Mount Vernon Names Kevin Butterfield Director of the George Washington Presidential Library

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Here is the press release:

MOUNT VERNON, VA—The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association today tapped a noted American historian, Dr. Kevin Butterfield, to serve as the executive director of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington (Washington Library), the premier center for the study of our first President.  As the executive director of the Washington Library, Butterfield will foster serious scholarship about George Washington and his era while also developing new and furthering existing cutting-edge academic and public programs, as well as growing the library collection.

“Kevin brings a fresh set of bold ideas and vision to take the Library to the next level—He’s a great scholar, but also has the rare gift of leadership,” said Mount Vernon president Doug Bradburn. “Our first five years were exceptional; I can’t wait to see what Kevin does in the coming years. The country needs George Washington’s wisdom and example as much as ever.”

Butterfield comes to Mount Vernon from the University of Oklahoma, where he serves as Director of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage and Constitutional Studies Program and holds an appointment as Wick Cary Professor and Associate Professor of Classics and Letters.  A specialist in the founding era, he boasts a lengthy list of publication and teaching credits on topics related to the founding period, including one prize-winning book about early American legal history and several articles.

Butterfield has been honored with many fellowships to support his research from institutions such as the American Antiquarian Society, Winterthur Museum, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Huntington Library, the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, and many others. In his role as the head of the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage at the University of Oklahoma, he engaged multiple public audiences in exploring current affairs with a historical approach focused on the Constitution and civic engagement.

“Kevin Butterfield is a superb choice to be the new Executive Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood.  “He combines excellent administrative experience with a deep understanding of history, precisely the talents needed for this important position.”

Butterfield will become the second historian to lead the Washington Library, replacing its founding director, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, who was named president of George Washington’s Mount Vernon in January 2018. Since its opening in 2013, the Washington Library has rapidly established itself as the premier center for the study of George Washington, a leading institution fostering scholarship and education in the history of the founding era of the U.S., and an innovative leader in the creation and dissemination of historical learning to a variety of audiences.

The Washington Library has held impactful conferences with prominent institutions in early American history, created a popular research fellowship program, and hosted more than 24,000 people at public events, teaching institutes, and leadership programs. The Washington Library has produced award-winning documentaries on the founding era, created ground-breaking educational experiences both on-site and across the country, and established the George Washington Leadership Institute as a top program for leadership studies.

A completely private and independent research library, the Washington Library is owned and maintained, along with Mount Vernon, the historic estate of George Washington, by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Butterfield holds a B.A. in History from the University of Missouri, an M.A. in History from the College of William and Mary, and a PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis. He will begin his duties as Executive Director on August 1, 2018. 

Keep Buying Books

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I love Jessica Stillman‘s piece at Inc.com: “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read.”  Here is a taste:

…I have good news for you (and for me, I definitely fall into this category): your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, it’s a badge of honor.

That’s the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestseller The Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section in a particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.

Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn’t the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn’t know, Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:

A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations – the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

Read the rest here.

Unpacking Books

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Over at The Paris Review, Alberto Manguel writes about the experience of unpacking a library.  Early in my career, as we bounced from apartment to apartment and job to job, I did this often.  Now, as I enter the back half of my life, I wonder if I will ever have to do it again.  I think about this often as I enter my extremely cluttered study and navigate through the stacks and stacks of books that surround my desk.

Here is a taste of Manguel’s piece:

Sometime in 1931, Walter Benjamin wrote a short and now famous essay about readers’ relationship to their books. He called it “Unpacking My Library: A Speech on Collecting,” and he used the occasion of pulling his almost two thousand books out of their boxes to muse on the privileges and responsibilities of a reader. Benjamin was moving from the house he had shared with his wife until their acrimonious divorce the previous year to a small furnished apartment in which he would live alone, he said, for the first time in his life, “like an adult.” Benjamin was then “at the threshold of forty and without property, position, home or assets.” It might not be entirely mistaken to see his meditation on books as a counterpoise to the breakup of his marriage.

Packing and unpacking are two sides of the same impulse, and both lend meaning to moments of chaos. “Thus is the existence of the collector,” Benjamin writes, “dialectically pulled between the poles of disorder and order.” He might have added: or packing and unpacking.

Unpacking, as Benjamin realized, is essentially an expansive and untidy activity. Freed from their bounds, the books spill onto the floor or pile up in unsteady columns, waiting for the places that will later be assigned to them. In this waiting period, before the new order has been established, they exist in a tangle of synchronicities and remembrances, forming sudden and unexpected alliances or parting from each other incongruously. Lifelong enemies Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, for instance, will sit amicably on the same expectant shelf while the many members of the Bloomsbury group will find themselves each exiled to a different “negatively charged region” (as the physicists call it), waiting for the wishful reunion of their particles.

Read the entire piece here.

