Inside the Milberg Gallery: In the Company of Good Books - Global Englishes

The following is part of a series of inside looks at the current exhibition in Princeton University Library’s Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library - “In the Company of Good Books: Shakespeare to Morrison.” 

Curated by Jennifer Garcon, Librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections, Gabriel Swift, Librarian for American Collections, and Eric White, Scheide Librarian & Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, the exhibition celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s “First Folio” and showcases Princeton’s diverse collection of English literature and many of the writers and readers who brought life to English literature around the world.

 Michael Joseph Ltd. 1945.

Bolusan’s memoir offers a poignant depiction of the consequences of colonialism on Filipino lives. Carlos Bolusan (1913-1956). “The Laughter of My Father.” London: Michael Joseph Ltd. 1945.

During the height of the British Empire (19th- and early 20th centuries)–spanning regions such as the South Pacific, Africa, North America, the Caribbean as well as neighboring Ireland and Scotland–over a quarter of the world’s population fell under its dominion. Administering such a vast territorial Empire posed not only legislative and logistical challenges for the Crown, but also cultural ones. British Imperial administrators embarked on a cultural project by exporting literature and the educational system to colonial outposts, aiming to reshape its colonized subjects in the image of the metropole. Many canonical works reflected the social, political, and cultural logics of Imperialism, and colonial educational systems sought to replace local knowledge with British aesthetics, norms, and reasoning through literary socialization. Imperial expansion faced opposition and conflict, ultimately leading to decolonization efforts and the eventual transition from Empire to Commonwealth. This produced a diverse range of post-colonial experiences, as depicted by various literary tropes, including the portrayal of insanity, fractured identity, and cultural alienation.

 a description of Nanny, the leader of the Windward Maroons.

Michelle Cliff (1949-2016). “From Abeng: a description of Nanny the leader of the Windward Maroons.” Broadside. Indiana: Helaine Victoria Press, 1984.

This section of the exhibition examines literature created by former British colonial subjects during or shortly after decolonization. It explores how these authors discuss and repurpose the English language and its canonical tropes to capture their lived experiences within the Empire.

The Heinemann African Writers Series, established in 1962, played a pivotal role in shaping African literature and its global recognition. With its commitment to publishing works by African authors, the series has provided a platform for voices previously marginalized by the literary canon. By offering a diverse range of narratives, the series has expanded readers’ understanding of African cultures, histories, and social issues. Moreover, the publication of these works has empowered African writers to assert their identities and challenge prevailing narratives of Africa. The Heinemann African Writers Series has not only enriched the literary landscape, but also contributed to the decolonization of knowledge and the promotion of cultural exchange. Its impact continues to resonate, influencing subsequent generations of writers and fostering a greater appreciation for African literature worldwide.

 Heinemann, 1958

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013). “Things Fall Apart.” London: Heinemann, 1958

Drawing its title from William Yeats, “The Second Coming,” British Nigerian-born Achebe explores the cultural and political ramifications of colonialism.

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The exhibition is open through December 10, 2023 at the Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library. Please visit the website to view the gallery’s opening hours and for information about public tours, related programming, and how to visit.

Discover more through the companion digital exhibition.

Published December 5, 2023.

Media Contact: Stephanie Oster, Library Publicity Manager