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Saints, Students, a Scientist, and Other Sculptures

Over the summer, I’ve added a couple of new collections to the Digital Library. One of these new additions is the Villanova Sculpture Collection, documenting the sculptures found on campus. Eleven of the thirteen sculptures that I know of have been added, and I hope to photograph the remaining two by the end of this week (time and weather permitting, of course!). (Edited to add: All sculptures are now photographed and online! 9/16)

Augustine the Teacher
Augustine the Teacher.

I have taken photographs of the sculptures in full view from as many sides as possible, as well as detail views of interesting aspects or attributes. Most of the sculptures are depictions of saints, including two each of St. Augustine and St. Thomas of Villanova, but there are also some other notable people and some abstract shapes.

Gregor Johann Mendel.

Come take a scroll through our virtual sculpture garden!


Santa comes to town

Posted for Susan Ottignon:

The customary ‘Dear Santa’ letters, written by children every December 24th on Christmas Eve, is a time honored tradition. I encountered 3 such letters, from Mont and Ellie Thackara’s children, when I started transcription work for the Digital Library.


In child-like cursive writing the letters to Santa, by each Thackara child, were penned with unique salutations to the ‘Jolly Old Man,’ and included spelling errors that endear us more to these letters We read from Eleanor’s letter “My dear Santa-Clause,” her brother, Sherman wrote, “Dear St Nick,” with the youngest sibling, Lex ,penned “Santy.” The boys knew Santa’s ‘address’ which they either included in the body of the letter or addressed it directly to him. Santa address, according to Lex, was “Master Santy Clause Up the chimney.” Sherman boldly demanded of St Nick, “Unhitch your horses from the North Pole.”

The ‘wish lists’ penned to Santa by Eleanor, Sherman and Alexander (“Lex) Thackara reflect each child’s deepest longings and are shared by today’s children whether one has been ‘naughty or nice.’ Such things as “a pair of skates and a little iron and iron holder” requested by Eleanor. Sherman wanted Santa to “bring me a sled.” Lex was ‘all boy” when he wrote, “Please bring me a rifle a pen-knife and a kodact.” My guess for Lex’s wish was for a Kodak camera available since 1888.

Dear Santy

Alongside the Santa’s letter, tradition beckons children to hang stockings for him to fill with gifts and sweets. The stocking is mentioned in 2 of the letters. Eleanor plainly states:

“. . . fill my stocking full to the brim I am going to hang up an
extra stocking and please fill it to”

Sherman notes his behavior as a good reason for his filled stocking.

“Please fill my stockings very full and do not think me a greedy boy.”

While working on these letters, I marveled over the simplicity of the times and experienced a child’s excitement in the penned letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed transcribing these pieces and many other of the Thackara correspondence. With over a thousand pieces in need of transcription the Sherman-Thackara Collection in the Digital Library has reassured me there many more items to still transcribe.

Dear Santa

Here is a link to the Finding Aid for this part of the Sherman-Thackara Collection.

Alex., Sherman & Eleanor S. Thackara to A. M. & E. S. Thackara (parents)
Corresp., 1892-1897, (including 3 letters to Santa Claus):
William T. Sherman Thackara, (1887 – 1983)
Eleanor Sherman Thackara Cauldwell, (1880s? – ?)
Alexander Montgomery Thackara, Jr., (d. December 27, 1921):

Letter, To: “Dear Papa and Mama” (Ellie and A. M. Thackara) From: “Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), Christmas 1893.
Xmas blessing to parents by Alex

Letter, To: “My dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), Christmas 1893.
Xmas bear story Eleanor

Letter, To: “Santa Claus” From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), [December, 1895?].

Letter, To: “Dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 1896. Xmas Blessing Sherman

Letter, To: “Santy” From: “Your loving friend Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), December, [1886?].

Letter, To: “St. Nick” From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 20, 1896.


