Opportunities for Research Visits to Notre Dame’s Special Collections

The Rare Books and Special Collections at Hesburgh Library welcomes visiting scholars whether they wish to consult one book or to spend many days immersed in our collections.

A number of research grants and awards are made available by a variety of institutions which may be of interest to people considering travelling for research visits. These are administered and funded by various groups, and so the information in this blogpost is intended to serve as a signpost to different opportunities, and to encourage readers to follow the links to the relevant grants and awards.

Dante Studies Travel Grants

With the Devers Family Program in Dante Studies, the Center for Italian Studies co-sponsors travel grants for faculty and graduate students from other institutions whose research would benefit from on-site access to Notre Dame’s special collections on Dante, the Ambrosiana archive, or other of its Italian holdings. For more information, please contact devers@nd.edu.

The Italian Studies Library Research Award

The Center for Italian Studies and Notre Dame International jointly administer an Italian Studies Library Research Award. This award provides grant funding for scholars to use the collections of the Hesburgh Libraries for research in Italian studies. Research awards are intended to defray the cost of travel and accommodation for research visits of one to three weeks in duration. Applications from international locations are encouraged. Read more about this award and access the application on the Center for Italian Studies’ website.

Keough-Naughton Library Research Award in Irish Studies

The Keough-Naughton Library Research Award provides grant funding to assist scholars who travel to the Notre Dame campus to use the collections of the Hesburgh Libraries for research in all aspects of Irish studies. This award is funded and administered jointly by the Keough Naughton Institute for Irish Studies and Notre Dame International. Information and application instructions for this grant may be found on the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies website.

Cushwa Center Research Travel Grants

The Cushwa Center provides research grants for the Study of Catholicism in America. Information on their opportunities for research in the University of Notre Dame Archives and the Hesburgh Libraries may be found on the Cushwa Center’s Research Travel Grants page.

Hibernian Research Awards

Funded by an endowment from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, these annual awards provide travel funds to support the scholarly study of Irish and Irish American history. This grant is administered by the Cushwa Center of Catholic Studies. Information is available on the Grant Opportunities page of the Cushwa Center’s website.

Preparing a Parchment Fragment for Posterity

By Maren Rozumalski, Gladys Brooks Conservation Fellow

The recent acquisition of a late Byzantine Greek manuscript fragment gives us an excellent opportunity to highlight the relationship between Rare Books and Special Collections and the library’s Analog Preservation Department.

The more degraded “flesh” side of the parchment bifolio.

The fragment is a single sheet of parchment, approximately ten inches tall by sixteen inches wide, folded down the center to create a bifolium. It is written on both sides in iron gall ink with red pigment initials. This piece is believed to be from the 13th-14th century and is yet to be identified fully. Initial studies indicate it contains sermon extracts, but the exact genre of the manuscript is unknown; all texts are unidentified currently. It will primarily be used in the teaching of graduate level Greek Paleography.

“Hair” side of the parchment bifolio.

The fragment came to the library in a delicate state. It has not lived an ideal life over the centuries, and as such, it was important to have the preservation department evaluate its condition before it was allowed to be handled in classes and by researchers. One of the main issues was that some of the text was obscured due to creases resulting from moisture damage. Moisture damage is problematic when dealing with parchment, because it is not reversable and any moisture introduced during treatment has the potential of furthering the degradation.

Microscopic examination of the parchment confirmed that it has water damage and that the degradation and darkening were at least partially due to mold damage. There was no evidence of active mold. Magnification also revealed that the surface layer of parchment on the flesh side of the parchment was lifting and flaking off in the areas with the most degraded areas.

Together with RBSC, the following treatment goals were decided:

1. Flatten the parchment to reveal the obscured text where possible.
2. Remove staining to improve text legibility as needed, and where possible.
3. Mend tears and areas of loss to stabilize the fragment.
4. Provide housing for handling and storage support.

Each treatment was done selectively, so that the parchment was as undisturbed as possible and other treatment goals could be accomplished. This approach is best for the longevity of the parchment and also leaves the possibility of a theoretical codicological reconstruction to determine the original construction of the codex to which this fragment once belonged.

The humidification zones.
Diagram of the Gortex humidification pack.