The Oldest Item From 12 Libraries

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Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura lists the oldest items at twelve major libraries.  The libraries are:

The New York Academy of Medicine

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Bodleian Library (Oxford)

St. Catherine’s Monastery (Egypt)

Chicago Botanic Garden

American Museum of Natural History (New York)

Library of Congress (Washington D.C.)

Folger Shakespeare Library

Boston Athenaeum

Australian National Library

New York Public Library

Free Library of Philadelphia

Learn about the oldest item in each of these libraries by clicking here

Libraries in the Age of Trump

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Over at Pacific Standard, Katie Kilkenny has a nice piece on the importance of lending libraries in this era of fake news.  Here is a taste:

In the report, released Wednesday, Pew finds that the majority of American adults—61 percent—say their decision-making would be improved at least somewhat “if they got training on how to find trustworthy information online.” In this bewildering world of real and fake news, a clear majority—78 percent—believe that the library is still providing them with information that is “trustworthy and reliable.” It’s not just older generations who prefer this more traditional resource: Millennials are more likely to trust the library than all previous generations, including Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation.

Millennials are big fans of their local lending institutions in other ways as well. Eighty-five percent believe the library helps them “learn new things,” according to Pew, and 63 percent agree that it helps them “get information that helps them with decisions they have to make”—both higher proportions than any other generation measured. This research aligns with findings from Pew released earlier in the summer: In June, the research center found that Millennials were the most likely generation in America to have visited a library and used a library website in the past few months. Clearly, young adults’ constant access to social network news feeds and Amazon hasn’t diminished the charm of browsing through the stacks to find the right call number.

A majority of Americans studied say that libraries help them “grow as people” (65 percent) while a minority of Americans agree that libraries help them focus on the most important elements in their lives (49 percent), deal with a busy world (43 percent), and deal with a world where it’s hard to get ahead (38 percent). That last figure seems to suggest that most contemporary American library-goers aren’t just visiting the library for the quiet place to chill, but for specific information needs.

Read the entire piece here.

The Mind of George Washington

HayesHistorian Kevin Hayes has a new book out on the reading habits of George Washington. (Kevin, if you are out there I would love to interview for the Author’s Corner.  I can’t seem to find an e-mail address.  Thanks).

He gives us a preview of George Washington: A Life in Books at the blog of Oxford University Press.

Here is a taste:

A hundred years ago Ezra Pound criticized American history textbooks for ignoring George Washington’s intellect. More often than not Washington has been seen as a shelf-filler, someone who decorated his home with books, but seldom read them fully or deeply. Here’s an alternate theory: though George Washington never assembled a great library in the manner of, say, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, he did amass an impressive and diverse collection of books that he read closely and carefully and that significantly influenced his thought and action.

No one has ever written an intellectual biography of George Washington. Though Washington’s surviving comments about books and reading are not nearly as extensive as those of other Founding Fathers, he did leave many different types of evidence that, in the aggregate, can help to reconstruct his life of the mind. The evidence takes many different forms:

Surviving books

Though Washington’s library was widely dispersed during the nineteenth century, many of his books do survive. The Boston Athenaeum holds the single largest collection of books formerly in his possession. Additional books survive at Mount Vernon. Other libraries—the Firestone Library at Princeton University, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Library of Congress, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Morgan Library, the New York Public Library, the Virginia Historical Society—all hold books from Washington’s library in their collections, most of which I have examined.

Marginalia

With the notable exception of his copy of James Monroe’s View of the Conduct of the Executive of the United States, Washington’s surviving books contain little marginalia, but he did write in his books occasionally. Most of the time he did so to correct typographical errors, but sometimes his marginal notes reveal how he read. Occasionally his notes in one book indicate other books he read. The fact that Washington wrote in his books has gone largely unnoticed, because uncovering these notes requires work that some find tedious. One must examine the surviving books meticulously, turning over one page after another in search of the slightest pencil marks showing that Washington did read the volumes that bear his bookplate.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happened to the Greatest Library in the World?

LibraryTurns out it was illegal.

Check out Jamie Somers’s piece at The Atlantic on Google’s failed attempt to scan every out of print book in the world.

Here is a taste:

Although academics and library enthusiasts like [Harvard historian Robert] Darnton were thrilled by the prospect of opening up out-of-print books, they saw the settlement as a kind of deal with the devil. Yes, it would create the greatest library there’s ever been—but at the expense of creating perhaps the largest bookstore, too, run by what they saw as a powerful monopolist. In their view, there had to be a better way to unlock all those books. “Indeed, most elements of the GBS settlement would seem to be in the public interest, except for the fact that the settlement restricts the benefits of the deal to Google,” the Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote.

