It is a pleasure and an honor to contribute a foreword for the print catalogue and online version of the exhibition, The American Enlightenment: Treasures from the Stanford University Libraries, in which Stanford Professor of History Caroline Winterer captures splendidly and elegantly the significance of these books from the libraries’ collections. In the past few years two large and especially important collections have enriched our holdings immeasurably and instantly; both are represented in this exhibition.
In 2007 we acquired the Jay Fliegelman Library of Association Copies, a collection of more than 150 titles dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, owned and in most cases signed or annotated by a person of historical significance. This collection has been used steadily since its arrival; several of the titles are featured in this exhibition. Jay Fliegelman was the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Literature at Stanford and a passionate book collector. During his final illness, Jay approached me and proposed that the Stanford University Libraries purchase his collection in its entirety. Happily, all proceeded smoothly and I was able to assure Jay that his collection would be here permanently.
In addition, over the past two years we were the beneficiaries of a remarkably generous gift: the Charles J. Tanenbaum Collection of the Eighteenth Century, a collection focusing on the Anglo-American world. This wide-ranging collection, built by the late New York bibliophile Charles Tanenbaum, includes voyages and travels, classical authors, Enlightenment thinkers, and law, among other areas, but is especially strong in history and politics. This gift of more than 1,600 volumes strengthens our holdings significantly, and we are immensely grateful to Charles and his family for this donation. Charles was a longtime friend of Stanford University, Stanford University Libraries, and the Department of Special Collections. In 1987, he curated an exhibition here, To Frame a Union: A Collector’s View of the Constitution on its Bicentennial, many of the items displayed coming from his own collection. Charles’s passion for his books, pamphlets, and maps was fueled in large part by the “materiality” of the documents themselves; he once mentioned to me that he feared that students who read only online versions of texts were being short-changed, engaging in what he called “disembodied reading.”
It is rewarding to acquire new titles for Stanford’s Special Collections; it is yet more rewarding to see them used so extensively by our faculty and students. Caroline Winterer makes use of our collections often for both research and teaching; as such, she is keen to know of new acquisitions and extraordinarily appreciative when we acquire materials useful for her work and that of her students, both graduate and undergraduate. In addition, Professor Winterer features in her colonial and revolutionary American history class an assignment in which each student works with a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century item from our collections as the focus of a research paper. We collaborate on a list of course reserves of some fifty items, all made available for the students to work on in the Special Collections reading room. The students are encouraged to work with the text but also to explore and address the materiality of the item itself: its format, its paper, its binding, its former owners, or its marginalia. This leads them to discover and understand in a meaningful way how “material” these texts are and directs them into new areas of research, from trying to identify the audience for a grand folio to understanding the printing and folding of the sheets in the most humble pamphlet. We welcome questions from the students, and I find those directed to me both interesting and stimulating, whether they involve the intellectual content or bibliographical aspects of the work. Working closely with Caroline and her students has been among the most rewarding things I have done here in my many years in Special Collections.
John E. Mustain
Curator of Rare Books, Stanford University Libraries