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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Thesis Topics: Ready-Made



Library buildings often flood us with early childhood memories of Carnegie-endowed edifices in villages, towns, and cities. The history of libraries is often seen as the history of the edifice itself, the story of the physical structure. While this is a very important aspect of the development of an institution or a culture, the architectural element is but one part of the story. The development of architectural types and forms of library buildings can easily be a profitable topic of research.[1]

Library history as a research topic has, in recent years, received greater and greater attention. Of particular interest are the theoretical essays that have been published by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.[2] The three authors of the essays each take a rather different view of the history of the institution, its structures, its collections, and the intellectual influence of libraries and books. Each would make an excellent starting point for research on and study of libraries.

The first great library is often thought to be the Alexandrian Library in Egypt with Callimachus as the driving force behind both acquisitions and access. Several recent studies of both the library and the librarian are very useful for the study of Ptolemaic and Hellenistic intellectual life.[3] Another fascinating research area is that of the origin and development of religious texts. An aspect of this topic has been the subject of an important recent study by Harry Gamble, whose footnotes and bibliography will greatly assist the researcher.[4] Gamble's study is wide-ranging and will provide many ideas for profitable topics.

Often characterized as a dark age of ignorance, western Europe in the Middle Ages was hardly that. Recent studies that will provide the researcher with fruitful avenues of study clearly show the strength and depth of the intellectual traditions that continued, albeit in small measure, throughout this thousand-year period. Of particular interest are the collected essays of palaeographer and codicologist Bernhard Bischoff, whose research over many decades had shed light on unknown aspects of European intellectual life.[5] Another important facet of the study of libraries in medieval Europe is that of monastic libraries. David Bell not only discusses libraries, but also the intellectual life of cloistered women in England.[6] Both Bischoff and Bell provide the basis for many research topics that range over a vast and, as yet, not fully studied aspect of medieval intellectual life.

The radical changes in economic, social, and intellectual life that occurred in the Renaissance had a marked effect on libraries. This is particularly evident after the development of moveable type and the 'invention' of printing, ca. 1450. Roger Chartier, recognized for his creative and exciting studies and essays, has published a synthesis that will provoke much thought in the researcher on libraries of this period.[7] While it is not possible to agree with all the theses in Chartier's work, any researcher will profit from a close reading of this study. The growth in institutional libraries in this period is another possible avenue of research. One of the great libraries of the western world, that of the Vatican, was created in the middle of the fifteenth century, and a recent study of its history and collections provides many opportunities to continue with what could be a fascinating topic.[8] Early college and university libraries are also interesting subjects. Recent publications have focused on the design and construction as well as the early history of such facilities.[9] There is sufficient research material available, at least from a review of the footnotes and bibliographies, to merit much further exploration of these topics.

Another important aspect of the period is the growth of the private library. For many years, it was not possible to begin such research simply because the raw materials, the lists and catalogs of books, were not readily available to scholars without the means to travel and study abroad for extended periods. This problem is now being resolved with the appearance of a series devoted to the publication of such lists.[10] While this may appear to be a rather dry and arid resource, a tremendous amount of knowledge can be gained from examining the books owned by an individual. Trends in intellectual interest, publishing, and cultural life can be viewed by a close study of such lists. The libraries and interests of individuals always hold an interest. This is particularly true of the library of a scholar who helped shape the collections of a nation. An excellent example of this is the collecting interests and collection of Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631). Cotton's library, now the core of the British Library's medieval manuscript collection, has been studied for many years by Colin Tite. His most recent publication, the text of his 1993 British Library Panizzi Lectures, provides insight into the mind of a collector and also provides many possible research topics.[11]

Early American libraries and the origin and development of academic libraries in this country have received some attention, but not to the extent that precludes further research. Benjamin Franklin, credited with many innovative programs and reforms, is also given his bibliothecal due in an important study that provides the foundation for further delving into the history of American libraries.[12] Two extensive bibliographies will also assist the student in beginning to research the history of libraries.[13] It should be noted that neither of these bibliographical studies is current. One of the first steps for the researcher is to become acquainted with the literature available. A search of Dartmouth's electronic catalog, using the subject search 'libraries history' will provide nearly 270 entries.

There are also several serial publications that will be of assistance. Libraries & Culture is an important venue for both essays and reviews of the literature, while ABHB is strictly a bibliography that annually contains thousands of citations.[14] Dartmouth has recently acquired a very powerful search service that, if one considers only the title, may not appear to be relevant, but is an exceptionally valuable tool. The Institute of Scientific Information's Citation Databases, available to members of the Dartmouth community via the DCIS Navigator, contain three very important files: Arts and Humanities Citation Index, Science Citation Index Expanded, and Social Sciences Citation Index. These indexes cover the period 1988 to the present and are updated on a weekly basis. A subject search in these files using a term such as 'library history' will provide the researcher with very recent references to journal literature.

It is particularly unfortunate that there is no history of Dartmouth's library.[15] It has long been recognized for its quality, although it had modest beginnings. Jeremy Belknap's comment, alluded to in the title of this essay, bears citing once again: 'The college library is kept at Mr. Woodward's. It is not large, but there are some very good books in it.'[16] The Library was founded even before the foundation of the College and, in 1774, when Belknap visited, was still a modest collection. Within the Library is a rich collection of material with which to study the cultural, physical, and intellectual, as well as fiscal, history of the institution.[17] Aside from the internal records of the Library, there are also reports, correspondence, and other documents that provide evidence of the growth and use of the collections.[18]

One little-known aspect of the history of libraries at Dartmouth is that the two society libraries-founded in the eighteenth century and continued well into the nineteenth century-were larger and contained more useful collections for students. These society libraries, the United Fraternity and Social Friends, were placed under the management of the College Library in 1874 and were formally absorbed into the College Library holdings only in 1904. The history of the two society libraries and their impact on the College would be a very useful topic of research.[19] The social and intellectual milieu of the College is mirrored in the growth and use of the Library. The available resources would permit the researcher to prepare a study of the Library that would be of significant interest and value.

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[1] See, for example, Kenneth A. Breisch, Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America: A Study in Typology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997) and David Kaser, The Evolution of the American Academic Library Building (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 1997).

[2] Ian R. Willison, On the History of Libraries and Scholarship: A Paper Presented Before the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association, June 26, 1979, The Center for the Book Viewpoint Series; no. 4 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1980) and John P. Feather and David McKitterick, The History of Books and Libraries: Two Views, The Center for the Book Viewpoint Series; no. 16 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1986).

[3] Edward A. Parsons, The Alexandrian Library, Glory of the Hellenic World; ItsRise, Antiquities, and Destructions (Amsterdam: Elsevier Press, 1952); Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library, trans. Martin Ryle, Hellenistic Culture and Society, 7 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); and Rudolf Blum, Kallimachos: The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography, trans. Hans H. Wellisch, Wisconsin Studies in Classics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). Mention should also be made of Herbert C. Wright, The Oral Antecedents of Greek Librarianship (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977) and his discussion of the beginnings of libraries and librarianship.

[4] Harry Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

[5] Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne, trans. Michael M. Gorman, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology, 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

[6] David N. Bell, What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries, Cistercian Studies Series; no. 158 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1995).

[7] Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994).

[8] Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, The Vatican Library-Its History and Treasures, ed. under the patronage of His Eminence Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church, and of the Prefect of the Vatican Library, Father Leonard Eugene Boyle, O.P. (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.: Belser, 1989).

[9] David McKitterick, ed., The Making of the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Sargent Bush and Carl J. Rasmussen, The Library of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1584-1637 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). The former volume should be seen as a model of both content and design for anyone contemplating a study of a library.

[10] R. J. Fehrenbach, gen. ed., Private Libraries in Renaissance England: A Collection and Catalogue of Tudor and Early Stuart Book-Lists (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1992-. Four volumes of this important series have been published to date.

[11] Colin G. C. Tite, The Manuscript Library of Sir Robert Cotton, The Panizzi Lectures, 1993 (London: The British Library, 1994).

[12] Margaret Barton Korty, Benjamin Franklin and Eighteenth-Century American Libraries, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s. 55:9 (1965).

[13] Donald G. Davis and John Mark Tucker, American Library History: A Comprehensive Guide to the Literature (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1989) and David S. Zubatsky, The History of American Colleges and Their Libraries in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: A Bibliographical Essay, University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, Occasional Paper, 140 (Champaign: University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, 1979).

[14] Libraries & Culture, formerly titled Journal of Library History and then JLH, has been published since 1988. ABHB, Annual Bibliography of the History of the Printed Book and Libraries, was founded in 1970. A more wide-ranging, but very important, bibliography is Library Literature, which has been published under this title since 1933.

[15] The very brief account in Chase and Lord is the most accessible history of the Library through the year 1886. See Frederick Chase, A History of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire, ed. John K. Lord, 2 vols. (Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1891-1913), 2:506-513. Attention should be drawn to the essays by Dick Hoefnagel and Virginia L. Close in the Dartmouth College Library Bulletin relating to libraries at Dartmouth. These include 'The Company of the Philogrammatican Society,' n.s. 35:1 (November 1994), 10-19; and 'The First Librarian for Dartmouth College,' n.s. 37:1 (November 1996), 38-48.

[16] Jeremy Belknap, Journey to Dartmouth in 1774, ed. Edward C. Lathem (Hanover: Dartmouth Publications, 1950), 19.

[17] Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, DL-1, contains accession records for acquisitions from 1826 to 1963, while DL-2 contains accounts dating back to 1793.

[18] See, for example, President John Wheelock's 'Memorandum of Father's Library Purchased of Esq. Woodward, 1780,' Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 780940.

[19] Research material on the society libraries abounds. See, for example, Catalogue of Books in the Social Friends' Library at Dartmouth College, March, 1824 (Concord: Isaac Hill, 1824) and 'Inspectors' annual reports to the Social Friends Society on the Library and finances, 1828-1851,' Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 828312.

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Last Updated: 5/3/12