Category Archives: Collections

Never Enough Singing!

Never Enough Singing is the title of the Festschrift published in 2011 on the occasion of Seth Kasten’s retirement from the Burke Library. It is among the items featured in the inaugural exhibit in the Seth Kasten Memorial Exhibit Case.

Seth (1945-2017) was a reference librarian at the Burke for more than 35 years. In that time, he helped countless students, faculty, and visiting researchers from near and far. Alongside his devotion to the library and its collections, Seth was a passionate musician and choir leader, founding and conducting the annual choir at the American Theological Library Association conference as well as the men’s and women’s scholas at Union. For decades he worked as an organist at many churches around the city. His wide interests made him an avid explorer and he took numerous trips to Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. This exhibit draws from the Burke’s special collections that Seth did so much to care for and share, and reflects his deep love for music, liturgy, and travel. Please come by a have a look!

Part of the Burke’s celebrated Missionary Research Library Collection, this work translates an early section from the ancient Indian Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana. Though it resembles writing, the text is printed.

This manuscript on paper contains chants for the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass. The musical notation is nagelschrift, an early modern form so-named for its resemblance to a horseshoe nail (nagel). This book was part of the collection of Leander van Ess, the core library of Union Theological Seminary at its founding in 1838.

 

A folio from UTS MS 005, a manuscript of Thomas Aquinas's "Summa contra gentiles." From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

“Summa contra gentiles” and its Readers

UTS Manuscripts Student Series Post 2 of 5, by Valerie Wilson (MA candidate, Medieval and Renaissance Studies)*

The script of the Burke Library’s UTS MS 005, a manuscript of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa contra gentiles within the Burke’s Van Ess Collection, is one of its most baffling features. The manuscript comes from the Benedictine monastery of St. Vitus at Gladbach, which is in Mönchengladbach, a village near Düsseldorf. It is composed of 150 folios, and was rebound in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Although according to sources like Digital Scriptorium, the manuscript was apparently made in the thirteenth century, the script looks later than that. It an advanced Gothic book hand that has the characteristic pointiness of German Gothic, but is too advanced for the thirteenth century in that location. German scripts tended to lag behind the more southern regions of Europe in script-development; you might have seen a Gothic book hand this advanced in Italy in the thirteenth century, but it would have been rounder. This script therefore poses an important problem in the manuscript’s date—is it from the thirteenth century, or later?

A folio from UTS MS 005, a manuscript of Thomas Aquinas's "Summa contra gentiles." From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

A folio from UTS MS 005, a manuscript of Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa contra gentiles.” From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

I believe the answer to this question lies in its marginal notes, or lack thereof. To fully dive into this, we first need to establish some context. Thomas Aquinas wrote Summa contra gentiles in the mid-thirteenth century, after he had completed a teaching residency at Cologne, which is just down the Rhine River from Düsseldorf. It contains philosophical arguments designed to logically prove the correctness of Christianity in debates and arguments with non-Christians. Aquinas died in 1274, so if this manuscript was indeed created in the thirteenth century, it would have been roughly contemporary with Aquinas’s life. If this was current scholarship with a local connection, why are there no contemporary notes in it?

In the thirteenth century, the University of Paris was on the cutting edge of the Western European intellectual community. This, of course, meant to many Church officials that it was also a potential breeding ground for heresy. In 1270, the bishop of Paris, Stephen Tempier, issued a list of condemned ideas that were derived from the University of Paris’s own faculty [Wippel 171–172]. This was part of the larger intellectual war between the Neo-Platonists, whose arguments were drawn from pagan philosophers, and the Neo-Augustinians, who were against pagan sources [Wippel 174, 184]. Thomas himself had developed a new form of Aristotelianism called Thomism, and although he himself was not condemned in 1270, this did put a target on his back [Wippel 175, 182]. Aquinas left Paris in 1272, two years before his death, and after his departure the Neo-Augustinians grew stronger [Wippel 184]. Three years after Aquinas’s death, Tempier issued another set of condemnations, many of which directly attacked Aquinas’s ideas [Wippel 195­–196]. Tempier even started a separate investigation of Aquinas, although it obviously never led to a conviction of heresy [Thijssen 72, 98]. Nevertheless, these condemnations marked an intellectual turn against Neo-Platonism, and stunted Thomism’s growth [Robiglio 52, Wippel 199].

