Undergraduates given access to rare books

Medievalists and students of rare books tingle at the thought of getting a close look - let alone actually touching - a period manuscript, but now history students at the University of Pennsylvania are getting the chance to do just that: touch the books.

A seminar on "holy wars from the First Crusade to Sept. 11" allows 15 undergraduates access to Rare Book and Manuscript Library complete with a table "covered with large, weathered texts, laid open in foam cradles that absorb the stress. One student seizes the moment and steps up to a codex, a handwritten, bound manuscript made in Italy in 1471 entitled “Fasciculus temporum” (“Leaves of Time”). As he gingerly turns its stiff, brownish pages, light flickers through tiny holes where busy worms have consumed a few characters over the centuries. Still, the colored illustrations and large, ornate letters sprinkled through the text remain bright and clear."

Library specialist John Pollack believes the study of history should be a hands-on endeavor. “We’re not running a museum,” he says.