The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

"Gluttons for Books"

Books and reading played a major role in the lives and careers of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In a major conference, an exhibition, and a web presentation this summer, the MHS and other institutions around the country highlight the collections, reading habits, and literary legacies of these two men.

The conference, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership, and Legacy, is a joint effort sponsored by the MHS, the Boston Public Library, and the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello (and supported by several other institutions and benefactors). The full conference schedule is available here. It will begin in Boston on this coming Sunday, 21 June, with a keynote address by Dr. Ted Widmer, Director of the John Carter Brown Library (free and open to the public). Two days of panel discussions and other events in Boston will follow, and then the conference moves to Charlottesville, VA, for another keynote address by former U.S. Senator Gary Hart on Thursday 25 June. That will be followed by two concluding days of panel discussions at the University of Virginia. Information on registration, the conference schedule, and PDFs of the conference papers are available at the conference website.

To accompany the conference and extending through the summer, the MHS has mounted an exhibit, "'Gluttons for Books: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Their Libraries." The show includes the book catalogs of Jefferson and Adams, correspondence between members of the Adams family about books and reading, and selections from the retirement correspondence of Jefferson and Adams (which is, I think, one of the most fascinating exchanges of letters ever written). One case will highlight the recent discovery and verification of Jefferson's inventory of the collection of books he received through the bequest of his friend and teacher George Wythe (an MHS-Monticello collaboration). A computer terminal will be available to access those portions of the exhibit which have been digitized (including Jefferson's 1783 and 1789 catalogs, the BPL's excellent John Adams Library site, the Wythe List, and online catalogs of the Jefferson and Adams libraries).

The exhibition will remain on display at the Historical Society from Tuesday, 23 June through Friday, 4 September. The MHS is open to the public Monday-Wednesday, and Friday, 9:00 a.m. -4:45 p.m.; Thursday, 9:00 a.m.-7:45 p.m.; and Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. The Society will be closed on Friday, 3 July and Saturday, 4 July. As the MHS hosts many programs for school teachers and other visitors during the summer months, please call the front desk (617-646-0500) for specific exhibition hours.

Finally, June's Object of the Month highlights one of the letters from our collections relating to the Wythe library: it's a 22 July 1806 letter from Thomas Jefferson's cousin and agent George Jefferson, notifying him that the Wythe books have been packed up in Richmond and are ready for shipment to Monticello.

permalink | Published: Monday, 15 June, 2009, 10:28 AM


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