Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

A Curator Looks at 400

Steven Galbraith. Photo by Ryan Jenq.

Thinking about the one-year anniversary of Manifold Greatness takes me back to August 2009 and a balcony overlooking the ocean at Bethany Beach, DE. Miles from the Folger, my mind was more in Margaritaville than Jacobean England, but I owed Hannibal Hamlin a phone call regarding the King James Bible. A few days earlier we had met with my Folger colleagues regarding plans for the KJV’s 400th anniversary. We agreed to co-curate a Folger exhibition in 2011, but as ideas flew around the room, the scope of the exhibition grew and grew. There was talk of partnerships, grants, websites, and traveling exhibitions.

In some ways this is the most exciting moment in the life of an exhibition: the moment when you think as creatively as you can, without yet worrying about what might not be possible. The KJV anniversary was clearly going to be a bigger project than we had first imagined. I think that I can speak for both Hannibal and myself in admitting that although it was exciting, it was also pretty overwhelming. We agreed to talk everything through in a few days. I left the library for the beach.

Fast forward to this past fall. Like Hannibal, who recently shared his reflections on the one-year anniversary of the exhibition, I was inspired by our meeting last fall with representatives from the exhibition’s host sites. As I stood before this amazing group of people and heard their plans for their exhibitions, it really dawned on me that the exhibition on which we all had been working was really about to launch. With the Folger Shakespeare Library, the NEH, and all of these dynamic librarians, curators, and educators putting their efforts behind the exhibition, I knew things could only go well.

A year in and I am thrilled by the reach of Manifold Greatness. So far the exhibition has traveled to eighteen sites (counting the larger exhibitions at the Folger, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin).  The Folger exhibition broke previous attendance records and the turnout at the exhibition sites has been very impressive. We are so thankful for all the support. The blog itself has been visited 30,948 times. Thank you for reading!

I couldn’t have seen any of this three years ago from my perch looking out over the ocean. When I did phone Hannibal we talked at length about how fun it was going to be to work together and agreed that we wouldn’t let things get too overwhelming. We were right on one count!  But from my vantage point the future looked pretty promising.

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.

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