Four zones were identified as needing “flattening” (more like gentle stretching) to gain access to the obscured text. Humidification, though not ideal, was deemed the only option. A system was devised which allowed each zone to be humidified in isolation. I settled on a Gortex pack sandwich method, which introduced the moisture evenly from both sides of the parchment. This way the parchment became workable more quickly than if moisture were only being introduced from one side and needed to permeate all the way through. Each area was humidified until it was pliable, but never felt wet. The parchment was gently stretched once it was workable and held in its new position as it dried. The stretching worked better in some areas than others, but all of the text is now partially visible making the text more visible.

In-progress surface cleaning.

The darkest areas of parchment with text were surface cleaned with a 50/50 solution of ethanol and deionized water. A damp cotton swab was rolled over the lines of text, lifting up the surface dirt as it went. The ethanol in the mix helped the water evaporate more quickly so it would soak into the damaged parchment.

A patch of parchment roughly the size of a quarter was lifting and about to pop off the document. This was consolidated using a 3% gelatin mousse, which is comprised of cold gelatin strained through a very fine sieve until it is light and frothy.  Gelatin mousse is much easier to control than liquid gelatin since it stays in place after brushing, and because as a drier adhesive it does not permeate the substraight as much as other adhesives.

The tear repairs and bridge mends were done using pre-coated tissue made with wheat starch paste that was reactivated using the same gelatin mousse. The repairs were done on both sides of the parchment so a thin translucent paper could be used but the repairs would still be strong.

UV photograph of “flesh” side of parchment.

UV photography was the last step before making permanent housing for the fragment. Iron gall ink appears darker in UV light than it does in visible light, so the Greek text will be easier to read in UV photographs than in normal light photos or in person. These photographs will aid users working with the fragment.

The final challenge before returning the fragment was housing. Developing a housing system was the most important aspect of this treatment so the fragment can safely maintain its active life. After experimenting with several models, a double-sided window mount was designed, which I adapted from the British Library’s housing for burnt fragments from the collection of Sir Robert Cotton. The parchment is contained within a packet of polyethylene strips and various weights of polyester sheeting. The strips on one side instead of two solid sheets allow for plenty of airflow so there is no danger of creating microclimates. This also helps minimize polyester’s tendency toward static electricity build-up. The fragment was then secured between two window mattes made of corrugated board.

Diagram of the double-sided window mount.
The fragment after treatment and in its housing.

All of the treatment goals were reached using a “less is more” approach, and sturdy housing was constructed. The fragment is back in the library ready for active use.

Five Years of RBSC Blog Posts

Since July 2015, when RBSC head Natasha Lyandres welcomed readers to the Rare Books and Special Collections blog, we have enjoyed using this forum to tell readers about new and recently acquired items, as well as using it to describe well known materials and hidden gems. We published posts to help you, our audience, better know who we are and what we do, and we have provided regular updates on exhibits and other events hosted by RBSC.

To mark the five-year anniversary of our blog, we have selected a few of the 246 posts we have published so far, written by a variety of curators, librarians and guest writers. Scroll down to find some interesting snippets from our first five years.

Recent Acquisitions

All of our Recent Acquisition posts can be browsed by clicking on the “Recent Acquisition” tag at left.

Irish Studies

All of our Irish Studies posts can be browsed by clicking on “Irish Studies” in the Categories menu at left.

Who’s Who and What’s What

The tags “who’s who” and “what’s what” gather posts relating, respectively, to the people who work in and with Notre Dame’s Special Collections, and both the materials to be found and the work happening within the department. Included in the latter category are posts related to the Category “Instruction and Class Visits“, some of which are shown here.

US History & Culture

All of our US History & Culture posts can be browsed by clicking on “US History & Culture” in the Categories menu at left.

Exhibits and Events

Latin American Studies

All of our Latin American Studies posts can be browsed by clicking on “Latin American Studies” in the Categories menu at left.

Holidays and Just for Fun

Follow Notre Dame’s RBSC on Facebook and Instagram

In addition to this blog and our website, Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections is also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NDrarebooks/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/ndrarebooks/ or @ndrarebooks).

Follow us on either or both social media sites to keep up to date with events, exhibitions, recent acquisitions, and highlighted items from our collections.

Feel free to tag us in your photos, too, and help show Special Collections in action!

Service Animals in Special Collections

by Julie Tanaka, Curator, Special Collections

Special Collections has had the pleasure to work with students and their service animals on multiple occasions during the past year.

