From Jesuitica to Graham Greene: A Student Intern’s Experiences with Conservation

As a Boston College student who had participated in the creation of an exhibit in the John J. Burns Library and enjoyed a great many more, I was always baffled when fellow undergraduates were unaware of its presence on campus. “You mean Bapst?” I’d be asked when discussing the location of a class, lecture, or exhibit. I’d reply that it’s the rare books library, a separate entity from Bapst holding a completely different collection of materials. Sometimes I’d receive a confused, “just rare books?” in response to my quick explanation, as I was often on my way out the door while these conversations were taking place. And the answer is yes… and no. I’ve come to discover that these rare books hold more than I expected during my recent summer internship and assistantship with Burns’ Conservator, Barbara Adams Hebard. These rare and wonderful volumes have been protecting and keeping voices from the past, voices from their owners, alive in the stacks of Burns Library.

As Conservation Intern and Assistant, I’ve seen and aided in the conservation of two very different collections. From the leather treatment of pre-suppression Jesuit volumes to protectively covering the library of Graham Greene among other duties, I’ve had the opportunity to handle over one hundred individual rare books. Within the two large collections I’ve mentioned, there are exciting differences from book to book. The leather volumes often have intricate gold designs or individual patterns imprinted in or painted on the binding. The languages of these Jesuits of the past range from French, Italian, Latin, and others I can’t readily identify. The paper and ink used varies, with some still remarkably rich as a result of handmade paper and quality ink.

By comparison, in Graham Greene’s collection, the bindings from his 20th century collection  are much less notable than the much older Jesuit  books. However, the understanding that some of these books influenced his lauded written creations is exciting in and of itself. Also of note is that some of them came to us with the pages uncut, a sign that those particular books were not the ones impacting the author’s literary or historical pursuits. Continue reading

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The Harsh Realities of War

These images were taken by German soldier, H. A. Reinhold and are part of the H.A. Reinhold Papers, 1908-1997. A native of Hamburg Germany, Reinhold chronicled his war experience by taking pictures throughout Europe. Although many of his images captured the routine, day-to-day happenings of a soldier’s life, the ones below were chosen based on the extreme destructiveness that they exhibit. These images can serve as a sharp contrast to the government-produced propaganda images that we have been seeing. The fact that each image was taken in a different location helps to emphasize the overwhelmingly destructive nature of this conflict and the harsh reality of war.

This image was taken in an unknown city sometime during the war; likely in France due to the French writing on one of the buildings. Soldiers can be seen marching through this badly damaged city. Like in many of Reinhold’s other photos, it is quite apparent from this photo that destruction was ubiquitous during the war.


Box 25, Folder 1, H. A. Reinhold Papers, MS.2003.60, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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Three Movable Books

This year, the Movable Book Society holds its eleventh biennial conference here in Boston, and the John J. Burns Library is providing a display of three items from our collection starting Wednesday, September 14th.



The Plagues of Egypt volvelle, turned to display the first, seventh, and tenth plagues, respectively. Hagadah li-yeladim, BM675.P4 z687313 1948 GENERAL, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The Hagadah li-yeladim – the “Children’s Haggadah” (1948) – allows children to follow along with the Passover Seder. This text features a total of five movable images. The first features a pull-tab allowing the reader to make Baby Moses float forward and back among the bulrushes, while a flap reveals or conceals the Egyptians about to discover him. The second and third operate as opposites sides of the book’s sole volvelle, the technical term for a disk of paper sandwiched in the middle of two sheets that may be turned (via an exposed edge on the side) to make different aspects appear in the cutout window. The first side of our children’s Haggadah’s volvelle sets a succession of slaves to work between two Egyptian taskmasters; the second side reveals the Ten Plagues of Egypt in gruesome succession from fish gasping in a red blood river to a man wailing over an empty cradle. Further on, the flight across the parted Red Sea features the attacking Egyptian army, which the reader can sink into the water at his or her leisure (see video below). The final moving element shows a modern-day Passover scene; the pull-tab reveals in three successive stages a young boy in the process of finding the hidden matzo.

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Summer Reading… and Eating

The archives staff recently completed work on three collections related to American mystery author and political activist Rex Stout. We had great fun learning all about Stout and his work as an author through the material he created and retained himself, from the perspective of a collector (Judson Sapp), and from the relentless research of his authorized biographer (John J. McAleer, PhD).


“Nero Wolfe” Comic Strip, drawn by Mike Roy. Box 66, Folder 5, Rex Stout papers, MS.1986.096, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Stout’s books star a genius-but-reclusive detective, Nero Wolfe, and his more adventurous sidekick, Archie Goodwin. The books inspired several radio and television series over the years, but one of our favorite spinoffs is the Nero Wolfe comic strip, which ran during the 1950s in American newspapers.  (See the pre-publication proofs from our collections, above.)