If the manuscript was finished sometime between the Condemnations of 1277 and Aquinas’s canonization in 1323, it might have simply been put away for fear of potential heresy. These dates also agree with the manuscript’s script; if it were written in the very late thirteenth or the early fourteenth century, that could explain the script’s level of development. But what of the rest of the manuscript’s life? This manuscript had a reader who made a lot of marginal notes in the form of symbols, manicules, and occasionally words. I believe he was probably working around the time the book was rebound, in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. This is because the words in his marginal notes look to be in a Humanist hand, which is a Renaissance script.

A folio from UTS MS 005, a manuscript of Thomas Aquinas's "Summa contra gentiles." From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Marginalia in a folio from UTS MS 005, a manuscript of Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa contra gentiles.” From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

I lean more strongly toward a sixteenth-century date because the reader would have had an incentive to find ways to philosophically argue against non-Catholics: the rise of Protestantism in Germany. I also believe that he was a sixteenth-century reader based on the width and softness of the lead in which he makes his notes. They look like they were made with something close to a modern pencil, instead of the thinner leadpoint stylus used to rule the manuscript’s margins. This would mean the notes date to the mid-sixteenth century, after the invention of the pencil. This puts the reader in the geographic and chronological epicenter of the Reformation, which is really exciting! Most importantly, this reader helps us determine that this manuscript was a living, breathing document. I feel lucky to have participated in its history, too! -VW

 

*Valerie Wilson is currently working toward her Master’s degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Columbia University. She is interested in all things medieval, but especially textual transmission and book culture.

The UTS Manuscripts Student Series highlights Blog posts by students who undertook in-depth studies of manuscripts held at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, in the Columbia masters-level seminar “The Medieval Book as Material Culture” (taught by Prof. Alison Beach) in the Fall of 2018. Their compositions will be posted on the Burke Blog throughout the Spring and Summer of 2019.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

 

Robiglio, Andrea A. “Breaking the Great Chain of Being. A note on the Paris Condemnations of 1277, Thomas Aquinas and the Proper Subject of Metaphysics.” Verbum 4, no. 1 (2004): 51–59.

Thijssen, J.M.M.H. “1277 Revisited: A New Interpretation of the Doctrinal Investigations of Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome.” Vivarium 35, no. 1 (1997): 72-101. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41963590.

Wippel, John. “The Condemnations of 1270 and 1277 at Paris.” Medieval and Renaissance Studies 7 no. 2 (1977): 169–201.

Britannica Academic, s.v. “Mönchengladbach.” URL: https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/M%C3%B6nchengladbach/53322.

 

 

CATALOGUE ENTRY:

Library: Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York.

Shelfmark: UTS MS 005

Collection: Van Ess

Date: 13th century according to Digital Scriptorium, possibly 14th century

Location: Benedictine monastery of St. Vitus, Gladbach, Mönchengladbach

Number of folios: 150

Gregory’s Rule: Highly likely

Gatherings: Unable to determine because of tight binding

Binding: 15th or 16th century

Ink color: Black

Pigment colors: Blue and Red

Script: Late Gothic bookhand

Headings: Book headings on each set of facing pages (i.e., Liber III)

Catchwords: Yes, occasionally, in text boxes

Parchment quality: Fairly white and uniform, lots of holes and stitching-repairs made before any writing was done. Some bookworm holes, especially on outer leaves.

Prickings: Yes, but pages are partially cut, so some are not visible.

Ruling: Yes, in leadpoint. Ruled in two columns.

St. Eustace and Unexpected Emptiness in a Fifteenth-Century Book of Hours

UTS Manuscripts Student Series Post 1 of 5, by Eleanor Stern (Barnard College 2019)*

 

Inside of UTS MS 051, a fifteenth-century French book of hours believed to have belonged to King Henry III, now housed at the Burke Library, I expected to find certain kinds of illuminations. Most books of hours begin with a calendar, each month marked by illustrations of the the zodiac or of seasonal occupations (Gunhouse). But, as I turned its pages in Burke’s special collections reading room, I saw that the calendar was surrounded by floral and geometric motifs.