Our first visit occurred last fall. A faculty member inquired about her class’s upcoming visit to Special Collections. She had a student with a service dog and inquired if this would be an issue and what needed to be done. We told her that there was absolutely no problem and that we were excited to work with the student and her service dog. We did inform her, though, that this was the department’s first experience so we were not sure what to expect and would do whatever we needed to ensure the student and service dog had no issues navigating the room.

photo of service dog named PaddyA student in the Honors College and her service dog, St. Patrick (aka Paddy), visited with her class. Paddy assists the student with general mobility, as the student described in an article for Notre Dame’s student magazine, Scholastic. With Paddy at her side, they navigated the tables, making their way through all of the materials with ease. Paddy was even excited to make a return trip to pose in front of her namesake.

Photo of service dog named Snowbird and student

We then had another student and her service dog come with two different classes, one last spring and another last week. Again, the visits went smoothly. Maddie and Snowbird (right) navigated the tables with the class.

Madeline Link is a junior at Notre Dame, double majoring in History and Theology and minoring in Philosophy, Religion, and Literature. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about how she and Snowbird were paired and what it is like to work together. Here is what she has to say:

Snowbird and I have worked together for a little over six years. The pairing process was quite comprehensive. For the first week of our month-long program, the trainers learned everything they could about us, asking us questions about our habits, walking speeds, and even posing as dogs so that we could practice holding the harness and appropriately instructing the dog. After that, they selected 2 to 3 dogs that seem to match our personalities, and on the first Friday of the program, my six classmates and I had to guess which dog we would be matched with. All seven of us guessed correctly.

Photo of service dog and student in class in special collections

I have visited Special Collections with two of my classes here at Notre Dame. It’s been an incredible and enriching opportunity! Snowbird typically lies beneath the table in my classes, and I exam in the books and maps pertaining to the subject we are studying. A wonderful aspect of visiting Special Collections at Notre Dame is that I have the opportunity to touch some of the manuscripts and examine them up close.

For me, Snowbird is my eyes. Though he unfortunately cannot read the manuscripts to me, he enables me to travel confidently and independently. Guiding the blind is far from the only thing that service dogs can do. They make day-to-day life possible for people with a wide range of physical and emotional challenges, and their presence allows many students like myself to thrive at this great university.

Thank you Maddie and Snowbird for sharing your experiences with us. It’s been a pleasure having both of you visit Special Collections.

Behind the timing of this post is a question that arose this summer. I participated  in a class on teaching with rare materials at California Rare Book School at the University of California, Los Angeles. A curator from another institution asked whether anyone had experience working with service animals in Special Collections. To my surprise, no one else in the room of fifteen participants representing departments located in both the US and Canada had experience with service animals accompanying students during classes in Special Collections. Given their interest, all of us in Special Collections at Notre Dame would like share our experiences with the community.

Service Animals

A service animal, according to the US Department of Justice’s 2010 revised requirements for service animals, applies only to dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

Service animals are allowed in all areas of public facilities where the public, customers, clients, program participants, or invited guests are permitted.

More information about service animals can be found on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network website.

Developments in Description and Discoverability

by Patrick Milhoan, Lead Processing Archivist

John Nichols Journal (MSN/EA 10003)

Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections boasts some truly remarkable collections with items covering a multitude of topics. From collections totaling 17 cubic feet, such as the Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan Collections, to single-item manuscripts totaling a few pages, such as the John Nichols Journal, the collections are not only diverse in content, but also in size. Just as the collections at Notre Dame are diverse, so too are the descriptive tools used to make them discoverable

Descriptive or discovery tools used in special collections and archives come, traditionally, in two forms—the archival finding aid and a MARC record. However, not all collections items fit within the scope of use for these two tools. Finding aids are useful for large collections that require much more in-depth description than a current MARC record allows for when considering the hierarchical nature of collections. In the case of collections with only a few items, the collection does not need in-depth description and does not utilize the descriptive power that a finding aid provides. The traditional MARC record, however, is inadequate because the conventions for bibliographic description do not accommodate enough of the information required to describe an archival collection.

Recognizing that the current tools were insufficient, members of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Rare Book and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of the American Library Association (ALA) set out to create a new descriptive standard that would combine archival descriptive standards within existing bibliographic frameworks. These efforts culminated in the publication of a new bibliographic standard in 2016 for single-item manuscripts called DCRM (MSS)—Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Manuscripts).

