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Mellon Foundation Grant: Increasing Access to Penn Libraries’ Hidden Treasures
May 13, 2008, Volume 54, No. 33


Girolamo Savonarola, Tractato contra li astrologi. Florence: Bartolommeo di Libri, not before 1497. From the Henry Charles Lea Library, Penn. This is the title page of a short work on astrology and divination by the Dominican friar Savonarola, who was excommunicated in 1497, and tortured and executed the next year for his passionate preaching regarding the apocalypse and for his virulent attacks on the excesses and moral corruption of the clergy and ruling classes.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant of $450,000 to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries to reveal the treasures of the Henry Charles Lea Library collection to a wider world. The Mellon Foundation’s generosity will open new avenues of scholarship by facilitating local and global access to this unique collection, which is comprised of printed and manuscript materials documenting medieval and early modern Church history and the Inquisition.

In both its printed book and manuscript holdings, the library of Philadelphia publisher, book collector, and scholar Henry Charles Lea (1825-1909) encompasses materials ranging from medieval French history to early European legal history, the Latin Christian Church, the Spanish Inquisition, and finally to magic and witchcraft. Rich in untapped primary resources, the manuscript holdings include items from as early as 1000 AD to approximately 1800—that is, from the reign of Emperor Otto III of Germany through the French Revolution. Nearly all of the published items are pre-1909 imprints, with approximately half of the collection dating to before 1825.

Penn Libraries staff will implement an innovative two-year multi-staged process to create approximately 11,200 cataloging records in Penn’s online catalog, Franklin, and in OCLC WorldCat.  According to Beth Picknally Camden, Patricia and Bernard Goldstein Director of Information Processing, “This Mellon Foundation grant jumpstarts our project to expose the riches of the Lea Library to the world, and paves the way for future digitization projects. And the workflow model that we are developing will accelerate the process of making Penn Libraries’ unique resources available to a global community.”

With the Foundation’s support and the Libraries’ in-kind contribution, Penn will facilitate and enhance humanities research for scholars in the fields of literature, medieval and early Renaissance history, religious studies, legal history, Hispanic, Italian, and Jewish studies, the Latin Christian Church, and the Inquisition and witchcraft. 









Almanac - May 13, 2008, Volume 54, No. 33