconds before midnight brochure.
The first issues of the Atomic Scientists Bulletin, whose members formulated the Doomsday Clock, are among the works in the collection. Magazine covers vary in their pastel colors, but all feature the clock with the cataclysmic alignment of minute and hour hands just a few ticks away.
The oldest work in the collection is that of Aristotle Meteorology, written around 350 BCE. The text represents a crucial step in the advancement of meteorology. It was first printed during the Renaissance era, and after being presented to the public, it helped usher in a new era of climate studies. The work presented is a first Italian edition, published in 1554.
Aristotle’s treatise was not, however, the first meteorological work to go to press. Published in 1485, In Aeris Mutations through french astrologer Firmin de Beauval is considered one of the first printed collections of weather forecasts and is also part of One hundred seconds to midnight.
De Beauval combined popular knowledge with observations made by his classical and Arab predecessors. âThe book is fascinating because the author has used both science and folklore to explain local and global climate change,â said Ben Houston, sales manager at Peter Harrington. The National.
the Atomic Scientists Bulletin and In Aeris Mutations are two of 10 titles in the collection that Peter Harrington brought to the United Arab Emirates for display at the Sharjah International Book Fair.
Another title on display is Cosmos, by the Prussian mathematician Alexander von Humboldt. He was the first to propose that the planetary ecosystem is a connected whole. Humboldt’s writing was very influential and was spotted on the shelves and desks of artists, poets and politicians. American transcendentalists, in particular, revered his work, most notably Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Whitman got Humboldt’s Kosmos on his desk while he was working on Blades of grass,” Houston said. A first edition of Whitman’s highly influential poetry collection is also included in the collection.
âWe would have loved to bring the entire collection,â says Houston. “But with 840 works, it would have been difficult.”
The works, he says, are sold as a collection and will not be separated. Taken together, the titles of disparate branches of knowledge underscore how intricate and deeply ingrained our understanding of climate change and environmentalism is. Separating them would undermine the message of the collection.
âI think we’ve reached a point where politics, science, social acceptance, literature and art have come to general agreement on the situation we are facing,â said Houston. “What is fascinating is watching the centuries build up to this point.”
A large part of the scientific titles in One hundred seconds before midnight come from the private collection of the American David L Wenner, acquired by Peter Harrington.
Most of the material in Wenner’s collection goes from the beginning of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, when the first foundational work on the greenhouse effect and glaciation began to appear, the greenhouse metaphor having been invented by the Swedish academic Nils Ekholm in 1901.
“[Wenner] is interesting because he did not collect just one idea. He also gathered rebuttals of this idea as well as critical analyzes. So you get the document, but you get all the additional information, which gives a really broad overview of that theory instead of providing a narrative. “
Emma Walshe, cataloger and specialist at Peter Harrington, then decided to expand the core collection to include works from other fields, notably literature and art. It took three years to put together the collection as it exists today.
âTo relate the story of something like climate change, you can’t just look at the science,â says Houston.
âIt really is such an important, vital idea that it spreads from very meticulous scientific detail to politics, activism, literature and art. And the collection really shows it. We have a poster of Banksy, which he made for Greenpeace, in the collection, and that of Whitman Blades of grass, which he wrote with Humboldt’s work on his desk. Science has therefore had a profound effect on culture and literature, and it is important to show this to the general public.
The Peter Harrington booth at the book fair, which runs through Sunday, also features 100 rare books, maps, manuscripts and photographs specially made for Gulf collectors.
The selection includes several early foundational texts on subjects as diverse as agriculture and horse breeding in the Arab world, as well as richly illustrated copies of basic literary works, including Thousand and one Night and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
A selection of rare regional maps, monographs, sketches, and written journals provide insight into life in the Gulf and Levant from the early to mid-20th century, documenting how Arab nations interacted with the rest of the world.
The curated selection also includes rare and highly sought after titles from Western canon, including one of two sets of JRR Tolkien pre-release sheets. The Hobbit.
Updated: November 11, 2021, 2:35 PM