Diving into Rare Books

Published by Tom Porter

Two Bowdoin scholars are heading to Charlottesville, Virginia, later this year to pursue fellowships at UVA’s Rare Book School (RBS). Professor Margaret Boyle of Romance languages and literatures and Marieke Van Der Steenhoven from the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives say the experience will enhance collections-based study at Bowdoin.

rare books students
Students in a printmaking class work with Special Collections' book collection

They are both recipients of the M. C. Lang Fellowship in Book History, Bibliography, and Humanities Teaching with Historical Sources. It's a two-year program involving five days of study this June and a return visit in the summer of 2021. The fellowship is designed to teach educators how to discern and convey the human presences in original textual artifacts… through guided contact with [those] artifacts,” says the RBS. The wider aim of the program, the school explains, “is to re-seed American colleges and small universities with humanities teachers who make maximal use of special collections resources in their undergraduate courses.” The RBS’s Laura Perrings says the selection committee was impressed by the applicants’ “dedication to teaching book history as well as to building a bibliographic community at [their] home institution.” 

“I’m so pleased both Marieke and I were awarded this fellowship,” says Boyle, who’s currently studying in Spain as a Fulbright senior scholar. “It’s wonderful validation of faculty and staff in partnership with each other and the ongoing vibrancy of interdisciplinary work at Bowdoin.” Boyle, whose current book project looks at women and health in early modern Spain, says the fellowship will provide greater opportunity and funding to make multilingual encounters with rare books and manuscripts at Bowdoin. “Whether in my seminar on books and Don Quixote or in the one on medical and scientific texts in the early Atlantic, I look forward to more hands-on engagement with my students and general outreach on campus about book history and its ongoing relevance.”

Van Der Steenhoven, eduation and outreach librarian at Special Collections & Archives, says she is “beyond thrilled” to receive the fellowship. “The opportunity to further develop and reflect on my own knowledge of book history, bibliography, and teaching practices with such distinguished RBS faculty and an accomplished cohort of fellows is truly invigorating and incredibly exciting.”

Integrated Learning Initiative

Both Van Der Steenhoven and Boyle are codirecting a new key educational program—one that they say will only be reinforced by the rare books fellowship. The Integrated Learning Initiative (ILI) was launched by Dean of Academic Affairs Elizabeth McCormack in response to the Knowledge, Skills, and Creative Dispositions report issued in 2018. Faculty and staff were invited to submit their own projects as part of the initiative, and the book studies ILI was created “to position Bowdoin’s Special Collections as a site of encounter for students and faculty” and to promote collections-based research, says Van Der Steenhoven.

“Without a doubt,” she adds, “these summer fellowships will further infuse the ILI with energy and support to bring a thoughtfully integrated approach to teaching and learning about information and visual literacy, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and more.”