We hosted our second program in the Magna Carta lecture series, “Selecting and Conserving Primary Sources,” on Wednesday, August 20. William “Jake” Jacobs, chief of the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office, the division charged with managing exhibitions, moderated a panel of Library specialists who discussed the methods by which they prepare and select materials for Library exhibitions and educational outreach curricula.
Panelists included Nathan Dorn, rare book curator in the Law Library of Congress and fellow blogger; Holly Krueger, head of the Paper Conservation Section in the Preservation Directorate; and Stephen Wesson, an educational resource specialist in the Office of Strategic Initiatives.
The lecture series, cosponsored by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress, is being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition, “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.” The exhibition is set to open on November 6 and run through January 19, 2015. The intent of the lecture series is to provide further context on how Magna Carta fits into expansive historical and contemporary topics, such as legal representation and the status of women.
The program emphasized the unique resources of the Library of Congress, one of the largest repositories of primary sources in the world, to offer treasures to a large and varied audience through exhibitions and educational outreach efforts. The panelists relayed a first-hand look at some of the great skill and detailed professional methodologies in building exhibitions.
Nathan began by describing why the 1215 Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, which will arrive at the Library this November, should be celebrated. For instance, “The Lincoln Magna Carta is robust in its physical condition and its legibility.” What makes it exceptional is that it was addressed on the back by a script for Lincoln Cathedral and has remained in their custody ever since. Forty-one copies of Magna Carta were produced and sent to all the counties and port cities of England. After 800 years, only four copies from 1215 exist. Two are held at the British Library, one is held at Salisbury Cathedral and the other at Lincoln Cathedral.
Nathan addressed the factors that one considers in choosing themes and artifacts for an exhibition, noting that a balance has to be struck between the strengths of the collection and the requirements of good story telling. He walked the audience through the series of considerations that led him and exhibition directors Martha Hopkins and Cheryl Regan to focus on the interpretation of Magna Carta over time, and the history of select constitutional principles.
Holly Krueger described the role of conservators in developing exhibitions, including screening proposed exhibition items for stabilization and treatment and determining levels of lights appropriate for the artifacts to be displayed. At any given time, there are six to eight exhibitions underway containing 10-250 objects along with a very active loan program that shares exhibit items with other institutions, there is a potential for 1-2,000 Library objects to be on active display daily throughout the world.
Stephen Wesson discussed his office’s guidelines for selecting primary sources for inclusion in educational materials for grades K-8. He showed how primary sources can help students engage with complex subject matter and guide students in developing critical skills, allowing them to evaluate evidence and construct new knowledge.
The potential impact of primary sources on today’s students is directly relevant to the Magna Carta exhibition since “Muse and Mentor” could very well make the 800 year old Magna Carta, “real” for students and adults alike.
Update: Event video added below.