Restoring Order

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Many at Princeton remember with great esteem the late Lara Moore, who, when she died at age 32 in 2003, was the History Librarian of the Library. Her example and achievements endure in many ways, such as in the able work of her successor, and, now, with the publication Lara’s book, Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870, based on her Stanford dissertation. Her book is an important contribution to the history of libraries and archives.

Lara argues that the changing French governments shaped and re-shaped libraries and archives in order to mold public perception of their regime. Form and function traced back to policy. From this perspective, the trajectory of library development was not a smooth, upward, continuously progressive path from the disorder of the 1789 Revolution to post-Revolutionary order. Rather, the path was really “a series of very different attempts to recreate both ‘disorder’ and ‘order’ ” (p. 17). She also points out that while we may think we study the past, we should not overlook that we concurrently study previous generations’s conceptions of what they thought about the past (p. 22).

Is there an analog in American library history for this phenomenon? Or, put another way: “Was there an ancien regime to affirm or repudiate?”

Certainly for the ruling Protestants of nineteenth century America there was such an ancien regime to repudiate. I have encountered this attitude in an incident in the history of the Princeton University Library.

In 1878, Evan James Henry, a local Princeton lawyer, presented to the Library rubricated leaves of the Book of Psalms, once part of a Latin Bible printed in Strasbourg, ca. 1468. [Call number: (ExI) 5168.1468q].

At the time of donation, Princeton librarian Frederic Vinton interpreted the value of the gift as follows:

We may, therefore, fearlessly assert that we have a book printed more than twenty years before the discovery of America; about the time Warwick drove Edward IV out of England; while Louis XI reigned in France; before Lorenzo reigned in Florence, or Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain; just after Erasmus saw the light, and before Michael Angelo was born. Scarce one of the existing Universities in Christendom had been founded. All Europe was Catholic then, and free institutions had not begun to be. The spirit of modern discovery had not awakened, and men were still living in the dull ways of the middle ages. Until the Egyptian obelisk arrives, this book will be one of the most venerable things in America.

[Frederic Vinton] “A Rare Book in the College Library,” Princetonian 2, no. 15 (February 7, 1878): 173-174.

Restoring Order (Duluth, Minn.: Litwin Books, 2008) also reviewed in Reading Archives.

Obituary for Lara Moore (1971-2003)

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