Sit Down and Stand Up: Women of Action in the Civil Rights Movement is on display in the Mullen Library Lobby near the 1st Floor Computer Lab. Although the effects of the Civil Rights Movement truly came to light in the 1950s when speeches and protests were finally heard and acted on by the American people and government, people of color were standing up for their rights long before the middle of the century and continue to do so today. Visit the exhibit to learn more about the tenacious women who fought for their own and others’ civil rights over the past century.
The exhibit Windows & Mirrors: The Importance of Diversity in Children’s Literature is on view on the 2nd floor of Mullen Library in the Main Reading Room. This offering shines a spotlight on the importance of exploring diversity in children’s literature and how using such works in education can open children up to better understanding themselves and the world around them. Our Juvenile Collection features many books that show diverse stories and many that are created by authors and illustrators that come from underrepresented groups. Visit this exhibit to learn more about some of these works!
On October 27, 1922, the first issue of the CatholicU student-run newspaper, The Tower, was published. A four-page issue, it introduced itself to the campus with a focus on local events and academic fare. Named after the turret-like tower of Gibbons Hall – the paper’s first editorial offices – it has continuously operated for the past century, documenting campus life, debates, and changes. In a new exhibit, Special Collections is highlighting some of the ways The Tower has documented the history and culture of Catholic University. This exhibit can be seen in person in Mullen Library during the fall semester 2022 and viewed online here.
With 100 years and 129 editors-in-chief (1), The Tower has gone through as many changes as the campus has experienced. It has altered its masthead dozens of times, changed its formatting and size, and even shifted to an online version in the past few years. But its dedication to documenting the thoughts and lives of Cardinals has remained unaltered.
Far be it from this humble archivist to pontificate on the merits of student journalism, but I feel qualified to discuss the important role that campus newspapers like The Tower play in preserving and telling the history of the University and its inhabitants.
The Tower remains one of the key resources for studying the history and culture of the Catholic University campus, particularly the undergraduate experience on campus. With most of the student population changing approximately every four years, it is often difficult to document the lives of the ever-changing residents on campus. Student organizations rise and fall, issues of concern are debated and settled, and students matriculate and soon graduate. While our staff works to archive as much as possible, we cannot capture the full range of the ever-evolving student experience.
Having a weekly newspaper, written and edited by undergraduate students, is thus a rich source of information related to the culture of the campus. It provides ample documentation and reporting on social events, campus gossip, ongoing debates (both on- and off-campus), moments of change, and numerous stories that may otherwise be lost to history.
Our reference staff frequently uses the bound Tower collection and digitized collection to address inquiries about campus history, and we have even found amazing photos for social media or to share photos and stories with alumni.
I first encountered Aquinas during my time as a philosophy undergraduate at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY, and his proofs for the existence of God had a great impact on my “reconversion,” my coming back home to the Catholic Faith, after years of falling away as an atheist. Thus when I learned about the Thomistic Institute Intellectual Retreat to be held in October of 2020 and entitled “Choosing Well: Practical Wisdom in an Unpractical Time,” I jumped at the opportunity to apply, and to steep myself more in Aquinas’ works with the guidance of professors who knew him best. It was a life-giving weekend that proved to leave a huge impact on me. I experienced the Divine Office in its entirety for the first time, and was transfixed by the beauty of the chanted Psalms. I was also energized by the presence of other young adults, some who were in graduate school, some who were young professionals, all of whom were on fire for their faith. It was an inspiring environment, and it led me to consider how I could incorporate the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas into my own work.
Now I had the inspiration, but what was I supposed to do next? I wanted to work with the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, but I’m not a scholar. Still, there must be a way to merge what I do on a daily basis with his work. That’s when I recalled that Special Collections, where I work, has some manuscripts related to his writings! I sought the advice of my colleague Shane MacDonald, the expert on our Rare Books Collection, and together we discovered that we did indeed have two manuscripts from the 15th century related to St. Thomas Aquinas – MS200 and MS201. MS200 is a copy of the first half of his Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences of Peter Lombard and MS201 is a copy of his Quaestiones de duodecimi quodlibet. After inspecting these two items closer and consulting our catalog entries for them, I determined that, given their historical significance and the fact that they are manuscripts, they would be the centerpiece of the exhibit.
But two books does not an exhibit make! In order to make a digital exhibit, I would need to incorporate many more items, which I would then pick out of if I choose to create a physical exhibit. I turned to our catalog and found over 100 items related to St. Thomas Aquinas in our collection. This would require some sorting and refining of what I wanted to focus on! I considered my prospective audience – I wanted to reach the widest audience possible on the Catholic University campus, which meant that I would want to highlight the most “popular” works of Aquinas, to create a sort of introduction to his thought, while also emphasizing the importance of Aquinas to Catholic University.
After a month of research and browsing our stacks, I narrowed my list down to fourteen items – two manuscripts, two incunables, four examples of the Summa Theologiae, four examples of 16th century folios, and two pamphlets. This variety would create a visually dynamic experience – books of various sizes, colors, and lengths – while providing an appropriate scope for beginners to experts in St. Thomas Aquinas. I plugged in all of the research, writing, and photographs I had worked on over the spring of 2021 into Omeka, a web-publishing platform for digital collections, and published the site after receiving feedback from my colleagues.
