Following the Stars in Special Collections

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Following the stars in Special Collections

From astrophysics to the Underground Railroad, Special Collections covered a diverse array of subjects in class visits over the past semester.

In what has become one of the most regularly taught subjects at Special Collections, we had two visits focusing on astronomy, beginning with Professor Josh Pepper’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program and continuing with Professor Ginny McSwain’s Modern Astrophysics class. These sessions draw on Lehigh’s extensive collection of historical science publications, including seminal works by Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and more. If an astronomer has a satellite named after them, then Lehigh probably has some of their works. Staring at the sun is a bad idea, but students had a chance to see sunspots through Galileo’s eyes in his Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti comprese in tre lettere, which is on display in the current Special Collections exhibition, “At a Glance: Selected Works in the History of Data Visualization.” Also from the Physics Department, Professor Daniel Ou-Yang invited his students to see some of the founding works of thermodynamics that they had been learning about in their textbook. This class was credited with giving a meaningful backstory to several of the scientists for whom crucial laws and equations are named.

From the stars to the ground, Lehigh classes also took advantage of the library’s geographical works. Professor Karen Pooley’s class on residential segregation made use of one of our newest archival collections, the records of Bethlehem’s Redevelopment Authority, which was responsible for much of the city’s construction and renovation over the past few decades. Using this collection, students had a chance to search and read documents that reshaped the city in which they now live and the local populations with whom they share the space. Professor Joan Ramage’s class, Following the Drinking Gourd: How Natural Features Shaped the Underground Railroad, took a novel approach to integrating Special Collections materials. As an Earth and Environmental Sciences class, traditional narratives of the Underground Railroad were supplemented with geographic resources that helped explain how the terrain would have shaped the journey of escaping slaves.

Special Collections also encourages graduate student teaching assistants to bring in their classes. Last semester featured one such TA, Zachary Arms, who brought the history and religion class on the Holocaust to examine works that featured works published in Nazi Germany as well as more contemporary works reacting to the historic atrocities.

Another regular visitor to Special Collections, Art Gallery Director Ricardo Viera’s Museum Studies class, had the opportunity to examine the differences and similarities between libraries and museums.

Special Collections instruction has gotten off to a quick start in the spring semester, with an early visit by Professor Allison Mikel’s class Not-so-Lonely Planet: The Anthropology of Tourism. In only the second week of class, these students had the chance to see firsthand how travel narratives have changed over hundreds of years.

No matter the subject area, Special Collections likely has relevant material that can engage students and give them a unique, hands-on learning experience. It is still early in the semester, so take a look through the library catalog and let us know how we can help enhance your class with a visit to Special Collections. Please contact us at