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Virtual Talk: Father Columba Stewart on Saving the World’s Manuscript Heritage from Imminent Danger

Please join the Friends of the Institute on November 12 as they bring you Father Columba Stewart and “Threat and Response: Saving the World’s Manuscript Heritage from Imminent Danger.”

Violent extremism, sectarian conflict, and the relentless pressures of globalization are destroying the written sources of human civilization. In this lecture, Benedictine monk and Executive Director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) Father Columba Stewart will discuss how HMML is responding to these threats. HMML, part of St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, is the only institution in the world exclusively dedicated to the photographic preservation and study of manuscripts, particularly those located in places where war, security, or economic conditions pose a threat. HMML is making a critical impact in these preservation efforts around the world, including the Middle East, Ethiopia, South Asia and the former Soviet Union—all areas that are rich in ancient cultures, yet currently torn by political instability and lack of resources.

Since its founding in 1965, HMML has worked with libraries in more than 20 countries to photograph historic manuscripts in dozens of languages. Some of the original manuscripts were later destroyed, stolen, lost, or moved for safekeeping. The library now holds the largest on-line collection of manuscripts in the world and makes them available on HMML Reading Room, an on-line environment for manuscript studies.

Upon becoming Executive Director of HMML in 2003, Father Columba embarked upon extensive travels throughout the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and India to establish working relationships with communities possessing manuscript collections dating from the early medieval period to modern times. Since then, HMML has digitized manuscripts from some of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible places. Father Columba and his team accomplish this by working with local leaders to photograph manuscripts, “to ensure that their deposits of wisdom, their libraries of handwritten texts, the voices of their past, can join the global conversations of the digital era.”

A graduate of Harvard, Yale and Oxford Universities, Father Columba has written extensively on his research of early Christian monasticism.  He is the recipient of numerous awards, grants and fellowships. Most recently, he was invited to give the 2019 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

Tickets are available for Friends members on October 15 and the general public on October 17.

A Mark and Mary Goff Fiterman lecture.