As previously mentioned, Rare Books and Special Collections holdings consist of materials both large and small. In fact, a majority of the collections consist of very few pages, often just a single item. In the past, these items were made discoverable by listing the items in a register on the department’s website. With the advent of the new descriptive standard, we are able to create catalog records that describe both the artifactual information and the contextual information of small collections, especially ones with single items, that traditional MARC records did not allow for. We have decided to create a few test records for our collections using this new standard.

One of the first items we decided to describe using DCRM (MSS) was the John Nichols Journal (MSN/EA 10003). Nichols, born in Rhode Island, was a 19th-century sailor and smuggler who wrote about his exploits in a 4-section journal. In the journal, Nichols describes his voyages to the West Indies, including smuggling operations in Cuba and Brazil. In addition, Nichols also describes an invention he has termed the “sidereal dial” for navigation at night. Accompanying the entries are numerous hand-drawn maps and profiles of locations Nichols encountered throughout his journeys on the General Hamilton and the Caledonian.

Using DCRM (MSS) as our descriptive standard allows for a greater level of discoverability for our collections items. Not only are our collections browsable on our website, but they are now searchable through the Hesburgh Libraries catalog as well as the Online Computer Library Center online catalog (OCLC WorldCat)—the world’s largest online public access catalog—and ArchiveGrid—an online database containing over 5 million records for archival materials located in repositories in the US and internationally. In addition, DCRM (MSS) has been an effective way to systematically reduce our processing backlog and refine our procedures in accordance with newly adopted best practices and standards of the profession.

What do you have in Special Collections? We have Manuscripts…

Among the holdings of Rare Books and Special Collections are thousands of manuscripts which span over two thousand years. These manuscripts encompass a myriad of origins, physical properties, languages, and genres. Since each manuscript is produced by hand, each is a unique item. In addition to being the rarest materials within the department’s holdings, manuscripts are consulted and used for a variety of purposes. Their research and pedagogical values lie not only in the content of the their texts, but also in the physical properties of their construction, later modification, and even ownership.

The oldest manuscripts in the collection are representative specimens of writing in the Ancient World. They include over one hundred clay tablets and a cylinder from the Ancient Near East and date as early as ca. 2300 BC. These objects offer a view into the civilizations of Sumeria, Babylon, and Egypt of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods as well as different writing systems and formats.

Cod. Lat. b. 2, f. 125r. Dominican Psalter. Germany, 15th c.

In addition, Special Collections holds over 300 medieval manuscripts which span from the mid ninth-century to the sixteenth. These manuscripts present a variety of scripts, book-making techniques, and texts. The majority are in Latin, but there several examples in Greek, Italian, Old French, Middle English, and Middle German from European countries as well as Byzantium. Genres heavily represented are largely liturgical, devotional, and scholastic in nature.

A small number of manuscripts in Arabic and Persian, Ge’ez (the classical language of Ethiopia), Pali, Chinese, and Japanese spanning the seventeenth to nineteenth century are also held. These materials are largely for pedagogical purposes. They include a variety of formats and supports such as Ottoman paper, parchment, palm leaf, and other eastern paper stocks.

Personal letter on patriotic letterhead of Union Civil War soldier Elhanan W. Moberly, Co. C, 6th Indiana Infantry. (MSN/CW 1005-27)

North American manuscript holdings are arranged into five chronological or topical classifications. Manuscripts of Colonial and Revolutionary America include manuscript groups originating before the year 1788 in the British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard of what is now the United States, or are American manuscripts of the Revolutionary and Confederation eras. Early National and Antebellum manuscripts are comprised of manuscript groups originating, wholly or primarily, in North America in the years 1788 to 1860. Civil War manuscripts include all manuscript groups originating, wholly or primarily, in North America in the years 1861 to 1865, and also include manuscript groups dated later but of immediate relevance to the Civil War. Modern American manuscripts include all manuscript groups originating, wholly or primarily, in North America since the end of the Civil War. The Sports Manuscripts include manuscript material of all periods relating to athletic sports, physical culture, health and exercise, and outdoor leisure and recreation. Besides handwritten and typewritten texts, listings include other non-published formats with some claim to uniqueness, most notably scrapbooks and photographs.