UTS MS 051, f1r, January in the calendar of the manuscript, a Book of Hours. From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

UTS MS 051, f1r, January in the calendar of the manuscript, a Book of Hours. From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

The floral motifs were skilfully illuminated, but conspicuously detached from the human activities of the calendar year. Though these illuminations take up only the center of each folio of the calendar, they are surrounded by substantial margins, so that the red, blue, and gold writing that marks each saint’s feast day floats island-like amid blankness. As I continued to turn the pages—past the gospel readings, past the hours of the virgin and the office for the dead, past luxurious full-page illuminations marking each section with ultramarine and gold—the book hewed more or less to what is expected in the genre (Gunhouse). It was atypical mostly in its luxuriousness. Use marks decreased with each passing page, as if its medieval owners had begun each day with the full intention of piety and prayer, only to get distracted somewhere around terce. And then, at the back of the book, (where there were few use marks to be found), I came across something even less expected than the abstract blankness surrounding the calendar pages. Here on f143 was a full-page illumination of St. Eustace, or “Eustachio,” as the illuminator has labeled him.

UTS MS 051, f143r. An illumination showing Saint Eustace. From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

UTS MS 051, f143r. An illumination showing Saint Eustace. From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Eustace stands ankle-deep in a river, water rippling over his feet. He is clothed in ultramarine, his head set against a golden halo. Trees grow behind him on pastoral-looking hills of malachite, resembling the ones surrounding the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in a visitation scene on f32. But this scene has none of the tranquility of that previous one. Eustace’s arms are raised in distress. His feet point towards one bank of the river, while his head twists backwards at an odd angle towards the other. On closer inspection, it becomes clear why. On each grassy bank, an animal—a wolf and a lion, it appears—holds a small child in its mouth. One child wears red, the other blue, and each lies limp, his head upside-down. The illuminator has captured Eustace in a scene of martyrdom: the moment where his two sons are carried away by wild animals (Shuffleton). St. Eustace is said to have begun his life as a Roman soldier named Placidas, working in service of the emperor Trajan. One day, Eustace/Placidas caught sight of a deer with a crucifix aglow among its antlers. This experience converted him suddenly to Christianity, and his family joined him in this new faith, in spite of warnings that Satan will test him. And test him Satan does: first he loses his property and servants, then his family. After finally being reunited with his family by the emperor Hadrian, Eustace still refuses to denounce his faith, and as punishment is roasted to death inside of a giant hollowed-out brass bull. The moment portrayed in MS 051 is the one in which he loses his sons to wild animals (Shuffleton). This Job-like series of tribulations reminded me of the abstraction surrounding this manuscript’s calendar. Books of hours, made to assist individual prayer, usually contain expressive images for meditation (Gunhouse). This one is no exception. F62, for instance, shows Christ being nailed to the cross, his body riddled with wounds to induce visceral responses.

UTS MS 051, f62r. An illumination depicting a crucifixion scene. From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

UTS MS 051, f62r. An illumination depicting a crucifixion scene. From the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Yet, in the narrative of Eustace slowly losing all he has in favor of an abstract faith, and in the wide margins surrounding each day of the year, this book promotes a kind of meditative blankness as well. Rather than solely creating feelings of devotion through narrative imagery, or through a celebration of the tangible, the makers of this manuscript aimed to create these emotions through reminders of deprivation: what, they prompt, remains when that which is tangible is lost? -ES

 

*Eleanor Stern is a Senior at Barnard College majoring in English. She is from New Orleans.

The UTS Manuscripts Student Series highlights Blog posts by students who undertook in-depth studies of manuscripts held at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, in the Columbia masters-level seminar “The Medieval Book as Material Culture” (taught by Prof. Alison Beach) in the Fall of 2018. Their compositions will be posted on the Burke Blog throughout the Spring and Summer of 2019.

 

Works Cited

UTS MS051. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University Libraries, New York, NY.

Gunhouse, Glenn. “A Hypertext Book of Hours.” A Hypertext Book of Hours,            www.medievalist.net/hourstxt/home.htm.