Certainly Google’s competitors felt put out by the deal. Microsoft, predictably, argued that it would further cement Google’s position as the world’s dominant search engine, by making it the only one that could legally mine out-of-print books. By using those books in results for user’s long-tail queries, Google would have an unfair advantage over competitors. Google’s response to this objection was simply that anyone could scan books and show them in search results if they wanted—and that doing so was fair use. (Earlier this year, a Second Circuit court ruled finally that Google’s scanning of books and display of snippets was, in fact, fair use.)

There was this hypothesis that there was this huge competitive advantage,” Clancy said to me, regarding Google’s access to the books corpus. But he said that the data never ended up being a core part of any project at Google, simply because the amount of information on the web itself dwarfed anything available in books. “You don’t need to go to a book to know when Woodrow Wilson was born,” he said. The books data was helpful, and interesting for researchers, but “the degree to which the naysayers characterized this as being the strategic motivation for the whole project—that was malarkey.”

Amazon, for its part, worried that the settlement allowed Google to set up a bookstore that no one else could. Anyone else who wanted to sell out-of-print books, they argued, would have to clear rights on a book-by-book basis, which was as good as impossible, whereas the class action agreement gave Google a license to all of the books at once.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Church Libraries as an Antidote to “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”

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God calls Christians to love Him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. (Luke 10:27).  Many Christians are pretty good at orienting their heart, soul, and strength toward their Creator, but few really know what it means to love God with their minds.  This problem, as many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, was addressed most forcefully by historian Mark Noll in his seminal 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and its 2011 sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.  I have written about this as well, both in Why Study History: A Historical Introduction and most recently in my May 2016 Religion News Service piece, “In Supporting Trump, Evangelicals Are Reaping What They’ve Sown.”

Noll diagnosed the problem of evangelical anti-intellectualism.  We are now faced with how deal with it.  What kind of practical steps can churches take to overcome this serious deficiency in the church?  How can people interested in serious Christian thinking make a difference in their churches and communities and perhaps prompt others to take this Christian duty seriously.

One way of overcoming the scandal is to start a church library that not only caters to children and popular Christian materials, but also to books and resources that encourage Christian intellectual engagement.  Why not start the kind of library that Ron Maness had built at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas?

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I have never met Ron, but when he started following me on Twitter (@johnfea1), identified himself as a church librarian, and began asking for book recommendations, I knew his library must be something unique and special.  Ron is a very active librarian.  He sends out a monthly list of new books (with short summaries) to the congregation (250 members), he contacts individual members of the congregation when a new book arrives that falls within their area of interest, encourages his pastor to mention new books from the pulpit, and produces a daily e-mail list of links related to new books, author interviews, and reviews.   The Community Bible Chapel is used extensively by church members, community members, local clergy, and seminary students from nearby Dallas Theological Seminary.  Ron’s diligent work has cultivated a spirit of reading, conversation and a Christian life of the mind in his church and in the wider community.

I asked Ron to answer a few questions about his church library.  Here is my interview with him:

JF: Community Bible Chapel has a very large library for a church of 250 members. What role does the library play in the mission of the church. 

RM: Here is the Statement of Purpose/Mission Statement for the library:

Maintain a broad-based library of books, videos, DVDs, audios and other media items for all ages and levels of Christian growth, with the goals of 1) promoting knowledge and application of scripture and doctrine, 2) promoting knowledge of church history, 3) facilitating and supporting other ministries of CBC, including Sunday School and other teaching ministries, ministry groups, youth workers, etc. and 4) enhancing individual and family spiritual growth and discipleship. This will include not only maintaining the existing library inventory, but also the acquisition of new media items on an on-going basis.

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JF: What is your library budget?

RM: Our library budget is currently $7 thousand. It has been as high as $9 thousand, but due to the maturity level of the existing library, I have reduced it the last few years.

JF: How many books do you have in your church library?

RM: We currently have over 14 thousand books in the library, of which 11 thousand are adult and 3 thousand are juvenile/childrens books. In addition, we have approximately 500 other media items (DVD, CD, video).

JF: What is your philosophy of book-buying for the library?

RM: I have been managing the library, along with my wife, since 1981. Because I have “lived” books so long, I don’t have any problem with knowing what books I want to buy. In the past, I visited Dallas Seminary’s bookstore weekly, along with other Christian bookstores on a regular basis. I am familiar with publishers and their new offerings, as well as the key commentary series, and authors/theologians. I visit the Gospel Coalition website daily, and am now a frequent visitor to Twitter. I get emails from Westminster Seminary Bookstore. All of these sources provide book information that I use to make buying decisions. I make most of my purchases from Amazon, who is also good at letting me know of new books in my areas of interest. I frequently pre-order books in advance of their publication dates.

Also, since I am the only one purchasing adult non-fiction books for the library (my wife purchases adult fiction and children’s books), I know the library stock and what items might be needed. I try to ensure we have a broad-based stock for all levels of Christian maturity, from new believers to seminary students and pastors.

