Author Archives: Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library

A Tainted Gift: Why would an avowed fascist donate a letter from a Founding Father to Columbia?

Extract from the Trustees Minutes, October 3, 1927, Columbia University Archives

In 1927, an Italian medievalist and prominent Fascist named Piero Misciattelli gifted to the Columbia University Libraries an autograph letter written by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1821.  Jefferson’s letter to Parisian booksellers DeBures Frères placing an order for his burgeoning library was, according to an extract from the Columbia Trustee Minutes of October 3, 1927, “hitherto unpublished and unknown.”

Such a remarkable gift prompts several questions: What was the connection between Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler and a Fascist university professor? How did this Italian scholar of medieval mysticism and literature acquire an American president’s epistle sent to Paris in the 19th century? Why would Misciattelli, a loyal Fascist, express open admiration for an American champion of democracy like Jefferson?

Though the letter’s provenance and its pathway to Misciattelli’s possession remain a mystery, the esteem for Jefferson and the relationship between Butler and Misciattelli hinges upon the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). An international think tank founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1910, CEIP was, and remains, dedicated to the cause of advancing world peace. While also serving as Columbia’s President, Nicholas Murray Butler steered the CEIP for 20 years, 1925-1945, through the entire Fascist ventennio and the ravages of WWII.  Misciattelli, a member of the European Committee of the Division of Intercourse and Education of the CEIP and thus known to Butler, shared Mussolini’s ironic Fascist policy of peace through disarmament. In a New York Times article from October 1931 announcing Misciattelli’s visit to New York to lecture on Dante at Columbia’s new Casa Italiana, he is quoted parroting Mussolini’s rhetoric:

“Disarmament is the first condition of peace, wealth and real progress for the whole world. Of course, no country can have social peace without order and discipline and all of the other old Roman virtues. Mussolini believes, as does bold young Italy, that the spirit of Roman laws, of Roman civilization, is immortal. …Mussolini is a sincere advocate of international peace.”

The NYT article also includes Misciattelli’s thinly-veiled attempt to assert a long-standing amicable relationship between Italy and the United States by referencing an 1853 message sent by President Abraham Lincoln to famed Italian physicist Macedonio Melloni. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Misciattelli would have acquired the Jefferson letter and then gifted it to a prestigious American university such as Columbia, particularly since Misciattelli and Butler were supposedly proponents of the same peaceful ideology.

High-ranking Nazi and Fascist officials in Piazza Venezia, 1938. The red arrow indicates Misciattelli’s building while Palazzo Venezia (and its balcony) are in the center background. Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv

Despite his status as a professor at the University of Siena, Misciattelli, also a Marquis, lists his address on the letter to President Butler as Piazza Venezia 5, in Rome. Piazza Venezia was the literal heart of the Fascist regime, as the Palazzo Venezia’s infamous balcony (located at number 10), was the site of so many impassioned Mussolini orations to the Italian people. If Misciattelli’s base in Rome was located just steps from Mussolini’s office then we can safely surmise that he was in favor with Il Duce, perhaps because of the inroads he was making in spreading Fascist ideology through his lectures, his work on the CEIP, and his strategic gifts of friendship to universities like Columbia.

Researcher Profile | Janelle Drone

We see you every day, handing you a lockers key as you walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day.

Most often you’re hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anyone who works in the RBML. We await the longer scholarly projects that you’re developing from this research but in the nearer term we thought it would be interesting to give a preview of your work.

 

Please meet Dr. Janelle Drone, Resident Research Scholar with the New York Public Library. She also serves on The American Institute of Architecture’s (AIA) Cultural Facilities Committee for whom she’s writing about African American architects.

 

Dr. Done describes the project that’s brought her to the RBML, “Engaging Feminist Mystique: A Comprehensive Chronicle of Pedagogy and Practice in The Male Dominated Architectural and Construction Industry.”

 

What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library?

[I’m here to] rummage archival properties for information that describes the challenges, path and journey taken to build a profile for Norma Merrick, the first African American female to graduate from the Columbia University School of Architecture (1946 to 1950) and become licensed that same year. I learned from Avery Library that the type of information that I was seeking (e.g. architectural course offerings, access to student activities, events, residential spaces, building and grounds, campus newspapers, correspondence records of attendance, etc.) could best be found in RBML. In particular I wanted to know the structures in place that helped Merrick continue enrolling in a program that had few women and possibly no other people of color. Above this, I was impressed that she was able to graduate on-time — that is, in four years.

African american woman sitting near lake and mountains

Norman Merrick Sklarek, the first African American woman to graduate from the Columbia University School of Architecture | Photo via BlackStar.org

How long have you been using RBML materials?

I arrived in early January 2019, after an Avery Hall librarian, informed me to further inquire on the 6th Floor of Butler. As a matter of fact, she directed me to the Rare Books and Manuscripts desk where I explained briefly why I was there and I was given the card of Ms. Jocelyn K. Wilk. I sent Ms. Wilk an email with much of the above mentioned information. Her immediate responding put me in the library within days. I attend the library twice a week. Continue reading

Celebrate the International Year of the Periodic Table in our collections

Let’s be honest: most contemporary awareness weeks and anniversaries are commercially-driven attempts to garner social media clicks and buzz.

