Posts with the tag: Archivists Nook

The Archivist’s Nook: Our Coolest Blog Yet – The Arctic Institute at Catholic University

A concave map of the Arctic is displayed in Mullen Library, 1960. Dr. Kenneth Bertrand, Head of the Geography Division, seen pointing, while Rector Fr. Mcdonald (L) and Fr. Dutilly (R) observe.

“When Father Dutilly returned from the Arctic last year, he brought a polar bear skin with him, which, I understand, was to have gone to you.”

-John Murphy to Rev. Joseph M. Corrigan, Catholic University Rector, 1940

In 1940, an office on the fourth floor of McMahon – room 405 to be specific – became known as the “Igloo” in official University correspondence. It is in this space that the Arctic Institute of the Catholic University of America operated. Fittingly this site was a hive of activity in the winter months, with scholars cataloging botanical, geological, and anthropological specimens collected from the Arctic Circle. But come the summertime, its faculty would disperse to the North, hitching rides on canoes, seaplanes, and icebreaker ships in search of new Arctic plant life and soil samples.

Dutilly’s 1940 travel plan, with the “Santa Maria” and its pilot (Louis Bisson) pictured on the bottom. In the center is pictured Dutilly (far right) at the Grotto of Lourdes on the Arctic Sea shore. He is standing next to Archbishop Gabriel Breynat (far left) and Sister Lusignan, both missionaries in the Canadian Arctic.

Beginning in 1895, Catholic University became a center for botanical research. In that year, the Langlois Herbarium was donated to the University by the estate of August Barthelemy Langlois. This collection consisted of over 20,00 specimens. This massive collection served as foundation for the Herbarium, with additional deposits occurring through the 1930s. One such scholar who donated to the collection was Danish Arctic explorer and botanist, Herman Theodor Holm. One of the earliest laypeople to earn a doctorate at Catholic, Holm would teach briefly at the University and donate some of his own library to the campus upon his death in 1932. Based on the strength of its collections, Fr. Artheme Dutilly (1896-1973) would join Catholic University in 1937 as a research associate in the Department of Biology.

Born in Quebec in 1896, Fr. Dutilly (1896-1973) was an Oblate Missionary priest and celebrated botanist with a particular interest in Arctic flora. In 1933, at the behest of Pope Pius XI, he was appointed Naturalist of the Oblate Arctic Missionaries. Dutilly would spend his summers traveling within the Arctic Circle, collecting soil, plant, and anthropological specimens to be prepared and sent to the Lateran Museums in Rome. He accompanied Oblate missionaries working in the Arctic, hitching rides on their motor ship M. F. Therese and, later, their seaplane, the Santa Maria. In both cases, Dutilly was not merely a collector of samples. He was also a radio operator, plane mechanic, and fighter of bears.

Dutilly would draw his own maps. With McMahon Hall pictured at the bottom, Dutilly’s 1940 journey is visible.

In one harrowing event, a polar bear overtook Dutilly’s boat with the priest fending it off. He also served as the mechanic during many of his flights, from soldering broken pieces to spending two days in the wilderness rigging a failing engine to continue on with his fieldwork. (Despite working, the plane still needed to stop every two hours to replenish its leaking oil supply!)

Even after relocating to Washington, Dutilly did not change his fieldwork operations and instead brought along several other Catholic University faculty and students with him. Scholars such as Fr. Hugh T. O’Neill and Fr. Maximillian Duman, OSB, were also prominent figures in the history of the Arctic Institute and accomplished researchers. During the summer, they would be off to various points in the Arctic. (It was reported that in 1941 Dutilly traveled over 15,000 miles across the Canadian Arctic!) And in the winter, he would return to Washington to inventory the materials for shipment to the Lateran Museums, as well as keeping some in DC at the Smithsonian and Catholic University.

With the formal founding of the Arctic Institute in 1940, the “Igloo” contained more than 50,000 mounted Arctic plants, over 900 volumes on Arctic vegetation, and numerous samples of soil, fossils, rocks, and minerals. Dutilly even worked with the Inuit populations to collect philological texts on indigenous languages. It was the single largest collection of Arctic material in the Americas…well outside the Arctic that is!

Fr. Dutilly’s business card, late 1930s.

In 1947, the Department of Defense began to provide additional funding for Dutilly’s research, with an added emphasis on Alaska and Greenland. The expressed purpose of this research grant was to explore ways to study the soil and plant life of the Arctic to better understand how to develop agriculture in this otherwise inhospitable zone.

