Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting Winners Announced
May 14, 2008 – In March, when Harvard student Gregory Scruggs '08 was on spring break in New Orleans, he discovered a general used bookstore called La Librairie d'Arcadie that had a great selection of books by Louisiana writers. Even better for Scruggs, it had a special section of French-language books by Louisiana authors—Cajun literature, black Creole literature, general books about the state and New Orleans—a boon for the literature concentrator always on the lookout for francophone books. His venture is paying off: Scruggs has been awarded first prize in this year's Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting for his entry The Francophone Collection, while second prize went to Trisha Pasricha '11 for Finding P.G. Wodehouse: Catalytic Legacies of My Grandfather's India and third prize to Ming Emily Vandenberg '08 for Representative Works in Science and the History of Science.
Scruggs only started his collection within the past two to three years, he says, attributing its origins to his Harvard classes and from studying abroad in France. He has acquired most of his 37-item collection from bookstores, and his favorite item is his copy of La Statue de Sel by Albert Memmi, a Tunisian-born French writer.
Scrugg's plans for his budding collection include a trip back to New Orleans after he graduates in June to that same used bookstore for its excellent selection and its hospitality. He relates how when he brought his purchase to the register in March, the cashier asker him, "Vous êtes francophone?" (You're a francophone/you speak French?). When Sruggs said, "Oui," the cashier smiled. "Pas de taxes pour les francophones," he said. (No sales tax for French speakers).
Second-place winner Pasricha, a VES concentrator, inherited the start of her P.G. Wodehouse collection from her Indian grandfather. Decades earlier, her grandfather had tried to join the military but found that the government would not take him because, although fluent in several languages, he didn't speak English. So he decided to learn the language on his own using books, including a selection by Wodehouse.
"My father introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse after my grandfather died," says Pasricha, which turned out to be a bonding experience for her and her father. It also made her realize why her grandfather's English could be a little "quirky," she says, something that she can now see goes back to his reliance on Wodehouse for language lessons.
Her collection consists of Wodehouse books printed in India and England, many from the 1960s and 1970s. She has good luck finding this particular author at antique bookstores.
"I think I've read every book he's ever written," she says, although there are still a few rare ones she plans to hunt down for her collection.
Finally, third-place winner Vandenberg traces her collection's roots back to a trip to England. "I participated in a summer program at Oxford to learn about Charles Darwin and to physically retrace his footsteps through England," she says. "We trekked across the hills of Wales because Darwin did."
Her program professor was an avid book collector, and she was inspired her to pick up the habit, beginning her collection with a biography of Darwin by Janet Browne, Aramont Professor in the History of Science at Harvard. "After that," explains Vandenberg, "it sort of snowballed."
Her collection focuses on signed first editions in the life sciences and the history of science. Among her favorites are a signed copy of James Watson's DNA and an autographed copy of Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson's Consilience. In fact, many of the items in her collection are signed first editions by Harvard faculty—Vandenberg keeps an eye out for lectures and attends with a copy of the book in hand. "I really care about meeting the authors," she says.
She also owns a 1912 antiquarian 15-book limited edition of Charles Darwin's works of which only a thousand copies were printed.
Not surprisingly, Vandenberg graduates this June with a degree in biological anthropology and she is about to undertake a one year master's program in the history of science.
Students competing for the book collection prize were asked to submit an annotated bibliography and an essay that spoke to issues such as early collecting efforts, influence of mentors, the experience of searching for items, organization and care of items, and future direction of the collection. Fourteen students declared their intention to enter the competition and five submitted their work for consideration. The jury consisted of Heather Cole, Librarian of Lamont Library, Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research and Instruction, and Alison Scott, Charles Warren Bibliographer for American Literature.
The Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting was established in the spring of 1977 to recognize and encourage book collecting by undergraduates at Harvard. It is sponsored by the Members of the Board of Overseer's Committee to Visit the Harvard University Library. Cole, who has coordinated the competition since its inception, annually selects a jury with noted bibliographic expertise from among Harvard College Library staff.
An exhibition featuring items from the winners' collections will be on display in Lamont Library on the second and third floors beginning in early June and running through May 2009.