The Unpublishable Memoirs: Reflections on the Bookish Life with Dr. Alexander Lawrence Ames

The Collections Department at The Rosenbach Museum & Library knows that a key part of our work in preserving the institution’s holdings for future generations is showcasing why our collections matter to society today.   

Through our interpretive programs, we welcome members of our community into fascinating worlds of history, art, and literature, and help them appreciate the importance of investing in the Rosenbach’s future. One of the most exciting interpretive projects that we are currently undertaking is The Rosenbach Podcast, which debuted in December 2021 and has already accrued more than 2,565 listens in 22 countries. My colleagues and I are hard at work creating season 2 of the podcast, titled “History Behind the Scenes: Exploring The Rosenbach’s History Collections.” In the upcoming season, scheduled to debut this winter, we will take listeners on an incredible journey into the richness of the Rosenbach’s holdings in U.S. history, and consider the place of libraries, museums, and archives in modern civic life. Today, I am pleased to offer members of the Rosenbach’s Company a special preview of what we have in store for the upcoming season of the podcast!

Videographer Andrew Gormley films the video teaser trailer for Season 2 of The Rosenbach Podcast on August 5, 2022. Photo credit: Rosa Doherty.

One of my and my colleagues’ main goals in The Rosenbach Podcast is to help our listeners understand that we steward our collections for their benefit—and for the benefit of future visitors and researchers. We strive not only to guarantee the safety of the Rosenbach’s objects but also to support easy access and enjoyment. We recently recorded a video teaser trailer for season 2 of the podcast in which we modeled the experience of doing research in our reading room, with the hope of encouraging viewers and listeners to consider making a research appointment of their own. When our audience members consider themselves as “part of our team,” we know that they feel comfortable approaching us with questions about how to make use of our collections.

A defining feature of season 2, “History Behind the Scenes,” will be podcast episodes that take me on the road, to learn from other bibliophiles with Rosenbach connections. I recently enjoyed the tremendous honor of traveling to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to interview Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division Mark Dimunation about a rare relic that survived the burning of the U.S. Capitol during the War of 1812—and was donated back to the Library of Congress by Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach in January 1940. In our conversation, Mark and I unearth the story of Dr. Rosenbach’s remarkable donation and discuss the importance of rare book libraries to U.S. society and culture.

Mark Dimunation and Alexander Ames examine a book during a podcast interview at the Library of Congress, July 27, 2022.
Inscriptions on the front pastedown of An Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of the United States for the Year 1810 (Washington: A. & G. Way, Printers, 1812), HJ10 .A5 1810, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
First page of a Library of Congress press release announcing Dr. Rosenbach’s donation of a book stolen from the U.S. Capitol during the War of 1812, January 13, 1940. Courtesy of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

On the heels of my journey to Washington, I took a much shorter trip to the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, just a few blocks from the Rosenbach here in Philadelphia, for a wonderful chat with Senior Book Conservator Richard Homer about a very special volume from the Rosenbach’s collection that he is currently conserving: an English translation of the Qur’an that belonged to members of the Gratz family. Richard and I discussed the conservation process, and the importance of curators, librarians, and conservators working together to develop goals and strategies for preservation and conservation programs. (We even found an 18th or 19th century craft project interleaved in the historic volume, as you can see in the photo below!)

Alexander Ames and Richard Homer examine a Rosenbach Qur’an undergoing conservation at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, August 2, 2022.

While we hope the podcast is entertaining and engaging for our listeners, our primary goal is to educate about the importance of historical collections for the continued well-being of U.S. democratic society—as well as the work of library and museum professionals to provide access to the material remnants of our shared histories. To whet your appetite for season 2, below are the titles of a few episodes currently in production:

  • How The Rosenbach Collects. A Reading Room Conversation with Curator & Senior Director of Collections Judith M. Guston and Librarian Elizabeth E. Fuller About Making New Acquisitions. 
  • The Gratz Family Qur’-an: Conserving an Artifact of Early America’s Global Connections. A Conversation with Richard Homer of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. 
  • Golden Cross: Relics of Imperial Spain and Independent Mexico at The Rosenbach. A Discussion with Carlos G. Obrador Garrido Cuesta, Head Consul of the Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia, and Sara Potts, Development Associate at The Rosenbach. 
  • Voices in the Wilderness: A Conversation About Early American Religion and Music with Musicologist and Opera Singer Christopher Dylan Herbert. 
  • Tea with James Buchanan and Harriet Lane: The Remarkable Public Life of a Bachelor President’s Niece. 
  • “Here Lies the Heart”: The Passionate Life, Rebellious Love, and Remarkable Romances of Mercedes De Acosta. A Conversation with Robert A. Schanke, Author of “That Furious Lesbian”: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta, and Isabel Steven, Coordinator of Public Programs at The Rosenbach.
  • Dr. Rosenbach’s Rare Relic from the War of 1812: A Conversation with Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress. 

If you have not yet listened to Season 1 of The Rosenbach Podcast, please watch the video teaser trailer online and enjoy the 14 available episodes on our website, or wherever you listen to podcasts.  I look forward to continuing our bookish conversation in the next installment of The Unpublishable Memoirs.