The Philip Mills Arnold Semeiology Collection, perhaps the most diverse and comprehensive of all the Washington University Libraries Special Collections, brings together a broad range of materials dealing with or exemplifying the nature and characteristics of communication. Placing particular emphasis on early printed materials that appeared at early stages of the development of interest in topics relevant to semeiology, the Arnold Collection had especially strong holdings in the fields of cryptography, artificial memory, decipherment of unknown languages, early development sin stenography, Braille, deaf and mute languages, and various forms of nonverbal communication.
Complementing the more than 2,000 volume in the Arnold book collection that forms the largest component of the Semiology Collection is a small, yet select, group of manuscripts and printed ephemera, including materials relating to cryptography, sign languages, telegraphy, accounting, paleography, mnemonics, philosophy, stenography, and other topics.
The sign languages section contains numerous single printed sheets from the nineteenth century depicting different systems for deaf-mute communication in many languages, probably published as teaching aids. The three items on telegraphy emphasize its use for the military, focusing on secretly communicating sensitive offers for maneuvers. Items included in the Accounting and Paleography sections demonstrate the variety of early forms of alternative numerological systems and alternative scripts, both of which indicate that communication is based on an ever-changing use of various signs.
An important work on mnemonics, Raymond Lull’s Ars demonstrativa et ars brevis, highlights this curious and frequently mystical system of logic, metaphysics, and the intricate workings of the communicating mind. Manuscripts depicting many of the thousands of separate languages of the world are also included in the collection, mostly relying on biblical texts to illustrate the complex nature of human communication. One other example of alternative means of communicating is a shorthand version of the Psalms.
Finally, included as an illustration of the early evaluation of printing, are 52 specimens of early typography, dating from 1477 to 1674. Taken as a whole, the manuscript collection reveals the interdisciplinary nature of semeiology and reflects the eclectic range of Arnold’s important collection.