As Special Collections Librarian for the Connelly Library one of my missions is to facilitate curricular engagement with our material. The Department of Special Collections houses over a dozen special research collections. Each collection presents countless opportunities to analyze complex topics. Our vision has been to develop versatile collections that support historical and cultural inquiry, and to support and contribute to interdisciplinary research for the various scholarly communities associated with Philadelphia’s academic institutions and the La Salle University community. Faculty and students who are seeking visual representations of war and trauma in popular culture need look no further than Contemporary Collections our for the largest collection of creative works on the Vietnam War in the world. We also preserve a number of archival collections that provide primary sources on our local history.
Over the years we’ve mounted many library exhibitions to highlight and analyze our unique collections. Sometimes we start with a theme that we feel will be of local interest, such as Philadelphia in the Civil War; or we started with a question such as, “How does inspiration come to an artist?” The common directive of our exhibitions is to inspire our community to learn more; the challenge is appealing to a wide range of disciplines.
|First edition Coverdale Bible,|
One of the largest and most spectacular collections in the Department is the Susan Dunleavy Collection of Biblical Literature. Colloquially referred to as “the rare bible collection,” this bibliographically stunning and visually captivating collection was established in 1978. Curatorial stewardship and development for the Collection was transferred to the Library’s Department of Special Collections in 2006. I joined the Library staff in 2010 from a theological library, and I had a strong interest in understanding the intention of the Dunleavy Collection. In addition to hundreds of illustrated Bible selections and prayer books, the Collection is crowned by a significant number of rare Catholic and Protestant Bibles, including 150 early English versions. Our 2011 library exhibition, Adornment & Alliance, showcased a number of early English versions of the Bible and many other beautiful and historic specimens. Conceptually, the idea was to highlight the fact that our collection at La Salle readily supports the study the history of the translation of the Bible into English. Mounted in the 400th anniversary year of the King James Version of the Holy Bible, this exhibition represented a participation-of-sorts in the celebrations of the printing history of the bible that were underway that year.
Two years later I still find myself pondering the intention of our rare bible collection. I can see that it holds potential for teaching the history of the book, visual culture, the relation of fine arts to textual analysis, teaching the visual history of illustration itself – countless concepts beyond simply teaching the narrative of the history of the Holy Bible. I’ve come to realize that there is an evolving intention in rare book collections. Here, we have a collection that is both bibliographically and visually rich. It may be seen that it has intrinsic value because of the sacred nature of the text, or because of the rarity of certain editions. Over time, what will draw scholars to these resources?
|La Sainte Bible, Paris, 1703|
Our newest library exhibition aims a kaleidoscopic lens at the rare bible collection. Devotion: An Iconography of the Life of Jesus is now on view on the first floor of the Connelly Library. This exhibition will present, in two parts, a study of illustrations from the Library's collection of rare Bibles and prayer books. The focus is on eight scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, taken from works from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. Using iconographic analysis as a vehicle, the intention of the exhibition is to showcase the broad research potential of the Dunleavy Collection.
What do you think that this exhibition explores? Christianity? History? Symbolism? Illustration? Beauty? What is devotion? Whatever you take away from it, we hope that you will find it inspiring!
Part One of the exhibition examines four scenes: the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the Christmas Gospel, the Baptism of Jesus Christ, and the Miracles of Jesus Christ. It will remain on view throughout the fall semester. Part Two will open on January 13, 2014 and remain on view throughout the spring semester. Please visit our concurrent web exhibition at: