Friends Lecture Series

November 12, 2020 11:00 am



Ticket Price: Free

Threat and Response: Saving the World’s Manuscript Heritage from Imminent Danger

Father Columbia Stewart, Director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library will give the Friends November Lecture. 

Violent extremism, sectarian conflict, and the relentless pressures of globalization are destroying the written sources of human civilization. Hear how the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) is responding to these threats. HMML is the only institution in the world exclusively dedicated to the photographic preservation and study of manuscripts, with a particular emphasis on manuscripts located in places where war, security, or economic conditions pose a threat. HMML is making a critical impact in these preservation efforts around the world, including the Middle East, Ethiopia, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union—all areas that are rich in ancient cultures, yet currently torn by political instability and lack of resources. 

Father Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk and Executive Director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, will talk about his team’s work digitally preserving manuscripts of diverse world cultures and religions at risk of being destroyed by war, disaster, looting, and neglect. 

Since its founding in 1965, HMML has worked with libraries in more than 20 countries to photograph historic manuscripts in dozens of languages. Some of the original manuscripts were later destroyed, stolen, lost, or moved for safekeeping. The library now holds the largest online collection of manuscripts in the world and makes them available on the vHMML Reading Room, an online environment for manuscript studies.

Upon becoming Executive Director of HMML in 2003, Father Columba embarked upon extensive travels throughout the world to establish working relationships with communities possessing manuscript collections dating from the early medieval period to modern times. Since then, HMML has digitized manuscripts from some of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible places. Father Columba and his team accomplish this by working with local leaders to photograph manuscripts, “to ensure that their deposits of wisdom, their libraries of handwritten texts, the voices of their past, can join the global conversations of the digital era.” Father Columba has said, “We don’t always know trouble is coming, but we have a history of being there just in time.  People can say it’s serendipity, but I believe in providence.”     

A graduate of Harvard, Yale and Oxford Universities, Father Columba has written extensively on his research of early Christian monasticism. In 1981, he joined the Benedictines, the order that built libraries in the Middle Ages, preserving and reproducing Bibles and other religious and philosophical texts by hand. He is the recipient of numerous awards, grants, and fellowships. Most recently, he was the first Minnesotan invited to give the 2019 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

 A Mark and Mary Goff Fiterman lecture.