When we were given this task in last September, I was skeptical about how I could benefit from this task for my architecture course by reading an more than 260 year old book about some ancient ruins. How can I become a “friend with an old book”?
The start of my friendship with this old book by Robert Wood was a bit bumpy, because this wasn’t my book. I’ve been assigned to another book, but after the first task it was clear, that I have to get a new book, because, as it is with old, rare books, my first book was only available in a radius of more than 2 hours of flight.
But getting a new book was, thanks to Gregorios quick responses, not a big deal. And so I was ready to begin my friendship with this new old book by Robert Wood: The ruins of Balbec, Otherwise Heliopolis in Coelosyria.
The second task was an interesting experiment. I had to go to the Zentralbibliothek Zürich and went to a department that I would never have entered otherwise. The Department for old prints at the top of the library. I was excited to find out, how an old book like this feels and looks in real. When the librarian brought me the book I was astonished how big it is.
In addition I knew that there were mostly illustrations but did not expect them to be able to unfold so you have large pictures with a high level of detail in front of you. I really enjoyed reading this book and experiencing the texture and smell of such an old book. I realized how important it is to digitalize these book, because I saw how the ravages of time slowly destroy these precious books. For example the leather book cover lost small pieces every time I opened a new page.
The third task was quite difficult for me because somehow this book was never rewritten or published later than the first edition by Robert Wood. He published his book in English and French, as he says in his introduction because they “consider themselves in the service of the Republik of Letters”. I can only imagine, why nobody published this book later. Maybe because the text is basically a travel diary of the expedition Wood made to explore the ruins of Balbec, so there is no opportunity to reinterpretate his words.
The fourth task was not difficult to do except of the fact, that the book is written in an old font so the OCR recognized the s as f and brought some interesting results. But while de book doesn’t seem to be interesting to republish, the digital file is available on the internet and can be downloaded and read for free.
After spending several hours with this old book I have to say after a rough start I really enjoy my book. The illustrations are rich in details and quite fascinating to study, especially while the region is not accessible for us without danger. It is interesting to read such an old travel diary and to see how fascinated Wood and his explorers were by these structures that they took so much risk and effort to get there in a time where they had to rely on strangers and without the opportunities we have today. I became friend with an old book.