Author Archives: jmw2202

Mapping the Holy Land: a New Exhibit, by Jeffrey Wayno

Visitors at the Burke Library may have noticed our new exhibit, Mapping the Holy Land, which showcases two items from our special collections—one from the rare book collection, one from the archives—to highlight how scholars of the past have thought about, and visualized, one of the most historic and contentious areas of our world.

The two items represent different time periods, different methods of “mapping,” and two different parts of The Burke’s special collections. The first is a rare book only recently purchased by the library: the first edition of Christiaan van Adrichem’s Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et biblicarum historiarum (“The Theater of the Holy Land and Biblical History”). Published in 1590, in the German city of Cologne, Adrichem’s magnificent folio volume represented a major attempt to chart both the physical geography of the Holy Land and also important events that shaped the religious history of the region. Complete with fold-out maps (one of which is on display!), this work utilized contemporary sources now lost to us to provide readers with descriptions, illustrations, and maps of a wide variety of important religious sites and areas. It is a beautiful book, simultaneously a work of biblical history, archaeology, urban planning, and travel narrative.

Map of the city of Jerusalem, created circa 1590 CE, from the rare folio Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et biblicarum historiarum (‘The Theater of the Holy Land and Biblical History’) by Christiaan van Adrichem.

Fold-out map of the city of Jerusalem, created circa 1590 CE, from the rare folio Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et biblicarum historiarum (“The Theater of the Holy Land and Biblical History”) by Christiaan van Adrichem. Rare Folio Call Number DS104 .A37 1590g

The second work in this exhibit is a travel notebook from 1837-1838. It comes from the Burke’s archival collections, specifically the Edward Robinson Papers. Edward Robinson (1794-1863) was a prominent American biblical scholar who arrived at Union Theological Seminary in 1837 as one of the school’s first professors of biblical literature. That same year, he journeyed to the Holy Land to research prominent sites mentioned in the Bible—research that would become the basis for his landmark Biblical Researches in Palestine, published in 1841. Robinson’s notebook records his itinerary through the Holy Land, as he tried to locate and document biblical sites using contemporary archaeological information. The (excellent) Arabic script that we see in this notebook further shows how thoroughly Robinson embraced local culture and traditions as he made his way around the Holy Land.

An open page of the travel notebook of Edward Robinson, early professor of biblical literature at Union Theological Seminary, describing his trip to the Holy Land in 1838. From the UTS Archives, "Edward Robinson Papers," Series I: Writings.

An open page of the travel notebook of Edward Robinson, early professor of biblical literature at Union Theological Seminary, describing his trip to the Holy Land in 1838. From the UTS Archives, “Edward Robinson Papers,” Series I: Writings.

Adrichem’s Theatrum Terrae Sanctae and Robinson’s travel notebook represent only a small sample of the rich material about the Holy Land that The Burke has in its collections. They inspire us to reflect on our own travels, and on how we document spatial and historical distances, visually and in written language. From archival materials to rare books to photographs, The Burke has a remarkable collection of visually appealing materials that allow us to see and understand how past scholars and past eras viewed what is still one of the most interesting and dynamic areas of the world. This new exhibit, Mapping the Holy Land, is just a small window to a much larger world. Please have a look when you pass through the library!

Buying Cool Things for the Burke

For many of us, the start of a new year brings with it new things: new calendars, new resolutions, even new routines. In the Columbia University Libraries, it also brings about… a new budget season. January, which is half-way through our fiscal year, is a good opportunity to take stock of how we’ve spent our acquisitions funds over the preceding six months, and to evaluate what we may want to buy, before the end of the fiscal year in June.

This is particularly true when it comes to purchasing new rare materials. The Burke Library actively adds to its already magnificent collections of rare materials, which includes printed books and manuscripts, bound folios and scrolls, from the ancient world to the present. But how do we make decisions about what to buy?

One of the absolute joys of my job consists of looking for new rare items, discussing potential purchases with faculty, students, and librarians, and then working with vendors, as well as the Libraries’ acquisitions and conservation teams, to bring them to the Burke, where we can then make them available to researchers.

The Burke Library’s new exhibit case, donated last year in memory of longtime librarian Seth Kasten, showcasing new special collections acquisitions from the previous year.

The Burke Library’s new exhibit case, donated last year in memory of longtime librarian Seth Kasten, showcasing new special collections acquisitions from the previous year.

As you might expect, the first consideration for any potential purchase is price. Is an item, such as a large collection of eighteenth-century sermons or a rare copy of the Bible translated into Cree something we can really afford? While it would be nice to purchase whatever we want, the reality is that budgets are always limited. Some budgets need to be spent on specific kinds of items, such as American religious material, or material related to the European Middle Ages. Sometimes, it’s useful to purchase a large number of smaller items; sometimes, to save funds and go for one thing that is pricier but particularly special, whether because of rarity, or condition, or both.

