03/26/2002 08:00:00

Grant Gives Undergraduates Access to One of the World's Great Archives of Literature

PASADENA, Calif.- The California Institute of Technology and the Huntington Library share an intertwined past, one that has ranged from common and lofty intellectual pursuits to nuts-and-bolts concerns about bookworms and possible nuclear attacks.

Now, thanks to a $197,500 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the two institutions continue their collaboration, this time to further invigorate Caltech's undergraduate curriculum in the humanities. The three-year grant, titled "Building Partnerships, Building Knowledge," will enrich the undergraduate learning experience in several ways: making the library's extensive collections in the humanities available for undergraduate research projects; providing for team-teaching by Caltech faculty and curatorial staff from the Huntington; presenting humanities seminars at the library; and providing fellowships for minority students to pursue research topics in the Huntington collections.

The grant will further enhance Caltech's determination, as stated by its president David Baltimore, to provide its students, who are mostly science or engineering majors, with the resources to emerge as "expansive thinkers rather than merely gifted technicians."

The Caltech Huntington Committee for the Humanities (CHCH) will oversee the grant. Established in 1988, the committee is an "intellectual partnership," says William Deverell, an associate professor of history at Caltech who chairs the committee. The CHCH designs and implements collaborative research, teaching, and scholarly programs between the two institutions.

"For the humanities at Caltech, the Huntington is our laboratory," says Deverell. "And thanks to the generosity and vision of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, we will be able to offer our students the same kind of hands-on research opportunities in the humanities that they receive as young scientists at Caltech."

Through its Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, which sponsors original undergraduate research supervised by Institute faculty, Caltech will use the Foundations' support to introduce students to the archives of the Huntington Library. Student research work will later be showcased in an annual humanities research conference. In addition, the grant will support the appointments of visiting faculty and the development of additional collaborative teaching and research programs.

Caltech and the Huntington share a rich and complementary history. In the early twentieth century, astronomer George Ellery Hale, the prime mover in the establishment of Caltech, urged railroad magnate, bibliophile, and philanthropist Henry E. Huntington to "think big" regarding the extraordinary library and art collection he and his wife Arabella had amassed. Huntington founded his library, art gallery, and botanical gardens in 1919; it was opened to the public in 1928. In the ensuing years, the two institutions have collaborated intellectually, and in surprising ways. In the 1930s, Arnold Beckman helped the Huntington eradicate a bookworm infestation by inventing a fumigation tube, and during the tense years of the Cold War, Caltech physicist Charles Lauritsen advised the library on the creation of a vault that would withstand nuclear attack.

Hale's observance that the Huntington—home to such renowned works as the illuminated manuscripts of William Blake, one of the two earliest surviving manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, circa 1455—was a veritable laboratory for the historian or literature scholar was exactly right: the institution has emerged as one of the world's great archives of Anglo American Art, literature, rare books, photographs, and manuscripts. "Working with our colleagues at the Huntington," Deverell notes, "we can offer our students as rich and exciting an undergraduate education as they can find anywhere in the nation."

The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, based in Jacksonville, Florida, are national philanthropic organizations established through the generosity of the late American industrialist Arthur Vining Davis. The purpose of the Foundations is to provide financial assistance to certain educational, cultural, scientific, and religious institutions within the United States, with the goal of strengthening our nation's future.