Cataloger’s Corner: Ptolemy and the Problem of Taprobana

by Allie McCormack, Rare Books Catalog Librarian for Baylor Libraries

For this installment of Cataloger’s Corner, I’d like to share with you one of the oldest books held at The Texas Collection: a 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia. Not only is the book itself quite old, but it was acquired very early in the history of The Texas Collection through a unique program called the McGregor Plan for the Encouragement of Book Collecting by American College Libraries that operated during the 1930s.

Instructional page from the 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia.The Geographia, sometimes called the Cosmographia, is special for many reasons. A revision of a now-lost atlas by Marinus of Tyre, it was compiled around 150 CE by Claudius Ptolemy using new principles and additional Roman and Persian sources. It was translated into Arabic in the 9th century and Latin in 1406, going through many editions in each language.

A large portion of Ptolemy’s work was dedicated to cartographic principles. Specifically, he improved the treatment of map projections—the system that lets cartographers map a round object like the globe onto a flat plane like a map—and gave readers instructions on how to recreate his maps. He also provided latitude and longitude coordinates for all the places and geographical features in the book.

Ptolemy’s original map showing the island of Taprobana from the 1562 printing of Geographia.Of course, the ancient Romans were only aware of about a quarter of the globe; Ptolemy’s European maps didn’t include Scandinavia, for example, let alone North or South America. Later editions added additional maps to represent new knowledge. During the Age of Exploration, when Europeans launched extensive overseas exploration parties, new editions included as many as 64 regional maps. Old maps also had to be altered to reflect these discoveries.

Revised version of Ptolemy’s world map showing the island of Taprobana from the 1562 printing of Geographia.What I want to focus on here is one of the more curious geographical features mapped in the Geographia: the island of Taprobana. Don’t worry if that name doesn’t sound familiar: this place was known to the Greeks before the time of Alexander the Great, but modern scholars have no idea to what land it corresponds. On the map above, based on Ptolemy’s original world map, it is situated south of India and might represent Sri Lanka. However, on the map to the left, which is based on geographical knowledge of the 1560s, Sri Lanka is clearly marked with a Z (Zeelan, a strange Latinization of the Portuguese Ceilão, from whence the English term Ceylon). Instead, the position of Taprobana might correlate with the island of Sumatra.

Map showing Camatra from the 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia.But wait! A map of the area between the Adaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand has Sumatra marked as Camatra. Below it is the island of Java (marked Iava, as Latin orthography often did not include the letter J). If Taprobana isn’t Sri Lanka or Sumatra, what is it?

Some scholars think Taprobana is a phantom island, a geographical feature that shows up on maps for many years until subsequent explorations of the area fail to find the land mass. Others think the ancient Greeks and Romans simply miscalculated the location of Sri Lanka on their maps. They use linguistic evidence to bolster their argument: according to the Mahavamsa, a 5th century CE document written in the Pali language that chronicles the history of the kings of Sri Lanka, the legendary Prince Vijaya named the land Tambapanni (“copper-red hands” or “copper-red earth”) because his followers’ hands were reddened by the soil on the island.

Map showing the island of Taprobana from the 1562 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia.Perhaps later cartographers kept both Sri Lanka and Taprobana on their maps because they respected Ptolemy’s authority. Indeed, until the scientific revolution, previous scholarship was so revered that new discoveries which repudiated established fact were viewed with suspicion, or shoehorned into existing systems of thought even when there were obvious contradictions. Or, maybe the cartographers simply couldn’t rule out the existence of Taprobana and included it in their maps in case it was one day discovered. It remains a mystery.

Baylor University holds other works by Ptolemy, which you can see here. If you’re interested in other early geographical works, click here. If you’d specifically like to see early atlases, follow this link.

Wedding Etiquette in the 1950s

by Anna Redhair, Graduate Student

As the calendar turns to June, we enter into the height of wedding season. The families of the soon to be bride and groom engage in a flurry of activity to ensure all the preparations are ready for the big day. Some of the cookbooks housed at The Texas Collection include recipes and menus specifically designed with weddings in mind. One of the most detailed descriptions of these preparations comes from a quirky cookbook published in the 1950s by the Charles W. Cook Auxiliary at Christ Episcopal Church in Laredo, Texas called Warm Welcome.