Price is always a factor, but at the end of the day, the most important factor is whether an item adds something new and distinctive to our collections, whether by augmenting a traditional collecting strength, or by opening up a new area of collecting. Last year, for example, I bought for the Burke a number of issues of Ling-Ling, a twentieth-century Spanish-language comic intended to instruct children in Christian missionary practices. It’s a quirky, fascinating, and troubling publication that adds a new element to the Burke’s traditional strengths in material related to Christian missionary practices around the world.

The February 1956 issue of Ling-Ling: revista misional ilustrada para niños, another new acquisition at the Burke Library. The image shows a page of comic-book cartoons in Spanish, depicting a small light-skinned child interacting with dark-skinned children and adults, with the title "El Sueno de Juanito"

The February 1956 issue of Ling-Ling: revista misional ilustrada para niños, another new acquisition at the Burke Library.

Just recently, I also purchased a marvelous sixteenth-century volume containing fold-out maps of the Holy Land, which builds on our strength in early printed religious material while also adding a new format (maps!) to our collections. One of my main goals is to strike a balance between different types of materials, and to make sure that the things I buy for the library are useful and of interest to as wide an array of students and scholars as possible.

A page from Christiaan van Adrichem’s Theatrum Terrae Sanctae (1590), a new acquisition that includes maps of the Holy Land.

A page from Christiaan van Adrichem’s Theatrum Terrae Sanctae (1590), a new acquisition that includes maps of the Holy Land.

At the end of the day, the Burke Library is a living, breathing place that continues to change and grow with every new item that we add to our collections. The process of buying rare materials can be a complicated one that involves a lot of careful planning. But it is a process that continues to renew this library at every step and to make it such an outstanding center of research and teaching.

PS: Want to suggest items for the Burke Library to purchase? Fill out the “Recommend a Title for Purchase Form” any time.

The Burke Library Goes International

One of the great joys of working at an educational institution is the chance to meet and interact with students, teachers, and researchers from all over the world. At the Burke, that kind of interaction usually takes place when people come to visit us in New York City. But recently I had the distinct pleasure of bringing a little piece of the Burke overseas to the wonderful town of Provins, France.

The Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. (Photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

The Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. (Photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

Provins, which is situated a little more than 50 miles to the southeast of Paris, is a town of about 12,000 people. Since 2001, it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its remarkably well preserved medieval architecture, which includes its twelfth-century walls, a massive fortified tower at the center of the Upper Town, and several beautiful medieval churches. The town is also home to the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins, the local municipal library and archive which houses, among its many treasures, a magnificent collection of medieval manuscripts and documents. In 2009, Columbia University and City of Provins forged a special partnership, which has given students and scholars at Columbia access to Provins and its many historical sites and cultural artifacts.

Workshop participants examine medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts held in Provins (photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

Workshop participants examine medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts held in Provins (photograph by Jeffrey Wayno, 2019)

In the summer of 2010, just after the first year of my doctoral program in medieval history, I had the good fortune to be among the very first researchers to visit Provins from Columbia. I spent three weeks in July exploring Provins’ archive and the manuscripts it contained. Two weeks ago, after almost a decade-long absence, I had the good fortune to return to that same archive to help lead a special workshop on medieval documents and liturgical manuscripts. Organized by Susan Boynton, Professor of Historical Musicology at Columbia, the workshop brought together eight graduate students past and present (from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary!) who share an interest in the history, music, and religious culture of medieval Europe. Over eight days, we dug into the contents of more than a dozen medieval manuscripts, learned from one another, and shared laughs and a good helping of fellowship over many meals.

Jeffrey Wayno (standing) with graduate students from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (seated) during the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019).

Jeffrey Wayno (standing) with graduate students from Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (seated) during the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019).

The entire week in Provins was great success, in large part due to the organization and tireless hospitality of two individuals: Susan Boynton and Luc Duchamp, the longtime director of the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins. But as the week progressed, I was also reminded how the best kind of intellectual experiences are often determined by the people who take part in them—and how the best kind of learning is often communal—and collaborative—in nature. What made this workshop both special and also productive was the group itself. Yes, our daily work sessions in the archive were always interesting and thought-provoking, simply because of the manuscript material displayed before us. But it was also our conversations over dinner or while walking around town in search of the best almond croissants, that we bonded over our shared love of a remarkable period in history. By the end of the week, our discussions, which were as wide-ranging as they were interesting, flowed freely from the library to the restaurant, from the work table to the dinner table.

