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"The perfect guy for the perfect gift for the perfect lady"

Gift to Sheridan Libraries establishes the Nancy H. Hall Curatorship of Rare Books and Manuscripts
Posted April 22, 2016
Earle Havens, the inaugural Nancy H. Hall Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts Earle Havens, the inaugural Nancy H. Hall Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

When Nancy Hall passed away in May, Robert Hall, Engr '55, knew just what to do. With a pledge of $2 million, he established the Nancy H. Hall Curatorship of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Sheridan Libraries, "an in-perpetuity extension of what Nancy was all about."

The Sheridan Libraries' Earle Havens, PhD, was formally appointed to the endowed curatorship position at a ceremony in March. 

Throughout their marriage, Nancy and Bob focused their giving on endowments meant to ensure that the humanities thrive for future generations. (While Bob studied engineering at Johns Hopkins, he suspected that courses in philosophy, economics, and history might prove useful in later life.) "The humanities are all about the human condition, and the human condition needs all the help it can get," he says. In 2004, the couple established the Nancy H. and Robert E. Hall Professorship in the Humanities at the Krieger School, a position currently held by Felipe Pereda in the Department of the History of Art. Bob also served as a Peabody Conservatory trustee in the '80s and a Krieger School Advisory Council member in the 2000s. Nancy served from 2003 to 2007 on the advisory committee for the Sheridan Libraries.

Although Nancy never met Havens, Bob met the curator on many occasions before his wife's death and was impressed by Havens' ability to engage with just about anyone. "I could see that Earle was a fantastic teacher. He is always asking, not just telling. He is the perfect guy for the perfect gift for the perfect lady."

Havens says the endowed curatorship guarantees that there will always be someone at the libraries who can connect students and faculty with historical artifacts. Even more, the curator-scholar position expands what the libraries can do by increasing opportunities for partnerships and projects to enhance the university's reputation as a leader in the digital humanities.

Havens' responsibilities converge around the Renaissance ideal of ad fontes, in English "to the sources." Havens builds and cares for world-class collections, publishes scholarly work on early print and manuscript culture, teaches courses, and creates paths into the digital humanities, all in an effort to understand the ways historical texts were represented to their original audiences.

Some of Havens' most recent work supports a digital humanities initiative called "The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe." The research project brings together an international team of humanists and technologists to explore the history of reading practices in 16th- and early 17th-century Europe by focusing on unique manuscript marginalia. Beyond the digitizing of texts, the project will allow scholars today to understand how scholars read 450 years ago.

Bob Hall says such work, which helps usher Hopkins "into the digital age of education," underscores his alma mater's legacy as America's first research university. Today, the alumnus is often seen in Baltimore's museums and the Sheridan Libraries' Special Collections and Archives, attending lectures on Roman obelisks, the King Memorial Windows, and more. "I have been in Earle's inner sanctum," he says of the collections cared for by Havens. "A curator like Earle brings the artifacts to life."