*Post written by Brady Bolinger, student assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
Books, clothing items, maps, photos, paintings…the list goes on and on. These items are all things that could be considered an artifact. Artifacts, defined as something made by a human being with cultural or historical interest, can be anything from a book to something even as small as a dress that your great, great grandmother wore. Often times, these items are passed over, mistaken for junk. However, that is absolutely not the case!
Imagine you’re cleaning out a grandparent’s attic you see an old stack of books. Perhaps your first thought would be that they aren’t worth anything, so the trash is the perfect home for them. Although, upon further inspection, one of those books may have been a journal from a distant relative of his trials during the Great Depression, or maybe even a customer log at a long since closed pharmacy from the 19th century. Trash and historical artifacts run a thin line at first glance, but if you take just a moment to stop and just appreciate what the true value of such an item holds, that outcome could be unbelievable.
In archives, there is a book that could have easily been seen as trash, however it is anything but that. Paracelsus, an alchemist in the 16th century, wrote several books on alchemy and toxicology. This book, written about medieval alchemy, is so extremely brittle that you can barely turn the page without it falling apart. From very first glance, fire starter is the only thing I thought it could have been. However, after researching Paracelsus and his occupation, this book helps unravel some questions about how medieval science worked, as well as the language and writing style in that time.
It’s items like that book that make me truly appreciate history. Not something written in a text book, or some lecture from a teacher, but something tangible. Something solid, in my own hands, causes my imagination to run wild! Who else has held this book? Why did Paracelsus write this book? How has this book lasted so long? Nothing but historical artifacts can give such a true sense of reality. Artifacts alone are a connection between then and now.