Participants on the last day of the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019)

Participants on the last day of the workshop. Photograph by staff at the Fonds ancien et Archives de Provins (2019)

Many people who pass through the halls of today’s universities never realize how the very word university (from the Latin “universitas”) is imbued with the idea of community and shared experience. The university is a product of the medieval world, a time when collectivism in many ways trumped the individualism that has become the norm today. Even as someone who studies the Middle Ages, I am not sorry that the medieval period is behind us. But I do hope that the very medieval notion of a shared intellectual community—universitas—lives on. In our busy lives, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of making the process of intellectual discovery a truly shared enterprise. Two weeks ago, in Provins, a group of us did our best to keep that torch of intellectual discovery aflame. And we are already hoping to plan a second installment of this workshop next year. -JMW

On the Virtues of Small Books

From Jeffrey Michael Wayno, Collection Services Librarian, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

 

As a librarian, I have a rather awkward confession to make: I’ve been having a difficult time finishing a book. A few months back, in the midst of my yearly summer reading binge, I started Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a magisterial, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Robert Moses, the longtime New York City Parks Commissioner and builder extraordinaire, who over nearly five decades in the middle of the 20th century dramatically reshaped the city that I’ve come to call home. The Power Broker is a wonderful book: endlessly fascinating, full of insights about both the man and also the political and social processes at its core, and, above all, beautifully written. And in spite of its length—The Power Broker clocks in at 1,162 pages—I thought this would be a relatively quick read, the kind of light, enjoyable reading that I’ve come to relish in summer months. But here I am, five months later, still stuck on p. 850, desperately trying to cross the finish line before I travel upstate for the holidays. Most of my life as an historian and now as a librarian has revolved around books, and I’ve slogged my way through more than a few lengthy tomes. So what has made The Power Broker such a challenge?

 

A few days ago, the answer came to me. Put simply, The Power Broker is just too large of a book. Although fairly standard in terms of physical size, the volume weighs almost five pounds! The weight and general bulk of the book makes it surprisingly difficult to hold in a way that is comfortable for the reader. Unlike a more intense academic publication (which can be hefty to the extreme), The Power Broker is the kind of book you want to read in bed or on the subway. And yet, doing just that isn’t very easy. Every time I’ve picked it up, I’ve found myself thinking consciously about when I can put it down again.

 

Over the last two months, ever since starting as The Burke Library’s new Collection Services Librarian, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about books as physical objects. One of the great pleasures of my job is to teach rare book and manuscript sessions for Columbia, Barnard, and Union Theological Seminary classes whose topics are enhanced by looking at The Burke’s marvelous special collections, which include ancient Greek papyri, medieval manuscripts, and early printed material, to name only a few categories. These sessions necessarily grapple with changes in the production of written materials over the centuries: the move from tablets and scrolls to the codex (what we know as the ‘book’), and from materials written meticulously by hand to those printed using movable (and now digital!) type. We tend to think that in the 21st century we have a wider variety of written formats than people living in, say, the 12th century. But in many ways the opposite is true. Medieval manuscripts and early print materials come in a dizzying array of sizes, shapes, and weights.

 

Just the other day, while perusing The Burke’s collection of medieval manuscripts, I came across two manuscripts that exemplify this variety. First there is UTS Manuscript 76, a wonderful little Book of Hours produced in the Low Countries in the 15th century. As a collection of prayers that medieval men and (especially) women used on a daily basis, Books of Hours needed to be portable, even while they were also highly decorated. This particularly wonderful manuscript is so small that it fits in the palm of your hand! And even though it is made of parchment—a heavier material than paper—it is still quite light:

 

UTS MS 076, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University

UTS MS 076, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University

 

Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you have UTS Manuscript 25, a gargantuan Italian antiphonal (or choir book), also from the 15th century. This manuscript, which needed to be large so that a group of singers could read the musical notation and words with ease, weighs more than twenty pounds:

 

The large UTS MS 025 (underneath the very small MS 076, for scale), The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University

 

These examples, of course, are extremes. There are plenty of medieval manuscripts that fall somewhere in between MS 76 and MS 25. If—as they say—variety is the spice of life, then the world of medieval manuscripts is particularly rich in flavor. But that same diversity should remind us that men and women in the Middle Ages faced similar challenges to the one I encountered with The Power Broker. How big a book was determined—at least in part—how you used it and, indeed, what you could do with it. Form and function went hand in hand.

 

So this holiday season, as many of you prepare to travel near and far, I hope you will think about packing a good book to read. But if you do, remember the lessons of The Power Broker: bigger is not always better. Small books have virtues in abundance, and as physical objects they can be a joy to read.