Dutilly remained a faculty member of the Biology and Geography departments until 1967. He served as the Director of the Arctic Institute (1939), Curator of the Department of Biology Herbarium (1947), and as a Lecturer in the Department of Geography (1947).  Not long after his departure, the Arctic Institute melted away. The collections of the Institute and Herbarium were donated to other institutions in 1985-1986.

While we have yet to find the “polar bear skin” Dutilly allegedly sent to the University’s rector, the Archives does maintain examples of Dutilly’s anthropological materials, as well as the papers of Herman Theodor Holm: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/holm.cfm

Fr. Dutilly next to records of his annual Arctic explorations.

The Archivist’s Nook: Introducing Students to Rare Books

Stacks of the Clementine Library. I would best describe its scent as warm and toasty.

Think back to the last book you read. How old was it? Were the pages brittle or waxy, thick or thin? How did the cover and pages feel in your hands? Was there a smell to the book – freshly printed or a musty odor? Did the book catch the eye with its cover, type, or images? Did it make a sound when opened – a crisp snap of a never-before-opened spine or the dull groan of well-worn binding? Was picking up this book an experience of all the senses?

While we certainly do not taste our books, there is no way to avoid having an otherwise full sensory experience when entering Rare Books and Special Collections. Contained within its stacks are 70,000 volumes, spanning 10 centuries. The collection includes a wide range of materials from medieval legal texts and early modern musical pieces to twentieth century textbooks and first edition novels. The aroma and sights immediately catch one’s attention, and the feel and sound of each book as you open it offers a reminder of its age.

This past academic year, the Archives staff has been assisting in Rare Books. In addition to answering reference questions and exploring the materials contained within its stacks, we have hosted three classes in the space. Each class came from a distinct program and reviewed different materials with varying learning goals in mind. Much as we are whenever a class comes to handle archival documents for the first time, we were excited to provide the students with their potential first experience of accessing rare books.

Tafsīr wāsiʻ ʻalá al-taʻlīm al-Masīhī (Translation of a Catechism for Confession and Communion), 1770.

In the fall, we hosted students from the School of Theology and Religious Studies as part of a “History and Theory of Catechetics” course. During their visit, the students were able to work with dozens of catechisms spanning several continents, numerous languages, and six centuries. Tapping into the collections of sixteenth-century folios and assorted Catholic theological and lay devotional publications, we were able to create an evolutionary display of catechisms from the fifteenth century to the present. Among the highlights were an Arabic catechism from 1770, a Navajo catechism from 1937, and a series of pocket catechisms from the nineteenth century. Supplementing this collection with materials from the Archives, we were able to bring the students from the Council of Trent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As the new semester began in the cold of January, our staff prepared to host another visiting class, this time from the School of Philosophy. Entitled “Before Printing: The Establishment and Transmission of Ancient and Medieval Texts,” the course’s professor wished to expose her students to the physicality of the manuscripts they would study over the coming months. From our medieval manuscript and incunabula collections, we provided several Thomistic philosophical and theological treatises. Through a partnership with the Semitics/ICOR Library, the class was also able to review Arabic philosophical texts. While the students would primarily continue to work with facsimiles and digital copies of manuscripts this semester, having that initial opportunity for a full sensory experience is key to both contextualizing the sources and eliciting excitement.

Lectionarium, ca. 1200 (MS 158). Some of the volumes have intricate bindings and clasps, added by much later owners. This particular binding is seen in numerous manuscripts in our collections.

My own first exposure to manuscripts was in Rare Books at Catholic University. Working with a medieval copy of Gratian’s Decretum as part of a class project helped me appreciate the beauty and wonder of these texts, and solidified my excitement for curation and historical research. I would never have guessed I would be helping provide access to these same materials years later!

Finally, our most recent academic visitors came as part of a Greek and Latin course, “Latin Paleography.” In addition to two codicology workshops held in Rare Books, the students will each work closely with a medieval manuscript in our collections to create a catalog entry. The manuscripts held by the University are thus providing valuable tools for the students to better understand the materiality and scribal norms of the medieval written word.

In addition to its strengths in Catholic history, Rare Books contains several unique collections, including a Malta collection, the Clementine Library, the Connolly Irish Collection, the Richard N. Foley Modern English Collection, its American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories Collection, and much more.

Book of Hours, ca. 1460 (MS. 136b)

Fundamentally, the collection’s value to the Catholic University community and broader scholarly world lies in its ability to provide students and scholars with opportunities to connect with the history of the written word as well as the contexts and ideas provided by each text. Plus, as the class visits illustrate, it is a wonderful source of collaboration for its sister special collections on campus!

For more information on Rare Books, see: http://libraries.cua.edu/rarebooks/index.cfm

Questions may be addressed to: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu