The Cultural Heritage Library (CHL) has been through a few incarnations over the last 3 years but the content remains the same. It is a digital collection that includes materials from the History, Art, and Culture libraries within the Smithsonian. The collection has been developed using branch librarian’s selections as well as items that have been identified as being relatively scarce according to OCLC holdings. Subject headings are part of the descriptive metadata for each title and are available to browse from the Internet Archive website, providing an at-a-glance overview of the collection. Continue reading
In honor of National Volunteer Week, please enjoy this illuminating post by National Museum of African Art branch library volunteer, Judy Schaefer. Judy is one of many hard working volunteers at the Smithsonian Libraries and we appreciate each and every one!
In 1902, Commander Eugène Lenfant traveled from Paris to Lake Chad in a mere 75 days. He was looking for a cheap, fast, and humane way to supply the French Sudan—”Afrique française” on the map—and he found one by ascending the Niger, Benue, Kebi, and Chari rivers all the way to the lake. Continue reading
A while ago, before the internet, I became interested in studying Saharan rock art, one of the most beautiful and extensive bodies of prehistoric art, but documentary references were hard to find. This is partly because most of the published literature on Saharan rock art is in French, Italian and German.
Dabous Giraffes, Ténéré Desert, Niger
One day at the Library of Congress, someone told me to check the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, which I did not know existed. I headed to the National Museum of African Art, and to my delight, found much of what I needed there. Indeed, the Warren M. Robbins Library has an important collection of literature on Saharan rock art and archaeology, including the works of leading researchers such as Leo Frobenius, Henri Lhote, Gabriel Camps, Fabrizio Mori, Alfred Muzzolini, Jean-Loïc Le Quellec, and Malika Hachid.
Giraffes Messak, Libya, in D.Cambel and A. Coulson (Fig. 216)
One of the best books on Saharan rock art is Muzzolini’s Les images rupestres du Sahara (Toulouse, France: Alfred Muzzolini, 1995). Incorporating years of extensive field research and studies, and abundantly illustrated, Muzzolini’s book integrates rigorous scientific methods and lays the ground for a sound understanding of Saharan rock art. Similarly thorough in its investigative approach but providing a different interpretation of rock art is Mori’s The great civilizations of the ancient Sahara: neolithization and the earliest evidence of anthropomorphic religions (Roma: L’Erma di Bretschnider, 1998). Also comprehensive in their anthropological treatment of Saharan rock art are Hachid’s Le tassili des Ajjer (Paris: Éditions Paris-Méditerranée; Alger: Edif, 2000); and Le Quellec’s books, Symbolism et art rupestre au Sahara (Paris: Harmattan, 1993); and Art rupestre et préhistoire du Sahara (Paris: Editions Payot & Rivages, 1998).
In addition to these seminal works, the Library has numerous new publications on various site-specific areas of Saharan rock art. Copiously illustrated with colorful pictures that accompany thematic discussions and comments, they bring Saharan rock art alive. Such, for example, are Axel and Anne-Michelle Van Albada, La montagne des homme-chiens: art rupestre du Messak Libyan (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2000); Rüdiger and Gabriele Lutz, The secret of the desert: the rock art of Messak Settafet and Messak Mellet, Libya (Innsbruck: Univeritstbuchhanlung Golf Verlag, 1995); Angelo e Alfredo Castiglioni, e Giancarlo Negro, Fiumi di pietra: Archivio della preistoria sahariana (Tonali, Italy: Edition Lativa, 1986); and Yves and Christine Gauthier, L’art du Sahara: archives des sables (Paris: Seuil, 1996).
The Library also receives excellent reviews, journals and newsletters on rock art and archaeology, including, for example, Sahara: prehistory and history of the Sahara; Journal of African archaeology, African archaeological review; and Trust for African Rock Art newsletter. Of these, the multilingual Sahara is the best in terms of current research, content, and scientific rigor.
David Coulson and Alec Campbell
Rock art across the continent is equally represented, especially the well documented Southern Africa region, but also less well-known regions, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Library holdings count valuable continent-wide surveys and studies of African rock art, including David Coulson and Alec Campbell, African rock art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001); and Le Quellec, Rock art in Africa: mythology and legend (Paris: Flammarion, 2004).
Bubalus, Sfaisifa, Algeria. ©Ahmed Achrati
To check library resources on African rock art, go to www.siris.si.edu Search terms: Rock art; Rock engravings; Rock paintings; or Petroglyphs.
—Ahmed Achrati, Volunteer Researcher, Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art
The Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) has a “hidden collection” of artists’ books that is underused by researchers and the public. Artists’ books are diverse in form and concept, making them difficult to define. Some are handmade, published as unique works or in limited editions. Others are inexpensive and mass-produced, available for nearly everyone to purchase and consume. Despite these differences, scholars generally agree that an artist’s book is a book or book-like object that reflects an artist’s creative vision and is intended as a work of art. Our assignment this summer was to investigate the SIL’s artist’s book collection, consider it in the context of other local collections, and develop a proposal to increase access to this relatively unknown resource.