JF: Christians are called, among other important things, to love God with their minds. How is the library making an impact on the intellectual life of your church?

RM: Our library has been described by several outsiders as comparable to many Bible college libraries. We have a full range of current and classic Bible commentaries, systematic and biblical theologies, Puritan classics,  books on all categories of Christian doctrine or ministry, Christian living, biographies, and an extensive history section (church and general).  So we have provided the resources to enable the members of our body to grow in the knowledge of Scripture and the doctrines of the faith, in order to equip them to fulfill their individual and collective ministries and strive toward Christian maturity.

In addition to managing the library itself, some time ago I began a library email list. Only those who requested to be included are on it. Presently there are around 75 people on the list, including some who don’t attend CBC.  Every morning, I visit the Gospel Coalition website, along with a few other selected  sites, and review that day’s articles. I then choose 3 to 5 of the most interesting articles and forward them to the library email list. Part of the purpose is to encourage library usage by articles featuring book reviews, but an additional purpose is to increase awareness of issues being discussed in the wider evangelical world.

Let me provide a quote from a response I received last week from a library patron who is on the email list:

“Ron, thank you, once again, for your diligence to spawn discussion and broaden our thinking.”

That is the impact that I would hope the library would have on the intellectual life of our church.

I was particularly influenced by three books that I read a number of years ago:

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll.

No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? by David Wells.

Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America, by Mark Noll.

I believe the library has contributed to our body gaining a fuller understanding of other traditions and perspectives. To take three examples of areas where there are often sharp differences of opinion, I have found a receptive  audience for books featuring different views on end times theology, creation (young earth vs old earth, creation science vs intelligent design, etc.), and the on-going “Christian America” debate. And I am always quick to acquire new volumes in the several series giving four or five views on specific subjects, like Zondervan’s Counterpoint series for example. These enable the reader to, in one volume, see different perspectives all together.  

In summary, I do think our library has had an impact on the intellectual life of the church. In the past, this was aided by our church leadership determining not to tie our church to hard positions on secondary matters, such a specific end times theology. And in the present, the library has been enabled by leadership’s continuing financial support for an aggressive library ministry.

JF: Thanks, Ron.

Are you interested in developing a church library or strengthening your existing library? Check out the library page at Community Bible Church for Ron’s helpful suggestions.

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Richard Newman Steps Down as Director of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Library 1Here is the press release from Howell K. Rosenberg, the President of the Board at the Library Company:
It is with deep regret that I inform you that Richard Newman will be stepping down as director of the Library Company effective August 1, 2016. As Dr. Newman explained to the Board of Trustees, family health issues have compelled him to make this very difficult decision. Over the past two years, Dr. Newman has served ably as the Edwin Wolf 2nd Director. He successfully met the first two years of the NEH Challenge Grant to endow the Program in African American History. He diversified and enhanced the Library Company’s public programming and created the new position of business manager to bolster the institution’s administrative operations. Finally, working closely with the Board, he has overseen the expansion of the Library Company’s property holdings on Irving Street. We thank Dr. Newman for his service on behalf of the Library Company and wish him well in all future endeavors.
 
We will now begin the task of searching for our next director. The Board of Trustees has appointed a committee to conduct a national search for the Library Company’s future director, as well as a transition committee to oversee institutional affairs until the search has been completed.
 
During this time of transition, I want to assure you that the Library Company remains in a very strong position. As always, our curators and staff are dedicated to excellence and will carry on with the many tasks that have made the Library Company such a renowned institution through the years: serving scholars, educators and students studying American and Global history; planning and running dynamic public events; making sure that the financial side of the organization is run efficiently; and attracting new supporters to Benjamin Franklin’s library.
 
Best of all, in my eyes, the Library Company still has its most important resource: shareholders and supporters like you. Few places have a membership that is as passionate about their institutions, as you are about the Library Company. Your on-going dedication as shareholders assures the Library Company’s future for a long time to come.

A Tour of the American Antiquarian Society

AASOur reports from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Providence last weekend continue to roll in.  Elise Leal is a Ph.D candidate in American history at Baylor University.  She is  working on dissertation on the relationship between evangelicalism, social reform, and childhood in the early nineteenth century with a particular focus on the American Sundays school movement.  Read all of her posts here. –JF

On the third day of OAH 2016, I participated in a special tour of the American Antiquarian Society. Six other conference attendees joined my bright and early Saturday morning for the drive to Worcester. I was the only graduate student, as the majority of the group were archivists, plus a high school history teacher. One of the archivists was a native of Massachusetts and regaled us with interesting historical facts about the state to help pass the time. For example, I learned that if you take the commuter rail from Worcester to Boston, it will take you just as long to get there today as it did in the late nineteenth century due to the slow speed of the trains.

