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As most of us know, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I. The Irvin Department of Rare Books is marking this event with a most thought-provoking exhibit, “The World in 1914.” Jeffrey Makala, curator for this exhibit, has chosen to present not the war itself but the socio-cultural, technological, and international context within which the so-called great powers found themselves in the year 1914. It is fair to say that nobody at the beginning of the year envisaged what lay ahead.

Jessica Kross pauses for a moment in the Brittain Gallery in Hollings Library. Photo courtesy of University Creative Services.

Jessica Kross pauses for a moment in the Brittain Gallery in Hollings Library. Photo courtesy of University Creative Services.

By 1914 an old order was already dying. Women and labor in both England and America were demanding equal rights. The automobile was promising greater mobility for everyone as industry mechanized assembly lines pushing out skilled labor. The old European empires in Africa and elsewhere were being challenged and America was faced with border instability from its Southern neighbor Mexico.

War itself was changing. The exhibit features a quote by Winston Churchill, himself a war correspondent during the Boer War, that we must above all remain gentlemen. The Boer War had already undermined such an assumption and WWI would soon end it. Technology, if nothing else, made mass indiscriminate killing possible. A visual of horse-mounted lancers being machine gunned down by an armed automobile clearly makes the point.

While “The World in 1914” remains on display through December 12, it has already sparked two presentations open to the public. Curator Jeffrey Makala led a tour through the exhibit. His knowledge of the exhibit’s artifacts, all from the library’s collections, augmented what was there. The talk by Dr. David Snyder of the History Department invited the audience to think about parallels between 1914 and 2014 — an unsettling exercise as it turned out. The Irvin Department’s holdings and the willingness of University experts to present and enhance their value provide a rich resource for us in the community, and one that I am most thankful for.

 

 

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It is an honor to assume the presidency of the Thomas Cooper Society. I remember the founding of the Society and have looked at the succeeding presidents with admiration, never thinking that I would one day hold this office. I am reminded of the often-cited observation of Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century: I am but a puny dwarf perched on the shoulders of giants.

One of those giants on whom I am perching is immediate past president Ardis Savory. I look forward to continuing the many significant initiatives started under her watch. The mission of the Society, as approved at the annual meeting, is now fully focused on supporting the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Dean of Libraries, Tom McNally, engaged us in a long-term project to establish a gallery for the department’s outstanding natural history collections and three Society members assisted with the first step toward that goal, the conservation of the 435 engravings of John Audubon’s Birds of America.

We are also continuing to expand the ways in which area teachers and students use library resources. The pilot project with Dreher High School was successfully initiated last year and will continue to grow in the coming one.

There are also some new and exciting initiatives. A collectors group within the membership has just been launched. It will provide educational and social opportunities to learn more about collecting and collectors. Probably the most immediately noticeable change is in your hands. It is the new design for our newsletter. What better way to communicate the look and feel of Society events, and Irvin Department holdings, than color?

In closing I will return to my giants and dwarf metaphor and acknowledge the huge presence of the Libraries’ staff, and in particular Elizabeth Sudduth, in helping to make the work of the Society both easy and meaningful.