Photograph of Stout with popovers and Too Many Cooks-themed centerpiece from Wolfe Pack dinner. Box 41, John J. McAleer papers, BC.1995.016, and Box 56, Judson C. Sapp papers, MS.1996.022, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Besides being a crime-solving genius, Wolfe was also known as a gourmet, and likewise Stout loved cooking and collecting recipes. He published a Nero Wolfe cookbook, as well as this collection of more personal recipes in The American Magazine. Like many of Stout’s enthusiasts, his biographer sought to make connections between Stout’s tastes and Wolfe’s.  Included in the in-depth interview questionnaires mailed back and forth between Stout and McAleer is this humorous tidbit regarding food: Stout did indeed enjoy peanut butter, donuts, and finnan haddie (separately, we hope!)

In his political life, Stout was part Archie, part Nero. His active, Archie personality was involved in groups such as Freedom House and the Society to Prevent World War III, and his scripts for the World War II radio series, Our Secret Weapon, were passionate, at times even virulent. But in this episode from October 4, 1942, “The Lie Detective,” Stout channels his inner Nero and dissects Axis Powers propaganda in order to rebut it, piece by piece.

Three stages of an episode of Our Secret Weapon: source material, script, and finished product. Box 48, Folder 2, and Box 51, Folder 11, Rex Stout papers, MS.1986.096, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Stout’s fans are extremely dedicated and form a group known as the Wolfe Pack. Our collections also contain some of their memorabilia, including mugs, bags, and even a photograph of the great detective’s canine namesake.


Stout fan memorabilia, Box 42, John J. McAleer papers, BC.1995.016; Box 45, Judson C. Sapp papers, MS.1996.022; and Box 1. Folder 3, Rex Stout papers, MS.1986.096, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

To learn more about Rex Stout and his work, please consult the new finding aids for the Rex Stout papers, the Judson C. Sapp papers and Collection of Rex Stout, and the John J. McAleer faculty papers, or contact the Burns Library reading room at 617-552-4861 or

  • Annalisa Moretti, Processing Assistant, John J. Burns Library
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A Year in Review: 2015-2016

Hello, readers! Thank you for another academic year of following the John J. Burns Library blog. Over the summer we like to take a look back at what has been posted throughout the year both to thank our authors and to remember exciting highlights from the Burns Library’s collection. The 2015-2016 academic year was a busy year for Burns as various departments worked with multiple classes held at the library, processed new collections, reprocessed older collections to make them more accessible, and worked with patrons on various research projects.

The John J. Burns Library Blog was happy to host guest authors from two “Making History Public” classes this year: Professor Seth Meehan’s “Making History Public:

Newbould 2

The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia: After Lithographs by Louise Haghe from Drawings Made on the Spot by David Roberts by George Croly, David Robert III, and William Brockedon, NC115.R56 Williams Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College” and Professor Dana Sajdi’s “Making

History Public: Historical Monuments, Monumental Histories”. The students in these classes used Burns Library materials to curate exhibits and exhibit texts that were displayed in Stokes Hall as part of an ongoing collaborative project between the History department and Boston College Libraries. Blog posts by Making History Public students included posts on the history of the Fulton Debating Club, the history of influential women at BC, the different architectural styles on campus, Big Ben’s architectural ancestors, the statue of Ramses II and Egyptian national identity, and the significance of Petra, among many others.


John LaFarge in Innsbruk, circa 1901

Christian Dupont, the Burns Librarian, wrote a post in September 2015 on John LaFarge, SJ and a rare manuscript version of his draft of a papal encyclical for Pope Pius XI condemning the racial injustices propagated by the Nazi regime.

The Burns Library commemorated the death of Irish playwright Brian Friel in October 2015 with a collection of photographs from the Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Collection.

Beth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, wrote a post announcing a recently processed collection of live Irish music recordings from the Muise family that is now available at the Burns Library. The post even included clips of the recordings as a taste of what is available in the Irish Music Center.

In November, Shelley Barber, the Burns Library Reference & Archives Specialist, wrote about the life and service of Boston College alum Frederick J. Gillis in memory of all of the men and women of BC who have served in the armed forces. Continue reading

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G. K. Chesterton: the Catholic Apologist

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was born on May 29, 1874, in London, the eldest son of Edward Chesterton and Marie Louise Grosjean. Chesterton had a happy childhood and his parents encouraged his interests in art and literature. Chesterton’s brother Cecil Edward was born in 1879.

