Research grant program at Princeton University Library kicks off October 11th

After a year’s hiatus resulting from the pandemic, the Friends of Princeton University Library (Friends) are delighted to announce the return of the Special Collections research grants program. With grants of up to $4,000, plus travel expenses, this program offers researchers from around the world access to Princeton University Library’s (PUL) unique and rare collections.

Awarded to short-term projects lasting between two and four weeks, the grants aim to promote scholarly use of the Library’s special collections. Research projects are focused on scholarly use of archives, manuscripts, rare books, and other rare and unique holdings of PUL. 

Researchers working in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room at Firestone Library. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson

Previous awardees have conducted research in the East Asian Collection, Manuscripts Division, Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, Cotsen Children’s Library, and Public Policy Papers - among others. 

A selection committee comprising faculty, Library staff, and members of the Friends of the Princeton University Library award the grants on the basis of the relevance of the proposal to unique holdings of PUL, the merits and significance of the project, and the applicant’s qualifications. The grants are designed to help defray the costs of traveling to and residing in Princeton to conduct research. 

"These short-term research grants sponsored by the Friends of PUL are a fantastic opportunity for doctoral students, recent doctorates, tenured and non-tenured faculty, and independent scholars to further their research. In particular, we seek to fund proposals on new and original topics," said Will Noel, John T. Maltsberger III ’55 Associate University Librarian for Rare Books and Special Collections. "We are also especially keen to connect with researchers from under-represented communities."

Benefits of coming to Princeton

While more and more of the Library’s collections are being digitized, working on-site provides the opportunity to work closely with PUL’s knowledgeable curators, librarians, and subject specialists who can provide invaluable support. 

Aimee Genova in Firestone Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room in 2019. This photo was taken pre-pandemic.

Photo credit: Sherry Zhang

Aimee Genova, a grant award recipient in 2019-20, said, “I was able to consult the Library’s home page directly for information about what collections and unique materials were available through the Department of Special Collections, including the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, as well as rare books uncirculated and housed within the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology. However, there is no substitute for the knowledge and specialization of the PUL team to identify additional materials that could be relevant – and I greatly benefitted from their expertise about the various collections of PUL.”

Often there is no replacement for being able to personally investigate the items for research. For Sarah Lindenbaum, a recipient in 2017-18, this was critical for her study of the library of early modern woman book collector Frances Wolfreston (1607-1677). Lindenbaum’s theory was that Wolfreston’s lengthier works, which were not sold with the majority of her surviving books in an 1856 Sotheby and Wilkinson auction, were deemed by her family to be of greater value. PUL’s Department of Special Collections holds both the longer works as well as those sold in 1856, giving Lindenbaum a wonderful opportunity to compare them. 

“I came to Princeton in part to look at the booksellers' marks and bibliographical notes that are often on the flyleaves and paste-downs of both books to see if they would yield clues about when they'd been sold and by whom,” said Lindenbaum. “I ended up being able to trace one work, the “Ariana,” to a 1957 Sotheby's auction catalogue. Given the length of the “Ariana” and another work I was investigating, “Du Bartas,” it was necessary to "autopsy" the books in person rather than consult remotely with a curator, who would not have had the time to examine every single page as I did.” 

Both researchers found the grant application process to be straightforward and transparent, and the PUL team very helpful and accommodating. 

A fun place to live - even for a few weeks

In addition to the unparalleled resources within the Department of Special Collections, the ability to enjoy life both on and off Princeton University’s campus was an unexpected surprise for both recipients.

“While I expected my days to be consumed exclusively in the Special Collections, I didn’t anticipate having as many enticing opportunities to engage with the community ‘outside the archives’ as I did,” Genova said. “I am truly appreciative of the Princeton community for opening its doors and encouraging me to be a part of campus life while in residence. I was able to attend a concert at McAlpin Rehearsal Hall with ‘Songs from Cyprus’, a Princeton University Art Museum panel on ‘What they Carried: Stories from Recently Resettles Refugees,’ and an opera entitled ‘Don’t Trifle with Love’ at Theater Intime.”  

During Lindenbaum’s time at the University, she went slightly further afield, attending a Paul McCartney concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. “I went [to the Paul McCartney concert] just after I arrived on campus since it was a short train trip away. I had an eighth-row seat and ended up being asked to appear on stage with Paul for what is probably the most awkward solo dance of my life!”

Coming full circle

For Genova, the opportunity to work in Firestone Library and Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology gave her the intellectual space to begin thinking about how to expand her research project. Genova is now back at Princeton as a Mary Seeger O’Boyle Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, exploring complementary materials at PUL to expand her original research comparatively into a monograph. 

Lindenbaum was delighted to hear from John Leger, the editor of the Princeton University Library Chronicle, with an invitation to publish an article about the research she had conducted while at Princeton. The Chronicle is an interdisciplinary journal whose mission is to publish articles of scholarly importance and general interest based on research in the collections of the Princeton University Library. 

Genova was also approached by Leger to consider contributing an article to the Chronicle based on her research. She was able to take the opportunity to propose and write an article based on a set of manuscripts that were unrelated to the scope of her initial research but that she first came across during her time in the Special Collections.

Both articles will appear in the forthcoming issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle, which will be openly available through JSTOR in the first quarter of 2022.

Applications for the 2022-2023 grant year open on Monday, October 11, 2021. The deadline to submit completed applications is January 14, 2022. For more information and to begin your application, please visit the Library’s Special Collections website.

Published October 8, 2021