Hamilton Debuts Oneida Community Digital Library
Initiated following her junior year, Leigh Gialanella’s Emerson Grant-funded summer project resulted in more than the usual final paper and presentation. Under the continuing guidance of Special Collections and Archives Director and Curator Christian Goodwillie, Gialanella ’15 has:
- created an interactive website featuring the library of the Oneida Community’s approximately 4,000 publications;
- received the Communal Studies Association's Starting Scholar Award for her senior thesis focused on the Oneida Community; and
- begun her studies toward a master’s degree at the University of Michigan in a tailored track that will lead to a career in digital libraries, digital archives, and/or digital asset management.
For her Emerson project, Leigh Gialanella ’15 examined the Oneida Community’s print culture under the guidance of Professor of History Doug Ambrose and the director and curator of the Hamilton College Special Collections and Archives Christian Goodwillie. Print culture, as Gialanella explained, “refers to a society’s relationship with the written word.”
The Oneida Community was a religiously based, socialist group of about 250 individuals dedicated to living as one family and sharing all property. This belief in communalism meant that new members were expected to offer up all of their books to the community library. More than 4,000 of these publications still exist in the library of the Oneida Community Mansion House, which today serves as a museum and stores many of the community’s artifacts including the library. Gialanella spent the summer of 2014 reviewing the library’s contents.
As reported in an earlier story on Gialanella’s research, many of the books contain ownership inscriptions, bookplates and marginal commentaries from their readers, offering insight into the minds of the people who once owned and read these manuscripts. “The finds inside the books have been amazing as well,” Gialanella remarked. “We’ve found photographs, 150-year-old leaves pressed between pages, plaintive letters from distressed community members, coin rubbings and all sorts of interesting inscriptions and doodles.” She scanned book covers and pages, catalogued them in an online database and linked the records to online annotated library collections accessible anywhere in the world.
What began as a summer project continued for a total of 16 months during which time Gialanella completed her senior thesis on the Oneida Community and won the Communal Studies Association's Starting Scholar Award. This is the same award that Caroline Clarke, who also completed her thesis under Goodwillie’s direction, won in 2014. The award is meant to “encourage and recognize authors new to the field of communal studies,” according to the association’s website.
As Gialanella continues along the path she embarked on at Hamilton, pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, she leaves behind an interactive website, a permanent testament to her significant undergraduate undertaking. The library of the Oneida Community site comprehensively documents the extraordinary collection that remains in situ at the Oneida Community Mansion House. It offers a fully searchable catalog of the library, as well as highlighted books from the collection, a page about prominent Oneida Community members and their books, Gialanella's essay on print culture at the Oneida Community and downloadable long- and short-form collection bibliographies.
The overarching goal was to thoroughly survey the collection, record the presence of bookplates, ownership inscriptions and marginalia in the volumes, and to transcribe and/or make digital images of the most notable discoveries. The website provides a remarkable portal into the intellectual life of one of America’s most open-minded and progressive intentional communities.
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Emerson Foundation provided additional financial assistance for this project. Oneida Community Mansion House Executive Director Patricia Hoffman and Curator of Collections Anthony Wonderley were particularly helpful in completing the project. Peter MacDonald, Library Information Systems Specialist at Hamilton College, worked closely with Gialanella and Goodwillie to construct the website that hosts the digital library.