We were greeted at the archive by Paul Erickson, AAS Director of Academic Programs, and James Moran, AAS Director of Outreach. They began the tour by sharing a brief history of the Society’s illustrious founder, Isaiah Thomas. A Revolutionary War era patriot and printer, Thomas was an outspoken promoter for independence in his newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy, which forced him to flee from Boston to Worcester in 1775 to escape being arrested by the British. In 1812, Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society (then called the American Society of Antiquities) out of his personal library, creating the first historical society established in the United States with a national focus. The AAS now houses the largest collection of materials produced before 1820 and is surpassed in total collections size only by the Library of Congress.

One thing that I appreciated about the tour was that it was structured without being restrictive. After the brief historical overview, Paul and Jim took us through the main AAS Postcard.jpgreading room and upper conference room containing historical memorabilia (think commemorative china plates sporting Lafayette’s face or a grandfather clock belonging to John Hancock). They then spent the majority of the tour taking us through various archival stacks. Throughout this whole process, they let us wander around with a fair degree of freedom and allowed us to handle many of the historical documents. For example, the first archival room we visited housed the AAS’s extensive collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century newspapers. Paul and Jim pulled a selection of these newspapers for us to view, and they generously let us pour over these documents to our hearts’ content (it definitely took awhile…) My personal favorite, though, was the next room, which housed the nineteenth-century literature, pamphlets, graphic arts, maps, and the like. Paul asked about our research interests a few days before the tour, and he had prepared a lovely stack of American Sunday School Union books for me to view. Of course, the Revolutionary War letters from British officers, eyewitness accounts of an eighteenth-century cross-dresser, the mid-nineteenth century Valentine’s cards, and the giant hand-drawn genealogies that he pulled for other tour members were pretty cool too.

Speaking of cool things, Paul pointed out a large collection of railroad sources that have never been viewed and said that he’d love to have someone come use them for a project. If there are any early stage graduate students reading this, I’ve just found you a dissertation topic. You’re welcome.

In all, this two-hour tour was definitely worth the trip to Worcester. I got a fascinating insiders view of how archives are run from two very engaging AAS staff members. I also got to view a range of rare historical documents, some of which I didn’t know existed let alone thought I would handle. Many thanks to the American Antiquarian Society, and to Paul and Jim in particular, for making my first OAH experience that much more enjoyable.

The Spring 2016 Lecture Series at the David Library of the American Revolution

David LibraryThe David Library of the America Revolution has announced its Spring Lecture Series, “Fighting and Fulfilling the American Revolution.”  Here is what you can expect:

On Wednesday, February 24 at 7:30 PM with “A Sea Change: Naval Warfare in the American Revolution during the Spring of 1778,” a lecture by Dennis M. Conrad. There were significant changes in the nature of naval warfare in the spring of 1778, including the internationalization of the naval war, a re-direction in British strategy, and the emergence of significant Loyalist privateering activity, to name but a few. Dr. Conrad is Documentary Histories Technical Lead at the Naval History and Heritage Command. Using materials taken from the newly-published Naval Documents of the American Revolution, volume 12, he will provide a new and exciting perspective on America’s naval heritage.

On Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM, DLAR will present “Maryland Immortals: Washington’s Elite Regiments and the Band of Brothers Who Led Them,” a lecture by combat historian Patrick K. O’Donnell.  In August 1776, General George Washington found his troops outmanned and outmaneuvered at the Battle of Brooklyn. But thanks to a series of desperate charges by a single heroic regiment, famously known as the “Immortal 400,” Washington was able to evacuate his men and the nascent Continental Army lived to fight another day. Drawing on his new book,Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, Mr. O’Donnell will tell the “boots on the ground” story of the “Maryland Line,” one of the Continental Army’s first elite outfits, which fought not just in Brooklyn, but in key battles including Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.  Patrick K. O’Donnell is the author of ten books, includingBeyond Valor, Dog Company, and First SEALs.

DLAR will welcome T. H. Breen on Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30 PM to present “George Washington’s Journey to the American People.”  In the first months of his presidency, George Washington boldly transformed American political culture by organizing a journey to all thirteen original states, a demanding tour designed to promote the strength and prosperity of a fragile new republic. The trip taught Washington the power of public opinion in securing support for the federal union, an achievement that he saw as the fulfillment of the Revolution.  Professor Breen’s new book is George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, and Gordon Wood says “(Breen) has given us new insights into the acute political skills of our first president and the state of the county in the 1790s.”

On Friday, April 22 at 7:30 PM, Don Glickstein will present “No One Told Them the War Had Ended: The Revolution After Yorktown, from Arkansas to India.”The popular myth is that heroic, patriotic Americans under George Washington defeated the British at Yorktown, the Revolution was over, and Americans were exceptional. But Mr. Glickstein, author of the new book, After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence, points out that Yorktown only meant the defeat of one British army-it did not mark America’s defeat of the British. Washington, George III, and their allies vowed to fight on, and that fighting-which expanded after the French entered the war in 1778-spanned the world, from Hudson Bay to South America, Cape Town to Arkansas, Gibraltar to Schenectady.

