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Ivy Day ceremony, circa 1917
2016 saw the completion of a large project involving the digitization of seventy-six 8-mm films in the College Archives, as well as audio tapes and 180 video tapes in the Sophia Smith Collection. Because of the fragile condition of the original formats, these had long been unavailable to researchers. Now that they have been digitized (and metadata added), they can be retrieved and viewed with ease.
The material ranged from Commencement exercises, 1925 to1949 and the inaugurations of Presidents Davis and Mendenhall; to source material for a film about the writer and activist Audre Lord. It also included footage about WAVES. Smith was the training ground for these Naval officers during World War 2 and almost 10,000 women graduated from the program.
One unusual project involved conservation treatment for a vellum document with the great seal of Elizabeth I, repaired at Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. The seal, about five inches in diameter, is attached to a document that is written by hand in Latin and dated March 4, 1602. This is the second version of Elizabeth I's great seal, used during the second half of her reign. The document and seal came from the estate of Henry L. Seaver whose wife, Susan, was class of 1901. Seaver began donating books and manuscripts in the 1940s and left a stunning bequest to the Rare Book Room in 1976.
One of the most famous books printed in the English language is Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies: Published According to the Original Copies, that is, Shakespeare’s Works. The Mortimer Rare Book Room does not own a copy of the coveted First Folio (the first printing in large format) from 1632, but Smith does have the Second Folio, printed in the same year. This volume received much-needed conservation work by Daniel Gehnrich, who reattached the loose leaves at the front of the book and reinforced and cleaned up the leather binding. One of the reattached pages features the famous portrait of Shakespeare engraved by Martin Droeshout.
Matthioli’s Herbal (Matthioli commentarii), printed in Venice in 1565, is one of a large collection of botanical volumes at Smith, and it is one of the most beautifully-illustrated of the 16th-century herbals. The 20th-century binding on Smith’s copy literally fell off due to frequent use. After some cleaning and mending of paper tears, bookbinder and conservator Angela Scott rebound the book in full calfskin. Matthioli’s work is shown often to classes in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, which recently acquired an original woodblock used to print one of the images in this very edition.