Category Archives: Literature Collections

Book Talk | Susan Orlean on her book, The Library Book

November 29, 2018, 6 pm
523 Butler

woman in wallpapered library

New Yorker Staff writer and author Susan Orlean will talk about her latest work, The Library Book, which is both an investigation of the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire and a meditation on her lifelong love of books and libraries. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired Orlean’s archive in 2015.

This lecture is a part of the Book History Colloquium series. This event is now fully booked but you can join the waitlist.


rows of archival boxes in a white room

New and Updated Collections | November 2018

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

Ian and Betty Ballantine Books and Business Records
“Ian and Betty Ballantine were book publishers who contributed to the
growth of paperback book sales in the United States between the 1940s
and the 1990s. The Ian and Betty Ballantine Books and Business Records
include the Ballantines’ materials related to Penguin Books USA,
Bantam Books, Ballantine Books, and Peacock Books. Administrative
documents cover the management of these presses as well as the
editorial, sales, inventorying, and advertising processes. In
addition, the collection contains the bulk of the editorial libraries
of Penguin Books USA, Bantam Books, and Ballantine Books.”

Pamela Moore Papers
“Pamela Moore (1937-1964) was an American novelist, best known for
Chocolates for Breakfast (1956). The papers contain correspondence,
clippings, contracts, diaries, drafts, manuscripts, memorabilia,
photographs, notebooks, notes, outlines, proofs, school materials,
sketch books, and a collection of published editions of Moore’s

Li Huang papers, 1928-1981
“The Li Huang papers contain manuscripts of his political writings
dating from 1929 to 1971, as well as reference materials for his

Kwang Pu Chen papers, 1936-1958
“The Kwang Pu Chen papers consist of documents and printed materials
assembled during Chen’s career in banking and finance, including his
negotiations for American loans (1938-1940), his affiliation with the
Universal Trading Corporation (1938-1958), Foreign Trade Commission
(1939-1940), Burma Road (1939-1940), Chinese Currency Stabilization
Fund and the Stabilization Board of China (1939-1943), and Foreign
Exchange Equalization Fund Committee (1947-1948)”

William Lambert Papers
“This collection consists of journalist William G. Lambert’s
(1920-1998) collected investigative materials such as correspondence,
news clippings, notes, notebooks, photographs and transcripts related
to his award winning reporting for The Oregonian, Portland, and for
Life magazine. In 1957, Lambert and his colleague Wallace L. Turner
(1921-2010) received the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting, which
uncovered widespread vice and corruption within the municipal Portland
city government that involved labor union officials of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and
Helpers of America, Western Conference. In 1970, Lambert accepted the
George Polk Award for his 1969 Life magazine reporting, which revealed
that U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas (1910-1982)
accepted and later returned a suspect $20,000 fee, spurring Fortas’

Laura Engelstein Collection of Research Note Cards on Social and
Cultural History of Late Imperial Russia, bulk 1982 – 1992
“This collection is a wonderful glimpse into the research process of
distinguished professor Laura Engelstein, and also brings a great deal
of otherwise scattered (in Russian archives) material together on
topics of human sexuality in Imperial Russia. ”

Newly available RBML collections – September 2018

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

A large addition to the New York Clearinghouse records was processed,
and the finding aid substantially improved: “New York Clearing House Association (now The Clearing House Association) was founded in 1853 as the first banking clearing house
in the United States. The records include amicus briefs, constitutions
and amendments, letter books, meeting minutes, financial ledgers and
statements, photographs, publications, and reports. ”

The finding aid for the Nicholas Murray Butler papers has been
encoded, with over 33,000 names of correspondents listed.

Columbia University Cuneiform Collection
“The collection consists of 625 cuneiform tablets (dating from circa
3100-539 BCE), and some ancient clay objects. Accompanying these are
some twentieth century casts, and a collection of catalogs of the
collection, articles about various parts, especially Plimpton 322, and
correspondence about the tablets, including a number of letters,
mostly from Edgar J. Banks, to George A. Plimpton, and others about
tablets now in the Columbia collection.”