Historian Todd Braisted will return to the David Library on Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 3PM to lecture on “Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign.”  1778 marked a crucial period in the American Revolution. The French entry into the war forced the British to completely alter their strategy. The unenviable task of carrying out London’s strategy fell upon the new commander in chief in America, Sir Henry Clinton. In the midst of detaching 10,000 troops across North America, Clinton led his full army into the field one last time that autumn, gathering supplies, striking at Washington’s advanced posts, and hoping for one last big push at the Continental Army.  Mr. Braisted is the author of the new book Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign and the creator of royalprovincial.com, the world’s largest website dedicated to Loyalist military studies.

Lectures at the David Library are free and open to the public – however, seating is limited and the lectures are very popular.  Therefore, reservations are absolutely necessary. Please call 215.493.6776 ext. 100 or send an email to rsvp@dlar.org. All events take place in the Feinstone Conference Center at the David Library of the American Revolution, 1201 River Road (Rt. 32), in Washington Crossing PA. 

What You Can Expect at the David Library

First, let me say that I love the David Library of the American Revolution

I was a research fellow at the library several years ago and it was one of the best research experiences of my career.  You can’t beat 24-hour access!  

Over the years I have given a couple of talks/lectures at the DLAR and attended the annual McNeil Center for Early American Studies picnic.

If you are doing serious research on revolutionary America, or just trying to add some branches to your family tree, the DLAR is a wonderful place to work.

Over at the Journal of the American Revolution, recent DLAR intern Brianna Heverly has written an informative essay on all the library has to offer, including a few insights into some of the collections.

Here is a taste:

I have driven up and down Taylorsville Road my entire life and would frequently pass a building on that road which I knew very little about.  I later found out it is the David Library of the American Revolution and this summer I had the privilege of doing an internship there.  Before my internship, I had never stepped into the library, nor did I know what it had to offer; once I finished my first day and had but a glimpse of what the library was all about, I knew that more people should know about it and could benefit from their resources.  The David Library is a place where everyone is welcome, and provides programs and collections unlike any other to encourage learning about the colonial and Revolutionary time periods.
The David Library of the American Revolution, founded by Sol Feinstone in 1959 in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, collects material that covers the time period 1750 to 1800.  The David Library is a non-profit organization that provides exceptional services to the public.  It is open to everyone, including every age and experience level, regardless of whether or not they know about the time period or where to start their research.  From students of all levels of education, to authors and members of the general public, the library can help them find both primary and secondary resources needed to strengthen their arguments or to simply satisfy their curiosity of the Revolutionary time period.  
A significant number of visitors to the library are interested in family history.  The library has primary resources on microfilm and in books to help people find original documents about their ancestors.  Others visit the library to explore a topic that they will later develop into an article or book. Visitors are free to explore the library’s multiple resources on their own or with guidance from the staff.  Besides a full-time librarian, the library relies on volunteers and interns who are welcoming and willing to help everyone.  They have dedicated their time to supporting the library and will do their best to get people the sources they need, from help finding a book to obtaining a clear copy of a document.  If a researcher is unfamiliar with using microfilm, the staff will help from start to finish; however, visitors are free to work with the microfilm on their own if they know how. Not everyone helped by the staff walks through the door; the library also receives many phone calls and emails from all over the country, from Maine to California, with research questions that the staff will assist with answering.
Some revisit the library after they finish their research to speak about their findings. Besides being open to the public, the David Library hosts scholarly lectures throughout the year, divided into two series consisting of four to five lectures each.  The speakers come to discuss their research about a particular event or study within the time period 1750 and 1800.  Each lecture is about forty-five minutes to an hour followed by questions from the audience, after which the library hosts a reception which frequently includes the author’s book sale and signing.  Several of the lectures are recorded and are in the process of being uploaded onto the David Library website, which will be advantageous for those who are unable to attend.  There are no lectures during the summer, but instead the library shows movies about the time period.  Admission for both the lectures and movies are free and everyone in the public is welcome to these events.
The David Library offers a fellowship program that is open to both Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral candidates who are either working on their dissertation or fine-tuning previous work into a book.  The library has hosted fellowship recipients from all over the world including Canada, China and Germany, as well as all over the United States.  The most noteworthy aspect of the fellowship is that the fellow is offered onsite residency and given a key to the library, which allows them access at any time of day or night.  More information about the process and the program itself can be found on the David Library website.
Collections are, of course, the centerpiece of the David Library.  There are a number of different kinds of primary and secondary resources all under the same roof, which makes it a “one-stop shopping” experience.  Because the library limits its scope to the short time span of 1750 to 1800, it enables the library to carry a great deal of depth within those fifty years.  This time period includes two major military conflicts, the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, as well as the establishment of our first National government, and the library’s resources are focused on those areas.  In addition to the military events, there were also a lot of social, political and economic changes that America faced within this time frame, and the library’s primary and secondary sources cover these topics as well.
Read the entire piece here.

