My favorite sub-tour: The Hall of the Book

My favorite subsection of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress is this vestibule between the Great Hall and the Main Reading Room, known as the Hall of the Book, named for the series of six John White Alexander murals it contains, called the Evolution of the Book.

The first mural, shown below, depicts pre-historic man stacking stones as a landmark or a memorial. Also called cairns, it was a way of conveying information that predated any comprehendible spoken language or oral tradition.

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The first monument dedicated to George Washington (below, far left) was a somewhat sophisticated stack of stones, but definitely showing the impulse of non-literate prehistoric man to stack stones as a landmark and a memorial. It stands at Washington Memorial State Park in western Maryland. Next to it (center, below) stands the Washington Monument in Baltimore, a much more sophisticated stack of stones with the same intent, and next to it (below, right), the national Washington Monument on the Mall in this city named for Washington, Washington, DC.

The next stage in the Evolution of the Book was the emergence of the oral tradition, spoken language as a means of transferring knowledge and information. The second stage is depicted below in Alexander’s second mural:

Oral Tradition

The Oral Tradition stage was dominated memorization of spoken traditions, usually by a tribe leader or griot. The oral tradition makes its way into religion and philosophy as a pre-literate way to transfer information.

Below left is the Olin Warner first bronze door panel outside the Jefferson Building at the entrance, Oral Tradition, depicting a woman in the center with a small child leaning against her knee, speaking to an American Indian, a Norseman, a prehistoric man, and a shepherd, all representative of groups without a written language. It is also a variant of the Sacred Conversation in European classical art. In the center is the famous School of Athens, depicting learning. Below right is a group of African women sharing stories. Again, the oral tradition at work.

There were inherent flaws and critical limitations in the oral tradition when it came to storage and transmission of knowledge. There was a limit to the quantity of information that could be stored in a human brain via rote memory. Moreover, memories of things may morph and change over time. Finally, human beings die, and their stored memories die with them.

The solution which evolved over time was the development of writing and written records.

Egyptian Hieroglyphics

While the first written records were likely maintained on clay tablets in what is present-day Iraq (Sumeria), the series of murals depicts Egyptian hieroglyphics as the birth of written records. I want to call the inclusion of the couple in this mural an example of Renaissance Humanism, showing a human family unit performing a human task of inscription, but my wife says the wife/girlfriend is there for quality control, to make sure the husband gets it right.

Picture Writing

While the development of writing and written records was a quantum leap beyond the limitations of the oral tradition, still the records existed on the walls of temples and tombs, requiring a lengthy trip to actually see them. The development of picture writing on animal skins depicted above represented a major evolutionary development: animal skins could be rolled up and transported to distant locations. Moreover, records and writing so preserved could be easily replicated to other animal skins and distributed. Eventually, animal skins evolved into vellum, an animal skin product with the texture of paper.

The Manuscript Book

Stories I tell on my tour

My Saturday morning tour is a series of stories I tell:

Why is the Commemorative Arch special? How does it divide time and space into two dimensions?

Why is the same Latin term the root for Fascism and Government?

What made the American Renaissance different?

Why was the Gutenberg press shape-shifting?

What is the Library’s subliminal message to members of Congress?

Why did the British burn Washington?

What is so cool about the original Jefferson collection?

Why does Islam fit between the Greeks/Romans and the development of modern languages? Why does Western Civilization start with the Egyptians?

Why is Minerva really Athena? What’s up with that owl?

Why is Michelangelo different from all the rest?

Why is that olive tree shaped like a vine?

It’s a lot for 45 minutes, but it all gets covered.

12212016 – post graduation reading list

The 1812 Catalogue of the Library of Congress: A Facsimile (1982) 
 Introduction by Robert A. Rutland; indexes by Lynda Corey Claassen
Description: 141 p. A reprint of the Library catalogue prepared for Congress in 1812, with a preface by Daniel J. Boorstin.
Links: LC catalog entry | Full text through HathiTrust

Bicentennial Background: Turning Points in the Library’s History (March 2000)
John Y. Cole
Description: Article from LCIB issue 59.3 (p. 52-53) outlining 15 events in the Library’s history between 1814 and 1994 that shaped the institution’s development.
Links: Full article

For Congress and the Nation: A Chronological History of the Library of Congress (1978) 
John Y. Cole
Description: 196 p. An illustrated legislative documentation of the origins, growth, and development of the Library of Congress to 1975. Reprinted in 1979.
Links: LC catalog entry | Full text through LC website | Full text through HathiTrust

Full Circle: Ninety Years of Service in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress (1991)
Josephus Nelson, Judith Farley
Description: 64 p. A history of the Jefferson Building’s historic Main Reading Room, written by two reference specialists in the General Reading Rooms Division.
Links: LC catalog entry | Full text through HathiTrust

Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress (1993)
John Y. Cole
Description: 103 p. A basic, illustrated history of the Library of Congress, with information about its collections and buildings. Reprinted in 1998. Companion volume to “On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress.”
LC catalog entry | Full text through LC website | Full text through HathiTrust | News release (April 30, 1993) | News release (November 16, 1998) | LCIB coverage (issue 52.12)

Smithmeyer & Pelz: Embattled Architects of the Library of Congress (1972)
John Y. Cole
Description: Article published in the “Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress” issue 29.4 (p. 282-287) exploring the story of John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz, the architectural team who won the design competition for the new Library of Congress building in 1873 and again in 1886, but lost their jobs before the building was completed—Smithmeyer in 1888 and Pelz in 1892.
Links: Full article

A Legacy of Librarians (November/December 2015)
John Y. Cole
Description: Article from Library of Congress Magazine Vol. 4 No. 6 (p. 14-17 ) with a historical overview of the thirteen Librarians of Congress who have served the Library from 1802-2015.
Links: Full article (pdf download)

The Library of Congress: A Documentary History (1987)
Author: Edited by John Y. Cole
Description: A collection of 499 microfiche accompanied by a printed guide, published by University Publications of America.
Links: LC catalog entry | Full text of guide through LexisNexis database

The Library of Congress and the Presidential Parade, 1800-1984 (October 1984)
John Y. Cole
Description: Article from LCIB issue 43.42 (p. 343-348) reflecting upon the history of the presidential appointment of the Librarian of Congress.
Links: Full article

The Main Building of the Library of Congress: A Chronology, 1871-1965 (1972)
John Y. Cole
Description: Article published in the “Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress” issue 29.4 (p. 267-270) featuring a year-by-year account of the building’s history from the year in which it was first suggested to Congress by Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford until 1965, when Congress authorized the construction of a third major Library structure, the James Madison Memorial Building.
Links: Full article

Of Copyright, Men, and a National Library (1971)
John Y. Cole
Description: Article published in the “Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress” issue 28.2 (p. 114-136) describing the historical development and significance of the centralization of U.S. copyright deposit at the Library of Congress in 1870 and the personalities involved.
Links: Full article

On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress (1995)
John Y. Cole
Description: 106 p. A visitors’ guide to the inscriptions and quotations in all three Library buildings, as well as information about each building’s history, major paintings, and works of sculpture. Companion volume to “Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress.” (1993)
Links: LC catalog entry | Full text through LC website | Full text through HathiTrust | News release (April 25, 1995) | LCIB coverage (issue 58.12) | LCIB coverage (issue 67.10)



week fourteen


From Wikipedia, Gesamkunsgtwerk

Gesamtkunstwerk in architecture[edit]
Some architectural writers have used the term Gesamtkunstwerk to signify circumstances where an architect is responsible for the design and/or overseeing of the building’s totality: shell, accessories, furnishings, and landscape.[14] It is difficult to make a claim for when the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk was first employed from the point of view of a building and its contents (although the term itself was not used in this context until the late 20th century); already during the Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo saw no strict division in their tasks between architecture, interior design, sculpture, painting and even engineering. It has been argued by historian Robert L. Delevoy that Art Nouveau represented an essentially decorative trend that thus lent itself to the idea of the architectural Gesamtkunstwerk. But it is equally possible it was born from social theories that arose out of a fear of the rise of industrialism.[15]

Frank Lloyd Wright: Interior of the Robie House, Chicago, 1909.
However evidence of complete interiors that typify the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk can be seen some time before the 1890s. There was an increasing trend amongst architects in the 18th and 19th centuries to control every facet of an architectural commission. As well as being responsible for just the structure they tried to extend their role to include designing (or at least vetting) every aspect of the interior work as well. This included not only the interior architectural features but was extended to the design of furniture, carpets, wallpaper, fabrics, light fixtures and door-handles. Robert Adam and Augustus Welby Pugin are examples of this trend to create an over-all harmonising effect which in some cases might even extend to the choice or design of table silver, china and glassware.

A distinctly modern approach to the concept of architectural Gesamtkunstwerk emerged with the Bauhaus school, first established in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The school specialised in design, art and craftsmanship (architecture was not introduced as a separate course until 1927 after it had transferred to Dessau). Gropius contended that artists and architects should also be craftsmen, that they should have experience working with different materials and artistic mediums, including industrial design, clothes design and theatre and music. However, Gropius did not necessarily see a building and every aspect of its design as being the work of a single hand.[16]

week thirteen

Creating the United States Interactive


Thomas Jefferson Library


Out of the Ashes: A New Library of Congress and the Nation


Saving this link to a viral email from General “Warrior Monk” James Mattis about reading