A. J. A. Symons papers
“A small group of materials, chiefly consisting of English writer and
bibliographer A. J. A. Symons’ correspondence and records related to
the First Edition Club, which Symons founded in 1922. Stuart B.
Schimmel collected the materials.”

Susan Orlean papers
“This collection documents Orlean’s career as a writer and a
journalist, and also includes some personal materials and school
papers. The collection includes address books, appointment books,
audio recordings, clippings, computer files, contracts,
correspondence, drafts, interviews, notes, notebooks, photographs,
proofs, publications, research materials, school records, and video
recordings. ” Continue reading

Book History Colloquium 2018 | Huxleyed into the Full Orwell

September 26, 2018, 6:00pm
Butler 523

Cory Doctorow at lecture podium

Photo by Brendan Lynch via Flickr

Journalist and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow will talk about the millennia-old social compact of the book, and the arbitrary renegotiation of that contract in the age of ebooks, where prior restraint, restrictions on lending, donation and gifting, and invasive, surveillant technologies have become the norm.

He will investigate how technology and license agreements have gone on to colonize our relationships with other devices and systems, from voting machines to tractors, insulin pumps to thermostats.

Co-sponsored by the Brown Institue for Media Innovation, Heyman Center. RSVP here

What is this place? A short intro to RBML

That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”

pink castle design and acronym rbml

Is there difference between a “castle” and a “palace?”

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.

Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.

Continue reading

Researcher Profile: Dana Williams

 We see them every day, handing them a key as they walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day. Most often they are hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anybody here. We await the longer scholarly projects that they are developing from this research but in the nearer term thought it would be interesting to give a preview of their work.
In this brief interview, Curator for Literature Karla Nielsen, asked Dana Williams, Professor of African American Literature and Chair of the Department of English at Howard University in Washington D.C., about her research on Toni Morrison’s work as an acquisitions editor at Random House. Dr. Williams obtained her Ph.D. from Howard and first became interested in this topic as a graduate student. After completing several other book projects, Dr. Williams has returned to Morrison and to the Random House Archive at the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where she she has made several trips to the archive over the years to review Morrison’s editorial files.


What is your research project? 

I’m currently writing a book on Toni Morrison’s editorship at Random House Publishing Company. For now, I’m calling it “Toni at Random.” The project involves considering Morrison’s role as editor of over 50 trade books in different genres–novels, short story collections, poetry collections, autobiographies, non-literary books, and a cookbook among them.  Continue reading

RBML Researcher Profile | Wouter Capitain, Fulbright Scholar

We see them every day, handing them a key as they walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day. Most often they are hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anybody here. We await the longer scholarly projects that they are developing from this research but in the nearer term thought it would be interesting to give a preview of their work.

In this brief interview, Curator for Literature Karla Nielsen, asked Wouter Capitain about his research in the Edward Said Papers. He’s visiting Columbia’s Music Department as a Fulbright Scholar from the University of Amsterdam.

photo of cassette tapes

Select interviews, lectures and music from the Edward Said Papers.

Wouter Capitain first showed up in the Columbia RBML this past January. He is here for three months as a Fulbright scholar to do research on the Edward Said Papers. He is working on his doctoral dissertation at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (University of Amsterdam). Edward Said was internationally recognized as a literary critic and postcolonial theorist but less well known is his work related to music. Wouter Capitain’s research foregrounds Said’s interest in music, both as a performer and critic, and offers a re-reading of Said’s significance from that perspective. He proposes a contrapuntal theory of reading an archive that should have resonance beyond this particular project.

What is your research project?

I am writing my PhD dissertation about Edward Said’s work on music and its interactions with his theoretical and political engagements. I try to understand Said’s “work” or oeuvre as broadly as possible, not restricting it to his published output. The Edward Said Papers offer me the opportunity to study his unpublished work, such as teaching materials and personal correspondence. In this study I am influenced by Said’s “contrapuntal” perspective by paying attention to how different voices interact and overlap. Within the archive, I study the interactions between his various musical, theoretical, and political engagements, and his different professional activities as an author, teacher, and public intellectual.

How did you become interested in Edward Said?