Of the antient characters called ogam, 1819? (MSE/IR 1400-01)

There are over 70 manuscript collections relating to Irish Studies. They range from single items such as an account book from an 1847 Famine soup kitchen to large collections of papers. The papers of contemporary Irish writers Patrick McCabe and Eilís Ní Dhuibhne will allow future scholars to study early drafts and trace the development of the literary works, while letters such as those written by the diplomat and Easter Rising leader Roger Casement to his friend Robert Lynd provide a vivid glimpse of the personality behind the historic figure.

Jorge Luis Borges, “Coplas”. Hand drawn illustration of a couple dancing the tango with accompanying verse. (MSH/SCL 1044-01)

Rare Books and Special Collections is home to significant Spanish-language manuscript collections, from both Iberia and Latin America, dating from the fifteenth century through today. The Harley L. McDevitt Inquisition collection documents activities of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (1478-1834) in early modern Spain, Portugal, Rome, Mexico, and Peru. It includes over one hundred manuscript items. Trial and sentencing documentation, annotated procedural manuals, and ornate manuscript broadsides appointing Inquisition familiars are highlights. The José E. Durand Peruvian History collection includes more than 40 colonial and nineteenth-century literary, historical, financial, and ecclesiastical manuscript items. Among these are some totally unique items such as the only existing copy of a seventeenth-century Peruvian play entitled, Tragicomedia de la Ystoria de Joseph.

RBSC also holds modern literary collections representing South American and Caribbean writers. Manuscript highlights include the letters of Gabriela Mistral, Silvina Ocampo, Norah Borges, and Manuel Puig, as well as a few items by Jorge Luis Borges. The department’s South American historical mauscripts represent major figures of the independence era as well as some of the region’s earliest female activists, including Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane and Isabel Giménez de Bustamante.

The immigrant experience and family correspondence are another strength of the department’s Hispanic holdings. Collections include materials produced by Irish, Italian, German, and North American immigrants to Latin America.

Page from a journal of showing both handwritten text and pasted down content.
Rusudana Nikolaevna Nikoladze illustrated memoir, ca. 1926, 1960s. Folder 13 (MSE/REE 0001 PN200-13-Boxed)

Russian and East European Studies collections range in date from the early nineteenth century to the present. Papers and manuscripts focusing on human rights and the unofficial non-conformist culture of Soviet Russia (also known as Russia’s second culture) constitute a particular strength within the Russian and East European Studies holdings. The materials include letters from the Gulag, literary and political works of Samizdat, manuscripts, official documents, diaries, correspondence, and photographs. A number of personal collections by important Russian political and cultural figures are represented among the Special Collections’ holdings. These include the papers of the Human Rights activist and the first executor of the Solzhenitsyn Fund Alexander Ginzburg (1936-2002), the writer Eugenia Ginzburg (1904-1977) and the poets Inna Lisnianskaia (1928-2014) and Semion Lipkin (1911-2003), the concept artist and writer Vagrich Bakhchanyan (1938-2009), the Human Rights activist and literary scholar Elizabeth Markshtein (1929-2013).

All manuscripts held by Rare Books and Special Collections are freely accessible to Notre Dame students and faculty as well as to the general public. A portion of the manuscript collections may be accessed through their online finding aids, which describe their contents. Medieval manuscripts are described in David T. Gura, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (University of Notre Dame Press, 2016). For all other manuscripts collections, or if you have specific questions, contact the appropriate curator of the subject area of your interest.

Bringing Classes to Special Collections

Teaching a class at Notre Dame? We invite you to bring your students to Special Collections: freshmen, undergraduates of all levels, grad students, or fellow faculty for that matter.

Teaching a class elsewhere in the Michiana area? We invite you to bring your students—of any age level—to Special Collections, too.

Special Collections offers a wide range of instruction from show-and-tell sessions that introduce students to materials from 2400 BC to present to specialized instruction tailored to course syllabi and assignments. Our staff is more than happy to work with instructors to tailor sessions to meet their needs.

We hold strong collections pertaining to: Dante, Italian literature, American Catholicism, Antebellum and Civil War America, American Sports, History of Science, Irish Literature and History, and Latin American and Early Modern Hispanic Literature and History. We also have a growing collection of medieval manuscripts as well as a substantial collection of medieval manuscript facsimiles. Our political and cultural materials of the Soviet Union and the Russian Diaspora to Europe and the United States is another area of recent development for the department.

