(The Library of Congress is not solely our collections. It’s also our people. Often our blog showcases the treasures. Now we’ll also showcase the minds. The following is a guest post by Jason Steinhauer, a program specialist in the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, to debut a new blog series, “Inquiring Minds.” We start with an introduction to the Kluge Center, an area of the Library that welcomes scholars from across the world to interact with our unique collections. )
Let’s say you want a new car. How do you decide what to buy?
Presumably, you start by doing some research. You check out the latest models available. You analyze your budget, and see what you can afford. You look in consumer magazines and websites: what are the best models selling? How much do they cost? What can I expect to spend on maintenance? You check the insurance rates where you live. You go for test drives. Soon, you have enough information to make a well-informed decision. The better informed you are, the better decision you make.
Every day we draw on information to make decisions in our lives. We become scholars, of a sort, mining the facts, analyzing and assessing the arguments, and asking how it applies to us. We take on the role of scholar to address issues that matter to us.
This notion, on a national level, is at the heart of the Library’s mission in serving Congress and the public. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “There is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” (See “Like a Phoenix From the Ashes”) To make good policy, Jefferson reasoned, policy makers need information. They need conversation and thoughtful consideration of the facts. They need time and space to think. They need to draw on the knowledge of the world, and apply it to addressing our most pressing concerns.
This was also the late John Kluge’s vision. In 2000, he envisioned a space within the Library where thinkers and doers could interact. He saw the richest record of human activity and creativity ever collected, and wanted distinguished scholars and promising rising ones the opportunity to think, research, and converse with it. The result is The John W. Kluge Center.
The Kluge Center really starts with the Library’s collections, the depths of which are breathtaking. Any time you think you’ve scraped the bottom, you discover there are miles below the surface you haven’t touched. It’s not just the original printing of the Declaration of Independence or General Patton’s papers—which we have. You want a history of arguments on monogamy v. polygamy going back to the Crusades? It’s here. You want to see how the Spanish brought horses to the New World? We have a book that shows you. The extraordinary collections add to our understanding of our country’s deepest questions.
The Kluge Center provides space to scholars to mine those collections, and ruminate on their meaning. Each year, they come to tackle questions of relevance. Take our newest Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. From a career in the ministry, he witnessed first-hand an explosion of Christian denominations in the Global South, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. More than 42,000 Christian denominations now exist. One of out every four Christians now lives in Africa. The typical Christian in the world today is a woman in Kenya. How will this impact the future of the religion?
To finish his inquiry into the impact of this new demography, he’s come to the Library of Congress. Our databases allow him to research patterns of immigration from the Global South to the Global North. Our space offers a serene environment to write and reflect. In his six weeks he will finish his book. Then he will take his research to the field to apply it.
Join the conversation. Attend one of our public events and hear from our scholars. Leave a comment below. Join us in making the The John W. Kluge Center realize its benefactor’s vision.