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Timeless Texts

Hanover College’s River Collection
assembles rare books, documents

Ever-expanding collection
includes first edition Twain works

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

HANOVER, Ind. (February 2011) – Located on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, Hanover College provides an ideal showcase for a rapidly growing collection of books and documents related to life on and along rivers. From a first edition copy of Thoreau’s “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” to the letters of an 1800s riverboat captain, the Rivers Collection is certain to capture the interest of dedicated researchers and casual book lovers alike.

Books

Photo by Lela Bradshaw

Hanover College’s Rivers Collection
is a valuable resource and library
officials encourage their use.

Established in 2004 with a grant from the Lilly Foundation, the Rivers Institute at Hanover College is dedicated to promoting “an understanding of the natural and cultural history of river environments.” As part of this mission, the Institute has begun to assemble an enviable collection of rare sources to assist scholars in their studies. Presently, the Rivers Collection includes more than 1,200 works ranging from rare first edition books to unique manuscripts.
Over the past two years, the Institute has begun “taking a liberal arts approach to teaching about river environments,” explains Marissa Austin, Director of External Relations. Rivers Collection Librarian Doug Denne explains that there has been a focus on adding materials that highlight rivers as a mode of transportation and exchange in the past, noting that “”rivers were really the superhighways of the time.”
Those interested in river studies or those simply wanting to get a glimpse into the past are invited to visit the Rivers Collection, housed in the archives at the Duggan Library at Hanover College. The archives are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Denne is also developing a class on the History of the Book for Spring Term at Hanover that will be making use of some of the materials acquired through the Institute. Austin cites the Rivers Collection as “a bridge between the Rivers Institute and the college – it’s useful to both.”

Marissa Austin

Marissa Austin

In any collection dedicated to river literature, Mark Twain is certain to be a popular figure. Naturally, the copies of Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” tend to come up in discussions of the assembled works. The collection includes both the London first edition, first issue of Twain’s classic and the later American first edition of this famous account of steamboat life. Denne points out that the London edition includes a woodcut picture of the author engulfed in flames, but that this image so distressed Twain’s wife that it was removed from the American release of the book.
Austin admits that, “I’m a big Mark Twain fan” and cites this first edition as a book that particularly stirred her imagination. “It’s just so neat getting these pieces– 150 years old – and you get to flip through them,” she says with a smile, “I get excited about it and we hope other people will get excited as well.”
Denee acknowledges that some people, even those doing research, have a bit of a fear when it comes to handling rare volumes. He notes that “One of the things I hope to do in our History of the Book class is to dispel that fear.” He encourages visitors to the archives to handle the books and appreciate the look, feel, and even the smell of the old paper and leather.
“A lot of people think that when you come into a rare book library that you’re supposed to wear white gloves. We don’t do that here,” he explains. While certainly encouraging careful and respectful use of the materials, he sees them as items to be studied and enjoy and are “not meant to be used as museum pieces.” He hopes that as more people learn of the treasures available in the Rivers Collection, they will stop by and see the works for themselves.
Austin agrees, saying, “We would love for people to to come and check out the collection. It’s such a unique resource. No point in it just sitting on the shelf.”

• For more information, visit: http://rivers.hanover.edu.

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