Documentary Films on Princeton Icons

The impact of the Manuscripts Division and other holding units within Rare Books and Special Collections can be measured in individual research visits, as recorded in Aeon circulation statistics; photoduplication, imaging, and permission requests; growing numbers of undergraduate classes and graduate seminars meeting in the department; and the many academic books and journal articles published each year with citations and acknowledgments to the department and its staff. Print and online use can also be measured in the tens of thousands of hits recorded in Google Analytics, Google Scholar, JStor, ArtStor, and DPUL (Digital Princeton University Library). Academic researchers and Princeton classes are clearly the primary users of special collections materials, including manuscripts and archives. Somewhat hidden in these measures of use are well-known documentary film makers and their researchers, who focus on iconic figures well documented in Manuscripts Division. Film makers may not be obvious among the thousands of researchers who visit the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room each year or contact Public Services and curators to request reference assistance, photoduplication, and digitization of audio-visual materials. Media acknowledgments are often consigned to the rolling credits.

In the last year, significant assistance was provided to several well-known documentary film makers, whose films reach large audiences beyond the academic world. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a documentary film by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, also well known as a portrait photographer. It was made for the PBS series American Masters and premiered in January 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film has been described as “an artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller that examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.” Her years teaching at Princeton are also covered in the film. Associates of Greenfield-Sanders did considerable research for the film at Princeton using the Papers (C1491) of Toni Morrison, Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, and Nobel Laureate in Literature (1993). Later in the spring 2019 semester, the documentary film will be viewed by students in two Princeton classes, which will be using the Toni Morrison Papers: AAS 555, taught by Professor Imani Perry; and English 414 / AAS 455, taught by Professor Autumn Womack. The film will be broadcast in the PBS American Masters series in late 2020. Another documentary film researched in part at Princeton is Hemingway, by the celebrated team of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It is a two-part documentary film about the life and world of Ernest Hemingway. The Manuscripts Division has excellent photographic holdings on the author in the Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons (C0101), Patrick Hemingway Papers (C0066), Sylvia Beach Papers (C0108), and other collections. Hemingway is also slated for national broadcast in the PBS American Masters series in 2020.

Finally, Moe Berg is a documentary film by Aviva Kempner (Ciesla Foundation), who with her associates used the Manuscripts Division’s Moe Berg Papers (C1413) and the Neil Goldstein Collection of Working Files on Moe Berg (C1449). This will be the first feature-length documentary film about Moe Berg (1902-72), Princeton Class of 1923, who was a major league baseball player for fifteen seasons, who famously served as an American spy during World War II for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Moe Berg will be released later in 2019. For information about any of these collections, contact Public Services: rbsc@princeton.edu

Toni Morrison with King Carl XVI of Sweden at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, February 4, 1994

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