Manifold Greatness arrived at the William Carey University Library in Hattiesburg, MS , in January. One of the highlights of the exhibition to date has been a “Family Bibles Road Show.” The program featured a workshop on the care and preservation of family Bibles. Community members brought about a dozen family Bibles to be photographed for the exhibit. These treasured heirlooms, held together with tape, bound with faded ribbon, or enclosed in a box, were carefully opened and examined. And what interesting things we discovered!
Two of the Bibles contained Family Temperance Pledge documents, designed to be signed by family members who “solemnly promise by the grace of God to abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” Neither of the Family Temperance Pledge documents in our Bibles was signed, but we heard rumors of a temperance pledge in another family Bible which was signed by two individuals, who, upon further reflection or perhaps after a nice apertif, crossed out their names!
Another family Bible, an 1815 American imprint, had multiple pages of family birth, death, and marriage dates. Clearly visible water stains in the text were explained by a family legend, which held that the ancestor who acquired the Bible was forced to flee from pursuing Indians as he returned home with his new purchase. At the height of the chase, he dropped his Bible into the creek, but fortunately, was able to retrieve it.
Still another family Bible was noted to have won the Highest Prize Diploma of Merit at the International Cotton Exposition in Atlanta in 1881. And another, found in the Clarence Dickinson Collection in the William Carey University Library, was Dickinson’s family Bible. Dickinson, who was a pioneer in the training of church musicians in the early 20th century, was a cousin of poet Emily Dickinson.
The “Road Show” revealed fascinating local lore in family Bibles. Photographs of these treasured Bibles have become a popular supplement to the Manifold Greatness panels at William Carey University.
Sherry Laughlin is Director of Libraries at William Carey University.
Manifold Greatness may have left the Folger Shakespeare Library this week, but a traveling banner version of the exhibition is currently in full force. Forty libraries across the United States will receive the display – the traveling tour began in fall 2011 and will run through summer 2013. The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office is coordinating the tour to public and academic libraries, who are all presenting a variety of free humanities programs in conjunction with the exhibition.
Program highlights so far include:
- Kennessaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia presented a program titled, “Music, Text, and the 1611 King James Bible,” in which Dr. Tamara Livingston, Associate Director of Museums, Archives & Rare Books, discussed the interplay between early 17th century music, text, and the production of books, as exemplified by the King James Bible.
- At Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon, Dr. Jim Earl, professor of English at the University of Oregon, spoke on “The King James Bible and the Invention of Readable English.” Dr. Earl’s lecture explored the influence of the King James Bible on the development of the more direct style of language that is commonplace today.
- And the Burke Theological Libraryat Union Seminary at Columbia University, New York, hosted “The King James Bible at 400: A Conversation with Dr. David Burke,” Emeritus Scholar, the NIDA Institute, American Bible Society.
The traveling Manifold Greatness exhibition provides host libraries with the opportunity to connect with their communities in new and fun ways – through lectures by scholars, panel discussions, book and film discussion series, school and college class tours, concerts, and more.
We look forward to seeing the creative ways the remaining tour sites will engage with Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible!
Jennifer Dominiak is a program officer in the Public Programs Office at the American Library Association. The ALA Public Programs Office has a highly regarded program of traveling exhibitions; during 2011, the Public Programs Office toured 11 traveling exhibitions to 123 public, academic, and special libraries. Visitors to these exhibits numbered more than 300,000. An estimated 46,000 library patrons attended exhibit-related public programs.
Well, as I write this, Manifold Greatness is coming down, making way in the Folger’s Great Hall for the next exhibition. I’m in Columbus, but I can imagine the Bibles and books being carefully carried back down to their usual resting places in the Folger vaults. The couriers are sealing up loan items to transport them back to their homes at the Library of Congress, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Graceland (Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.), the Bodleian Library, Lambeth Palace, and elsewhere. The Hamlin Family Bible will find its way back to me. The ever-resourceful Caryn Lazzuri will no doubt find a storage space for the antique radio she scrounged up for the exhibition, and the pulpit and pew we borrowed from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation will be returned.
