Stanford Libraries Share a Treasure Trove of American History

Breaking News

Stanford Libraries Share a Treasure Trove of American History

In a room filled with antiquarian books of all sizes, Stanford Library Exhibition Designer Elizabeth Fischbach selects an unassuming brown book and carefully opens it. She points out two signatures scrawled on the title page of the Dublin 1751 edition John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In faded ink, Thomas Jefferson's signature is clearly legible; nearby on the page, the traces of James Madison's signature are barely visible, as if it's been partially erased. Fischbach turns the page to reveal an additional four James Madison signatures.

This book, the only book known to have been signed by both Jefferson and Madison, does not reside in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., or in the Library of Congress. In fact, it’s clear across the country, one of many national treasures in Stanford University’s growing collection of rare books and historic manuscripts pertaining to early American history.

In recent years, Stanford’s early American holdings, particularly from the era of America’s founding fathers, have increased dramatically. As the collection grows, more scholars are finding themselves studying the nation's East Coast beginnings on the other side of the country.

“The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries,” an exhibition that will display rare books from the great age of intellectual discovery and innovation that produced the American Revolution among other events, will open at Stanford’s Green Library on February 7, 2011. It is curated by Caroline Winterer, Professor of American History at Stanford University, in collaboration with John E. Mustain, Curator of Rare Books at the Stanford University Libraries.

The Story of a Growing Collection

Stanford’s collection of early American books and manuscripts has grown dramatically in the last twenty years. Two major recent acquisitions will be showcased in this exhibition.

One is the personal collection of more than 150 rare books previously owned by Jay Fliegelman, Coe Professor of American Literature at Stanford until his death in 2007. Fliegelman was especially fascinated by “association copies”: books owned by historically important people, who signed, annotated, or made notes on the pages. Fliegelman loved to show his private collection “at every opportunity to students and colleagues,” said Fischbach. This is the first time that books from it have been shown to the general public.

In the last two years, the library also received a generous gift of over 1,600 volumes that now make up the Charles J. Tanenbaum Collection of the Eighteenth Century. Tanenbaum was a passionate bibliophile especially interested in the Anglophone world of the eighteenth century. The collection is especially strong in history and politics but also includes voyages and travels, classical authors, Enlightenment thinkers, and law. Winterer and Mustain carefully selected examples from each collection and several others to include in the exhibit.

“The books pretty much chose themselves,” said Winterer. “Many are of major intellectual importance, showing how exciting ideas about politics, religion, and nature crossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth century. A few are movie stars:  larger than life and full color. We were especially interested in books that revealed a personal connection to a famous owner.”

“The American Enlightenment” exhibition, in which illuminating contextual details will be displayed with each item, will be on display in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda on the second floor of the Bing Wing of Green Library through May 15, 2011. The exhibition is free and open to the public. An online version of the exhibition will be available for viewing after February 7th....

comments powered by Disqus