Shuffleton, George, editor. “Item 1, Saint Eustace: Introduction.” Robbins Library Digital Projects, 2008, d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/shuffelton-codex-ashmole-61-saint-eustace.

 

 

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

Students enrolled in CE 223 "Queering Ethics" taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library

Queering the Archives at Union Theological Seminary

Students in the course Christian Ethics 223, “Queering Ethics,” taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, visited the Burke Library on Wednesday, March 6th, to discuss queer frameworks of power, authority, and queer subjecthood in relation to archives. The class and I delved into hands-on archival inquiry with the papers of emilie m. townes, a former professor at Union and currently the Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, a self-identified lesbian and a leading figure in womanist thought. We framed our activity with discussions of archival theory, with readings from Derrida and Foucault among others. The students debated the ethics of archival acquisition processes and research — especially as it affects the history and lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) persons today. For several of the students, this encounter at the Burke Library was their first time handling archival documents.

Students enrolled in CE 223 "Queering Ethics" taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library

Students enrolled in CE 223 “Queering Ethics” taught by Prof. Sarah Azaransky at Union Theological Seminary, examining an archival document folder at the Burke Library. This photo appears on the Burke Library’s Instagram account @BurkeLibraryUTS

In preparation, the eighteen masters-level students in the class read a literature review of theoretical views of the archive by Marlene Manoff titled “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines” (Libraries and the Academy, 2004, 4:1). We framed our discussion around ethical issues at play in critical archive studies when it comes to the custodianship of both literal archives as well as the proverbial collective archives of social memory. If, as Derrida says, “There is no political power without control of the archive,” who decides what is kept in the archive, and how is their political power sustained? When it comes to topics in LGBTQ studies, especially in art, literature, and political movements, key figures often defy typical organizational frameworks, and resist categorization. How do researchers identify a gay or transgender writer, for example, who spent their early life in the closet, and was not labeled as such or recognized for their work (or their identity) until later in time? What are the power dynamics at play for archivists, in curating and making primary-source materials of these figures available and searchable for scholars? How do researchers with questions pose their inquiries without being imposing on, or intrusive to, queer subjects? Hefty questions indeed. After a break, we shifted gears from discussing archival processing to handling materials from the emilie townes papers first hand.

The students worked in pairs to examine the contents of one document folder each from the emilie townes papers, including some manuscript writings from early in her PhD program. One group found that some of Dr. townes’s personal research notes had been typewritten on the back of what appeared to be event flyers or inserts for church program booklets. The students speculated it may have been to save paper, but the reason was not readily apparent; we were unable to tell from the Finding Aid whether the existence of these flyers had been previously documented at all. One of the event flyers (pictured below) advertised a 1987 event called “Homosexuality and the Church” at Faith United Methodist Church, in Downers Grove, Illinois — a particularly eye-catching object, given the present ongoing debates concerning homosexuality in the UMC denomination. (Leaders at the recent UMC General Conference in St. Louis, MO, debated and voted to reaffirm the current stance of the denomination, that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” But the debate continues, as numerous LGBTQ-affirming UMC churches around the world maintain the contrary stance, in welcoming solidarity with their LGBTQ communities.) It is truly a pressing issue, one that is deeply personal to me and to many students at Union. Yet, from a cursory look, without apparent information about this document, we cannot know how it came to be among her papers, nor what role this event played in Dr. townes’s life and education. A key takeaway from this exercise, predictably, was that archival documents often raise more questions than answers.

"Homosexuality and the Church" event description page, on the verso of a typewritten document of research notes, from the emilie m. townes papers, series 2, box 2, folder 3, Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

“Homosexuality and the Church” event description page, on the verso of a typewritten document of research notes, from the emilie m. townes papers, series 2, box 2, folder 3, Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Some of these masters-level students are beginning to consider the possibilities for continued graduate study, and possible projects for future archival inquiry. Some students are even considering collaborating on a potential project on the LGBTQ history of Union Theological Seminary together, requiring extensive time in the UTS records held at the Burke archives. Such a project would be a hefty undertaking, but one of great value to the community here, I have no doubt. In the end, the session received a greatly positive response, and it seems these intrepid students thoroughly enjoyed their close encounter with the archives.

