FROM MANY STRANDS A THICK ROPE:
Building Netherlandic Collections in the University of Michigan Library
Karla Vandersypen, Exhibit Curator
The ties between the Low Countries and both the people of Michigan and the University of Michigan have a long and many-faceted history. Within the University, the Netherlands Visiting Professorship, established in 1950, provides an annual appointment jointly funded by the University and the Dutch government; similarly, for some twenty years leading Dutch writers have been invited to be Writers-in-Residence in a program jointly sponsored by the University and a Dutch foundation. Within the Library, almost 90 years of joint efforts by private citizens, Library staff, University faculty, and governments on both sides of the Atlantic have worked together to build an outstanding collection of printed and manuscript material related to the Low Countries. The materials shown in this exhibit give testimony to these many successful collaborations, the most notable of which are the following.
Efforts of W.W. Bishop
The tenure of William Warner Bishop as University Librarian (1915 to 1941) resulted in tremendous growth of the University's collections in literature and historical materials. He arrived in Ann Arbor after an eight-year stint as a division head at the Library of Congress, and he knew the worlds of both book publishing and antiquarian book selling. A respected figure in the American and international library field, he was up to the challenge of creating a true research library in the Midwest.
Bishop spent the first few months in his position analyzing the collections. According to his biographer, Glenn C. Sparks (Doyen of Librarians: A Biography of William Warner Bishop, 1993), he found them well selected on the whole but not uniformly developed. The quantity of source materials was fair in English and United States history and economics, insufficient in European history, and almost wholly lacking in the history of the world.
In September 1921 Bishop undertook an extended book-buying trip to Europe, visiting book dealers and libraries in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and The Netherlands. In The Netherlands he visited, among others, the Royal Library, the Leiden University Library, and the Public Library of Amsterdam. In The Hague he met bookman Wouter Nijhoff, who became a personal friend. The Library had, in fact, begun dealings with the firm Martinus Nijhoff in 1918, just after the First World War. The Library's accessions books, huge, heavy ledgers written in various library hands, contain many hundreds of entries for which the vendor is Nijhoff, beginning November 25, 1918. A large number of these titles are Dutch and Flemish.
The results of Bishop's 1921 trip are clear to see in the accessions books: Library accessions of 1922 numbered almost 15,000 more than in 1921. Another positive effect was the lasting, friendly relations personally established with dealers such as Nijhoff, Sotheran, Champion, and Harrassowitz. Through these connections Bishop laid the foundation for the University of Michigan European collections which have grown steadily since.
The Library's connection with the firm Nijhoff continued after Bishop's retirement. In 1945, Bishop's successor, Warner G. Rice, wrote to Wouter Nijhoff, authorizing him to send books published in Holland and Belgium during World War II.
Dutch History Chair Proposal
Among the William Warner Bishop Papers in the University of Michigan Archives is an interesting exchange of letters between Librarian Bishop and Cornelia Steketee (Mrs. Henry) Hulst, 1919 to 1927. It pertains to the founding of a Chair of Dutch History and the acquisition of Dutch historical publications to support such a program. From 1914, Mrs. Hulst, her brother Jacob Steketee, and other citizens of Dutch ancestry in the western part of Michigan, had been collecting funds towards a Dutch history program at The University. The First World War deferred their plans, but beginning in 1919 Bishop sent Mrs. Hulst lists of titles which Nijhoff was supplying the Library and which her "Dutch History Fund" was financing, in part. He referred to buying trips in the Netherlands made by himself, graduate student Henry S. Lucas (later Professor at the University of Washington), and Professor of History Albert Hyma.
Notable Nijhoff offerings of large collections of Dutch political and historical pamphlets from the 16th to the 18th centuries came in 1925 and again in 1928. These pamphlets, most of which are listed in the bibliography by W. P. C. Knuttel, Catalogus van de Pamfletten-Verzameling berustende in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Den Haag, 1889-1916), now number some 4,200 titles. The "Knuttel Collection" is one of the jewels of the Library's Dutch holdings. (As of the fall of 1998 these pamphlets began to be cataloged individually into the Library online catalog, MIRLYN. This project is scheduled to be completed sometime in the first decade of the 21st century.)
