The Renaissance was a time when European intellectuals began to re-examine the world around them inspired by discoveries made by explorers traveling to previously undescribed parts of the world and the writings of classical scholars that were becoming more accessible. Their efforts were aided by the rapid growth of cheaper books which movable type made possible. Enterprising men (and a few women) throughout continental Europe brought out new editions and translations of classical authors such as Plautus, Ptolemy, Herodotus, and Euclid. They also published the writings of contemporary scholars such as Giovanni Ramusio (on geography), Lorenzo Valla (grammar), Lucas Pacioli (mathematics), and Niccolo Tartaglia (mechanics).
The collection features a selection of important herbals and mathematical writings from ca. 1540 to ca. 1680. Among these are Den nieuwen herbarius by Leonard Fuchs (1543); De stirpium by Hieronymus Bock (1552); The anatomy of plants by Nehemiah Grew (1682); Nova scientia by Niccolò Tartaglia (1537); and the first translation of Euclid's Elementa made directly from the Greek (1505).
In addition, the Rare Book collections at Mount Holyoke College have examples of titles from one of the most prolific of these early publishing houses, the house of Aldine founded by Aldus Manutius (d. 1515), and from many of its competitors.