Grad Student Recreates World of His Ancestors With Rare Book Collection

Nov 29, 2018 660

Samuel V. Lemley, a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Virginia, likes to think some of his Sicilian ancestors might’ve seen an unusual light streaking across the sky in early July nearly 200 years ago: the Great Comet of 1819. Lemley doesn’t know that for sure, but from the genealogical history his grandfather gathered, he knows some of his relatives were living on the Mediterranean island at the time. (Sicily eventually became an autonomous region of Italy.)

When he decided to collect books to supplement the information about this branch of his family tree, Lemley found an interesting volume published at the time by Niccolo Cacciatore of the Royal Observatory of Palermo, complete with a fold-out map of the weeks-long visibility of the massive comet’s path. It’s part of an impressive collection of early printing from Sicily that won him the top prize in the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest in October.

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