It’s been a remarkable experience planning, making, mounting, and writing and talking about Manifold Greatness. Thinking back on how much it involved is almost dizzying. And I’ve learned so much. I remember coming (online) upon the John Alden Bible at Pilgrim Hall, for instance, and how exciting it was to think that this might have been the first King James Bible in America. We almost got a Bible owned by Bob Marley, a photo of which we did use on the traveling panel exhibition. That loan, like some others, didn’t work out, but Elvis’s King James Bible was a fine addition. It was fun to see this loan, and Manifold Greatness, advertised at Graceland, which I visited in November. We borrowed Bibles and other books from around the world; the Library of Congress and the Bodleian were especially generous. Steve Galbraith, Caryn, and I sat down with Mark Dimunation, the Library of Congress’s Chief of Rare Books and Special Collections, and he showed us some gems: the Massachusett Bible of John Eliot, the first Bible printed in America, and Robert Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible, America’s first homegrown KJV. We made a pitch for the KJV Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on, but it had been traveling too much and needed a rest from exhibitions. A happy alternative was the George Washington Family Bible, which we found at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, across the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia.
Especially momentous was the loan of the “Big Three,” the only surviving manuscripts from the KJV process itself. Manifold Greatness brought these together for the first time; they’re normally at the Bodleian Library, Corpus Christi (Oxford), and Lambeth Palace (London). They met first in Oxford’s exhibition and then travelled to the Folger, their first visit to America as well. I was fascinated, as visitors were, by the Bishops’ Bible with the inscriptions of one of the KJV translators, deleting a word here, adding one there, noting changes in the margin. I gave at least half a dozen tours of the exhibition, and it was a treat to be able to read aloud from this document, showing how the specific language of this most influential of books actually came into being.
My memories stay with me, but I’ll miss the physical experience of the exhibition. I loved the contrast between the massive and luxurious Bishops’ Bible of Queen Elizabeth I and the tiny, spare Bible brought to sea by Justinian Isham. The case of Literary Influences (also viewable as an interactive timeline on the exhibition website) was another favorite. I hadn’t realized until they were all in place what a radical bunch of biblical writers we’d assembled: John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Allan Ginsberg. You could practically hear their rebellious roaring through the glass! Finally, being able to walk from the case with the fragile little leaves from Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch across to the 1968 photo of Earthrise, listening on cellphone to the Apollo 8 astronauts reading Genesis from outer space—that was an amazing leap across the centuries. Manifold Greatness indeed.
Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, was co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
It will be tough to say goodbye to the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition after this Monday (in the words of Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”)… but we hope to see you before it goes!
The Folger exhibition is open today (Saturday), Sunday, and Monday; admission is free. And we’re delighted to have started the last weekend of the exhibition with brilliant sunshine.
Some of the many “don’t miss” items now on display in the Folger exhibition include:
• An Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000 that retells biblical stories in epic verse
• A rare Wycliffite Bible from the 1380s
• A 1530 fragment from William Tyndale’s contraband biblical translations, discussed by Hannibal Hamlin in this post: Tyndale was executed in 1536
• Queen Elizabeth’s 1568 Bishops’ Bible
• A Bodleian copy of a 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated with translators’ changes
• The Folger first edition of the King James Bible
• The Prince Henry Bible, an elaborately bound copy of the King James Bible owned by James I’s older son, Prince Henry, who died in 1612
• A “Wicked” Bible (1631) in which the printer omits a key word from the commandment on adultery
• A King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower
• King James Bibles owned by Frederick Douglass and Elvis Presley
• Early family Bibles, with century-old handwritten records of births, christenings, and other events, including the Hamlin Family Bible
And what story does it all tell? In the words of the Washington Post from last September:
The exhibition includes fascinating mysteries, epic battles, stake burnings and other enthralling episodes in the lives of the men involved in Bible translation. It covers the events that led to the birth of the King James, as well as the book’s influence on art, literature, popular culture, music and history—from Handel’s “Messiah” to the reading of Genesis by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, a broadcast heard by a quarter of the people on Earth at the time, making the Bible’s reach literally astronomical.
