Northwestern Completes Digitization of 16th Century Library

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Northwestern University Library has now digitized 288 of the 314 16th century imprints in what is now called the “Schulze-Greenleaf Library.” This digitization allows scholars of the early years of European printing—as well as the curious general public—to examine each book page by page, in full color, and in very high resolution. Digitized using the library’s Kirtas scanner, every page has been reproduced, as well as bindings, endpapers, and all blank pages. A reading-glass-like tool allows readers to look at individual features of every book in great detail.
In 1870, Northwestern University purchased one of the great private book collections of Germany, the library of Johannes Schulze (1786–1869), a recently deceased senior official in the Prussian ministry of religion and culture, friend and companion to Goethe, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Leopold von Ranke. Schulze was a fanatical collector of rare books, especially relating to Greek and Roman antiquity. Upon its arrival in Evanston, Schulze’s collection was renamed the “Greenleaf Library,” honoring Luther T. Greenleaf (1821–1886), the Northwestern trustee who made the acquisition possible through a generous gift of real estate to the university.
The works in this new digital library include first printings of works by Erasmus and Dürer, among them Dürer’s famous treatise on human proportions, Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion of 1528, the earliest work to apply the study of human anatomy to aesthetics. It was not published until six months after Dürer’s death, and it bears a verse epitaph composed by Dürer’s close friend, Nuremberg humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, which can be read here in the original. Another famous book in the new digitized collection is Lucretius’s De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”) of 1512, one of the most influential poetic and philosophical works of the Renaissance. The rediscovery, publication, and impact of this work of the 1st century BC is the subject of Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt’s recent bestselling book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011).
The Schulze-Greenleaf digitization project was undertaken jointly by Northwestern University Library’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and the Department of Digital Collections, with Scott Krafft as the curatorial lead and Dan Zellner as project manager. Paul Clough of Digital Collections directed the scanning effort on the Library's Kirtas book scanner and Northwestern Professor Daniel Garrison served as project consultant. This new resource is now accessible through Northwestern’s Digitized Collections Portal or by going to the resource site directly. Records and links to each item in the collection are contained in NUcat and WorldCat, making the books of this new digital library discoverable by those who know nothing of the Prussian scholar Johannes Schulze, the Evanston philanthropist Luther Greenleaf, or of the library that now bears both their names.
For further information, contact Northwestern University Special Libraries at 847-467-5675 or at