From Special Collections
By Kristen J. Nyitray, Contributing Editor
Photos courtesy of Special Collections
Beginning with this spring issue of Stony Brook Magazine, this column will highlight distinctive and unique research collections from Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), the renowned division of the Libraries with stewardship of Stony Brook University’s vast trove of rare books, manuscripts, antique maps and archival materials. It is the largest repository of its type east of New York City, and every year thousands of students, scholars and community members access these invaluable collections.
The Senator From New York
From the landmark March on Washington in 1964 to the founding of the Fire Island National Seashore, the Senator Jacob K. Javits Collection documents modern U.S. history and the dynamic life and career of Sen. Javits. Revered for his dedication to public service, bipartisanship efforts and tireless work ethic, Javits was a U.S. congressman, attorney general of the State of New York and a U.S. senator. His archive comprises nearly 2 million documents, photographs, film, audio and memorabilia. A digital exhibition and select items from the collection are available online through SCUA’s website. Reflecting on his archive, Sen. Javits stated, “It is my hope and expectation that this collection of my official papers will be a stimulus for enterprising minds and a source of creativity in human and governmental endeavors.”
Medieval Collection of an Infamous Book Breaker
What is a biblioclast? A book breaker, or someone who intentionally alters a book — and that is how notorious educator and book seller Otto F. Ege defined himself. Ege is known for intentionally removing pages or leaves from books. He sought to amass the best examples of manuscripts crafted from the 11th century onward. Ege rationalized that disbinding volumes was altruistic and would provide the public with greater opportunities to study them. SCUA owns portfolio number 19 of the 40 limited edition sets produced. Many of the illuminated manuscripts are adorned with gold leaf and lapis. This collection has been digitized to expand accessibility and to support efforts of students and scholars virtually reconstructing the works from which the fragmented and scattered leaves were taken.
Spies in the Archive
Spies exist — in the archive! In 1778, General George Washington was desperate for credible reports about British activities in southern New York. Washington assigned Major Benjamin Tallmadge to lead intelligence-gathering activities, and he in turn asked his trusted childhood friends and family in Setauket to aid with the efforts. The Three Village area, including Stony Brook, would soon become the hub for the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolutionary War. SCUA curates two original spy letters authored by Washington in 1779 and 1780. Significant to regional and national historical narratives, the correspondence reveals Washington’s insights on spy craft techniques including codes, aliases and the “sympathetic stain” (invisible ink), and details his suggested methods for covertly obtaining and concealing information.
Visit the Special Collections website to learn more about the treasures within.
Kristen J. Nyitray is associate librarian, director of Special Collections and University Archives and university archivist at Stony Brook University. A certified archivist (Academy of Certified Archivists), she is recipient of the Chancellor’s Award (SUNY) and the President’s Award (SBU) for Excellence in Librarianship. Among her publications are the books Stony Brook: State University of New York and Long Island Beaches.