Ball State University’s E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center is temporarily home to a rare collection of original historical books and texts, some dating back to the Middle Ages. Forty-five titles will be on display through the Spring 2018 semester.

People usually must wear white gloves to peruse such texts, if they’re allowed to handle them at all. But for this display, students, faculty, scholars, and the general public are permitted to touch them with their bare hands. The chance for such an encounter has already attracted many visitors.

“We’ve been a little surprised at such an enthusiastic response from the campus community and throughout east central Indiana,” said Kathryn Kennison, the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center’s director. “We’ve had inquiries from Marion, Fort Wayne, Hagerstown, Winchester and Indianapolis, as well as right here in Muncie. The response has been awe and wonder that such an impressive exhibit is available here for anyone who is interested.”

The volumes were provided by the Remnant Trust, a public educational foundation that shares its world-class collection of more than 1,300 original, first- and early-edition works with colleges, universities, and other organizations. The collection includes both printed and handscribed works and encompasses genres such as politics, economics, mathematics, science, history, philosophy, and religion.

The Remnant Trust held a program at the Center years ago, and that experience influenced the decision of having an exhibit this year at Ball State. Funding for the exhibit was provided by both the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise and the Winchester Foundation, with in-kind support from Liberty Fund, Inc.

‘Great ideas belong to everybody’

The Remnant Trust was founded in 1997 by Brian Bex in Hagerstown, Indiana; it has been housed at Texas Tech University since 2014. Mr. Bex explained the purpose of sharing the collection: “The Remnant Trust is simply a public foundation that decided two decades ago to share ideas. Herodotus said, ‘The purpose of education is to light a fire, not fill a bucket.’ The Remnant Trust is attempting to light fires by sharing in original form. At Ball State University, you can come in here and pick this up because the great ideas belong to everybody, not the super-rich and the privileged few.”

Volumes on display at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center include:

  • 13th-century edition of the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible)
  • first edition of “Blackstone’s Magna Carta” (1759)
  • first English edition of Augustine of Hippo’s “Citie of God” (1610)
  • Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae” (1496)
  • sixth edition of Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1790) and a first edition of Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776)
rare texts on display

Visitors are permitted to touch rare volumes, some dating back to the Middle Ages, with their bare hands.

The Remnant Trust recently acquired a fifth edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which is the last edition published during Smith’s lifetime. The Trust turned to Ball State’s Department of Economics to start community discussions based on ideas contained in the book. In response, Steve Horwitz, John H. Schnatter Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise, and Ball State’s John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise will arrange programs during the Spring 2018 semester centered around Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment for students.

“Nearly all of the books contain ideas that have shaped, for the most part, Western culture, politics, and civilization, so it’s hard not to be wonderstruck at the collection right here in our midst that contains the ideas that have molded us,” Ms. Kennison said.

The exhibit is open to anyone age 18 and older. Those interested must make an appointment by calling 765-285-8975 or emailing Kathryn Kennison at kkenniso@bsu.edu or Diane Watters at dbuck@bsu.edu. You can find more information about the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center by visiting bsu.edu/ebball.