“My husband and I did the '77 canoe trip to Gilman Island,” said Leslie Finertie '77, looking as bright as a zinnia despite the late-afternoon hour on a busy day. “And the moment we got back, we got out of the canoe and hustled over to Rauner to make the book seminar.”
The seminar was “The Rise of the Book,” a small class taught by librarian Jay Satterfield in the Rauner Special Collections Library as part of Alumni College at Reunion 2007, June 8-17. Using 15th-century manuscripts and books from the Rauner collections, Satterfield explored whether the shift to movable type in the Middle Ages was a cultural revolution, as is typically portrayed, or really a more gradual transition. One of the manuscripts he shared with the class was a leaf (donated to the collections by Madelyn Hickmott, wife of Allenton Hickmott '17) from an Italian religious missal, a type of codex, or pre-printing-era book. It dated to 1470.
“How often do you get to touch a five-hundred-year-old manuscript?” said Finertie said. “The class was fantastic.”
For the hundreds of alumni who included Alumni College among their many Reunion week activities, the classes were a return to the sheer pleasure of having a world of knowledge shared by one of Dartmouth's own.
The most extensive Alumni College at Reunion ever offered, this year's schedule included 65 different classes, taught by 48 Dartmouth faculty, administrators, and staff. It encompassed the faculty greats—known intellectual provocateurs Bill Cook, Jere Daniell, George Demko, Donald Pease, John Rassias, and Peter Saccio—and path-breaking scholarship in environmental studies, archaeology, brain sciences, and other fields, as well as opportunities to rediscover departments of the College. Did you know that Dartmouth has a collection of thousands of quirky old scientific instruments? Or perhaps not quirky—two of the world's seven extant original Edison light bulbs are housed in Dartmouth's Allen King Collection of Historic Scientific Instruments.
It's no exaggeration to say that something was offered to interest almost everyone. In the course of the week, alumni could learn the meaning of the drawings that Ted Geisel, known to the world as Dr. Seuss, made on the walls of his childhood bedroom—and learn how to make an iMovie. They could learn about classics professor Roger Ulrich '77's project to teach U.S. soldiers in Iraq how to recognize archeological artifacts and why the deck of cards he created for this has become a sought-after teaching tool. They could learn that many behaviors of the adolescent rat are those of the adolescent human. They could also just kick up their heels in a Texas two-step lesson, and many did.
Depending on the topic and the time of day, a class could have upwards of eighty people or as few as five, as did the seminar attended by Finertie.
What she learned, said Finertie, was that “in the 1400s and 1500s, printers didn't have a desire to be radical. They were actually trying to emulate the work of scribes, but just do it more efficiently.
“There was a bird painted in the margin of the manuscript,” she said, “and Jay explained that it had been painted with a brush made of a single hair. You'd never know it by just looking, even picking it up and holding it close to your eyes. But looking at it through a projector magnifier”—an overhead projector hooked up to a plasma screen to allow digital magnification of document details—“we could see the tiny individual strokes that made up the bird's leg.”
That students in about ninety classes this spring term were taught in sessions like this by the Rauner Special Collections librarians deeply impressed Finertie, who also felt a bit awed at having the experience herself. “I think most of us just wouldn't think that we could have this kind of access to world-class faculty and to resources like this collection of 15th-century manuscripts.”
Finertie lives with her husband and daughter in California and, at 52, is retired from the insurance actuary profession. “When I was at Dartmouth, I was a math major, and also took ten economics courses,” she said. “Since then, I've learned there's more to life.” She and her husband, Bob Finertie, who is a pastor, attended three Alumni College at Reunion classes, all on topics in the humanities.
“I gave my husband first dibs,” she said, “and he chose Professor [Ivy] Schweitzer's class on poetry at Dartmouth.” They also attended Professor Saccio's class on war in Shakespeare.
“I would've come to Reunion anyway, but when I found out about all the Alumni College classes being offered, I made sure I got here early," said Finertie.