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University of Oklahoma Libraries

The Galileo Collection, History of Science Collections

Collection Profile

In 1949, oil magnate and bibliophile Everette Lee DeGolyer loaned 129 of the landmark volumes that he had collected in the history of science to his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. He promised to give these books and others to the university only if it would agree to establish a program in the history of science. He insisted that he wanted the books to be used by students, scholars, and all who appreciated the importance of these books to our cultural heritage. In 1949, there were only three programs in the history of science in the United States—at Harvard, Cornell, and Wisconsin. The University of Oklahoma hired a young Harvard PhD, Duane Roller, to establish its program in 1954. Under his watch, a Department of the History of Science was initiated and the History of Science Collections grew rapidly.

The first book DeGolyer gave the University of Oklahoma was a first edition of Galileo's Dialogo, a copy which Galileo himself corrected. The corrections were incorporated in the second edition, also owned by the collections. Upon arriving at the university, Duane Roller wrote a letter to Mr. DeGolyer asking about the provenance of the Dialogo. DeGolyer replied that he had purchased it in Rome from a bookseller whom he did not trust. He paid $1,000 for the book. The only way of assuring the authenticity of the handwriting was to ask an expert to validate it. Galileo scholar Stillman Drake was invited to the university and validated the handwriting.

The Dialogo is one of four of the collections' twelve first editions of Galileo's works. Galileo's first book, Le operazioni del compasso geometrico (1606), and his second, Difesa di Galileo Galilei Lettore delle matematiche nello studio di Padoua (1607), also contain his handwriting, as does the presentation copy of Sidereus nuncius (1610).

The Galileo Collection includes more than 470 books by or about Galileo as well as about 60 items associated with the Accademia dei Lincei, an early scientific society that claimed Galileo as one of its most notable members. The Galileo Collection has played a prominent role in the library's research and public service activities, including its support of the research and teaching mission of the Department of the History of Science. Visiting scholars from four continents have taken advantage of Mellon Travel Fellowships to visit the collections. The Galileo Collection was placed on special exhibit in the History of Science Collections during the autumn of 2002.

The collections' curator and librarian illustrate their classes and tours with items from the Galileo Collection several times each week. They provide numerous presentations about the collection both nationally and internationally. The librarian developed a teaching Web site showing a concise overview of Galileo's life and the significance of the Accademia dei Lincei. The Lynx, newsletter of the History of Science Collections, described the Accademia dei Lincei and the Galileo Collection in its first issue (2002).

Collection Profile and Overview: Marilyn Ogilvie and Debra Engel
Illustrations: Sanford Mauldin

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