Demand Drives Digitization / Three Shafts of Death

We use a number of different strategies to increase the number of available offerings beyond those physically held at Villanova University including individual Digital Donations and contributions from Partners, like the American Catholic Historical Society. On the other hand, in selecting which materials to digitize from the Villanova University collections and the order and priority of digitization of these materials the needs of readers and researchers must be weighed heavily in calculating what and when to scan. While many scholars have a need to physically touch and manipulate a rare book or artifact to hunt out an elusive watermark or other textual evidence, others may be quite satisfied with a digital surrogate of a work. Distance can stand in the way as a hurdle to scholarship in this matter and sending rare books and manuscript materials via Interlibrary Loan presents significant difficulties in maintaining appropriate care and custody of the ofttimes fragile and monetarily valuable works. A way around this conundrum is to digitize materials that scholars request and to do so as immediately as practicable so as to provide the greatest access possible. We use demand driven digitization as a way to provide remote access to unique Villanova University materials, materials that have been collected through the years and which serve as a physical treasure chest of our collective wisdom and community heritage. Note the earlier article by Bente Polites on the Digital Library’s first request for remote access to a manuscript.

With the publication in 2007 of William Mahon’s Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in Villanova University, Pennsylvania new scholarly attention was focused on the Irish language materials held at Villanova University. Over the last year, 5 different scholars all working at colleges or universities in Ireland, have requested either entire or partial access to 7 of these manuscripts. Just a few years ago that would have meant expensive flights to Philadelphia; today we are able to provide the high level of access demanded by textual scholars by digitization at high resolution. And not only for access by one scholar, all can share in looking at these works, which can be viewed in the Digital Library Manuscript Collection.

One noteworthy requested item is the interesting Tri Biorghaoithe an Bhais or the Three Shafts of Death.


Written in the Irish language in 1630 by Geoffrey Keating (known in the Irish tongue as Seathrún Céitinn), the manuscript copy at Villanova was scribed by Diarmuid O’Connail in 1824 and so serves as a witness to the continued literacy and written tradition of the Irish language in this period. The work itself is a series of three meditations on death. Drawing on the Fathers of the Church including St. Jerome and St. Augustine, Keating held forth that there were 3 forms of death: bodily death, spiritual death, and eternal death. In describing death eternal he provided a tour of the hell of eternal suffering.


“Digital Donation”

One of the greatest success stories of the digital library is exposing hitherto unknown or extremely rare works to an audience comprised of scholars and the international public. At Villanova’s Digital Library a source of these works includes the many individual donors that have decided to both preserve and make accessible historical treasures through “Digital Donation”. Our team digitizes the original items and places a preservation copy of the work in our digital collection; the original items are promptly returned to the owner. This ensures both exposure of the work to an audience of over 4,000 unique visitors a month (March 2008 statistics) and continued digital curation of the work even if disaster or the ravages of time erode the original physical copy to fragments. Digitally donated items are also fully described by professional catalogers using metadata standards to enhance the individual work’s findability. Finally, the work is exposed to the community of scholars via several metadata aggregators, including: OCLC’s Worldcat and Registry of Digital Masters; the Pennsylvania Digital Library (PADL); and OAIster using Open Archives Initiative.

Items that have been digitally donated include copies of published works, some annotated by notable personages:

by Walt Whitman (these are his memoirs from the time of the American Civil War; the donated copy is hand signed by Walt Whitman for Miss E.N. Morris):

(donated copy was owned and annotated by Herman Melville):

by Scott Grapin (signed and illustrated by the author).

Other works originally unpublished, and now published by the Digital Library for the first time as online works, include digitally donated letters, property and government documents relating to the history of the United States (Nagy and Humbert Collections), and local Radnor Township history (featuring donated works related to the Radnor Memorial Library and the Radnor Friends Meeting). And immediately waiting in the wings to be added to digital library collections later this year are other donated works including Villanova faculty scholarship, English genealogical research materials, and an extensive manuscript detailing the journey of a young man, there-and-back, to the California gold-fields in the Gold Rush.

If you own heritage materials, including letters, pamphlets, newspapers, rare books, or photographs, that you would like to see preserved and made accessible, please contact the Digital Library Team at:

Of course, not all materials are able to be digitized due to fragile or incomplete physical condition; in some cases works are not suitable for donation due to collection focus or intellectual property rights. All donated works must be in the public domain or the donor, who owns the intellectual property rights to an unpublished or in-copyright work, agrees to make the work accessible via a Creative Commons license. Many works in the Digital Library that have been digitally donated (or are owned by Villanova University ) are thus made available to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.


