Rush Rhees Library: University of Rochester

Yesterday I had occasion to return to my alma mater, the University of Rochester, for a presentation on the nature of memory consolidation and reconsolidation. The talk was fascinating, but not the focus of this post. I took advantage of the day to take some photos of the campus, which has changed a lot since I attended there. This facade, though, is just the same.

The Rush Rhees Library is the anchor for the main quadrangle at the University’s River campus and the academic heart of the school. This building was built in 1930, and although it has been expanded several times and is fully updated internally, this view hasn’t changed since then. The library is a wonderful example of how tradition and innovation are blended at the U of R.

What you can’t read in this photo are two inscriptions carved into the stone on either side of the doors, behind the stone urns.

HERE IS THE HISTORY
OF HUMAN IGNORANCE
ERROR SUPERSTITION
FOLLY WAR AND WASTE
RECORDED BY HUMAN
INTELLIGENCE FOR THE
ADMONITION OF WISER
AGES STILL TO COME

HERE IS THE HISTORY
OF MANS HUNGER FOR
TRUTH GOODNESS AND
BEAUTY LEADING HIM
SLOWLY ON THROUGH
FLESH TO SPIRIT FROM
BONDAGE TO FREEDOM
FROM WAR TO PEACE

As a shiny new freshman in the 1970s, I found those words deeply inspiring. They still move me today. They embody the spirit of education, writ large: remembering, understanding, and learning from the mistakes of the past, and using them to climb, slowly and sometimes painfully, into a better future. There is a clear-eyed and honest view of how many things we get wrong and how hard it will be to get it all right. There is also a determination that this journey is worth the effort. I also got a sense that I, one scholar just starting on this journey, could be a small part of this mighty task.

I credit my education at the University of Rochester with giving me a firm grounding in scholarly inquiry and setting me off on a life of learning and teaching. It awakened me to a life of the mind that I cherish.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Awakening