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600-Year-Old Cambridge Library Offers Rare Glimpse of Collection

by Michele Neubert /  / Updated 

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CAMBRIDGE, England — One of the world’s oldest libraries is offering a rare glimpse of key artifacts that have helped define human history.

The exhibition is entitled "Lines of Thought: Discoveries that Changed the World" allows visitors to peruse parts of Cambridge University Library's 600-year-old collection.

Librarian Anne Jarvis described it as an opportunity to a walk "around the world’s mind."

Seventy percent of the works have never been on public display before. They include an ancient example of Chinese script and Isaac Newton’s annotated copy of "Principia Mathematica," one of the most important scientific works.

The exhibition also features the Gutenberg Bible, a draft copy of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time” and Charles Darwin’s thoughts on evolution that helped change mankind's understanding of life on earth.

Modern technology is also allowing visitors to get close and personal with artifacts — or a semblance of them. The curious are able to touch and handle the 3-D print image of a 3,000-year-old Chinese oracle bone — one of the earliest records of Chinese script.

"Very few people have been allowed to see them because they are very precious and very delicate,” said Charles Aylmer, the head of the Chinese department at the library. “But now with this new technology we can make 3-D prints and anyone can handle them and they can get real impression of what the bones are."

The collection has also been put online, giving the curious around the world the opportunity to examine it.

“Digital has made our collections more discoverable," Jarvis said. "We’ve now become a global institution as all our content is out there for everyone to use, not just the scholar but the public scholar."

She added: “Across science, literature and the arts, the millions of books, manuscripts and digital archives we hold have altered the very fabric of our understanding."

The exhibition runs until Sept. 30.

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