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Student delivers lecture at Library of Congress

A summer internship at the Library of Congress has enabled Johnna Purchase ’14 to work extensively with rare materials that include a 1922 Shakespeare & Company (Paris) printing of Ulysses (bottom left), a controversial 1986 Random House printing edited by Hans Gabler (bottom right), and a 1935 Limited Editions Book Club (America) edition illustrated by Henri Matisse (top center). The other books on the table are facsimiles of the manuscript and fine press illustrations of works by James Joyce.

St. Olaf College student Johnna Purchase ’14 delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress this week examining the material and cultural history of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Purchase used the July 25 lecture, titled “The ineluctable modality of the visible: the seen and unseen legacy of James Joyce’s Ulysses,” to share some of what she’s learned during her summer internship at the largest library in the world.

“This lecture, and my internship as a whole, requires me to look at books from a totally different perspective than what I use as a student of English literature,” she says. “Rather than valuing a book solely for the text, I am examining the importance of Ulysses as a material object with the cultural agency to shape fields as diverse as typography, art, American book clubs, literary movements, and even censorship law.”

Purchase’s lecture at the Library of Congress serves as a bridge between her time last fall studying at Trinity College in Dublin, which is the setting of Ulysses, and the research she will be doing this fall with St. Olaf Assistant Professor of English Jonathan Naito on Joyce’s use of the stream of consciousness technique in the novel.

A wealth of experience
When Purchase began looking for a summer internship to further prepare her for graduate school, Naito encouraged her to seek opportunities at research libraries in library science. The St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career then connected her with Mark Dimunation ’74, who stewards some of the nation’s most precious documents in his role as the chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.

That connection enabled Purchase to receive an internship at the Library of Congress, which serves as the research arm of the United States Congress and is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. Making the move to Washington, D.C., for the summer was made possible through the internship funding Purchase received from the Piper Center, as well as through the generosity of St. Olaf alumni who opened their home to her for the summer.

Her work at the Library of Congress has given Purchase the opportunity to work closely with a concentrated gathering of rare material, including the first edition of Ulysses and fine press illustrations of works by Joyce. She’s also learned about collections management, curating special collections, and about other important American literary contributions such as the poets laureates and the New York–based St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

And she’s not the only one who has enjoyed the experience. Dimunation says that it has been a joy to have an Ole at the Library of Congress this summer.

“Nothing tugs on the heart strings of an Ole more than watching a current student flourish and shine,” he says. “I am reminded of the earnest, open-minded nature of a St. Olaf education and the generosity of spirit that is imbued in the St. Olaf experience.”