The New York Times (also in September) put it this way:
Pay close attention to the major new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library here, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and you will see not only manuscripts going back to the year 1000, an early translation from the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth I’s copy of the Bible, and imposingly bound versions of the King James; you will also sense the gradual birth of the modern English language and the subtle framing of a culture’s patterns of thought… you cannot survey the riches at the Folger without realizing that you are being given a glimpse of a culture’s birth.
In his recent blog post about an American Civil War POW’s King James Bible, curator Steve Galbraith noted “the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by our one exhibition.” Another reminder of those historical KJB associations comes this weekend, with the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday and Dr. King’s actual birthday on Sunday. Curator Hannibal Hamlin wrote about Martin Luther King and the King James Bible last August, and King is recognized in the Folger exhibition as well. On Monday, the exhibition’s last day, the Folger Shakespeare Library also offers a free, family-friendly event for the King holiday on the theme of protest. And once again, the King James Bible of 1611 traces its connections to the present day.
The Manifold Greatness panels were packed up and shipped from Rhodes College on Monday this past week. But their presence lingers, in part through the exhibition of Rhodes archival holdings that it helped inspire.
Last September, when I attended the ALA/NEH workshop at the Folger Shakespeare Library in preparation for our hosting these panels, I recall a moment that was almost Norman Rockwell-esque in its poignancy. We had been invited to introduce ourselves and our home institutions. One by one, forty different people stood up and expressed their eagerness for “Manifold Greatness” to visit their libraries. But what was most moving were the accounts everyone spontaneously gave of how they planned to augment the panels with local resources. Someone mentioned a copy of a Native American Bible translation that they planned to display; another person described with pride the venue in which the panels would be exhibited, a converted church sanctuary; many others detailed the extraordinary range of documents, events, and people who would be connected to this traveling exhibition. It seemed ‘American’ in all the best ways: regional riches strengthened in conjunction with federal resources.
Here at Rhodes, the arrival of Manifold Greatness occasioned some delightful discoveries. The more we sought biblically related materials, the more we found. We gathered dozens of critical studies related to the biblical translation into one nearby shelf, so that visitors could read further into this cultural history.
Based on a suggestion made by another Manifold Greatness host (Stan Campbell, at Centre College), our archivists Bill Short and Elizabeth Gates realized that we hold copies of a series of facsimile reproductions of leaves from early English Bibles, produced in 1935 by the American Bible Society.
We already knew of our copies of a Geneva Bible (1582), Fulke’s contentious refutation of the Rheims New Testament (1589), and an early reissue of the 1611 Bible by the King’s printer (1617). All three of these items from our Special Collections enriched the panels’ narrative considerably—many visitors commented gratefully that these volumes helped them appreciate the scale of the portable Geneva or the dauntingly large KJV.
But what was a marvel to encounter was the discovery that we had, decades ago, acquired an extraordinary collection of mounted pages from various biblical translations. These include a manuscript (1121) of the Bible in Armenian; a Paris Bible (c. 1240); the new edition of the Greek New Testament and accompanying Latin translation by Desiderius Erasmus; the complete Douai-Rheims Bible (1609-10); the London Polyglot (1657), edited by Brian Walton; John Eliot’s Algonquin Bible (2nd edition, 1665); and The Works [Opera] of St. Cyprian (1563).
Our colleague Michael Leslie was teaching a seminar on the pre-history of the 1611 translation, and eagerly provided explanatory commentary, further enriching the collective exhibition.
While the panels have departed our library for their next host institution, the circulating bookshelf, the facsimiles, the original volumes, and the mounted pages will all remain on display for another month. This is a tribute to the generative quality of Manifold Greatness itself and the ways in which it inspires local libraries to recognize their own great and manifold holdings.
Scott Newstok is associate professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, which hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition in November and December of 2011. For more about the traveling exhibition at Rhodes College and the related symposium and programs, see Hannibal Hamlin’s previous blog post, Manifold Greatness at Rhodes.