I could have stopped at just the Omeka site, but I wanted to stretch myself and exercise some of the skills that I learned in my Library Science courses, such as website building. Using Wix, I wanted to create an accessible space for visitors, with an attractive environment that could fully convey the mission of the exhibit, but in a way that had more creativity and flexibility than Omeka. This was one of the parts of the project that I was most proud of. You can visit the Wix site here, and the Omeka site here!
Although I was extremely happy with the results of the digital exhibits, I still felt that we could reach a wider audience, and an in-person exhibit in the main library might be just the thing to do this. I discussed my idea with the University Archivist, John Shepherd, and we began the process of planning.
I decided to take a three pronged approach with this exhibit, as there would be three cases. The first case would have three items – the two manuscripts and one of the incunables. Its purpose would be to feature our oldest items, and introduce guests to rare book terms. The second case would include the different copies of the Summa Theologiae, in order to showcase the various sizes and editions of Aquinas’ most important work. Finally, the third case would have selections of current publications from the Catholic University School of Philosophy, School of Theology and Religious Studies, and from the CUA Press. The goal of this last case would be to make students aware of the fact that current work is being done on St. Thomas Aquinas, possibly even by their own professors. I wanted to tell the story of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas not only in his time, but in ours as well.
The exhibit was kicked off by a special event, held on September 24th, 2021 by the co-sponsorship of the university Special Collections and the Thomistic Institute. CUA professors Dr. Kevin White and Msgr. John Wippel, through whose efforts the two manuscripts, which are the focal point of the exhibit were acquired, were both speakers at the event, as well as Fr. Dominic Legge, the Director of the Thomistic Institute. We had a total of 52 attendees, and the entire staff of the Catholic University Special Collections was thrilled with the turn-out. Our goal is always to reach as many people as possible through our collections, and we hope that through exhibits such as Thomism Through Time, more students will be able to experience that same burst of invigoration and inspiration that I did upon first discovering him.
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!
If you wish to see the exhibit yourself, it’s running in the Main Reading Room of Mullen Library until November 24th, 2021!
This week’s post is guest-authored by Mikkaela Bailey is a PhD student at CUA studying medieval history with special interests in women’s history, public history, and digital humanities. You can find her on Twitter: @mikkaela_bailey
Curation is a long, detailed conversation between individuals, offices, texts, and objects, as students from Catholic University’s History and Public Life class learned this semester.
It’s easy to evaluate an exhibit and poke holes in the choices made by its organizers. It’s far more difficult than I imagined to craft an exhibit.
With most of the logistics arranged long in advance by our professor for the class History and Public Life, Dr. Maria Mazzenga, our job as a class was focused on assembling and advertising the physical exhibit itself.
The first thing we had to do was break up the objects into thematic categories so we could decide what should be included in our display. Then, we had to plan how to best demonstrate the common themes between them and also establish continuity in the display. After that, we had to craft captions and marketing materials that communicated why our visitors should care about our work and choose to come see it.
One of the ideas about organizing the books rested on the idea that the Eucharist is a central and essential element of the catechism and one’s first Communion is an important life event. Since our audience is likely to be heavily Catholic, there is resonance with their own experiences in the exhibit here. This thematic approach connected well with the objects in the exhibit, and inspiration flowed from that idea as we assembled catechisms aimed at children and teens in the same display case. One thematic element of change over time was the implementation of more children’s catechetical education as the age for first Communion shifted from around 13 to around 7 years of age.
But, there were still two more cases to fill and many more objects to consider. In the first case, which we actually finished last, we installed the oldest books, including a Latin catechism from 1566. These 16th and 18th century books were connected by the vernacular languages in which they were printed. Printing educational materials in the vernacular was a very important emphasis of the Tridentine Catechisms, so grouping these non-English catechisms gave emphasis to the importance of the catechism worldwide, outside our own framework, and outside the Latin-based world of the church.
The central case features several interesting pieces, but it also provides context for the cases flanking it. This is where we chose to place the bulk of our textual engagement through questions we are asking the audience and a QR code linked to the digital exhibit.
At the end of this process, I am so thankful for teammates who were engaged from the beginning and expressed great passion for this project. I shudder to think of undertaking something like this alone! In fact, looking at the finished product, I feel as though no idea I had for the display was totally my own and I think almost every decision made was by committee. From the marketing materials to the captions and display case arrangements, this exhibit was completely collaborative and has benefitted from open communication and easy acceptance of constructive criticism. In public history, I think all of these qualities are essential for a successful, cohesive exhibit. This experience has been the highlight of my first semester as a PhD student at CUA!
University Libraries is excited to share a new companion website for its current May Gallery exhibit, “Cathedral Quest: Great Churches in Miniature.” Here, you can read more about the exhibit’s background, view high-resolution images of exhibit items, and explore an interactive map.
This website will be the first in a series of companion websites for our exhibits in the May Gallery and elsewhere in our John K. Mullen of Denver Library building. Over the years, the May Gallery has hosted a series of fascinating exhibits, such as “Fine Lines: Discovering Rembrandt and Other Old Masters at Catholic University” and “Sworn to be Free: Irish Nationalism, 1860–1921.” Now these stories can continue to live online after the exhibit has formally closed.
If you haven’t seen our Cathedral Quest exhibit yet, come visit us! If you aren’t able to make the trip, visit our companion website and learn all about it online.