U.Va. Library Exhibition
For Immediate Release
September 30, 2010
Contact: Marian Anderfuren
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"Global Collections" Library Exhibition Opens September 30
"Global Collections at the University of Virginia Library: Engaging the World": September 30, 2010-July 29, 2011
What compels us to leave our homes and travel to distant lands? How do we describe our adventures abroad, and what do we collect on our journeys?
The University of Virginia Library's international materials reflect the lives of diplomats, missionaries, artists and others whose occupations and passions have led to remarkable foreign encounters. The record of these individuals' travels—embodied in rare and unique items gathered from around the globe—illuminates the meaning and consequences of cross-cultural experiences.
A new exhibit opening Thursday, September 30 at U.Va.'s Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture, "Global Collections at the U.Va Library: Engaging the World," features rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, drawings, and other relics of international travel, including passports, souvenirs, and even a luggage tag. Many items have close ties to the history of the University community, especially its faculty and alumni, said Kelly Miller, the institute's head of programs and public outreach.
The exhibit, located in the Main Gallery of the Harrison Institute and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, begins with a collection of items relating to Thomas Jefferson and his foreign travels and, most significantly, his friendships with influential Europeans.
"We begin with Thomas Jefferson not only because he founded the University, but also because he had significant international interests," Miller said. "In fact, as ambassador to France, he lived in Paris and became acquainted with major figures of the Enlightenment. He also avidly collected books, which would become part of his impressive library, including works in many languages. During his life, he also nurtured friendships with Europeans, such as Lafayette and Kosciuszko, who fought in the American Revolution."
The exhibition encourages visitors to reflect on the value of working and study abroad, as well as reasons for international engagement. For instance, military service is represented in the Global Collections exhibition, Miller noted. In the second decade of the 20th century, many U.Va students and alumni visited foreign countries while on tours of duty in World War I.
A letter written by James Rogers McConnell, the former University student in whose memory the 1919 "Aviator" statue stands outside of Clemons Library, is on display. A volunteer pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille, McConnell perished in aerial combat just before America entered World War I, Miller said.
Other reasons for foreign engagement shown in the exhibition include foreign service, humanitarian and religious missions, commercial ventures, education, scholarship, and literary translation.
The exhibit also aims to show evidence of how foreign travel influences writers and artists, Miller said. Rare books, diaries, and drawings by such authors as Pearl Buck, John Dos Passos, and Jorge Luis Borges are on display.
Other highlights from the exhibition include early 19th-century drawings of West Africa by an African-American missionary, a 17th-century illuminated manuscript of Shahnamah, the national epic of Iran, original watercolor illustrations for Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan, a collection of Japanese folklore, and ancient Chinese seals.
With age, even the mundane becomes fascinating. The exhibit features passports and visas, which Miller calls "bureaucratic ephemera of travel," that belonged to such figures as Venezuelan Fernando Bolivar, one of U.Va.'s first international students, and Sir Fitzroy Maclean, a British soldier and diplomat, whose papers are located in the Special Collections Library.
Travel guidebooks—ranging from 17th-century Grand Tour books to early 20th-century Baedekers—and souvenirs from decades past will be on display, commemorating both individual trips and their historical context.
What's the coolest thing in the exhibition?
Miller has a hard time deciding. "Maybe some people would be surprised to see shoes, knives and jewelry from Afghanistan and Pakistan," she said. Col. Alan MacKenzie, a former University student who served as a military attaché in Kabul in the early 1950s, donated the items to the U.Va. Library. Or, another favorite is a rare and gorgeously illustrated edition of Lawrence of Arabia's Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
University faculty and graduate students such as history professor Peter Onuf; Dariusz Tolczyk, an associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures; and Michelle Kisliuk, an associate professor of music; and Jill Baskin, a Ph.D. student in art and architectural history, contributed to the exhibition, many of them helping to determine which pieces should be included.
Items in the collection are being used in teaching or could provide the basis for new courses, Miller explained. She herself taught a University Seminar course last spring on global short stories—which will be offered again next semester—using items from the University's extensive collection, some of which are currently on display.
Miller said she hopes that the exhibition will inspire not only new research projects and intellectual pursuits, but also, perhaps, new works of art. She also hopes the exhibition will raise awareness of the richness of the Library's international collections and the need to grow and preserve them over the coming decades.
The offices of the President and of the Vice Provost for International Programs provided financial support of the exhibition, which runs through July 29, 2011.
An open house with the curators will be held on Oct. 30 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Space is limited. RSVP by Oct. 12 to Judy Christian (434-924-4339 or email@example.com); if making contact by e-mail, use the subject line "Global Collections."
For more information about gallery talks, lectures, film showings, and other exhibition programming, please visit the Harrison Institute's events page.
By Samantha Koon
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"Global Collections" Images
Scottish adventurer, Sir Fitzroy Maclean (1911-1996)—one of the likely prototypes for Ian Fleming’s James Bond—traveled the world as diplomat, soldier, politician, and author. In the 1930s, he was posted to Moscow and observed Kremlin show trials of Stalin’s accused political enemies.
Souvenir of the Panama Canal, 1941. From the Middleton Freeman Papers. From 1907 to 1914, the American government managed a massive feat of engineering—construction of the Panama Canal, a 51-mile waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the Isthmus of Panama.
Hezekiah Butterworth's Zigzag Journeys in the Orient, The Adriatic to the Baltic (1882). From the Clifton Waller Barrett Collection. For students, the seventeen-volume set of travel stories, Zigzag Journeys, emphasized the adventurous and exotic aspects of foreign travel. Their author, Hezekiah Butterworth (1839-1905), was a best-selling author of children’s literature.
American aviator and former U.Va. student, James Rogers McConnell (1877–1917) in 1916. The following year, he perished in aerial combat with German planes just prior to the U.S. entry into World War I. He is remembered by Gutzon Borglum’s 1919 statue “Aviator,” located outside of Clemons Library.