The Next "Librarian of Congress" Should Be a Librarian

This is the argument of Portland Community College librarian Meredeth Farkas in a piece at The New Republic.

Farkas chides outgoing Librarian of Congress James Billington for, among other things, not modernizing the Library and bringing it fully into the digital world.

She writes:

President Obama will soon appoint a new Librarian of Congress, a position that requires Congressional approval and could impact the everyday lives of most Americans. This position has the power to provide exemptions to a copyright regime that currently limits what consumers can do with their media, software, digital devices, and even vehicles. The next Librarian of Congress could ease copyright restrictions, provide improved access to federally-funded research, and embrace cooperative efforts toward making our nation’s history available online. On the other hand, the new Librarian could limit what Americans can do with the content and technologies they have lawfully purchased by choosing not to make exemptions to copyright law. It all hinges on the values and background of the person the President chooses to appoint….

In a 2014 speech, former Deputy and now Acting Librarian of Congress, David Mao stated that the Library of Congress is “the de-facto national library of the United States and so… it’s actually your library.” Over the past few decades, public access to the Library of Congress has increased and the Library has carved out a role in preserving, digitizing, and making accessible the cultural history of the United States. Projects like American Memory (begun in 1990) and THOMAS (begun in 1995) were early trailblazers in providing historical artifacts and legislative information on the Web.
In the two decades since the birth of those projects, however, digital initiatives at universities, cultural institutions, other national libraries, and Google have eclipsed the work of the Library of Congress in terms of both scale and design. Although programs like their newspaper digitization initiative, Chronicling America, have great value, only a very small proportion of their collection has been made available to the public online. The Library of Congress has also been notably unwilling to participate in major cooperative digital library initiatives, including the Digital Public Library of America, which has brought together the digital collections of public libraries, university archives, and diverse cultural heritage institutions, including the National Archives and the Smithsonian
A public intellectual would likely be an easy sell to Congress as Billington was beloved by members of Congress even as they criticized his Library. The next Librarian of Congress, however, needs to not only be well-credentialed, but someone who can run a very large and complex agency of over 3,000 employees. They will step into an organization that has beenwidely criticized for mismanagement. They will need to know when to lead, delegate, collaborate, or gracefully get out of the way. They will not only need to bring the Library of Congress into the 21st century, but they will have to administer a large institution that has been poorly run for decades.
Many in the library world are advocating for a fellow librarian to be appointed Librarian of Congress. A librarian could be expected to capably administer The Library of Congress, which serves many of the same functions as an academic library, albeit on a much grander scale. There are many distinguished and innovative librarians who have successfully run large, complex organizations and are well-versed in issues related to scholarly publishing, copyright, digitization, technology trends, and fundraising. However, the next Librarian of Congress could still embody and support the values librarians hold dear, whether she or he is a librarian, a scholar, a university administrator, or a software executive
Read the entire article here.

More From Christian James on the Digital History and Library/Archive Front

New York Public Library
For Christian’s previous AHA 2015 post click here.–JF

Later Friday, I attended two panels about important historical research issues in the digital era.

The first, Session #42: “Digital Tools: From the Archive to Publication,” presented case studies, suggestions and perspectives on how to use software to manage archival sources. Ashley Sanders started off the panel by giving a broad overview of digital history and tools and resources such as Zotero, Omeka, Evernote, and H-Net Commons and Crossroads. (Sanders is a PhD candidate in History and a Network Developer for H-Net.)

 Nancy Brown and RachelKantrowitz discussed specific software applications further in depth. Brown talked about her creation of a keyword taxonomy to organize piles of image scans in Adobe Lightroom. Kantrowitz discussed using Devonthink Pro to make her scanned documents searchable through optical character recognition (OCR) and cross-reverencing her scans while writing using Scrivener.

 Nora Slonimsky put the panel in a sort of meta-historical perspective by sharing some of her research in intellectual property concepts and laws of the early American republic. In this historical context, there was a clearer distinction between the labor of authorship and intellectual content; this pitted copyright disputes between the “indolent compilers” and the “industrious authors.” Slonimsky’s implication for digital scholarship seems to be that clearer distinctions such as these would give historians greater flexibility to share the process (i.e. source files) and products of their research.