Color Our Collections at the Burke Library

For the second year in a row, the Burke Library participated in a worldwide weeklong initiative to spread awareness and engagement with Special Collections known as Color Our Collections.

Poster for Color Our Collections, February 2019. Image resembles a colored-in picture from a medieval manuscript of two people drawing.

Poster for Color Our Collections Week 2019 (http://http://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections)

In this series of events, initiated by the New York Academy of Medicine, libraries and museums around the world upload black-and-white versions of images in their Special Collections to create unique coloring books for users to color-in with pencils. (Coloring, traditionally an activity associated with young children, has grown in popularity among adults of all ages in recent years, for its relaxation effects and impact on mindfulness and calm; many bookstores now carry coloring books for adults, and lately I have seen multiple people my own age coloring in coloring books on airplanes.) During Color OurCollections Week, many institutions host coloring events and offer printed versions of their coloring books. Guests can attend these coloring events or visit ColorOurCollections.org and download coloring books from libraries and museums around the world. Participants can upload photos of their creative coloring to social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections and see others’ posts and explore the collections from far-flung institutions. This lets users explore and engage through hands-on experience with their collections from home. The Burke Library uploaded a coloring book chock full of images from the archives, rare books and manuscripts.

Image is the cover of a student publication called The Plastic Bag from 1968, image shows a rhinoceros being lifted by balloons with the title "the free university: lifting the weight"

Image from the Burke Library 2019 #ColorOurCollections Coloring Book, “The Plastic Bag” student literary publication, circa 1968 (from the Union Theological Seminary Records, Archives of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, New York)

There are many wonderful coloring books available on this year’s Color Our Collections page from other libraries and institutions; our colleagues at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University uploaded a very fine selection of images, and the New York Academy of Medicine (the original founders of Color Our Collections) always include intriguing health-related and scientific images from their special collections. From outside the U.S., the Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán and Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg coloring books were both beautiful. Having been raised going on canoe trips in the north woods of Minnesota, I was intrigued by the coloring book from the Grand Portage National Monument Archives, featuring images of Ojibwe artwork, birch bark canoes, and the region’s natural features.

Page from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring book of the Grand Portage National Monument Archives. Image is a black-and-white edited photograph of a room in a museum featuring a birch bark canoe and indigenous artwork from Minnesota.

Page from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring book of the Grand Portage National Monument Archives (https://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections/grand-portage-national-monument-archives-collection-coloring-book-2019)

The Burke Library’s own on-site Color Our Collections event, featuring complimentary tea and snacks, drew about a dozen guests, including students from Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University, as well as a few library staff members who saw a poster for the event and decided to drop in on their lunch break to do some coloring.

Photograph from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring event at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University. Image shows a table with popcorn and people's hands holding pencils and coloring in images on paper

Photograph from the Color Our Collections 2019 coloring event at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University

Participants seemed intrigued by the images from the Burke’s collections, engaged in lively conversation about the history of the Burke and its role in the university, and appreciated the fact that we hosted such a nice event open to the community. Some of them took extra coloring books to give to friends. We promoted the event on social media, and some of our remote followers commented requesting links to the site so they could download their own coloring books. Having been alerted to the existence of Color Our Collections last year by Myong Jin, the Collections Assistant at the Burke Library, I was very glad to have collaborated with her again put on our second such successful event this year, and look forward to hosting it again in 2020.

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.

The Seth Kasten Memorial Exhibit Case

Recent visitors to the Burke may have noticed something new on the first floor. This week, thanks to the generosity of the friends and family of Seth E. Kasten, a new exhibit case has been installed on the first floor, just opposite the circulation desk. Seth was a librarian at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary from 1973 to 2011 and this case will stand as a testimony to his many years of dedicated service to the Burke’s communities and collections. Seth helped countless individuals from near and far in their research and study and led choral groups at Union and at the annual conference of the American Theological Library Association.

We are deeply grateful to the Seth’s friends and family for this gift to the Burke Library in his memory. We are planning an opening event for the spring and an exhibit that will pay tribute to Seth’s passion for music — stay tuned!

