Michigan State University

New Exhibit at MSU Libraries Explores the Human Animal Bond

Cindy Hunter Morgan

Some connections between humans and animals feel almost inexplicable, but a new exhibit at the MSU Libraries gathers historic books from MSU’s veterinary medicine collections and notable items in Special Collections to examine how these bonds have been illustrated, documented, and described for hundreds of years. The exhibit examines the history of the horse, the link between human and animal health, the role of farm animals, the practice of beekeeping, and the history of hunting and fishing. It includes rare books and illustrations dating from the 17th century. Dean of Libraries Joseph Salem said the exhibit showcases the variety of ways we have thought about and interacted with animals over history and showcases the rich collections available at Michigan State University.

“This exhibit feels particularly appropriate to share here in the MSU Libraries because it reveals a practical approach to teaching and learning that we have always valued here at MSU,” Salem said. “It also feels timely. There is much discussion now about viruses that evolve and spread from animals to humans, and this exhibit considers theories of zoonotic diseases as well as concepts of connection and companionship. We encourage students and researchers to explore the exhibit and consider how this rich collection might expand and deepen their projects.” 

MSU Libraries Health Sciences Librarian Andrea Kepsel, who curated the exhibit, said the work she selected reveals early understandings (and sometimes misunderstandings) of animal anatomy, veterinary practices, disease transmission, dairy farming, and breeding. “The pleasure of the exhibit is that it presents work that is historical, practical, and beautiful,” Kepsel said. “It gives people an opportunity to view delicate, rare books that address real-world, everyday issues. It also underscores how powerful the relationship between people and animals can be.” 

The exhibit is on the main floor of the Main Library and will be up through July 2020. Highlights in the exhibit include a 19th century illustration of a sheep constructed as a series of fold-out plates revealing muscles, bones, and internal organs; a 17th century book of crude equine remedies written by a poet; a 19th century book by an early expert on zoonotic diseases who understood that illness was spread by microorganisms (and was ridiculed for that notion); a book from the beginning of the 18th century with a useless remedy for rabies; an 18th century book with beautiful illustrations of equine anatomy; a 19th century map of dairy farming in American; a 19th century book with one of the earliest known essays on fishing; the first general systemic treatise on comparative anatomy; a 19th century book by Phillip Astley, who is largely responsible for what we think of as the modern circus; and a 19th century beekeeper’s guide written by former Michigan Agricultural College professor Albert John Cook, who was the first professor in the United States to teach beekeeping. 

The importance of collecting rare and special books for use as unique research tools has been recognized by the Michigan State University Libraries since its beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Special Collections was formally established in 1962 to house special materials, as well as to build, preserve, and make accessible important research collections for educational use. Today, Special Collections is known for its extensive collection of ephemera supporting research in popular culture, radicalism, comic art, and gender. Notable rare book collections include early veterinary medicine, eighteenth century British history and culture, modern American literature, cookery, and natural history. All of the materials may be seen and used in the Special Collections reading room during open hours. 



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