Special Collections also runs our own workshop series. We currently offer Archival Research Skills and Introduction to Special Collections: From Clay Tablet to Graphic Novel. Coming in 2017-18 are two new workshops: History of the Printed Book in the West and The Book as Object. All of these workshops provide hands-on experience working with materials to reinforce the concepts covered.

Examples of classes we have taught sessions for recently:


Contact us for more information about how to bring your class to Special Collections.

More information and examples of materials pulled for instruction sessions can be found on the Class Instruction page on our website.

What Do You Have in Special Collections? We have Rare Books…

Notre Dame Special Collections holds approximately 132,000 volumes of rare books and periodicals. In the collection, there are really old books and really new books; books that have high monetary value and books that don’t; books with paper covers and books with hard covers; books that look like books and books that look like art. What is a rare book then? Why is one book in the rare book collection and not another? And exactly what kinds of rare books does ND Special Collections have?

The mixture of old and new and varying monetary values and formats points to the fact that it’s hard to define precisely what a rare book is. Perhaps the question isn’t so much, “What is a rare book?” but rather, “What makes a book rare?” Supply and demand play a large role. If there are only a couple of copies of a particular book, it seems logical to believe that that book is rare; however, if no one is interested in acquiring that book, then the book isn’t necessarily rare. If there is greater demand than the number of books available to meet demand, then a book may be said to be rare. High demand, though, is only one part of the equation in determining whether a book is rare.

Above and beyond supply and demand, a book must have some sort of intrinsic value or importance. That is, what importance does a book have in the field of study to which it belongs? More simply put, does the book have research value? For example, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818, is quite popular and readily available whether in your local library or through any of a number of bookstores and online booksellers. But editions of this book are found in special collections. Both the original 1818 edition and the 1831 revised edition published in a single volume by Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley have intrinsic value for literary studies. The first presents Shelley’s ideas in 1818 before she suffered from multiple personal tragedies—the deaths of her son, daughter, and husband, of her friend, George Gordon (Lord Byron), and being betrayed by her friend, Jane Williams. The third edition, considerably revised by the author, reflects the change in her philosophical ideas. After suffering these tragedies Shelley revised the text to exemplify her belief that human events are not decided by free will but by material forces beyond human control.

BOO_003701271_v1-00g-blackA book might be considered rare if it is the first printing, has particular historical importance, or has specific significance to a particular collection, institution, or other setting. The Holy Bible printed by Matthew Carey in 1790 is one example of all three of these considerations. The Carey Bible represents the printing of the first Catholic Bible in the United States, known also as the Douay-Rheims version. The specific copy of this Bible held in ND Special Collections has further significance to the campus. Locally referred to as “The Badin Bible,” the three volumes comprising this copy were given to Father Stephen Badin (1768-1853) by Bishop John Carroll (1735-1815), the first bishop appointed in the U.S. Father Badin founded a school and church for the Potawatomi Indians, the site of which is now part of Notre Dame’s campus. He also purchased land and gifted it to the Diocese of Vincennes; this land was the parcel upon which the Notre Dame campus was built. ND’s copy of this Bible contains a handwritten dedication to Badin and the ex libris bookplate of Stephen T. Badin.

A book that has survived the ravages of time might be a good candidate to be considered rare. For printed books in the western world, a book printed in 1493 and sitting on a shelf today is old—but is it rare? If it has intrinsic importance and if demand outstrips supply, then it most likely is rare. Take RBSC’s copy of the Liber cronicarum by the Nuremberg doctor and scholar, Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), an incunable—a book printed during the first fifty years of printing in the West (1450-1500)—is a landmark in book design and the history of printing. More commonly known in English as the Nuremberg Chronicle because of its magnificent 2-page woodcut of the city of Nuremberg, this book integrates over 1800 images with the printed text, using the images to explain or clarify the content. The Chronicle also contains woodcuts that provide the first images ever printed of some of Germany’s cities. Though over 1200 copies are known to exist today in libraries throughout the world, the demand for this phenomenal book remains high.