The proposed program in Dutch history did not get off the ground, however. In his 1955 book Netherlanders in America, Henry S. Lucas describes the Queen Wilhelmina Lectureship in Dutch Literature at Columbia University and the short-lived chair of Dutch History, Literature, and Art at the University of Chicago (1911-1914). Lucas goes on to state that later attempts to found similar chairs at the University of Illinois and at the University of Michigan failed, presumably referring, in the latter case, to these efforts by Mrs. Hulst and her colleagues in Grand Rapids.
Hubbard Imaginary Voyages Collection
University Regent Lucius L. Hubbard amassed an enormous collection of editions, translations, and versions of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which he presented to the University Library, beginning in 1922. Of the approximately 1500 titles which now make up the collection, some 140 are in Dutch. This is an important sub-set: the great commercial success of the Dutch was due to their maritime strengths; for centuries the Dutch were great travelers who produced much travel literature, imaginary and real.
In 1992 the UM Library cooperated with the University of Groningen (which also possesses a large collection of Robinson Crusoes: the Staverman Collection) in organizing parallel exhibitions of their Robinsonades. A publication to commemorate this cooperative effort was produced: Robinson Crusoe in the Old and New Worlds, with contributions by scholars from around the world. Two of them, Ton Broos (University of Michigan) and Jelle Kingma (Groningen), spoke at the reception/exhibit opening in Ann Arbor, and Broos also spoke at the Groningen program, along with Peggy Daub, Head of the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.
Elzevier Collection; Plantin holdings
In 1932 the Library's most important acquisition was the Copinger Collection consisting of some 1400 titles of editions from the Elzevier Press (Leiden, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague). At its height in the 17th century Elzevier was the greatest publishing house in the world. It produced the best scholarly books of the time: textually sound, legible, and relatively inexpensive. There are few titles in Dutch, however, as the language of scholarship was Latin. The Library's holdings of imprints by the Antwerp printing house of Plantin-Moretus are also considerable (more than 100 separate books, plus several hundred pamphlets from the "Knuttel" collection described above).
Hulst Trust Fund
In 1956 a trust fund was established by the Estate of Dr. John Hulst for the purchase of books on the history and literature of the Netherlands. Split between selectors in the Special Collections Library and the Graduate Library, proceeds from this trust fund have enhanced the Library's ability to make expensive purchases in this area.
Funds from The Netherlands Minstry of Education and Nederlandse Taalunie
From the late 1960s on, the University of Michigan has received gifts of Dutch books financed first by the Netherlands Ministry of Education and after 1992 by the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union), a bilateral Dutch/Belgian government organization. The policy of the Ministry was to make annual gifts of books to the established lectureships and chairs of Dutch language and literature at foreign universities. At the University of Michigan, these funds were expended on behalf of the University Library by the resident Lecturer in Dutch. In the late 1960s and 1970s Ministry funds were used to purchase Dutch and Flemish literature from the 17th to the 20th centuries, as well as major South African authors and Dutch-language literature from the East and West Indies. The Taalunie's contribution to the Dutch Studies Program became a book allowance made direct to the Dutch Lecturer to support the teaching of the language. These titles are eventually added to the holdings of the Library.
In 1984 a subsidy of about $2,000 from the Netherlands Ministry of Welfare, Public Health, and Culture was granted to enable the Donemus Foundation to make the University of Michgan Library an American depository for contemporary music from the Netherlands. Donemus is a promotional institution for contemporary Dutch music, and the Music Library had been subscribing to their "Composer's Voice" sound recordings from the late 1970s.
Labadie Collection and its Dutch holdings
Established in 1911 with the acquisition by the University of Michigan Library of the personal papers and library of Detroit anarchist Joseph A. Labadie, the Labadie Collection has as its focus social protest. It is world-wide in scope and includes publications from the extreme political left and right. Agnes Inglis, the first curator of the Labadie Collection (1924-1952), collected the works of Dutch anarchist thinkers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Christiaan Cornelissen, Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, and Bart de Ligt. Edward Weber, the second curator (1960-2000), acquired Dutch underground serials of the 1960s and 1970s at the time they were being published. The current curator, Julie Herrada, continues to collect radical Dutch-language materials, specifically anarchist materials.