I have a background in musicology, yet I am not necessarily interested in music as such but rather in how music interacts with other domains, and specifically with social and political issues. Many scholars have studied the ways in which society has an impact on music, but Said was also interested in how music has the potential to influence society. Through my former professor Rokus de Groot I became acquainted with Said’s writings about music and I wrote my master’s thesis about Said’s essay on Verdi’s Aida. I continued this research for my PhD dissertation on his work on music in general. Although many scholars have already written about Said, my dissertation will become the first book-length study of his work on music.

With a “contrapuntal” perspective on his work I try to demonstrate that Said had multiple voices which interact and overlap with each other, sometimes sounding harmonious but at other times dissonant. The archive enables me to study the interactions and tensions between his different professional activities.

What are you finding in the archive that is relevant to your project?

Much more than I can deal with in only three months. I am interested in the development of Said’s ideas about music and society, and the archive includes many documents that help me to trace these developments. These documents relate to his activities as a teacher, such as course descriptions and teaching notes, but also to his published writings themselves. For example, I have found many different drafts of his essays and books, as well as outlines and book proposals, which demonstrate the genesis and development of his ideas before they were published. In these three months I do not have the time to study all of these documents in detail, but I have already taken over fifty thousand words of notes and have photographed hundreds of documents which I will study more closely back home.

What is the most interesting thing that you have found in the archive? The most surprising?

I find Said’s handwritten drafts most interesting. Said always wrote with a pen; he didn’t use a typewriter or a computer. Obviously his published writings are typed out, but that was done by his assistant, who was Zaineb Istrabadi for most of Said’s later career. She would type out his handwritten draft, hand it back to him in print, and he would make handwritten corrections and additions, which she would incorporate in the typed version. This process would be repeated for perhaps three or four drafts before the text was finished, and most of these drafts are in the archive. It is thus relatively easy to trace how Said’s texts developed, although his handwriting is sometimes difficult to read. Interestingly, Said’s first handwritten drafts are often fairly close to the final published version of the text. (By the way, Said’s typed letters, faxes, and emails were also written by his assistant, based on his handwritten notes.)

These materials illustrate that exclusive attention to Said’s published output can be quite misleading.

What I find most surprising is that Said was in frequent contact with musicologists. In his published writings it seems as if he was criticizing musicology from a distance, because he was of the opinion that the discipline was not paying sufficient attention to the social and political aspects of music, but from his personal correspondence it becomes clear that he was actively intervening within musicology. These materials illustrate that exclusive attention to Said’s published output can be quite misleading. He supported young and progressive musicologists in early stages of their career, for example by helping them to get their research published and by writing letters of recommendation. Besides, he evaluated the Music Department of Columbia in the late-1980’s and was on a number of tenure committees related to musicology, although the access to some of these documents is restricted. Even though I have studied Said’s writings for several years, I was not aware of the extent to which he directly interacted and intervened in musicology.

How do you think your project will change the way that we think about Edward Said?

Said’s work is often read rather monophonically, where the wide scope of his professional activities is reduced to just one publication, Orientalism (1978), and where his complex identity is similarly reduced to a singularity, Palestinian. With a “contrapuntal” perspective on his work I try to demonstrate that Said had multiple voices which interact and overlap with each other, sometimes sounding harmonious but at other times dissonant. The archive enables me to study the interactions and tensions between his different professional activities. Although I focus specifically on his work on music, I believe that this contrapuntal approach is also relevant to his legacy in other domains.

Anything else that you want to say?

This archive is enormous, with over a hundred and eighty large boxes full of paperwork. For my research it is extremely helpful that the documents are organized and indexed in a very accessible and systematic way. Without this organization it would cost me much more time to find and research the relevant materials, and I very much appreciate the effort that is spent on the structuring and indexing of the documents.


1962: Connecting Amiri Baraka, Angus MacLise and La Monte Young in Recent Additions

Cover of audio reel from the Amiri Baraka Papers (Box 91)


A recent acquisition by Karla Nielsen, Curator of Literature, of material relating to La Monte Young and Angus MacLise from Kenneth Mallory Booksellers coincides with a unique, historical audio recording discovered recently in the Amiri Baraka Papers (pictured above).  The set of 1964 concert posters for La Monte Young’s performing ensemble, then consisting of John Cale, Tony Conrad, and Marian Zazeela, represent the beginnings of The Tortoise His Dreams and Journeys, a well-known yet sparsely publicly-documented work by Young and the Theater of Eternal Music that came to be a musical turning point for Young and his colleagues.

