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2002-2003 Visiting Fellows

Gregory H. Nobles
Georgia Institute of Technology

I am grateful for the support I received to spend four weeks at Princeton (May 19-June 13, 2003), and I think my visit there turned out to be a very productive experience. I came to Princeton soon after completing a three-month stay at the Huntington Library In Pasadena, California (February-April, 2003), where I conducted research on my current book project, which is now entitled "Naturalist Nation: The Art and Science of Birds in Audubon's America." The time I spent at Princeton allowed me to follow up on the research I had done at the Huntington, fill in several gaps, and pursue a few new leads.

My main goal at Princeton, of course, was to consult the Library's collection of Audubon's correspondence (especially Boxes 2, 3, and 4), which included a good number of letters that have not been published. One of the challenges of doing work on Audubon is that his unpublished papers are scattered in many libraries and collections, from Massachusetts to Texas, and it was very helpful to find more than a few good examples at Princeton. I spent a little over a week reading and transcribing parts of those letters, and I think they helped fill out my coverage of Audubon's life in Great Britain and the business of producing the huge, double elephant folio edition The Birds of America. I also spent the better part of a week examining a copy of the later octavo edition of The Birds of America, noting changes from Audubon's original written descriptions in his text companion to the double elephant folio, Ornithological Biography, which I had read at the Huntington. In some cases, these changes are revealing, and I will discuss some of them in a paper I am now writing, "Ornithological Gothic: John James Audubon and the Death of the Golden Eagle." On the whole, the Library has enough of Audubon's work, both published and unpublished, to make me feel that my research at Princeton was not just useful, but essential.

One additional - and for my purposes, very important - discovery was not anything by Audubon himself, but the records of the Library's Audubon exhibit in 1960. As it happens, I am delivering a major lecture in November, 2003, the James Russell Wiggins Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture at the American Antiquarian Society, on the making and marketing of Audubon's The Birds of America. For the most part, my research so far had focused on Audubon's (and the Audubon family's) efforts to sell the massive work in the nineteenth century, but I had been looking for a way to bring the narrative closer to the present. Happily - and almost accidentally - I came across several 1940s and 1950s era catalogs and announcements from rare book dealers (e.g. The Old Print Shop in New York and Goodspeed's in Boston) that not only advertised the sale of individual plates taken from broken-up copies of the double elephant folio edition The Birds of America, but actually promoted the destruction of the massive volumes as a positive, almost democratic benefit to American society. Those catalogs gave me just the conclusion I had been looking for, a way of bringing the story of The Birds of America full circle, from making to unmaking, in a way that I think hasn't been done before. A happy ending, indeed.

The other main source I had come to consult, the Library's extensive collection of books and other materials related to hunting, also proved useful. I was especially interested the early- to mid-nineteenth century books on bird hunting, which contain a substantial amount of information not only about birds, but about the hunters' notions of conservation. I had covered a good deal of this sort of material at the Huntington, and I will confess that, having read numerous works by and about hunters, a little of this material goes a long way. Now I have a lot. The collection at Princeton helped me feel confident about having essentially completed the topic, at least for my purposes.

Beyond the materials in the Department of Rare Books, one of the additional benefits was the exceptional range of books and journals in the stacks - and the fact that the stacks are open, as always, and open late into the night. I was able to track down a couple of journals (e.g. Raritan) that I had not been able to find at my own library at Georgia Tech or even, surprisingly, at the Huntington. I also spent some time downstairs working on a paper I am to deliver at a Ralph Waldo Emerson Bicentennial conference in Rome this October, and the ready availability of works by and about Emerson and Thoreau allowed me to complete most of this paper at Princeton (which was helpful, because the deadline for submitting the paper came just after I finished my time at Princeton). I think the combination of the specific collections in Rare Books and the more extensive collections - and the fact that both are housed, for the most part, in the same building - makes working at the Princeton University Library an especially comfortable and efficient arrangement for researchers.

The only down side of my visit, I suppose, was the timing, which was of my own doing, of course. Given my teaching commitments at Georgia Tech in the fall of 2002 and my stay at the Huntington in the winter and spring of 2003, the earliest I could come to Princeton was mid- May - right about the time of reading period and leading into exams, commencement, and reunions. Although I did, for better or worse, get to attend my 33rd reunion, I found myself wishing I had come at a more "normal" time of the year, when it would be possible to partake more of the intellectual life of the university, or at least to meet people and attend events in the History Department. Also, the transitions at the end of the academic year and the influx of visitors for commencement and reunions made finding one-month housing difficult. It might be valuable to remind future grantees to factor such considerations into their plans.

In the end, though, I had a very good and productive time at the Library, and, again, I express my deepest gratitude to the Friends of the Princeton University Library for the foresight and financial assistance that makes such stays possible, both for me and for numerous other scholars. The Friends' generosity reflects remarkably well on the Library and on the University as a whole.


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