The cover page of Warm Welcome

The section entitled “Wedding Meals and Receptions” covered the expectations and etiquette for weddings, which provides an interesting glimpse into the norms for wedding receptions in the 1950s in Texas. The cookbook stressed the importance of the tasteful arrangement of delicious food and drink as the key to a successful wedding reception. Detailed rules existed regarding the order of the receiving line for a formal wedding: first the bride’s mother, then the groom’s mother, the bride, the groom, the maid of honor, and then the bridesmaids. Interestingly, the bride’s father did not stand in the receiving line but “greeted special guests and escorted old friends to the refreshment table.”

The rest of the section preceding the recipes explained the traditional food and beverages served at wedding receptions. No matter what time of day the reception was held, champagne remained the standard beverage served. Etiquette did allow for a fruit juice or gingerale punch as suitable substitutes, though. Every reception also featured a bride’s cake covered in beautiful white icing which could be topped with the same flowers used in the bridal bouquet.

A recipe for the traditional wedding cake, a dark fruit cake.

For weddings with larger budgets, the cookbook described another traditional element of the reception. Each guest received a piece of dark fruit cake in a small white box wrapped in a white satin ribbon. This cake was the designated wedding cake, as opposed to the white bride’s cake that we think of today. The mother of the bride saved a piece of the fruit cake for the bride and groom to eat on their first anniversary. Protocol allowed for the two cakes (bride’s cake and wedding cake) to be combined into a single cake with white cake making up the first two tiers and a layer of dark fruit cake at the top.

Sample menus for receptions at various times of day and levels of formality.

After the explanation of some of the etiquette and traditions surrounding wedding receptions, the cookbook provided specific menus for the various times of day a wedding reception might be held. With menus for early morning breakfast, stand-up breakfast, sit-down breakfast, buffet breakfast, breakfast served at high noon, luncheon, or supper, any bride and her family could plan the perfect reception. As you can see, cookbooks provided much more than simply recipes to the women who owned them, and helped them plan some of the most important events in the lives of their families.


Charles W. Cook Auxiliary Christ Episcopal Church. Warm Welcome. Laredo, TX: 1950s?

Hallie Earle: Waco’s Weather Watcher

by Casey Froehlich, Library Assistant

Photograph of Hallie Earle, undatedYou think this summer is a hot one? It probably won’t surprise you that Waco, Texas, has hot summers (and arguably falls and winters and springs). What might surprise you is that a Central Texas teen tracked temperatures for decades. However, that’s exactly what Hallie Earle did.

Cover to one of Hallie Earle’s Diaries, 1917Born in McLennan County in 1880, Earle was the only woman in the class of 1907 at Baylor University Medical School in Dallas and later became Waco’s first female physician. She kept local weather diaries from about age fifteen until the year before she died in 1963. The Texas Collection is fortunate to have these diaries as part of the Graves-Earle family papers.

Hallie Earle diary entry for June 17, 1919Almost every day, Hallie would open her journal entry by commenting on the weather. Sometimes she was as straight forward as simply writing down the temperature, and other days she’d only offer an adjective like “cloudy” before outlining her schedule or detailing what happened to her that day.

She was most likely inspired by her father, Major Isham Harrison Earle, the first registered weather reporter in Central Texas, who kept weather records long before Hallie’s birth.

Curious about tomorrow’s (June 17th) weather in years past? Luckily, because of Hallie Earle’s diaries, we know.

  • 1917: “cl & cold” (whether “cl” means cloudy or clear is unknown)
  • 1918: “clear”
  • 1919: “Sunshine – glad to see it… a very heavy dew”
  • 1921: “Raining”
  • 1924: “Up at 6.40 – few clouds”
  • 1926: “cool and… very badly want rain”
  • 1931: “83”
  • 1934: “82”
  • 1935: “up at 7.10 – cloudy”
  • 1938: “76… up at 6 – clear”
  • 1939: “Rain”
  • 1950: “92°”
  • 1953: “92°”
  • 1956: “92°”
  • 1957: “80°”
  • 1960: “rainy – some light rain”
  • 1962: “90° at 4 P.M.”

So what will tomorrow hold? Probably more of the same, but that doesn’t mean the information is trivial. If this collection has taught me anything it’s that you never know when you might want to look back, even on the seemingly mundane details of life.

If you want learn more about the Earle family and their weather tracking, you can find more in the Graves-Earle family papers. The collection contains Hallie’s dairies, her father’s weather documentation, and more!

Graves-Earle Family Papers, Accession #47, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Stories from Independence: San Jacinto Day

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

This is the first in a number of upcoming posts about the town of Independence, where Baylor University’s original campus was, and the connections between Independence and Baylor people and events.