Even more obscure than The Tortoise are the precursors to that work, yet a moldy audio reel box discovered in the papers of Amiri Baraka with the inscription “La Monte Young Concert August 26, 1962” came to light during digital preservation of the collection’s audio-visual materials.   With the help of Jung Hee Choi, friend and collaborator of La Monte Young, we were able to identify more exactly what the contents reflect.

The tortoise recalling the drone of the holy numbers as they were revealed in the dreams of the whirlwind & the obsidian gong & illuminated by the sawmill, the green saw-tooth ocelot & the high-tension line stepdown transformer : [advertisement]. Call number: ML45 .P63 1964g. ML45 .P63 1964g

The concert took place August 26, 1962  at 10-4 Group Gallery, 73 Fourth Avenue, New York, NY and was titled “26 VIII 62 Evening NYC.”  The ensemble consisted of La Monte Young, Soprano Saxophone; Angus MaClise, Hand Drums; Marian Zazeela, Voice Drone; Billy Linich (later Billy Name), Voice Drone.  The pieces they presented in this concert were [Untitled].  La Monte wrote of the program, “These pieces were evolved during the daily rehearsals of my Theatre of Eternal Music over the period from Spring 1962 until the inception of The Tortoise in the Winter of 1964. The work of this period involved static permutation techniques of my own design applied to constellations of pitches over various stationary and movable drone combinations.”

While the box containing the tape indicates an hour of music, in fact there is not much more than ten minutes worth of the concert reflected on the tape.  The majority of the tape consists of an extended interview with saxophonist Archie Shepp.  We could presume that at that time, when La Monte was primarily playing saxophone in the group rather than singing alongside Marian, Amiri Baraka saw a common interest in the two musicians with a more direct association than would be obvious today.  Beyond just conceptually overlapping for Baraka, it also appears that the Shepp interview is recorded over the missing minutes of the La Monte Young concert on the tape.

The second portion of the recent acquisition is an addition to our existing collection of Angus MacLise Papers. MacLise, who plays hand drums on the August 26, 1962 concert recording aforementioned, in 1962 also published an alternative calendar entitled Year.  Previously not well-represented in our MacLise collection, our 2017 Addition now includes several typed and handwritten manuscripts and revisions for Year, as well as correspondence, around the publication.  The MacLise Year calendar, since its publication, has maintained interest in the avant-garde music and poetry communities, and there is even a Twitter feed (@MacLiseYEAR) which bills itself as a day-by-day recitation of the work.

Tom McCutchon, Public Services Specialist

Note in MacLise’s hand, affixed to “YEAR” manuscript in the 2017 Additions to Angus MacLise Papers.





12/3 @ 6:00 PM, Butler 523 – The Book History Colloquium: How Radical was Joseph Johnson and Why Does Radicalism Matter? with John Bugg, Associate Prof. of English, Fordham University

JohnsonJoseph Johnson

Romantic-era publisher Joseph Johnson (1738-1809) was the dynamic center of the London dissenting community and is best known today for his work with politically progressive writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, William Blake, Charlotte Smith, and Erasmus Darwin. But Johnson also published “conservative” writers such as Thomas Malthus. In this talk, John Bugg analyzes the larger contours of Johnson’s extensive publication catalog (over 4,000 titles) and asks what it means for us to think about a publisher (rather than a writer) as “radical.”

John Bugg is an Associate Professor of English at Fordham University where he teaches British Romanticism, legal and political history, and Romantic-era print culture. He is the author of Five Long Winters: The Trials of British Romanticism (Stanford University Press, 2014), which examines the relations between literary culture and political repression at the end of the eighteenth century. His critical edition of the correspondence of Joseph Johnson will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.


The Book History Colloquium at Columbia University, open to any discipline, aims to provide a broad outlet for the scholarly discussion of book history, print culture, the book arts, and bibliographical research, and (ideally) the promotion of research and publication in these fields. Our presenters include Columbia faculty members and advanced graduate students, and scholars of national prominence from a range of institutions.