Often, books that are first editions are assumed to be rare books because they are thought to be more valuable. Sometimes that is true, but most books only come out in one edition, making them by default first editions. In the case of books that come out in multiple editions, there are instances when the first edition can add value to the book. For example, Moby Dick by the American author Herman Melville (1819-1891) was published first in October 1851 in London by Richard Bentley as a three-volume set in an edition of 500 copies. 200 copies were bound in spectacular fashion, with seafoam green cloth covers and cream cloth spines adorned with a whale in gilt. Today, locating a copy in this original binding is almost impossible; the supply practically does not exist, yet there is demand for this elegant book. The first American edition was printed a month later by Harper and Brothers. This edition corrected the changes in language and spelling and restored passages that had been excised by Bentley in the London edition, making the first American edition of extreme importance for the history of this book.

An edition of a book—the set of copies of a book printed from the same setting of type—other than the first edition may have important value for researchers as well. In 1580, Discorso sopra il giuoco del calcio fiorentino by the Florentine Giovanni de Bardi (1534-1612) was first published. The text was edited three times with the new editions printed in 1615, 1673, and 1688; the last printing of the text was in 1766. Discorso was the first book that described calcio, an early form of football that originated in sixteenth-century Italy; it detailed the rules, how the game was played, and what players were expected to wear. The first three editions contained no more than one plate; however, a fourth edition appeared in 1688. Retitled Memorie del calcio Fiorentino Tratte da diverse Scrittute, this edition had been published to coincide with the marriage of Ferdinand de Medici and Violante Beatrice of Bavaria. Memorie contains additional engraved plates, the original Discorso, a lengthy essay on calcio’s antecedants, a poem in Greek on the sport, and notices and records of the games played. The second edition also contains a description of the calcio match played at the wedding. Part of the Joyce Sports Research Collection, both the 1615 printing of Discorso and the 1688 Memorie provide researchers with valuable resources for studying the sport, printing history, and cultural history.

Books that are found in special collections might also be part of a collection that, as a whole, has intrinsic value even if some of the books within that collection are quite common. Many special collections libraries will collect the works of a particular author or field of study. ND Special Collections has a number of these including the Edmund Burke Collection, the Zahm Dante Collection, and the Edward Lee Greene Collection. The core of the Burke Collection is comprised of the personal library of William B. Todd, author of the authoritative descriptive bibliography of Burke’s works. Included are early editions of Burke and his contemporaries including Thomas Paine. Addition volumes have been added to the original collection to comprise a substantial research collection.

Similar to the Burke Collection is the Zahm Dante Collection of over 3,500 volumes that include incunables, sixteenth-century editions, and important modern works that demonstrate the popularity and impact Dante had on contemporary culture. Represented in this collection are works of fundamental importance in the Dante bibliography, including the 1481 edition of Cristoforo Landino’s commentary and the 1502 Aldine printing of Dante’s Comedia as well as the modern adaptation of Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso by Sandow Birk, which translates the text into contemporary, American English and sets the three works in urban America. The Zahm Dante Collection forms part of the Italian Literature Collection, the most significant Italian literature collection in the United States, containing the works of Petrarch, Boccaccio, Baldassare, Castiglione, Ariosto, Bembo, and Tasso.

Another prominent collection is the Edward Lee Greene Collection related to natural science. This collection is formed from the personal library of Edward Lee Greene (1843-1915), an early botanist who researched and wrote about western American flora. His collection contains significant works from the sixteenth century, including the Herbarum uiuae eicones ad naturae imitationem (1532) by Otto Brunfels (1488-1534), who is regarded as one of the founders of botany. The collection also boasts Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1754), a stunning two-volume work with hand-colored plates. This book is of fundamental importance; it is the first publication devoted to the flora and fauna of North America. Along with the Greene Collection, ND Special Collections has holdings of over 4,000 works related to the history of science. Among these works are Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium celestium (1543), Galileo’s Dialogo (1632), and Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687).

ND Special Collections has numerous other important literary and historical works including one of the most complete collections of the Nicaraguan writer, Ruben Dario, as well as extensive holdings of the works of Gabriela Mistral and Jorge Luis Borges. The collection of the American poet Robert Creeley (1926-2005) contains books not widely accessible to the public and the letters, reviews, and other pieces of ephemera the author placed inside his books, providing students and researchers a rare look into the poet’s private life.

