W A T K I N S O N. L I B R A R Y
The following feature story appeared in the campus publication Mosaic in February, 1999.
ILLUMINATING THE AGES THROUGH MANUSCRIPTS AND RARE EDITIONS
What is the common link that connects the English departments "Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury" course, the studio arts programs "Color" class, and the first-year seminar called "When All Roads Lead to the Sea: A Venetian Journey Through Space and Time"? In each fall semester course, students were brought closer to their areas of study due to the primary sources available in the Watkinson Library. These include books printed by Virginia and Leonard Woolf on their home press; an original edition of a 20th-century artists treatise on color theory; and authentic documents printed in 15th- and 16th-century Venice.
According to Curator Jeffrey H. Kaimowitz, not many colleges can boast the quantity and the range of the Watkinsons special collections. While Americana of the 18th and 19th centuries is the strongest single subject area, the holdings are quite diverse. They include 18th- and 19th-century American and European periodicals; notable collections relating to the Civil War, slavery, and American Indians; as well as items that come under the category of "ephemera," including sheet music, posters, and advertisements. There are fragile manuscripts stored carefully in boxes, more than 200 books published before 1500, and well over 1,000 16th-century books.
There are in excess of 190,000 volumes in all. Some are so rare as to be one-of-a-kind, including the original manuscript of Lion Gardiners history of the Pequot Wars, which was written in 1660 and not published until the 19th century. Kaimowitzs own favorite is the librarys 1496, second edition of an Erasmus poetry volume, which is the only such copy in America. Since 1991, the Watkinson has been home to the books and manuscripts of the Mark Twain Memorial Collection, although it does not officially belong to the College.
Sharing research expertise
The Watkinson Library staff represent valuable resources to Trinitys faculty and students. They are regularly asked to make presentations to classes about the library, its resources, or specific collections. "Its a central part of the Watkinsons mission as a research and rare book library to support and enhance the academic program of the College," notes Kaimowitz. College Archivist Peter J. Knapp, one of the most frequent users of the Watkinsons treasures, makes an annual visit to the senior seminar for thesis-writing history majors, at which time he discusses the research process in generalhow to come up with a topic and how to make use of historical sources. But another message comes through, too: the Watkinson is well-equipped and capable of supporting sophisticated research.
Thats a message that Associate Professor of History John H. Chatfield wants to impart to his students, as well. Chatfield brought students in his first-year seminar on "American Pioneers: Legend and Reality" to the Watkinson, where Assistant Curator Alesandra Schmidt had culled some interesting items from the librarys collections: 19th-century maps of Mormon Utah and other regions, accounts of pioneering expeditions that were 100 years old or more, and even a few copies of newspapers from the period published in the legendary Old West town of Tombstone, Arizona. "I wanted to introduce students to this extraordinary collection and to give them an appreciation for its vastness, richness, and variety," Chatfield says.
The Watkinson Library was founded in 1857 under the provisions of the will of David Watkinson, an English-born, Hartford merchant who was also one of the founders and first trustees of Trinity College. Watkinsons desire was that it be an accessible "library of reference" for all residents of Connecticut, and it was originally located within the Wadsworth Atheneum. Requiring more space to accommodate future growth, the library came to Trinity in the 1950s, with an agreement that it would remain a separate, non-circulating collection of the College Library.
Special exhibits and events
In accordance with its mission of serving not only Trinity but also the general public, the Watkinson Library sponsors a number of public exhibits and events each year. A new exhibit in the Watkinson, "Birds in Print: a Survey of Major Illustration Processes, 1500-1998," will run from mid-February through mid-June and will include John James Audubons oversized folio, The Birds of America (London, 1827-28), and other materials from the Watkinsons extraordinary Enders Ornithology Collection. Says Kaimowitz, "We have a world-class collection in ornithology. No college in America and few universities can match it." In conjunction with the exhibit will be a lecture on April 15 by natural history illustration specialist David M. Lank on the topic of "Four Centuries of Art in Ornithology Books."
Tying in with the Colleges 175th anniversary, the Watkinson Library recently sponsored an exhibit featuring photos, documents, and memorabilia relating to College traditions, including Matriculation and the now-defunct "Burning of Conic Sections." Peter Knapp and his wife, Archival Research Associate Anne H. Knapp, co-curated the "Traditions of Trinity Past and Present" exhibit and also did a lively, multimedia presentation on the subject to a large, appreciative audience in October. The presentation will be repeated for the Colleges Reunion festivities in June, and a smaller exhibit on Trinitys history will remain in the main lobby of the Library until that time also.
While a research and rare book library might conjure up images of dusty bookshelves and few connections to the future, the Watkinson Library is a dynamic set of collections and is seeking to raise awareness of its existence through modern technology. The library contains some current periodicals, particularly in the ornithology area, and is constantly looking for materials to add to its holdings. The Watkinson staff recently developed a home page for the Web, which presents an overview of the collection and a guide to the manuscripts, and which will continue to be updated to make the library more accessible to a broad audience.
Associate Professor of Modern Languages Dario Del Puppo believes that as we move deeper into the digital age, printed materials will become more, not less, valuable. Its a subject that his students ponder in Del Puppos current senior seminar for Italian majors and minors, called "On the Nature of Texts." The resources of the Watkinson Library are a "central component" of the course, which explores the history of manuscripts and book culture from antiquity to the present. Del Puppo notes that the Watkinson gives undergraduates an opportunity to work closely with early editions of books, including works of Petrarch and Dante. Whether they realize it or not, he says, these students are receiving training as historical researchers and learning how to work with primary sources. Says Del Puppo, "I hope this kind of work will give students an appreciation for and an understanding of historical artifacts."
With the depth and range to support such probing inquiry from students of art and art history, biology, English, history, modern languages, philosophy, religion, womens studies and more, the Watkinson holds treasures for just about everyone. "You name the area," Kaimowitz says, "and weve got something here thats useful and worthwhile."
-- Leslie Virostek