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Unique Bradstreet Manuscript Preserved

Bradstreet manuscript  

The first page of Anne Bradstreet's "Meditations Divine and Morall." MS Am 1007.1 The 17th-century manuscript was recently digitized as part of a cooperative project between Houghton Library and the Stevens Memorial Library.

 

July 5, 2011 – For students and scholars studying early American literature, Anne Bradstreet, is a hugely important figure, considered by many to be the first American poet, and the first woman to publish a book in America. Following the digitization of the only substantial surviving Bradstreet manuscript, scholars around the world will now have the opportunity to study her work in greater detail than ever before.

The manuscript, “Meditations Divine and Morall,” was penned by Bradstreet circa 1664, and is owned by the Stevens Memorial Library in North Andover, MA. The digitization was part of a cooperative project between the Stevens Library and Houghton Library, where the manuscript has been on deposit since 1972.

“It’s an incredibly important document, and certainly we’ve had a number of requests from researchers to study it over the years,” said Leslie Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library. “It is quite unusual for a literary manuscript of this period in America to survive, so it is clearly something that demands a high-quality, color facsimile, and that is something we have the ability to create here.”

“We’re thrilled that this manuscript has been digitized,” said Mary Rose Quinn, director of the Stevens Memorial Library. “The digitization has broadened our access and the access for scholars to this very important work, which in the past had been limited to poor-quality photocopies.”

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To mark the 400th anniversary of Bradstreet’s birth, the Stevens Library is planning an extensive slate of events, including an exhibition and symposium. As part of the exhibition, Quinn said, the library may place the manuscript on display.

“She is such an unusual person for her time,” Quinn said. “She was an educated woman; she was the daughter of a governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the wife of another governor. We are hoping to bring a number of community celebrations to commemorate her 400th anniversary, and the fact is that the manuscript has been out of the limelight due to its fragile nature. The digitization, however, allows us to celebrate it and provide access to a degree that we were never able to before.”

Prior to being digitized, the manuscript underwent conservation treatment at the Weissman Preservation Center to allow the pages to open more easily, Morris said. Other conservation work included repairs to page edges to ensure Bradstreet’s writing, which often goes right to the edge of the page, would remain intact during photography.

“Houghton Library has long served as a resource for smaller area institutions,” Morris said. “In the pre-digital age, we could make the physical manuscript available at Houghton under secure and environmentally stable conditions, and scholars had easy physical access to the material in our Reading Room. With digitization, Harvard doesn’t have to house or own an item, but we can help to make it available by providing easy access to high-quality digitization technology. This is a wonderful example where it was in the Stevens Library’s interest to have this manuscript digitized, and it was in our interest to make this unique research material more accessible to scholars worldwide, so everyone benefits.”