 The question of sharing research almost dominated the ensuing roundtable and audience discussion, at the prodding of panel chair Leah Weinryb Grohsgal. Grohsgal asked panelists if they would not share their research to collaborate with libraries and archives and help other historians, while the panelists and some audience members shared reservations. (The sharing of research files is becoming a significant aspect of academic research in the natural and physical sciences, a comparison I would have liked to have seen discussed.) Another contribution came from Rosenzweig Center forHistory and New Media Director Stephen Robertson, from the audience, who pointed out that the work described here enables further digital scholarship, principally text mining. Sharing the panelists’ research could therefore enable new paths of inquiry.

 After checking into my hotel and having dinner with a friend, I stopped by the late evening plenary session on the “New York Public Library Controversy and the Future of the American Research Library.” I typically don’t attend events like this, opting to turn in early or socialize instead. At 8:30pm the dim lights made me a bit drowsy, but the intense panel conversation easily kept me awake.

 Joan W. Scott led the panelby diving directly into her active efforts to “save” NYPL, prompted by The Nation magazine’s articleslamming the Central Library Plan (CLP) to close Manhattan branch libraries and remove research collections from the famed 42nd Street branch. Her recap was a blow-by-blow account, but unfortunately, given her position as an eminent scholar, presented more of the controversy and less reflection on the future of library research.

 Michael Kimmelman, New York Times architectural critic, gave a very nuanced account of events as he tried to judge the CLP on its own merits and intended goals. He nonetheless reached a similar conclusion to Scott: that the Plan benefited real estate developers at the expense of researchers and New Yorkers.

 NYPL had a chance to respond. President Anthony Marx, who was not listed as a speaker on the online program, was the next panel speaker. Marx admitted that the CLP did not work and that NYPL responded to public outcries by stopping it. (A major part of this admission, though, was the recognition that 42nd Street renovations would go over-budget.) Marx still wants to keep more, not less, print books on-site and increase programming for a range of constituent demographics. Association of Research Libraries’ Elliott Shore also responded by putting NYPL’s woes in a continent-wide crisis of funding. In this context, Shore thinks that old, nostalgic visions of research libraries like 42ndStreet are historically-constructed and can no longer be institutionally supported.

 There was little time for audience discussion following the panel’s presentations, but the Q&A tone seemed to both acknowledge the possibilities of digitization while doubling down on the need for collaboration between stakeholders and the preservation of on-site research collections. The audience also seemed unclear on Shore’s proposed solutions, perhaps because, as Scott pointed out, his references to consortia and other collaborative initiatives as ‘meta-librarianship’ sounded unintelligible to the audience. Perhaps more work explaining (or debating) these solutions and their utility to cash-strapped libraries is needed.

 Joan W. Scott referenced a forthcoming book (Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library), by Scott Sherman, due June 2015) on the CLP controversy. At the end of the panel, free copies of Simon Verity‘s book of cartoons on the controversy were given out. This episode is now, literally, in the books. But as I saw in these two panels yesterday, the future of historical research is yet to be written.

Digital Public Library of America Lands Large Grant

Press release from the DPLA website:

BOSTON — The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) announced today $594,000 in new funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to research potential sustainability models and to pursue the most promising option (or options). This two-year grant will allow DPLA to expand its staff to target opportunities for further development and revenue, without compromising its mission of open access to the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums.

“We deeply appreciate the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s generous support, which will help us build on DPLA’s tremendous momentum,” said DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen. “Our ambitious coast-to-coast accumulation of openly available materials will take years to bring together and to put into educational contexts and public programs, and achieving a sustainable model will be critical to fulfilling that mission.”

The project, which will proceed in a series of phases, is designed to first comprehensively flesh out an emerging set of sustainability pathways for the young organization. In the following phases, DPLA will narrow down those options in concert with its partners and through additional technical and content work.

New positions in business development, content, and technology will help DPLA achieve this sustainable path. The opening for a Content Specialist is immediately available; other positions will be released in the near future at dp.la/info/about/jobs.

New Chairs at the American Antiquarian Society

Picture of AAS chairs from “Past is Present” blog

For over a century, readers working in the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. MA sat in Colonial revival Windsor chairs. That all changed on January 6, 2014.  Here is  a taste of the AAS blog’s “History of the Reading Room Chairs.”


Instead of sending a committee out to visit other libraries, we brought several different models of chairs in to the reading room and asked AAS fellows and readers to test drive them in the late fall of 2013. After extensive evaluation—and yes, there were written reports—we purchased 50 Knoll ReGeneration work chairs. Our new chairs are ergonomic, fully adjustable, and cushioned, and thus far the reviews have been enthusiastic. The surviving old models were mostly distributed among staff offices at AAS, where they will continue to age gracefully. We hope that the next time you’re in the neighborhood you’ll stop by and give the new chairs a try yourself. They should make your visit a bit more comfortable.

How do we get a hold of one of the old chairs?  Or will they be added to the AAS collection?