George Arthur Plimpton and Hebrew Manuscripts

The interconnections between collections here in the RBML continue to emerge as researchers use our materials, but also as our librarians continue to be curious scholars and preservations.

Michelle Chesner, Librarian for Jewish Studies, and Jane Siegel, Rare Book Librarian, discovered this connection between the George Plimpton collection and our Jewish Studies collections: 

Thanks to the intrepid work of Jane Siegel, we have been able to identify two additional pieces of Hebrew manuscript, included in a handbook (PLIMPTON MS 093.93 1630) of handwritings (writing samples was one of Plimpton’s many collection strengths).  Both are handwriting samples from Amsterdam.

Torah scroll by David Friedrichsfeld

Read the full post on the Jewish Studies blog and see more images of this cross-collection find.

In the alcoves…of your mind with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The RBML is home to a number of Carnegie Corporation collections, including the records for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) organizational records. The CEIP, established in 1910, was dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States.

In this post , Steven Witt, an associate professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, takes a look at The Mind Alcove: “The International Mind Alcoves (1917–1954) aimed to change global perceptions regarding armed conflict and international peace. Central to this goal: the idea that a sustained peace requires cultural understanding engendered by education and exchange.”

handrawn graph of book donations

This handwritten bar chart represents the distribution of approximately 156,000 books under the auspices of the International Mind Alcoves, comprising 1,567 collections spread across the United States and around the world between 1925 and 1951. | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Records, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Read the full post on the Carnegie Corporations’ blog.


Exibition: Middle English Prose

hand with palm writing

In 1984, Ralph Hanna III published the first volume of the Index of Middle English Prose, listing manuscripts held by the Huntington Library in southern California; we are now almost 35 years into the project, with 24 volumes completed, and several more in preparation. 

One volume will represent prose in Middle English held in manuscripts of New York City’s libraries. Of these, Columbia’s is the largest.  To celebrate the years of work that this project has demanded, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Columbia University will display books containing prose in Middle English; the display will be in the RBML’s Chang Room through September 2018.

Grant Awarded | CLIR Bob Fass

fass in recording studio with musicians

“Radio Unnameable” host Bob Fass with a group of in-studio guests. Courtesy of Lost Footage Films.

Columbia University will preserve and provide access to almost two decades’ worth of audiotapes from the archive of groundbreaking broadcaster Bob Fass. Through a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, the RBML and Columbia’s Preservation and Digital Conversion Division will preserve Fass’ broadcasts from the 1960s and ’70s.

A pioneer of “free form” radio for seven decades, Fass is best known for his late-night program Radio Unnameable. During the sixties it featured unscripted appearances by poets and musicians like Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, and social activists like Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary – a forum where listeners could interact with their idols and one another.

In 1968 alone, Fass broadcast live events like the “Yip In” at Grand Central Station, Columbia University student protests, and the Chicago Democratic National convention. Once digitized, these recordings will be a major resource to study mobilization of dissent via mass-media in late-twentieth century America.

And happy birthday, Mr. Fass! Today (June 29th) is his 85th birthday.

Here’s what John Jay did after the American Revolution

front page of Gotham blog

Robb Haberman, Associate Editor of The Selected Papers of John Jay, recently shared findings from his research with The Gotham Center for New York City History:

Recently returned from his mission in London to assume the role of New York’s chief executive, Jay perceived that revolutionary France posed an even greater danger to the United States than had monarchial Britain and he sensed that the political turmoil and warfare unleashed in Europe would envelop other Atlantic nations and therefore emphasized the necessity of military preparedness. “Imbecility invites insult and aggression,” he counseled the state legislature in his inaugural address, “and the experience of ages proves that they are the most secure against war who are the best prepared to meet it.

Read the full post,   “Defending New York After the Revolution: the Governorship of John Jay.


Marking Juneteenth in the words of formerly enslaved Africans

Mary Freeman, a doctoral student in Columbia’s History Department and a valued student employee here in the RBML, shared a few of her findings related to the Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, holiday.

Mr. D.N. Leathers Sr., Walter Leathers’ Father Celebrating Juneteenth | DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865, presents an opportunity to highlight a rare resource at Columbia’s RBML in the Frederic Bancroft Papers. Bancroft’s notebooks include interviews he conducted with former slaves during trips he took to the South in the early 1900s. Bancroft recorded their answers to questions he asked about their experiences under slavery as well as many of his own observations about life in the Jim Crow South.

During the Great Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration assembled an extensive collection of narratives told by former slaves. Despite its biases and limitations—the interviews were conducted almost entirely by white researchers, who often used racist dialect to record the words of their subjects—historians have come to rely on the WPA collection as one of the few archival resources that tells the story of emancipation from the viewpoint of former slaves who experienced it. Frederic Bancroft, who received his PhD in history from Columbia, interviewed former slaves during his travels in the South in 1902 and 1907, thirty years before the WPA conducted its interview project. Bancroft used these research notes when compiling his book, Slave Trading in the Old South (1931).

Bancroft’s interviews suffer from some of the same interpretive issues as the WPA sources. Bancroft grew up and was educated in the North, but he, like most white Americans of his time, held racist views. Furthermore, many of his notes are in shorthand, which presents a challenge to modern-day readers. Even so,  they offer a rare glimpse into the experiences and memories of former slaves and their descendants.

Opening June 18th, “Enchanted Vision” draws on the Arthur Rackham Collection held here at the RBML.illustration of a sprite

Rackham, a British illustrator illustrated 50 major works beginning with Rip Van Winkle in 1905, Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Winnie the Pooh, and other English and American classics.

The collection contains 26 letters by Rackham and nine Christmas cards either specially designed by him or incorporating designs made for his books. There are also letters to Rackham’s biographer, Derek Hudson, from Winifred Wheeler, daughter of Walter Freeman, a friend who started Rackham on his commercial career. The manuscript notebooks, galley proofs, and a printed copy of Hudson’s Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work are included.

In addition, the Columbia University Library has a collection of 413 Rackham drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings, 30 sketch books, and about 400 printed books and ephemera.


Newly Available Collections – June 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened by RBML archivists.word archive in script

El Diario/La Prensa Photograph Morgue, 1970-2006
“El Diario/La Prensa is the largest and oldest Spanish-language daily
newspaper in New York City, and the oldest Spanish-language daily in
the United States. The El Diario/La Prensa Photograph Morgue contains
photographs and associated materials kept as reference, or morgue,
files by the newspaper’s staff. It documents events and personalities
significant to New York City’s Spanish-speaking communities between
approximately 1970 and 2006.”

Norman Witty Cinema Collection, 1917-2008
“A collection of rare periodicals, books, and printed ephemera on
topics related to cinema history, assembled by the cinema enthusiast
and rare book collector Norman Witty (1941-2013).”

Society for Classical Studies records, 1868-2018
The collection was confusingly numbered and had various accessions in
multiple places; the finding aid is now accurate and up-to-date.

Development Foundation of Turkey (DFT) collection 1966-2005
“DFT’s two-pronged approach with human resources deveopment and
technical assistance that developed a single coordinated system
covering income generation, promotion of technical and social skills,
awareness building about environmental protection, assistance for
sustainable management models, institutional development of
communities, and advocacy for the rural households could be of
interest to the Columbia Library Collection and may provide ample data
for researchers and students interested in achieving a better
understanding of the socio-economic development in rural Turkey since

Rita Raǐt-Kovaleva Correspondence, 1965-1981
A small amount of correspondence of Rita Rait-Kovaleva (1898-1989), a
prominent literary translator, with Sara Ginsburg and Lynn Visson.