History in the making – thoughts on cataloguing the Liberation collection (Part 2)

In the first part of my blog-post on working with the Liberation donation, I explored the fragmented and sometimes contradictory vision of history that the books in the collection offer, each point of view representing only a tiny portion of the actual events. In this second part, I want to expand on the odd feeling I sometimes had that the entire collection itself, despite offering quite a complete view of the period’s publishing landscape in France, was only a fraction of the whole story. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the collection; indeed, what it doesn’t say is just as interesting from a historical point of view as what it does say.

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History in the making – thoughts on cataloguing the Liberation collection (Part 1)

In 2019, I spent 9 months helping to process the Liberation collection, a donation of over 3000 books in French published at the end of the Second World War. As this project is coming to an end, and with the current atmosphere lending itself to pause and reflection, now seemed a good time to share my experience of working with the collection. This will not be a full and objective review of what you can expect to find in it, but rather a more personal spotlight on what struck me the most.

When I started cataloguing it, I expected the donation would give me a complete and accurate view of what these extraordinary times were like in France. Yet if there is one thing that I will take away from it, it is that it is impossible to have a full understanding of history when you are caught in the middle of it. Continue reading

George Steiner bequest

Professor George Steiner’s donation

I was recently delighted to catalogue and add to our collections a number of rare German philosophy and literature titles. These rather special books came from the library of the eminent literary scholar, the late Professor George Steiner who sadly died earlier this year. Numerous obituaries have been published outlining his career and achievements. George Steiner had finally settled in Cambridge after a long career which took him from the University of Chicago to Harvard, Oxford, Princeton and Geneva. Living in Cambridge he became a regular user of the University Library and it was his wish that some of the most precious volumes of his library should come eventually to the University Library.

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Covers from the Liberation Collection

The Liberation Collection consists of over 3000 books published in French between 1944 and 1946. They all share a common subject – the Second World War – and reflect the interest of the collector for book history (quality paper, limited editions, signed copies, etc.); this aside, they differ widely from each other in the way they treat the subject, what they talk about (or don’t talk about), their format, pictorial content, audience, tone and genre. One way to give an insight into the variety of the collection is through its most striking book covers, most of them having been photographed for our thumbnail project. Here is a random sample taken from books catalogued in 2019:

Fiction

Fiction represents nearly one sixth of the collection and includes literature for children. Below are a spy novel, an adventure tale about the life of a fighter pilot and a theatre play about the army draft in France.

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The Résistante and the Collaborationist: an odd connection in the Liberation Collection

Riffaud and Liquois, two destinies with seemingly nothing in common, apart from the War and a little booklet from Jeunesse Héroïque (Portrait of Riffaud by Picasso from “Le poing fermé”, Liquois image from https://histo28.miraheze.org under Creative Commons)

As discussed in an earlier blogpost, showcasing the beautiful and entertaining Belgian children’s collection Les Alliés, a surprisingly large proportion of the Liberation Collection is made up of thin pamphlets aimed at young people. They were published in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in France and Belgium. Continue reading