Friday, June 4, 2010

Customs and Occupations of India and Ceylon

In January 1844, the Rev. Daniel Poor, Class of 1811, sent a package to his classmate the Rev. William Cogswell. At that time, Cogswell was a professor of history at Dartmouth and a member of the Northern Academy of Arts and Sciences, an organization established in 1841 to provide an opportunity for Dartmouth students, faculty and local ministers to exchange their "views on great and important subjects."

Rev. Poor spent his life as a missionary and educator, primarily in Ceylon. His package to Rev. Cogswell contained a selection of several items which he felt would be of interest including a grammar of the Tamil language, issues of The Morning Star (a newspaper published by the American Mission Press in Jaffna), a Tamil geography, and a volume of "native paintings." This volume contains over 90 original watercolors and depicts people of various occupations and castes in India and Ceylon.

Poor's gifts were held within the Northern Academy's library which was taken into the general Dartmouth Library collection upon the Academy's dissolution in 1904.

Ask for Rauner Codex 001971 to see the original watercolors.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ahab's Bible

It is always interesting when a book transforms from a carrier of a text into an object of veneration. Most late-18th-century editions of the English Authorized Bible are not particularly rare, and in many library collections they would not be housed in Special Collections. But, sometimes something happens to a book in its life that brings it new meaning through association and turns it into a coveted, precious object. In this case, our copy of The Holy Bible (Edinburgh, 1795) once belonged to Valentine Pease, the captain of the whaling ship "Acushnet." Even with that information, this still might be meaningless, but devotees to Herman Melville know that is the ship Melville served on, and that makes this "Captain Ahab's bible."

I was once showing a book like this to a group of students, and one perceptive member of the class commented that the book had become "encrusted with culture." I have hung onto that phrase because it so beautifully captures the concept: the book is just an old book, but its cultural associations have given it new weight and meaning. That disappears as soon as the association is broken.

Come and take a look (and see if you can still smell the sea spray) by asking for Rauner Melville BS185 1795 .E42.