Independence has always been connected with the history of the Republic of Texas. From the renaming of Coles Settlement to Independence, to Sam Houston living in Independence, there is no shortage of connections to historic early Texas people and events. One of these special events celebrated each year is San Jacinto Day.

This holiday, commemorating Sam Houston’s victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21 against Santa Anna’s government, was a major holiday at Baylor at Independence. Multiple historical accounts preserved at The Texas Collection at Baylor University in Waco mention the annual festivities of San Jacinto Day at Independence.

Drawing of the male campus of Baylor University, 1870s
Drawing of the Baylor University Male Campus (Windmill Hill) at Independence. Note the buggies moving fast down the road.

One letter, written by Florence L. Davis Bledsoe, vividly describes an event that took place at Baylor University in Independence on San Jacinto Day in 1859:

One of the jubilees here is on the 21st of April, in commemoration of the battle of San Jacinto. We had “big doings” here on the 21st. General Houston was here and spoke to us. I like very much to hear him speak. He said there were but two things he now aspired to, one was to be an overseer of the roads, to see that they were in good order for he knew the ladies did not love to travel over rough roads. The other was to be Squire and see that the young ladies did not marry worthless vagabond fellows and that the young gentlemen did not marry slovenly careless girls.

Margaret Hall Hicks, also a Baylor student at Independence in the mid-1800s, describes the holiday in her unpublished book “Memories of Ancestors.”

An annual picnic on San Jacinto Day was a social event anticipated and prepared for months before the time. Each girl had made a date weeks before with some boy, generally her sweetheart, for the whole day together. If the boy was financially able, he hired a horse and buggy to take his lady love, and these were the envy of the other girls, who had to join in with others in hiring a hack or wagon and go in crowds.

Things have changed since the days students used buggys for transportation, but the excitement and fun of holidays and events on campus lives on in such events as Dia del Oso and Homecoming.

Works Cited: Keeth, Kent. “Looking Back at Baylor: a Collection of Historical Vignettes.” Waco: Baylor University, 1985; BU records: Baylor at Independence, Accession #BU/220, The Texas Collection, Baylor University; and Hicks-Hall-Harman family papers, Accession #1726, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Research Ready: May 2017

Each month, we post an update to notify our readers about the latest archival collections to be processed and some highlights of our print material acquisitions. These resources are primed for research and are just a sampling of the many resources to be found at The Texas Collection!

May’s finding aids
By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

Ordination of Pastor Peter H.H. Lee, 1939
Annie Jenkins Sallee and her husband Dr. William Sallee were missionaries to the interior of China in the early 1900s. This photograph shows the Sallees as guests at an ordination service in Kaifeng, the capital city of the Henan province. You’ll find these items in the Annie Jenkins Sallee papers, 1897-1967, undated (#715), box 1, folder 13, at The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

May’s print materials
By Amie Oliver, Librarian and Curator of Print Materials

Thomas, Henry J., Mrs. The Prairie Rifles, or, The Captives of New Mexico: a Romance of the Southwest. New York: Beadle and Adams, [1868]. Print.

Thomas, Henry J., Mrs. The Prairie Rifles, or, The Captives of New Mexico: a Romance of the Southwest. New York: Beadle and Adams, [1868]. Print. 

This dime novel, one of nearly 400 in The Texas Collection, contains the fictional tale of two women who are captured by Comanche Indians.  Click here to view in BearCat.



Catalogue of the West Texas Military Academy: a Church School for Boys. San Antonio, TX: The Academy, 1904-. Print.

Catalogue of the West Texas Military Academy: a Church School for Boys. San Antonio, TX: The Academy, 1904-. Print. 

This catalog was produced just eleven years after the 1893 founding of the West Texas Military Academy in San Antonio. Two-thirds of the volume explains rules and regulations, administrative information, and academic standards. The remainder is devoted to athletics.  Click here to view in BearCat.

Some of the Things 1909 Farmers Buy. Volume 1. Texas. New York: Crowell Publishing Company, 1909. Print.

Some of the Things 1909 Farmers Buy. Volume 1. Texas. New York: Crowell Publishing Company, 1909. Print. 

Published as a special issue of the national publication Farm and Fireside, this volume highlights a group of Grayson County, Texas farmers randomly selected from the publication’s subscription list. Included in the volume are photographs of homes and descriptions of farms.  Click here to view in BearCat.