What the 2008 Olympic Ceremony says about digital texts

Posted for Scott Grapin, Digital Library Team:


Beijing’s spectacular celebration of textuality in the twenty-ninth Olympiad’s opening ceremony for the summer games surprised me. But why should it have? After all, the Chinese invented paper. They were printing texts hundreds of years before the West. And they have long esteemed calligraphy among the highest forms of expression. Textuality variously illustrates China’s cultural history, making it a natural centerpiece for welcoming the sporting world to the country’s capital.

It was somewhat more surprising that Beijing reconstructed some of my earliest impressions as a student employee in the digital library. The ceremony proposed a harmonious integration of textuality’s multiple technologies. A giant scroll was unrolled on the stadium floor to frame a blank sheet of paper. Modern dancers proceeded to paint a shan-shui, or “mountains and water,” picture on the blank page with their dancing bodies while the scroll, an LED screen unrolled to 230 by 70 feet, appeared to continuously unfurl digital highlights of China’s cultural history. The painted page was then raised to reveal an assemblage of movable-type settings rising from the digital scroll, undulating like waves in the wind, and intermittently forming the Chinese character for “harmony” in astoundingly precise choreography for a collection of individual gray blocks. If there was any impression of impermeable divisions between textual technologies in these transitions, the movable types dismantled them by forming an impression of China’s Great Wall and then transforming the wall and its opposite sides into a blooming field of flowering plum blossoms. Finally, for this initial part of the ceremony, each of the hundreds of movable-type tops sprung open to reveal a human animator waving from inside. It seems that every individual textual endeavor that manifests upon the cultural scroll is a collaborative production. Each text is also continuously transformed. Historically, Chinese viewers of shan-shui landscape paintings have appended commentaries and poems to the scrolls that have framed the paintings. Likewise, the framing scroll of history, providing a context of constant flux and alteration, contributes its own instability to the collaboratively produced text. Fittingly, throughout the Olympic ceremony, the shan-shui painting continued to be transformed. Even the global parade of athletes trailed a rainbow of footsteps across it when entering the stadium.


If the scroll on which the painting is mounted comprises part of the work itself, then perhaps the digitization of a text collaborates in a work’s continued creation. One of my first projects in the digital library was to scan and crop Historia Deorum Et Heroum, a fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript written on vellum and bound in oak and leather. Unable to locate a printed equivalent of this particular manuscript, I was initially excited to think that this particular volume was making a giant leap, over roughly four hundred years of print, from manuscript culture to digital culture. Moreover I was one of the cyber-type-setters determining its new shape and form to post on the digital library mainframe. In one moment, the manuscript would abandon its centuries of hidden obscurity for instantaneous global accessibility. But while this manuscript can now be altered in myriad ways through digitization and potentially limitless contexts, I’m also inclined to believe Beijing’s suggestion that this transformational potential is inherent in manuscripts and printed texts themselves. Historia Deorum Et Heroum even seems to invite the suggestion. No singular author takes credit for this compiled history of gods and heroes. Such compilations are collaborative and intertextual by nature, depending on a collective capital of textually-inscribed myth and history (here, in lieu of a title page informing modern print-readers of the title, author, and publisher of a work, there is an index of the subjects themselves). Finally, a poised surplus of lined vellum at book’s end awaits a stylus that never arrives. Or perhaps, rather, the creative implement is always arriving, in contemporary forms of context and technology, to collaborate in a culture’s self-expression. I’ve been just one kind of digital typesetter among many, in a library among many, popping out his head in this entry and waving as we collectively contribute to the ever-unscrolling textual dance.


For related Chinese textual studies, see:

Cherniack, Susan. “Book Culture and Textual Transmission in Sung China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 54.1 (Jun 1994): 5-125.

Lee, Sherman E. and Wen Fong. Streams and Mountains Without End: A Northern Sung Handscroll and Its Significance in the History of Early Chinese Painting. 1954. 2nd ed. rev. Ascona, Switzerland: Artibus Asia, 1967.

Printing Museum of China, The. An Illustrated History of Printing in Ancient China. Ed. Luo Shubao. Trans. Chan Sin-wai. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 1998.



Last Modified: August 12, 2008

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