Back in 2009, when we first started working on Manifold Greatness, we identified a number of themes we wanted the exhibition to touch on, and one of those was the nature of translation. In our grant proposal, we talk about how translation is a true literary act, one that requires choices in tone, style, vocabulary, and emphasis, and how translation is a process of culture adapting, changing, and potentially growing. On our main website, we note that the translation of the KJB was, above all, a collaboration.
The Manifold Greatness traveling panel show is now on the way to its final location, the Conyers-Rockdale Library System in Conyers, Georgia, where it will appear, with much related programming, from May 29 to July 12. And as this touring phase comes to a close, I’ve been looking back at our own process, and thinking about the way in which exhibitions themselves are a process of translation. Of course we collaborate—anyone who has worked on an exhibition can tell you that it is one of the most collaborative undertakings they have experienced. But because we tend to think of translation as a text moving from one language into another, it’s not immediately obvious that the work we do in exhibition is also a process of translation. And yet, on many levels, I think it is.
We begin with an idea, and shape it into a narrative: here is our story; here is what can be said about the history of the King James Bible. But as scholars, our curators have a certain language, a way of packaging their knowledge. This does not always (ahem) translate well to an audience which may be made up of everyone from schoolchildren and educators to tourists or subject specialists. We need a way of speaking, and of writing, that provides information accurately and succinctly, and in accessible nuggets for a broad range of audiences.
For Manifold Greatness, we did this twice: once for the artifact-based exhibition in Washington, DC, and again for the panel exhibition that traveled the country. For these, we needed two different “languages.” The Washington, DC, show was in the language of artifacts, showing the here and now, and revealing KJB stories through what could be seen on the open pages before a visitor. The traveling show retracted the lens a little further, and gave weight to story over object. We covered the same material, but we translated the content in slightly different ways in order to best serve the format of the shows.
I like to think that the KJB translators would have appreciated our process. Our translation process was, like theirs, concerned first and foremost with accuracy. Every word needed to be true; each idea needed to be formed and informative. We were not reading Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—but remember, of course, that the King James Bible was not the first English Bible, and the translators drew liberally from the English translations that came before. Although they produced a masterpiece of English literature, their concern was not for lyricism or rhetorical power; they aimed for accuracy as they translated both from ancient languages and from previous English versions.
Have a look at the website to compare translations, and see for yourself how the KJB translators ended up creating a new version at once lyrical and accurate. One of my favorites is the passage from Ecclesiastes (1:2), in which the translators don’t really change the meaning or emphasis from the previous English translation, but they manage to create a verse that is poetic, song-like, and memorable—and also just that much more true to the original Hebrew:
Great Bible (1539)
All is but vanity (saith the Preacher) all is but plain vanity.
King James Bible (1611)
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Would that our exhibit text was as memorable as that! Perhaps it is indeed vanity to compare our process to that of the King James Bible translators. But as we near the end of this commemorative exhibition, I’m very pleased to have been part of such a process, to understand it, and to see the many thousands of people we have reached through the work that we did to turn ideas into language, and to use language to deliver the right information.
Caryn Lazzuri is the Exhibitions Manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Looking for a new way to explore the King James Bible and its history and influence? As Manifold Greatness opens at a trio of new locations, all three continue the traveling exhibit’s growing tradition of impressive—and highly varied—programming (scroll down for a look at some standout events at our most recent host sites, as well):
Today, April 17, marks the opening of Manifold Greatness at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, including a convocation by Professor Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Tomorrow, April 18, Centre presents a talk by Amos Tubb, associate professor of history, on “The History of Publishing in England and the King James Translation,” with several more lectures in the weeks ahead.
Or, you could visit the Renaissance. This Saturday, April 20, the Tifton Museum and the Tifton-Tift Public Library in Tifton, Georgia, welcome Manifold Greatness with a “Renaissance Faire in Library Lane,” including period crafts and foods, weapons and armor displays, and a look at Manifold Greatness! Upcoming Tifton events (same link) include a multimedia presentation by Dr. Brian Ray, a family quarto-making event, a talk by Reverend Earl Steffens on “the translator’s dilemma,” and a family Bible workshop featuring some of the jewels of Emory University’s Bible collection.
On Monday, April 22, Manifold Greatness opens in Bel Air, Maryland, at the Hays-Heighe House on the Harford Community College campus. An event-filled opening includes a talk by religion and philosophy professor Gary Owens on “Catholicism, Protestantism, Blood, Guts, Ink, and the King James Bible” and theatrical readings from Shakespeare and the Bible. Hays-Heighe House has extended its regular hours throughout the Manifold Greatness run and more talks, readings, and a salon are planned.
But for just a moment before we embark with enthusiasm on these new events, we’d like to bid farewell to the most recent Manifold Greatness host libraries, too, whose doings you’ve been reading about on this blog thanks to their writing and photography:
- Cameron Village Regional Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, mounted a Scottish-themed opening, followed in subsequent days by a family Bibles workshop, a talk on the Bible in Art, and a closing lecture on Bible translation.
- Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, kicked off the exhibit with a presentation a “best-seller like no other,” then followed up with talks on Shakespeare, Blake, and the Bible, and on American literature and the King James Bible. They concluded with a delicious-sounding Last Feast exploring foods of biblical times and the King James Bible era.
- Tuscaloosa Public Library began Manifold Greatness with a family-friendly opening event that included pen and ink crafts and a talk on early Bible translator William Tyndale. The library offered its own curated displays on books and printing and held public events that included a letterpress printing lecture and demonstration and more.
After a successful month of hosting specialized events, scholarly presentations, and tours, the Tuscaloosa Public Library said farewell to the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit on Friday, April 5. Bringing in over 2,500 visitors, Manifold Greatness proved to be a successful addition to the library and gave patrons a new perspective on how books influence the past, present, and future.
We wrote an earlier blog post about our Opening Reception, which included a talk on the early English Bible translator William Tyndale. Our second scholarly program, pictured here, was entitled “Books: The History and Art of Letterpress Printing.” Samford University Associate Professor Scott Fisk used the history of book arts to frame a discussion of how society often forgets the importance of books and their impact on us. Attendees discussed developments in printing and were given the opportunity to witness firsthand the process of letterpress printmaking with a miniaturized printing press made for traveling salesmen in the late 1800s. Other materials such as broadsides, antique books, and wood type were available to demonstrate the form and function of early book making.
A family-friendly craft program, using a craft organized for our Opening Reception, rounded out the month of Manifold Greatness programming. Kids and their parents were given the chance to create blackberry ink and feather quills. They were then given the chance to use their ink and quills to practice some calligraphy and create name plates for an ongoing bestiary project.
Through the Manifold Greatness exhibit and the five corresponding displays curated by library staff, the Tuscaloosa Public Library was able to present a cohesive timeline beginning with the development of writing, the invention of paper, the migration from scrolls to codices to present day books, and how these inventions have influenced the world, made the creation of the King James Version possible, and had a major impact on authors, artists, and musicians.
Susana Goldman is Reference Librarian at the Tuscaloosa Public Library in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
On March 8, the City of Tuscaloosa welcomed the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit to the Tuscaloosa Public Library, a highly anticipated event in a region that lies in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Five displays, which were curated by the library, are scattered throughout the building to enhance the Manifold Greatness experience. These displays offer visitors the chance to experience physical representations of the topics discussed within the Manifold Greatness exhibit, such as the history of books, papermaking, bookmaking, the literary influence of the King James Bible, and what the Bible has become today.
Our family-friendly opening reception was held Sunday, March 10. Attendees were given the chance to peruse the exhibit while enjoying the classical music of Handel’s Messiah and partaking of light refreshments. The keynote speaker, Dr. L. Jeffrey Weddle, Associate Professor at the University of Alabama, introduced the history of the first English Bibles through William Tyndale’s version during his presentation, entitled “William Tyndale: How His Bible Translation Changed the Reformation and Led to the King James Version.”
As an added bonus, the Children’s Department gave patrons a guided tour through the history of bookmaking, starting with a discussion of early bookmaking and the various materials that have been used to make books, followed by a feather quill making activity. After reading the story The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen, participants saw a demonstration of making blackberry ink and were able to use their new quills to sign their names.
From there, they were offered the opportunity to hear from Christopher Davenport and Laura Rowley, students from the University of Alabama Book Arts Department, with lessons and hands-on activities on letterpress printing, bookmaking, and papermaking.
In the coming weeks, the library is looking forward to the many special groups scheduled to attend the exhibit and will be hosting two additional programs geared towards engaging our community in the history and influence that the creation of the King James Version had on the world.
Susana Goldman is Reference Librarian at the Tuscaloosa Public Library in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Care to explore a wide variety of King James Bible-related lectures, interviews with experts, and other events and entertainments at the Manifold Greatness exhibit sites? What better place to go than our video playlist, “MG on Tour: Experts, Events, Exhibits, and Fun,” on the Manifold Greatness YouTube channel?
From the playlist: an interview, local Bibles, and Manifold Greatness at Arizona State, 11/2011
Using the MG on Tour playlist, you can browse through and view a wide variety of videos from many of the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit locations. Ranging from under a minute to an hour and a half, the videos include a fascinating variety of illustrated lectures, one-on-one interviews with experts, video tours of local exhibits and rare Bibles (like the one shown here), and much more.
The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit first went on tour in September 2011. Since then, the exhibit has appeared at 33 locations around the United States, and is still going strong! The exhibit is opening this week at three new locations: Murrell Library at Missouri Valley College, Tuscaloosa Public Library in Alabama, and Cameron Village Regional Library in North Carolina. For even more Manifold Greatness videos, go to our Manifold Greatness Channel on YouTube.