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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Life + Arts

UH Special Collections considered “The Last Untapped Resource in Houston”

In 2011, the 400-year anniversary of the King James Bible, historians traveled the world, seeking out the last remaining copies of the original publishing.

These historians came to UH that year to see the Bible, which is still housed in Special Collections. When they looked at the title page, they found that, inscribed on the title page was a dedication from original owner to his church. This dedication, according to Sharpe, would become crucial in understanding the King James Bible’s history.

Although the King James Bible is the now best-selling book of all time, it was not popular during its original printing, according to English Librarian Jesse Sharpe. As a result, few records indicate the price that it sold for in 1611.

The inscription on the title page, which would solve this mystery, read:

The special collections room in the M.D Anderson library and houses works such as the poetry of African American feminist Phyllis Wheatley.|AliyahZaidi/ The Cougar

“This Bible was bought by William Cooper … upon the 17th day of January, 1611 … which cost three pounds.”

But, Sharpe argued in his lecture for the Brown Bag series entitled “The Last Untapped Resource in Houston,” the tragedy of this story is that UH didn’t find this. It took outside sources looking into Houston’s Bible to realize the historical context of this tiny transcription. Sharpe, along with Library Specialist Kristine Greive, presented a number of works from the University’s Special Collections on Wednesday in the Rockwell Pavilion, stressing the importance of literature and book arts in universities.

“With universities becoming more and more generic in their collections … it doesn’t really matter where you go to school. If you’re looking for resources, they’re all going to generally be the same,” Sharpe said. “However… Special Collections is where each university makes itself unique.”

Sharpe and Greive displayed photos of various works of literature held in UH Special Collections, including poetry by African-American feminist Phyllis Wheatley, the banned novel “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence and an anonymously written satire of people in power, “The Diaboliad.”

In “Every Man in His Humor,” a novel by Ben Jonson, the famous book collector J. Brotherton left a note, telling historians about Charles Dickens in real life. A journal entitled “Studies in Black Literature,” published in Summer 1970, depicted a growing interest in African-American culture. “The Book of Repulsive Women” by Djuna Barnes, provided insight into a new 20th century audience reading “outcast books,” Greive said.

“Special Collections have incredible breadth,” Greive said. “So regardless of your area of interest or research—what you like to see—there are going to be books that fit that. What we’ve shown today is not like a ‘Best of Special Collections literature,’ or a ‘Highlights;’ it’s really trying to give you a few samples of different things—it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

The Special Collections Reading Room is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It is located on the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library.

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