UCR acquires four-century-old utopian novel

Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

Early last week, UC Riverside’s Eaton Collection welcomed the rare 17th century utopian book called “Civitas Solis” or “City of the Sun.” Long sought after by Head of Special Collections Melissa Conway, this first-edition book was acquired with the help of a $54,000 grant from the Breslauer foundation, a New York-based institution that awards funds to U.S. libraries that collect rare books and manuscripts.

The first edition of “City of the Sun” is as scarce as a book can get — fewer than 20 copies exist, all of which are mostly held by European or private American colleges. UC Riverside is now one of only two public libraries in the United States with this volume.

The Italian volume is written by Tommaso Campanella, considered to be one of the most important philosophers of the late Renaissance, who depicts an ideal world ruled by Spanish kings and the pope.

“Despite its seeming piety,” English professor Rob Latham said in a press release, “the book was controversial, as were Campanella’s beliefs more generally, and he spent decades in prison and several sessions on the inquisitor’s rack for espousing heretical views.”

The book also chronicles the unsettling steps to this utopia which ranges from sharing wives to a primitive form of eugenics — familiar themes for readers versed in science fiction tropes.

“I’ve always been a big fan of science fiction,” says an Eaton Collection student employee Alex Bermudez. “I think it’s really interesting that this collection exists.” All of these priceless works are publicly available to individuals with a state ID and under the careful supervision of Eaton Collection staff.

Expanding UCR’s collection of speculative fiction novels, “City of the Sun” also highlights the university’s attempts to further its studies in science fiction and fantasy. A minor in science fiction and technoculture studies is currently in the works as a crossover between multiple departments in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

The first-edition volume is currently a part of UC Riverside’s Eaton Collection, considered to be the world’s largest collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which is currently located on the fourth floor of UCR’s Tomas Rivera library.