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The Columbia Libraries launches two online exhibitions on the Core Curriculum

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Columbia University Libraries' Rare Book and Manuscript Library is launching two online exhibitions on the Core Curriculum: "Core Curriculum: Contemporary Civilization," and "Core Curriculum: Literature Humanities." The exhibitions celebrate the Core as the cornerstone of the Columbia College education and display the Libraries' collections related to the Core, which range from printed editions of Core texts to manuscripts dating from before the advent of printing.

The Core Curriculum is the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major. The distinctive feature of the Core are communal learning – with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time – and critical dialogue in small seminars. The Core seminar thrives on oral debate of the most difficult questions about human experience. 

The University Libraries Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located on the sixth floor of Butler Library, preserves and provides access to important editions of the majority of authors taught in the Core Curriculum. The collections include autograph manuscripts and subsequent editions, translations, and adaptations of Core texts, which demonstrate the transmission and reception of these works across centuries and attest to their continuing importance.

The manuscripts and printed texts in the new online exhibits come from a wide variety of Rare Book and Manuscript Library collections, including those of Stephen Whitney Phoenix, the Libraries' first special collection, George Arthur Plimpton, Gonzalez Lodge, and David Eugene Smith. Early materials include a papyrus fragment of Homer's Iliad dating from the 1st century BCE; a manuscript portion of the Quran, written and illuminated in 1259; a 14th century fragment from the Hebrew Book of Numbers; and a 14th century manuscript of Aristotle's Ethics, Politics, and Economics.

 Other highlights include a copy of Herodotus's Historia (Venice, 1502) owned by Erasmus; a copy of Homer’s Works (1517) owned by Melancthon and Martin Luther; the first printed polyglot Bible (1514-1522); Galileo's Starry Messenger(1610); Shakespeare's first folio Works (1623); Rousseau's The Social Contract(1762); John Jay's manuscript of  Number 5 of The Federalist Papers (1788); Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792); Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813); and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1926).

These online exhibitions were created by Karla Nielsen during the summer of 2011 as part of her work as Association of Research Libraries CEP Fellow, based in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

For those interested in the history of the Core, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds not only the files of the University Archives, but also the papers of many of the important figures in the founding and development of the Core, in particular those of John J. Coss and John Erskine. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library is also home to the papers of Jacques Barzun, Nicholas Murray Butler, Harry J. Carman, Irwin Edman, Moses Hadas, Douglas Moore, Lionel Trilling, Mark Van Doren, and Jack Beeson, among many others involved in the development of the various branches of Core Curriculum.

Rare Book and Manuscript Library Curators regularly host visits from Core classes and welcome inquiries from Core instructors for sessions tailored to their specific needs. Holdings are not limited to the material presented in these two new online exhibitions.

For more information or to arrange a visit to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, visit email