In addition to building collections that center around authors and content, ND Special Collections also collects books that are about the book itself. These include books issued from fine presses and books that push the boundaries of our general understanding of a book. The revival of fine press books can be traced to William Morris (1834-1896) and the press he founded, the Kelmscott Press, which printed books from 1890 to 1896. Morris was one of the leaders in the Arts and Craft Movement which developed in Britain and spread internationally between the mid eighteenth century and the early twentieth century. In reaction to the ill effects industrialization and capitalism had on printed  books, Morris set forth to produce books that reclaimed the beauty and craftsmanship associated with the fifteenth century. He used only the finest materials–handmade paper, specially formulated ink, high-quality vellum–and the iron handpress to print limited editions of only a few hundred copies of the finest quality. Of the fifty-three works the press printed, the most celebrated and generally regarded as the finest work printed from a fine press is Morris’ The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Now Newly Imprinted (1896). In addition to this fine work, ND Special Collections holds eleven other works issued from the Kelmscott Press.

Morris inspired others to establish fine presses. This trend spread across Britain, Europe, the United States, and continues today. Established in 1920 by Harold Midgley Taylor and taken over in 1924 by Robert Gibbings, the Golden Cockerel Press produced worked printed to the highest of standards and was noted for its woodcuts designed by notable artists such as Eric Gill. As Morris’ Chaucer was the Kelmscott’s finest work, Eric Gill’s Four Gospels (1931), part of the ND Special Collections Gill Collection, was the Golden Cockerel Press’ finest. In addition to works published by the Kelmscott Press and Golden Cockerell Press, ND Special Collections has collections from other notable fine presses including the Cuala Press, Stanbrook Abbey Press, Overbrook Press, Perishable Press, and St. Dominick’s Press.

Related to fine presses that produced limited editions of printed books using techniques that industrial presses could not produce is the development of artists books. What defines artists books is still in flux. To a large extent, they represent a work that is inspired by the function or structure of a traditional book; in some cases, the works resemble the common book with pages bound together and encased in a cover; in other cases, artists books look more like a sculpture or other work of art with very few characteristics of a traditional book. Artists books is a growing collection area for ND Special Collections. Our most extensive collection are works of the Ediciones Vigía in Matanzas, Cuba, founded in 1985, featuring handcrafted books of writers, musicians, and composers including Gabriela Mistral, Bob Marley, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez and designed by artists including Rolando Estévez. Artists books from the Ediciones Vigía are noted for their elaborate constructions with foldouts, jewelry, and shapes. Also in ND Special Collections is a collection of sixty-seven works from the Indiana University School of Fine Arts individual pieces from current books artists including Julie Chen, Karen Hamner, Jean-Pierre Hebert, Bill Kelly, among many others.

Making the Most of Your Visit to Special Collections

by James Cachey, Stacks Maintenance and Patron Services

Rare Books and Special Collections is a public research facility that houses over 175,000 volumes of printed books and periodicals, manuscript holdings that range from medieval codices to contemporary collections, and a variety of other formats including printed ephemera, maps, newspapers, and numismatic and philatelic items. All of these materials are available for use upon request. In order to expedite access to using these materials, this post offers some guidelines to our potential patrons.

The majority of our collections are located in our basement storage stacks and need to be retrieved when a patron requests to use them. Because of this, it is helpful for both you and the department if you email your requests at least 24 hours before you plan to visit. However, if you are unable to email in advance, please expect up to a 20 minute wait for us to retrieve your materials. When you email your requests for materials, please include the full location for books found in the Location tab of the catalog record or the manuscript number for manuscripts from our website. This is important because our stacks are separated by type of material (Rare Books, Medium Rare, Manuscripts, and Ephemera) and by size (Jumbo, Oversize, Extra Large, Large, Small and Extra Small).

For example:
Special Collections, Special Coll. Rare Books Small – PT 2473 .G4 R4 1831
Special Collections (MR), Special Coll. – PQ 7797 .B635 A23 1964
Lat. b. 2
MSN/MN 8004
MSSP 2002-1-B

When you arrive at the department and if it’s your first time visiting, you will be asked to read our policy and procedures and to fill out some paperwork. Once you have registered, you will be asked to check your bags and jackets in our locker room. During this time, we will enter your information into our database and set up the items you requested in our reading room.

We hope this information will help you become familiar with how to use our collections and expedite the process of retrieving materials for you in order to maximize your time in our department.


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