Monday, February 08, 2016

"Exploring the For Elements" meeting at the @JCBLibrary

John Carter Brown Library
"Exploring the Four Elements: Towards a Digital Environmental History of the Americas" a National Endowment for the Humanities funded project that aims to explore both the physical and digital representation of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) as represented by the special collections of the John Carter Brown Library (JCBL) in Providence, Rhode Island.

The John Carter Brown Library is
an independently administered and funded center for advanced research in history and the humanities, founded in 1846 and located at Brown University since 1901. Housed within the Library’s walls is an internationally renowned, constantly growing collection of primary historical sources pertaining to the Americas, both North and South, before ca. 1825. For 150 years the Library has served scholars from all over the United States and abroad. The Library offers fellowships, sponsors lectures and conferences, regularly mounts exhibitions for the public, and publishes catalogues, bibliographies, and other works that interpret its holdings to facilitate and encourage use of the collection.
Dr. del Valle (left) & Dr. Scott (right)
This was the second meeting (the first being held at the Morgan Library in New York in April 2015)of the advisory group convened (and attended) by Neil Safier (Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo Director and Librarian and a past Smithsonian Libraries' Dibner Library Resident Scholar in 2002). The group at this meeting included:
  • Ivonne del Valle (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of California, Berkeley)
  • Heidi Scott (Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
  • Josh Greenberg (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation)
  • Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert (History and Classical Studies, McGill University)
  • James McGrath (Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities, Brown University)
  • William Skinner (Graduate Student, History of Art and Architecture, Brown University)
  • Stuart Lynn (CartoDB) 
  • Ian Graham ‎(John Carter Brown Library)
  • Brenda de Santiago (John Carter Brown Library)
  • Robert Preucel (Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University)
  • Leslie Tobias Olsen (Manager of Computing and Digital Imaging, John Carter Brown Library)
JCBL Reading Room
The group was able to explore the stunning reading room of the "JCB" and get an up close (and case open) tour of the current exhibition, "Pamphlet Wars: Arguments on Paper from the Age of Revolutions" by one of the curators, Kenneth C. Ward. It's always a treat to hear curators talk about their work and with the added bonus of Mr. Ward's opening the cases to show additional pages of some of the key texts. A highlight for me was seeing the 6th edition of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" paired with the first edition in Spanish (Reflecciones politicas escritas bajo el titulo de Instinto comun. Lima: En la Imprenta de Rio., año de 1821).

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"Pamphlet Wars" exhibition

Dr. Scott (left) with selections from "Subterranean Worlds"
Dr. Heidi Scott, curator of the first of the "Four Elements" exhibitions, "Subterranean Worlds: Under the Earth in the Early Americas". Though the exhibition was no longer on view, Dr. Scott had arranged for the group to see some of the highlights of the exhibition.

Of course the highlight of any library meeting is getting that special behind the scenes tour of the rare book collections (of course at the John Carter Brown Library, it's all rare books!). Dr. Safier took the group to the atlas and bound manuscript area of the stacks and showed us such treasures as a volume of George Washington's cash books, a number of early atlases, and other treasures.

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Treasures from the John Carter Brown Library

IA Scribe Scanner
The JCBL is also a scanning partner with the Internet Archive and have a Scribe machine in their processing area. Leslie Tobias Olsen (Manager of Computing and Digital Imaging, John Carter Brown Library) gave me a tour of their scanning operations (as well as their collection of "historic" library technology such as a pre-WWII photostat machine!).

As a side note, as many of you probably know, Providence is the hometown of noted fantasy/science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft's house is just down the street from Brown University (and just a regular house) ... it might just have been my imagination, but I could, I think, almost sense the squid-like smell of the Cthulhu!

Home of H.P. Lovecraft, Providence, RI

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