Stephanie and Chloe with National Museum of African Art librarian Janet Stanley, photograph by Sam Schubert.
Our internship is part of a collaborative effort among three SIL branch libraries to bring their artists’ books holdings to light. We spent significant time examining the collections of artists’ books at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library, the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library, and the Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art. We also conducted research on artists’ books as a genre, focusing specifically on the challenges they present to art libraries. We first consulted librarians Anna Brooke, Doug Litts, and Janet Stanley about their collections, and then we met with rare books cataloger Diane Shaw and metadata librarian Doug Dunlop to explore ways to improve access via the library’s catalog, an artist’s book blog, or a database of digital images.
A major component of our internship was a series of research visits to other local libraries and artists’ books collections. These visits greatly informed our overall understanding of artists’ books, refined our definition of the genre, and improved our ability to analyze the books in the Smithsonian’s collection. They also gave us the opportunity to meet professionals knowledgeable about the creation, distribution, curation, and exhibition of artists’ books, including librarians, curators, book artists, and booksellers.
At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, we met Krystyna Wasserman, the curator of book arts. She oversees a rotating display of artists’ books in the library’s reading room and curates the museum’sBook as Art exhibition series. During a visit to the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room at the Library of Congress, Mark Dimunation showed us a small percentage of the nation’s impressive artist’s book collection. He expressed a desire to increase the collection’s visibility and use, a concern that other librarians echoed. We also met with Lamia Doumato, head of reader services at the National Gallery of Art library, who showed us a selection of artists’ books that are now on exhibit in the museum.
Chloe and Stephanie study artists’ books at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, photograph by Anna Brooke
Another enlightening visit was our trip to the Corcoran College of Art + Design, where librarian Mario Ascencio collects artists’ books that refer to the theme “social consciousness.” He also acquires books that are excellent teaching resources for the college’s book arts program. We learned how private booksellers market and sell artists’ books during our visit to Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc. Joshua and Phyllis Heller, the owners, taught us the importance of networking with artists and impressed upon us the very personal nature of the bookselling business.
Toward the end of our internship, we toured Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, an art community that specializes in papermaking, printmaking, and artists’ books. Their artistic director, Gretchen Schermerhorn, showed us how to make paper and how to create letterpress prints using movable type. These research visits brought us full circle, allowing us to explore everything from the creation of the artist’s book to its exhibition.
Detail of the artists’ books display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library,
photograph by Stephanie Fletcher
Our research culminated in a report that included a survey of the artists’ books holdings at the Smithsonian, recommendations for improving access to the collection, a proposal of themes for a future exhibition, and an extensive bibliography. We also created a small exhibit of artists’ books at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library, which will be on display for the next year. Our internship was a headlong foray into the world of artists’ books. We emerged deeply informed and excited to reveal this “hidden collection.”
—Stephanie Fletcher and Chloe Barnett
Stephanie Fletcher and Chloe Barnett are Smithsonian Institution Library interns. Stephanie holds an MA in art history from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is an MLIS student at Dominican University. Chloe received an MA in art history and an MSIS from the University of Texas, Austin and recently accepted a job as arts and humanities librarian at Bucknell University.
On my little knowledge I sit,
To gauge the depth of my ignorance.
Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, 18th century Fulbe scholar
Fourteenth-century Arab travelers provided the earliest written accounts of the nomadic Fulbe (Fulani) of West Africa. European explorers, conquerors and administrators added partially accurate descriptions in books and periodicals from the 17th through the 19th centuries.
Fast-forward to the 20th century. A scholar of Fulbe studies, Christiane Seydou, published Bibliographie générale du monde peul (Niamey, Niger: Institut des recherches en sciences humaines, 1972) listing more than 2,000 titles.
That was before the Internet.
Today, online resources offer access to a wide range of bibliographical data, but web queries—based on such keywords as Fulbe, Fulani, Peul—yield incomplete results, mostly flat-files. But none match the scope of the Seydou’s publication.
Interconnected web databases are emerging as powerful and sophisticated research assets, which support the creation of user-friendly solutions for locating and linking bibliographic references and catalogs. Such tools bode well for research, publishing, and information sharing on the Fulbe, in particular, and African studies, in general.
Building on decades of research (see the digital library on webPulaaku), the purpose of this ongoing Fulbe research at the Warren M. Robbins Library at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is twofold:
- Inventory Libraries' resources on Fulbe and identify the gaps.
- Systematic collection development to enhance Libraries collections.
We are mindful of the challenges involved in any comprehensive project and welcome comments and collaborators.—Tierno S. Bah, Visiting Scholar, National Museum of African Art and Janet Stanley, Librarian, Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art