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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Undergraduate Book Collecting Winners Recognized

undergrad book collecting  

The winners of the 2010 Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting met recently with jury members and Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy Cline. From left, first place winner Charles Santiago Palau Hernandez, Class of 2011; James Capobianco, Reference Librarian, Houghton Library; Nancy Cline; Martin Schreiner, Head of Maps, Media, Data, and Government Information; second place winner Zoey Orol, Class of 2010.


May 12, 2010 – When he set out on a journey to understand his family’s history, Charles Santiago Palau Hernandez didn’t know he’d wind up crossing two continents and three countries. Using a family history written by his grandfather as a roadmap, Hernandez travelled to every city or town his family had lived in over the last three centuries, and at every stop, he visited bookstores and libraries, searching for books which might illuminate the historical forces that brought his family from a tiny village in 17th-century Spain to colonial Mexico to modern-day Los Angeles.

In addition to helping Hernandez understand the economic, social and cultural forces that drove his family’s migration, his collection, “Remembering the Pathways of Immigrant Identity: From Catalunya, to Mexico, to Los Angeles,” was also recently awarded first prize in the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting. Zoey Orol, ’10, received second prize for her collection, “Transatlantic Novels of the Long 19th Century.”

“As I look back at this history, I realized it’s not limited to what happened 300 years ago, it’s not limited to what happened 200 or 100 years ago, it’s still going on,” Hernandez said. “People may take for granted that they live in a certain area, or a certain city, but when you examine the history, you realize there are many factors that push people toward the small corners of the world they end up in. It was interesting to see that it was not just chance, there were a lot of different factors that were influential in the process.”

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In all, Hernandez said, his collection eventually grew to more than 200 books on subjects ranging from history to literature to socio-cultural topics to studies of art and architecture, 50 of which he submitted to the competition. He decided to enter the competition partly to encourage others to strive to understand the forces that have shaped their personal history.

“It was tremendously interesting for me to learn about this part of my history, and I want to share that with people,” Hernandez said. “I want to share it with my family and my future relatives who haven’t been born yet, but it’s also a pleasure to see people realize that if this one story is what led my ancestors to the areas they settled in, how many other stories are out there?”

Like Hernandez, second-prize winner Zoey Orol was inspired to begin her collection by a family member – her father, who read 19th century novels to her virtually every night until she entered high school.

“He is part of the reason why I love these novels,” she said. “But I also started reading them on my own very early. My experience with these novels begins with The Turn of the Screw which I first read when I was about eight. In my freshman year, I read it again and realized how much I’d missed the first time. Last fall, I read it a third time, for a graduate English seminar, which showed me again how much I’d missed as a freshman.”

Though most of the novels included in her collection fall within in the 19th century, Orol’s collection is named for the “long” 19th century – a term borrowed from historian Eric Hobsbawm and referring to the period from 1798 to 1914 – to address the shared British and American publishing culture of the era.

“The collection includes both British and American novels, but the idea is that there existed at the time a transatlantic literary style and publishing culture, which can be seen in magazines like Blackwood’s and Harper’s, which were being published on both sides of the Atlantic,” Orol said. “I think it’s hard to divorce these novels from their historical content. Part of their value is that they speak to an ascendant urban middle class and address middle class themes, but I also think they’re timeless in their relevance. While these novels are distinctly rooted in their historical moments, I think they still speak to a generation of readers today. These books, and the Anglo-American tradition is part of all our inheritance, and that’s what motivated me to collect them.”

Established in 1977, the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting is awarded annually 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. The first prize winner receives a cash award of $1,500, while the second prize winner receives $1,000.

Students competing for the book collecting prize submit an annotated bibliography and an essay on their collecting efforts, the influence of mentors, the experience of searching for, organizing and caring for items and the future direction of the collection. Eleven students declared their intention to enter the competition and three submitted their work for consideration. The jury consisted of Martin Schreiner, Head of HCL Services for Maps, Media, Data and Government Information; Daryl Boone, Librarian for the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Asia in Widener Library Collection Development; and James Capobianco, Reference Librarian in Houghton Library.

An exhibition featuring items from the winners' collections will be on display on the second and third floors of Lamont Library, from June 1, 2010 through May 30, 2011.