“Spirit of ’68” Part I: Building an Exhibit…

The year 1968 has been memorialized recently with a slough of exhibits, events, new books, and other testimonials marking the 50th anniversaries of that year’s revolutionary upheavals, movements, and protests — Union Theological Seminary of course has a long history of resistance activism, and librarians at the Burke thought that Union should have its own display of archival materials from that historic year.

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Little did I know, at the start of creating this exhibit, that Union underwent its own revolutionary changes that year, and indeed Union played a pivotal role in Columbia’s infamous 1968 student protests. My research for the 1968 exhibit unearthed some of this history, which I am excited to share via the Burke Blog as part of this series.

I knew about Columbia’s student protests from reading James Kunen’s memoir The Strawberry Statement many years ago. In April of 1968, students at Columbia occupied university buildings in protest of Columbia’s involvement in recruitment and weapons research for the War in Vietnam, and in the gentrification of Harlem in general. Columbia’s administration sought to quell the protests, which lasted several days and drew significant media attention, by calling law enforcement — whereupon, predictably, the police used brutal tactics against the students, throughout several days of violence. When I consulted the archives of Union Theological Seminary’s president’s office files, community photographs, and student publications from that time period, to see what I could find for our 1968 exhibit, I was heartened to see news coverage showing Union students involved in resistance during the Columbia protests, and even doing nonviolent interventions with the police. What surprised me was the fact that Union students and administrators came together on this issue, agreeing to cease all UTS classes for the remainder of the school year; there is a letter from President John C. Bennett included in the exhibit, officially halting classes and forming a series of alternative revolutionary teach-ins called the Free University in which students could assemble and strategize to build revolutionary momentum around the protests. I and my co-curators thought these events should definitely be the focal point of our exhibit on Union in ‘68. We conducted a great deal of research to get a closer look at these resistance efforts, which in fact catalyzed a series of liberatory changes at Union (which will be described in greater detail in subsequent blog posts by my collaborators) and we decided to call this exhibit “Spirit of ‘68: Revolution and Resistance at Union Theological Seminary.”

"Union Students Strike for Columbia" banner, UTS 2 Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

“Union Students Strike for Columbia,” photograph (1968) UTS 2 Archive Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

The whole exhibit was a team effort. Staff from the UTS Development Office, Emily Odom and Kevin Bentley, who possess extensive knowledge of Union alumni, helped with curation. It was their idea to host an event during the 50th Reunion of the UTS Class of 1968 in early October, when many alumni would be coming to town, which was truly a stroke of genius. We organized a nice reception to mark the opening of the exhibit on October 4th, and extended invitations throughout the Union community. Background research was a major part of putting the exhibit together, and the files from this time period in the UTS archives are extensive; thankfully, a Union student, Jake Hearen, offered to pitch in on the reading and research, and he became our indispensable Research Assistant for the project.

"Spirit of '68" exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

“Spirit of ’68” exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

Prior to starting the research for this exhibit, I had thought putting the physical display together was going to be the most challenging part; however, as it happened, members of the Conservation & Preservation Department for the Columbia University Libraries were happy to help construct photograph frames, book cradles, and display mounts for each of the items we selected. (After all, these materials are both unique and extremely fragile, and they deserve utmost care in their handling and display.) The entire team worked hard to create this exhibit, it was a massive undertaking and could definitely not have been done by one person alone.

For the opening reception, we also had the idea to involve the guests in collecting memories and metadata about the items on display– we put up a projector screen and projected a slideshow of images of documents and photographs from the time period, and invited guests to note in a nearby notebook if they recognized individuals by name, and dates and place info for events featured in the slideshow. We also included a table of books about 1968 for guests to browse (some of which are pictured here). It turned out to be quite an event, attended by alumni, faculty, librarians, and students, with sparkling conversation over desserts and champagne, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening very much. Eventually I hope that research around these events will lead to broader understanding of this time period– I hope to include some of this crowd-sourced metadata in the archival Finding Aid, and to have many of the exhibit’s materials digitized for an online exhibit that will offer researchers the chance to see these items remotely in the years to come, and to continue exploring this revolutionary era in our community’s history.

Students and alumni at the "Spirit of '68" Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

Students and alumni at the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

 

Apps and Tools for Citations and Note-Taking: a Workshop for Undergraduates

Anyone who has written a research paper knows that formatting footnotes and bibliographies can take up a great deal of time and mental energy in the library. Whether tracking a scholarly conversation within secondary literature, or scouring a huge archival collection in primary source research, managing one’s thoughts and research notes (and making sure one can find them again) can be cumbersome; yet, in today’s electronic world, there are scads of tools available to help researchers find and manage their citations and their ideas. This week, a professor asked if we could hold a session at the Burke Library, facilitating a discussion and workshop about the pro’s and con’s of some of the top digital apps and programs for managing citations and taking notes, just for undergraduates writing thesis papers in Religion and Theology. We enthusiastically rose to the occasion! I set out to review the top tools used by researchers in the Burke Library, and began developing the workshop. It ended up being a great opportunity to engage with some information-literacy principles around data privacy, digital preservation, and fair use as well.

First I conducted an informal survey over social media, asking writers, researchers, and students what digital tools and apps they take notes with. Out of 10 responses, the apps that were mentioned included Evernote, Google Docs, Notability, OneNote, Trello, Scapple, and Zotero (many respondents also mentioned that they use pen and paper — some things never change!) Within a few days I had the chance to explore each of these tools and their potential usefulness for college students. I created this table (below) to guide our discussion of the pro’s and con’s of every app, so the students could decide for themselves which ones would fit their note-taking needs. (NOTE: I am not paid to advertise these products, I am simply reviewing them for instructional purposes.)

Zotero is the program I decided to start the workshop with and spend the most time on. For those who have not yet boarded the Zotero train to Easy Bibliography Town, it’s a program that lets you keep track of your sources (books, articles, special collections, etc) and generate bibliographies, footnotes, endnotes, and parenthetical references for papers with the click of a button; no more copying titles, authors, and publisher locations by hand and formatting where the comma goes for every single footnote. You download the program and install a quick add-on to your web browser, then simply find the items in CLIO or any other library catalog, and you’re able to add the sources to your Zotero library with a click in your browser.

Google Docs and Evernote are two popular mainstream programs for organizing text-based notes. Both allow users to save content to a computer hard drive or in “the cloud” (web-based servers requiring a login). OneNote provides the unique feature of letting users enter text and also draw freehand shapes, arrows, and circles to map ideas visually. The students who attended this workshop were already using Google Docs for taking notes, for the most part, though some had tried OneNote as well. The group in the workshop engaged in thoughtful conversation about price and costs with these programs; Evernote is free to use, OneNote is only available through the somewhat expensive Microsoft Office suite, and Google Docs is “free” to use but it also requires a login and may track user activity.

Three newer apps — Notability, Trello, and Scapple — were completely new to everyone in the workshop (including me). Through exploration I found that Notability ($9.99) is a fun note-taking app for Mac computers and mobile devices (not PC’s, sadly). Users can type, draw, and even speak into a microphone to record notes and annotate PDFs with markings and highlighting. Scapple ($12 for students) is a mind-mapping app for connecting ideas and concepts. Trello (free/requires login) is an organizational collaboration tool that allows groups to assign project components and due dates. The students in the workshop discussed the potential pro’s and con’s of using newer apps, including concern about the novelty of these companies and whether or not their work could be deleted if the companies don’t last. Longevity is a concern in any project that involves digital preservation; it was a good chance for the students to discuss these information principles, in a conversation centering their own intellectual outputs.

I added to the workshop an app called Tropy, which I heard about from a colleague who works primarily in archival research. Tropy allows users to take photos of archival collections, upload them and organize them based on their research needs (for example: a lengthy archival document, captured one photo per page at a time, can be saved as a single group) and users can markup and annotate the image files to record their notes and ideas. Our exploration of Tropy also included a conversation around copyright and fair use; Tropy.org provides an overview of what constitutes fair use of archival collections for research purposes, which nicely framed the discussion.

All together, these apps span a great deal of potential uses, and provided a stepping stone for an engaging conversation around several information-literacy principles as well as a lively hands-on workshop. We are definitely considering hosting it again as a one-off workshop in the future.