I’m reading The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus by Owen Gingerich (US: Walker and Company; Canada: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2004). Gingerich is an astronomer and historian of science who took an intense interest in Nicolaus Copernicus‘s 1543 book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. (It’s known as De Revolutionibus, and Gingerich gives the pronunciation as “Day Revoluty-OWN-ibus.”)
There were a few hundred copies (items) of the first edition (manifestation) done in Nuremberg in 1543 (the year Copernicus died, aged 70), and a few hundred of the second edition (manifestation) done in Basel in 1566. It’s a crucial book in astronomy and the history of science. Kepler, Brahe, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, and most of the other important figures in Renaissance science read it. Many of them annotated their copies, and many of those personal copies still exist. Gingerich spent years travelling around the world looking at every copy (item) he could find (in rare book libraries, museums, and personal collections) and figuring out who had owned them and who had written the annotations, if any. The Book Nobody Read tells the story behind the writing of an astounding piece of scholarship, An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (Leiden: Brill, 2002). It will be exciting reading for people interested in bibliography and the histories of astronomy, science, and books.
Why do I mention it here? Because it’s a great example of a work (The Book Nobody Read) about another work (De Revolutionibus), a work about manifestations (the two printings), a work about items (the copies owned by Johannes Kepler, Kepler’s teacher Michael Maestlin, a contemporary of theirs named Jerome Schreiber, and others), and more. It’s a whole big mix of fascinating relationships between Group 1 (work, expression, manifestation, item) and Group 2 (person, corporate body) entities. (I’ll skip the Group 3 entities such as concept and place for now to keep things simpler.) In fact, The Book Nobody Read is also a work about another work, An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566), which is a work about De Revolutionibus, but I’ll leave that out as well, for simplicity.
Here’s a thumbnail of a large diagram that maps out some of the relationships. It’s a link to the full-size version (103 KB PNG), so pull that up in a separate window or tab.
Along the top you have Nicolaus Copernicus, creator of the work De Revolutionibus. I believe it just had the one expression that was used for both of the printings (manifestations) done in 1543 and 1566. To keep things simple we’ll ignore any corrections made while the printing was underway. (See note below.) Also along the top you have the anonymous introduction that was added to the book. It was written by Andreas Osiander (1498-1552) and said that the book wasn’t meant to really say that the Earth went around the Sun, but just that this was a good way of making calculations simpler. I have the book and the introduction as two related works that come together in the manifestations.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) had a copy of the book. It was given to him by Jerome Schreiber, a mathematician, who had got a copy from his friend the Nuremberg publisher and thus knew who’d done the introduction. Schreiber annotated it before passing it on. Gingerich looked at this copy (this item, in FRBR terms) and saw that it had also been annotated by Kepler’s teacher, Michael Maestlin. This bit gets a bit confusing, so I’ll quote Gingerich:
What follows is an exercise in minutiae, but one that ultimately offers a most intriguing insight into Kepler’s student-teacher relationship with Michael Maestlin. Below Schreiber’s note is another, looking at first glance very much like Kepler’s hand, yet clearly distinct from Kepler’s annotations elsewhere in the book. In fact, I believe it matches Michael Maestlin’s hand more closely than Kepler’s….
Why do I get excited about something as esoteric as this? Because the presence of this little note tells us that Kepler showed his copy to his teacher, and that’s why Maestlin was so sure it was Osiander who had written the anonymous introduction to Copernicus’s book. There it was in Kepler’s copy, in black and white, coming straight from Schreiber, a Wittenburg insider.
So: Schreiber got a copy of the book from the printer, and annotated it. He gave the copy to Kepler. Kepler annotated it. Kepler showed his copy to his teacher Maestlin, who wrote his own comment in the margin. Maestlin annotated his own copy with a similar comment, and indicated in his copy where he had annotated Kepler’s copy.
All of this is mapped out in the bottom left of the diagram. I apologize for not using directed lines (with arrows on the ends) to indicate what direction relationships are in. It does show, however, the item-to-item and person-to-person relationships. It’s fascinating to think of two people looking at and discussing a third person’s annotations in a book, and one of the two marking up his own copy to show where the marginalia was in the other. And then centuries later, Gingerich came along, looked at them all, and figured out what it all meant!
Over on the right is a cluster of entities representing Owen Gingerich, his book, its publishers, and me and my copy. I like this bit because it puts me six degrees of FRBR separation away from Copernicus.
There are scores of other interesting relationships that could be given here. For instance, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) owned a copy. The Roman Catholic Church put De Revolutionibus on its list of forbidden books, and sent out instructions on which bits of the book were to be censored. Galileo scratched out the relevant lines in his copy and there’s a picture of this in The Book Nobody Read. As well, Kepler worked for Tycho Brahe, who had a copy of De Revolutionibus and annotated it; some people copied Brahe’s annotations into their own copies; Leibniz had a copy and annotated it; Newton annotated a copy; Gingerich describes many others.
In summary, because of Gingerich’s An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) a very complete FRBRization of relationships around Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus could be done. It would stretch from work-to-work relations down to item-to-item relations, and connect hundreds of different people and corporate bodies with the Group 1 entities and each other. This would be very useful to bibliographers, historians of science, librarians, and collectors, but it would be a lot of work. The editors would need good tools to create and manage all of the bibliographic and personal relationships, and the users would need a navigation and visualization system that gave them customizable views of the information.
Note about expressions: Both of the first two manifestations (editions) of De Revolutionibus were done on a hand press. While the printer was printing, if he noticed a typographical error he could have fixed it right then by poking out one letter and popping in another before he did another sheet. Thus two items from the same manifestation could be different by, for example, one letter in one signature (bundle of pages). Does this mean that they are actually two different expressions? It depends. The expression entity is under revision and the proposed revision (62 KB PDF) says:
On a practical level, the degree to which bibliographic distinctions are made between variant expressions of a work will depend to some extent on the nature of the work itself, on the anticipated needs of users and on what the cataloguer can reasonably be expected to recognize from the manifestation being described.
If we built a FRBRized system for managing all of this, we’d want it to be able to record all such information (because Gingerich and bibliographers and historians need it) but we wouldn’t display it to users unless they asked for it. By default, I think we’d make it so that all these expressions would be considered as one unless the user wanted to see all the details. Sort of a basic and expert view.
One last note: If you have access to it, have a look at An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566). Browse through and consider all of the work that went into it, and all of the history contained in the items listed.