With each new post I write for the Manifold Greatness blog, I am struck anew by the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by just our one exhibition. Take, for example, the 1863 King James New Testament loaned by the American Bible Society for the Folger exhibition. When images of the Bible first arrived at the Folger, we were all struck by the book’s inscription:
Presented by the Sanitary
the rebel authorities at
Richmond, Feb. – 1864
Thomas P. Meyer
Prisoner of war
This extraordinary copy dates back to the American Civil War, when it was given to a Union prisoner of war named Meyer “through the rebel authorities” by the United States Sanitary Commission, an organization that provided relief to Union soldiers. Wanting to learn more, I began reading about the prison on Belle Isle and ended up on a website that had a transcription of the diary of Zelotes A. Musgrave, a Union prisoner of war from Ohio, who spent about five months in the prison. Spare, though compelling, daily entries such as “Belle Island. The body lice are fat.” provide a captivating glimpse of the harsh conditions at Belle Isle. At one point Musgrave receives a blanket from “our government, as rather the Christian Commission,” a moment of comfort reminiscent of the Sanitary Commission’s gift of the New Testament to Thomas P. Meyer.
Reading through Musgrave’s diary also brought back memories of what I had learned about the Civil War history of my own hometown. I grew up in Elmira, New York, which was the site of a rather brutal Union prison. I thought about how the words of the King James translation have brought relief to many in need. A Confederate prisoner of war in Elmira likely read the same Biblical passages as a Union prisoner of war at Belle Isle (see Hannibal Hamlin’s earlier post on the Civil War)—just as a young man sailing “beyond the seas” sought comfort in the Psalms and Martin Luther King inspired millions with verses such as Amos 5:24.
In the planning stages of the Manifold Greatness exhibition, Hannibal and I agreed that we wanted to show the human side of the history of the King James Bible. Meyer’s Civil War New Testament is a powerful example and we are thankful to the American Bible Society for allowing it to be a part of our exhibition.
Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, open through Monday, January 16.
With 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, now firmly in the history books itself—and with the world now turning its attention to Charles Dickens’s 200th anniversary—you might think that Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible would be wrapping up, too.
Not so! Although Manifold Greatness was created to mark the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible in 2011, the project continues throughout 2012 and into 2013. And, of course, we hope the Manifold Greatness website and Manifold Greatness publication continue to provide helpful resources to online visitors and readers even longer.
A quick overview of what’s on right now… and what lies ahead:
- The Folger Shakespeare Library’s Manifold Greatness exhibition remains on view in Washington, DC, every day through its final day on January 16. By happy coincidence, January 16 is also the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., whose rhetorical use of biblical passages and cadences is noted in the Manifold Greatness exhibition itself, as well as our online Modern Life gallery, and curator Hannibal Hamlin’s blog post on Washington’s new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
- After closing at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the exhibition travels to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where it will be on view from February 28 to July 29, 2012, incorporating rare works from the Ransom Center collection as well.
- In Claremont, California, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition may be found at Claremont Graduate University through January 6 (see CGU’s Manifold Greatness web page for visitor info, video links, and photos); until just before the recent holiday break, it was also displayed at Arizona State University (ASU Manifold Greatness web pages, student reporter video) and Rhodes College in Memphis (Rhodes 1611 web page with many links, our earlier blog post).
- In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Manifold Greatness programs will begin well in advance of the traveling exhibition opening on January 19, with two film screenings this Thursday—and a family Bibles consultation and workshop next Thursday—at Hattiesburg Library; the traveling exhibition itself opens at William Carey University on the evening of January 19, with more free, public programs to follow, including talks, panel discussion programs, a book discussion of Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries (on the King James Bible translators), and a final film screening.
- Two other complete traveling exhibitions will also be on view by mid- to late January at the University of Minnesota (opening January 25), which is hosting a February 3 colloquium, its own exhibition “The Word Made Flesh,” and other public programs, and the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
And that’s not all! During 2012 and 2013, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition will be displayed at another 31 libraries around the United States, each of which—like all of the host institutions so far—plans multiple public programs. Many are exhibiting rare works from their own collections as well. Try our traveling exhibition schedule to follow the travels of the panel exhibition in the months and years ahead.