All sessions take place at 6:00 PM in 523 Butler Library, Columbia Morningside Campus, unless otherwise noted.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.


Go Set a Watchman in the papers of Harper Lee’s literary agents


Nelle Harper Lee, photographed by friend Michael Brown in October 1957, the same month that she signed the contract with Lippincott.

HarperCollins publishes Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman today, July 14, 2015.  With an initial print run of 2 million copies, this is the most highly anticipated book release of the year, carefully promoted by HarperCollins since their February 3rd announcement .

Go Set a Watchman’s publication has also generated advance press in the form of controversy. HarperCollins has billed the novel as a sequel to the Pulitzer prize-winning and perennially best-selling To Kill a Mockingbird. But Lee’s biographer Charles Shields asserts that Go Set a Watchman was an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

In The Washington Post, Neely Tucker questioned the timing of the decision to publish the novel sixty years after its composition and within months of the death of Nelle Lee’s protective older sister, Alice.  Alexandra Alter and Serge Kovaleski in The New York Times have pointed out discrepancies in the narrative about GSAW‘s composition and re-discovery given by HarperCollins and Lee’s current lawyer, Tonya Carter.  NPR books also reviews the debate about the novel’s genesis and the decision to publish.

The papers of Nelle Harper Lee’s literary agents, Annie Laurie Williams and Maurice Crain, held by the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library, have factored in these debates.  The visitor cards kept by Williams track the submission of manuscripts by agency authors and provide a detailed timeline for the creation and eventual shelving of the manuscript for Go Set a WatchmanALW_VisitorCard_1 ALW_VisitorCard_2ALW_VisitorCard_3On the series of sequentially numbered cards above, one can see that starting on January 14, 1957, Harper Lee began delivering the pages of Go Set a Watchman at a steady pace of approximately fifty pages per week until it is noted as completed on February 27, 1957.  The manuscript then underwent editing, and by October 17, 1957, a fully edited manuscript was sold to J.B. Lippincott without a title, a fact corroborated by Maurice Crain’s facsimile of the contract in a contracts ledger, the first page of which is pictured below.Crain_Contract-1Lee then spent two years revising the novel. On the third of the sequential notecards pictured above (note the typed numbers in the upper-right corner of the notecards), a new title for the novel contracted by Lippincott emerges: To Kill a Mockingbird.  A separate card (below) from a file that Annie Laurie Williams kept for manuscripts also illustrates the change of title.  Filed under Lippincott, To Kill a Mockingbird appears above Go Set a Watchman, which has been crossed out. This emendation and the sequence of submissions noted in the visitor cards supports Nelle Lee’s comment that GSAW is the “parent” of TKAM, a novel set in Maycomb years after the plot of TKAM but drafted before.ALW_LippincotManuscriptCard_1Annie Laurie Williams (1894-1977) was already a successful literary agent known for Hollywood successes such as Gone with the Wind (1939) by the time she and Maurice Crain teamed up as life and business partners. Together Williams and Crain handled the work of literary greats such as John Steinbeck and Nelle Harper Lee.  Williams donated her and Crain’s papers to Columbia University in 1971.

Nelle Lee first contacted the agents in 1956. The earliest visitor cards in the collection note that Lee first submitted short stories to her agents and that they first received her as a friend of Truman Capote. The papers of Williams and Crain show that they developed a close friendship with Lee, whom they often invited to join them at their weekend home in Connecticut. But documentation concerning Lee’s writing and revision process is scant, perhaps because so much of the discussion was conducted in person.

A statement published in the WSJ yesterday by Tonja Carter, as well as Jonathan Mahler’s New York Times article focusing on Lee’s relationship to her editor at Lippincott, Tay Hohoff, suggests that there is more evidence to consider as this newly visible work changes the conversation about one of the country’s most beloved novelists. Initial reviews of Go Set a Watchman (by Michiku Kakutani in The New York Times and Mark Lawson in The Guardian) have raised questions about the diverging racial politics of the two novels, for example. Hopefully access to a second work by Harper Lee will bring more critical and scholarly attention to her writing as well.

This blog post and a small exhibit of these materials currently up in the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library were put together by Tom McCutchon and Karla Nielsen.