I’m glad you’ve come early. I absolutely insist on prompt time traveling. There are too many perspective interns who think time travel can be done at any hour of any day because, after all, they can always arrive on time at their destination. Foolish. Time travel is dangerous and not to be manipulated. I keep a strict schedule of time jumps for many reasons, but I cannot divulge all of them to you now. We must be off to the year 1415. If you indeed want to intern here at the library, you must learn how to blend into different ages and cultures. You must also have a keen eye for details. A look, an inflection, the movement of an individual in the heart of a crowd—you must learn to detect these subtleties, they will tell stories, release secrets and, in some cases, save your life.
You’ll see that I’ve brought with me a book titled The Fourth Part of the World, written by Toby Lester. It will take us to Germany in the year 1415. Now, if you’d be so kind as to gather tight around me and observe closely the motion I make toward the book. One, two, Three…
Hold tight—keep your arms close to your body—and—
Here we are. Germany in the early fifteenth century. We are in the thriving town of Constance. What? Yes, you’re quite right, it is extremely crowded. It’s to do with the large conference being held here in order to decide who will be the next pope. Historians estimate there are anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 people here. They’ve come from all over Europe and from all walks of life. There are church officials, cardinals, bishops, and scholars. There are knights, dukes, poets, artisans and merchants. They are all descending on this little town—for three years. Yes, you heard me correctly, the conference will last three years. We’ve actually landed in its second year. Why? Because boredom has set in, and we will use this to our advantage. As Lester says in his book, “Enforced idleness had unexpected benefits. Not since antiquity had so many learned figures from so many regions of the world gathered in one place.”
Indeed. And now that these learned figures have grown bored, they’ve begun lending books to one another. The Council of Constance “evolved into a sort of unofficial international book fair”, meaning the council created book hunters. Even now, you they have taken to riding through the countryside and rummaging through dusty manuscripts in the nearby monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals. They are looking for lost classics—and geographical texts. They want to know how the world looks and where it stands in the universe. If you truly want to intern at the library, you must prove your worth. Help me find a copy of the newly translated copy of Ptolmey’s Geography in this mess of people and I will count this as a point in your favor.
Remember what I said, look for subtleties: glances, gestures—follow details, they will lead us to this ancient book. Yes, you have a question? What makes this book important? I’d rather you discover this for yourself. I will only say that sometimes a book can change the map of your world. It can make oceans recede and land appear. I do hope you’re ready for this.