C-SPAN’s Charlottesville Visit Showcases Library’s Special Collections and Knowledgeable Staff

In March C-SPAN sent a crew to Charlottesville as part of the cable network’s 2017 Local Content Vehicle Tour to cover the history and literary life of American cities. In addition to a video chat with poet Rita Dove, and pieces on Monticello, Ash Lawn Highlands, and UVA’s Miller Center, the network featured the University of Virginia’s world-famous Special Collections Library. The videos originally telecast April 15–16 on C-SPAN2 (Book TV) and C-SPAN3 (American History TV) are now available for viewing on the C-SPAN website.

Special Collections curator Molly Schwartzburg speaks about the Faulkner Collection and how the Library’s current exhibition “Faulkner: Life and Works” examines “the various personae that were constructed either by Faulkner actively, or by the circumstances in which he found himself throughout his life.” Some off-beat items she mentions are Faulkner’s pictorial art, a screenplay fragment from his days writing for Hollywood, and a receipt for a slave that Faulkner’s grandfather sold—a way to dramatically introduce visitors to the legacy of slavery and the issue of race relations that were central to Faulkner’s fiction.

Archivist Edward Gaynor speaks about Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia Papers. From the nearly 4,000,000 items he selects several of Jefferson’s visionary drawings for the University of Virginia, beginning with a rough preliminary sketch from an 1817 letter showing an open-ended rectangle of “pavilions interspersed with dormitory rooms” around an open area of “grass and trees.” He also shows a “daybook” ledger kept by the University’s “proctor” that includes, among the raw materials needed for maintaining the University, the names of enslaved people and the payments to their masters for the work they performed.

Curator David Whitesell gives a tour of the Special Collections Library’s permanent exhibition of copies of the Declaration of Independence and related items donated by Albert Small. Whitesell shows both a copy of the first printing of the declaration owned by George Washington’s personal secretary Tobias Lear, and a facsimile struck in 1823 from the original document and presented to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited the U.S. Whitesell says it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the declaration began to be viewed with reverence—a development that was not lost on Jefferson who compensated his granddaughter for the loss of her furniture at sea by giving her the portable desk on which he wrote the declaration. A replica of the desk is also on display.

Book conservator Eliza Gilligan talks about the work of the Library’s Conservation Lab and gives some idea of the wide range of skills and research needed to preserve rare books and paper in the Special Collections library. A knowledge of art history, plus general and organic chemistry, is essential in knowing to how to apply wheat paste adhesive when reattaching the crumbling leather spine of a 15th century psalter, or in assessing the naturally corrosive properties of ink made from tree galls and iron filings, or how to use a poultice of fuller’s earth to draw out the residue from tape that had held together a 200 year old letter.

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