As a child Chesterton attended Colet Court, Hammersmith, and St Paul’s School in London. Although he showed academic promise, he often appeared distracted and inattentive to subjects that were not to his liking. At the age of eighteen, Chesterton enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London. He toyed with the idea of becoming a professional artist, but financial concerns and his great love of literature inspired him to pursue a career as a writer. He continued to draw and illustrated some books.

After leaving college in 1895 Chesterton worked as a publisher’s reader and soon became a reviewer and essayist for both The Speaker and the Daily News. In 1900 he published two collections of poems; one of them included his famous and often anthologized poem “The Donkey.” Later the same year he met Hilaire Belloc, who was to become one of his closest friends and literary allies.

Correspondence from Chesterton to Hilary Belloc

One of the many letters exchanged between Chesterton and Belloc. G. K. Chesterton Collection, MS 2005-02, Box 3, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In the early 1900’s, Chesterton also produced several collections of essays. In 1903 he published a study of Robert Browning; the book received popular praise, but Browning scholars objected to its many biographical inaccuracies. Chesterton’s carelessness with factual details soon became habitual in his writing.

In 1901 Chesterton married Frances Alice Blogg (1869-1938), an acquaintance of a school friend. Also a writer, Blogg was happy to stay in the background and her works have only recently become the subject of serious scholarly study. A devout Anglican, she eventually led Chesterton to that faith on his spiritual journey to Catholicism.

In 1904, Chesterton published The Napoleon of Notting Hill, a fantastical novel dealing with serious themes that attracted much positive critical attention. Chesterton’s next novel, The Man who was Thursday (1908), told the story of a group of supposed anarchists plotting to overthrow established society in London, who are successively revealed to be police detectives. Although The Man who was Thursday went largely unnoticed at the time of its publication, today the novel remains among Chesterton’s most popular works. Subsequently Chesterton wrote several other novels including The Ball and the Cross (1910), Manalive (1912), and The Flying Inn (1914). Continue reading

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Graham Greene & Sherlock Holmes

Graham Greene’s private library contains various Victorian detective works. Of particular interest to Greene is the definitive Victorian detective, rather, the definitive detective, Sherlock Holmes. Greene possessed at least one copy of each case Holmes undertook with friend and biographer Dr. Watson. Greene’s fascination with these cases is evidenced by his annotations.


Greene’s index of annotations for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes PR4622. A7 1974 Greene’s Library, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Greene’s annotations are neatly organized: a passage of interest is marked in the margins of the text often accompanied by a note on a blank page of the book, an index for Greene’s thoughts. The only instance where Greene breaks this pattern is in his notes regarding “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”, with notes in the margins of the text not cataloged in the index.

Greene’s annotations cover various features of interest, such as the tradition of The Game. The Game is the endeavor of scholars who attempt to explain various discrepancies; author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was careless when it came to plot consistency, creating confusion over the stories’ timeline. In “The Red-Headed League”, published in August 1891, Holmes refers to a case involving Miss Mary Sutherland. Her case was featured in “A Case of Identity”, published a month later. In his notes, Greene remarks that this case must have preceded “The Red-Headed League”.

Greene saw other inconsistencies, like the identity of Holmes’s housekeeper. She is referred to as Mrs. Hudson in the several stories, but in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia” she is referred to as Mrs. Turner. This discrepancy is noticed by Greene in “The Blue Carbuncle”, where he wondered if this was the first time Mrs. Turner is Mrs. Hudson.


Greene’s note of Doyle’s mistaken use of the character name Mrs. Turner. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” PR4622. A7 1974 Greene’s Library, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Greene made various notes regarding Holmes’s deductions. Greene marks a section in “The Yellow Face” where Holmes stresses that bootlaces determine one’s character. Greene additionally noted a passage in “A Case of Identity” where bootlaces were integral to deducing the emotional state of a client. Another indicator of character is one’s sleeves, annotated by Greene in the same story. In the later story “The Crooked Man”, Greene marked the passage where Holmes observes a handkerchief in Watson’s sleeve, an indicator of Watson’s military past.

Greene annotated several passages that describe particulars of Victorian society. In “The Blue Carbuncle”, Greene marked a passage where Holmes lists newspapers, writing there were ‘more than 7 evening papers in London’. “The Noble Bachelor” mentions the price of an expensive hotel is eight shillings, sarcastically said by Greene to be ‘“select” prices’. In the opening passage of “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”, Greene noted its description of ‘A London fog’.

Greene noticed passages concerning the great detective himself. Greene annotated a passage in “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” where Holmes laments violence’s prevalence in society. Greene wrote that the sentiment made Holmes more a ‘theologian’ than a detective. Greene marked a passage in A Study in Scarlet detailing Holmes’s lack of literary knowledge: Holmes does not know Thomas Carlyle, a famous Victorian author, which shocks Watson.

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