As a classicist, I am accustomed to working with limited information.
The works that survived the last 2000 years from Greece and Rome did not come to us entirely intact, and I have frequently dealt with gaping holes, questionable validity, and alternate versions of texts.
So, when it came to time to choose my career path, I made it my goal to do my part in the tradition that allowed great works to survive, intact, into the future.
With those thoughts in mind, the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I secured a job in MARBL. My responsibilities were simple, as expected for an untried undergraduate - reshelving materials and running photocopies for researchers. Now, those tasks were not the most riveting things I had ever done, but materials themselves made my job interesting and exciting. And while the rare and and old books called to my soul with their history and beauty, it is the personal papers of MARBL's collection that unexpectedly caught my attention.
Over the three summers that I worked at MARBL, thousands of papers from hundreds of collections passed through my hands. I read letters from both northern and southern soldiers during the Civil War. I glanced through family accounts from the 18th century. I saw Billie Holiday's tax returns. I went through typescripts hand edited by Seamus Heaney and screenplays by Salman Rushdie. I copied greeting cards and post cards and invitations and scrapbooks and pencil drawings. I came to realize that these minutiae of daily life give a rounded view of these people, and collectively, they provide snapshots of the lives of both ordinary and extraordinary individuals. Buried in these papers wasn't just the works of the authors, but the authors themselves.
Before I worked in MARBL, my focus was purely on finished, published, traditionally valuable texts - great novels and poems and art. Now, however, I see that there is so much more information that should be saved. The scholarly concept of ancient society is profoundly limited by the types of texts that have survived, which are almost exclusively the published writings of the upper elite. MARBL has taught me that there is real value to having more information of different kinds, glimpses into the personal lives of people from all backgrounds and all social classes. If these types of works can be preserved for the future, then those who come after us can have the context that we lack. They will have a better understanding of who we are and what our lives are truly like. Working at MARBL has shifted my goal from merely preserving works to preserving lives. Thank you, MARBL (and MARBL staff!), for three wonderful summers and for helping me find my path forward into the future.
Andra Langoussis, 10OX 12C
In the Blog
- Postcolonial Studies @ Emory
- A Beautifully Illustrated Book in the Seydel Collection
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Medical Formulas from the Reed Family
- New tech e-books:Safari Books Online
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Resurrection City Street Signs
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Ralph McGill's Paper Bag Letter
- Sisyphus: Patron Saint of the Stacks
- Cake Sprinkles, Cigarettes, Pasta, and Rusty Razor Blades: Preservation Challenges in MARBL
- The Extraordinary World of MARBL: Robert E. Lee's Socks
- Poetry as Conversation: Recent Additions to the Anthony Hecht Papers