Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Library Company Lecture in Honor of John C. Van Horne

On May 28, Library Company members will gather at the American Philosophical Society to listen to a conversation with award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick and Library Company Trustee and McNeil Center for Early American Studies Director Daniel K. Richter. This event inaugurates an annual series in honor of John Van Horne’s monumental contributions over 29 years at the helm of the organization.

The discussion is likely to range widely across the topics of Philbrick’s various books, from Nantucket whaling to global exploration to the Pilgrims, Custer, and Bunker Hill (with perhaps a sneak peak at an upcoming volume about the Revolution, much of which takes place in Philadelphia), to his research and writing methods, to the process of turning an historical work into a movie.

John Van Horne has been the chief executive officer of the Library Company since 1985. During his tenure, he established a Research Fellowship Program for doctoral candidates and senior scholars, oversaw the automation of the library’s catalogs, and expanded the physical plant with the renovation of the Cassatt House. He has published more than a dozen articles and has edited or co-edited numerous books, including several volumes of The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, an edition of the journals, correspondence, and drawings of the great early American architect and engineer published by Yale University Press. Dr. Van Horne has been President of the Independent Research Libraries Association and has served on the boards of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and the National Humanities Alliance. He is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Antiquarian Society.

Nathaniel Philbrick is an avid sailor and a prolific storyteller whose works have shed light on many aspects of American history, especially those with a maritime theme. His works include In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2001); Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (2004); Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (2006); The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (2010); Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011); and most recently Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution (2013). He has won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History. The Last Stand was the basis for the two-hour PBS American Experience film “Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives, and feature film rights have been optioned for both In the Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill. He lives in Nantucket.

Daniel K. Richter, a newly-elected Trustee of the Library Company, is Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History and Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus on Colonial North America and on Native American history before 1800. His most recent publication is Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts (Harvard University Press, 2011). His first book, The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization (University of North Carolina Press, 1992), won the 1993 Frederick Jackson Turner Award and the Ray Allen Billington Prize from the Organization of American Historians, and was selected a 1994 Choice Outstanding Academic Book. His Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Harvard University Press 2001) won the 2001-02 Louis Gottschalk Prize in Eighteenth-Century History and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Program in Women’s History

Susan Shifrin at the April 9th event

The Library Company’s new Program in Women’s History (PWH) was inaugurated in style with a talk by local art historian Susan Shifrin on April 9. Thanks to a generous endowment from an anonymous donor in honor of Trustee Davida T. Deutsch, PWH will enable us to add material to the collections and sponsor events, conferences, publications, and fellowships.

The April 9 event was an opportunity to put the Library Company’s long commitment to women readers and writers into historical perspective. Dr. Shifrin traced the earliest recorded use of the Library Company by a woman to the Directors’ Minutes for May 10, 1742, which indicate that one Elizabeth North was allowed to use James Merrewether’s share (Number 71) after his death. Predictably, very few of the Library Company’s early acquisitions are by women writers, but its 1793 supplementary catalogue lists the first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London, 1792). We can be proud on both scores.

Entry in Supplement to the Catalogue of Books, Belonging to the Library Company of Philadelphia (1793).

The main focus of Dr. Shifrin’s talk related to her own experiences at the Library Company as the curator of “Picturing Women.” This 2004 multi-venue exhibition juxtaposed historical material with contemporary artwork in an effort to stimulate fresh awareness of the pressure on women to measure up to unrealistic standards of physical beauty and to avoid censure from failing to conform to gender norms. Our special guest at the event was Tamar Stone, a book artist who found inspiration from the “Picturing Women” exhibition. Ms. Stone brought one of her extraordinary “corset books” and was available to discuss her work at the reception before the talk:

Book artist Tamar Stone next to her artwork

Curator of Women’s History Connie King looks forward to planning more programs that celebrate the Library Company’s long tradition of collecting material by, for, and about women—and enabling women’s involvement in defining the ways the historical record informs the present and guides the future.

Connie King with Tammy Stone

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