But occasionally there’s something worth noting related to the humanities or the sciences. Herewith, the United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table.

“The Periodic Table” by James Nicholls is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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Exhibition Reminder | Ilia Zdanevich: The Tbilisi Years

Guest curator Thomas Kitson, a freelance translator, and Professor Valentina Izmirlieva (Slavic Department) collaborated with RBML Bakhmeteff Archive Curator and Librarian for Russian, Eurasian & East European Studies Rob Davis on our current exhibition, “Ilia Zdanevich: The Tbilisi Years.”

Read more about the exhibition, featured materials and the avant-garde movements inspiring Zdanevich work on the Global Studies blog. The show runs now through 12 July 2019.

Muslim World update

As a part of the Manuscripts of the Muslim World project, a team of librarians, faculty, students, and other experts from Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and the Free Library of Philadelphia are working together to catalog and digitize their libraries’ manuscripts in Arabic and Persian, along with examples in Avestan, Berber, Coptic, Ottoman Turkish, Samaritan, and Syriac. Manuscripts from the libraries at Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College are also being included. As texts, these holdings represent the flourishing intellectual and cultural heritage of Muslim lands from 1000 to 1900 CE, covering mathematics, astrology, history, law, literature, as well as sacred texts including the Qur’an and Hadith. As manuscripts, these unique objects also exemplify traditions of calligraphy, illumination, and bookbinding from this period, and carry traces of the many scribes, patrons, readers, and collectors who produced, read, and owned them.

…these holdings represent the flourishing intellectual and cultural heritage of Muslim lands from 1000 to 1900 CE, covering mathematics, astrology, history, law, literature, as well as sacred texts including the Qur’an and Hadith.

An example of the lacquered covers that typically appear on Persian manuscripts.

After the first year of the project, which is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, over two hundred manuscripts from the participating institutions are now newly available in digital editions on the OPenn website, with more added constantly. Over half of those are of manuscripts held in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which can also be searched in CLIO.

As the project continues over the next two years, it is anticipated that the online collection will grow to more than 500 manuscripts and 800 paintings from the partner institutions. This will include some manuscripts from the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary as well. Digital editions of Columbia’s manuscripts will also be made available as part of the University’s collections in the Internet Archive.

Updates on the project, including selected images, can be found on Twitter at @MMWProject.

 – Matt Haugen, Rare Book Cataloger, Columbia University Libraries

RBML opens later on Commencement Day

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

As it does every year, Butler Library and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will open at 1pm on Commencement Day. This year the celebrations fall on Wednesday, May 22nd.

Please plan your research agenda and travel options keeping the festivities in mind.

Here are some tunes from Columbia alumni to enjoy while you wait for the building to open.

From Columbia Magazine, Spring 2019

Highlights from the RBML Collections | Puppets of Butler Library

puppet on strings with conical hat and read and gold trimmed robe

Yoké thé marionette | Burma (Myanmar) | Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum records, 1750-1970

From Columbia Magazine’s Spring 2019 print edition with the title “The World on a String”: The marionette shown here was purchased in Singapore in 1926 by John Mulholland, who taught at Teachers College and later became a famous magician. Matthews, a skilled conjurer himself, retired from teaching in 1924. He died five years later, leaving his papers — and puppets — to Columbia [Full article].

 

Exhibition | Remaking the World: Columbians and the 1919 Peace Conference

If you’re enjoying PBS’ Women, War and Peace series, stop in to the RBML for our current exhibit, Remaking the World. The exhibit explores Columbia University’s connections to the 1919 Peace Conference. To be specific, the exhibit explores the role of men deemed significant to The Paris Peace Conference, also known as the Versailles Peace Conference.

poster of versaille hall and illustration of weeping angel

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New and Updated Collections | March 2019

rows of archival boxes in a white room

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened or updated by RBML archivists.

Dawn Powell Papers
“Dawn Powell (1896-1965) was an American author of novels, plays, and short stories. The collection includes address books, appointment books, books, clippings, correspondence, diaries, ephemera, family materials, manuscripts, notes, notebooks, photographs, programs, research files, reviews, scrapbooks, sketches and drawings. ”

Kudos to Cathy for making sense of this fascinating but sprawling collection; for a tiny taste, here’s an excerpt from the finding aid:

“…portions of the collection were deposited and then either donated or sold to Columbia University in several different tax years during the period of 1995-2014, and this affected how the papers were organized, processed, and maintained by the Library until processing of all collection materials was completed in 2019.”

LGBTQ+ Columbia University oral history collection, 2016-2017
“The LGBTQ+ Columbia University oral history project was a collaboration between Columbia University’s LGBTQ Faculty Diversity Initiative and the Columbia Center for Oral History Research at INCITE. During 2016-2017, a six-interview pilot was undertaken to document LGBTQ history at Columbia University through life histories.” Continue reading