The McKew Parr Collection was donated to Brandeis in 1961 by Connecticut State Senator Charles McKew Parr and his wife, Ruth. Comprised of nearly 7000 items, the McKew Parr Collection, titled “Magellan and the Age of Discovery,” was one of America’s premier private collections devoted to the era of exploration, the period from the mid-fifteenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries. Of these items, almost 1000 books and several hundred pamphlets of particular rarity and value are housed in the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, while the remaining volumes, consisting mainly of mid-twentieth-century scholarly works on exploration, are held in the open stacks.
McKew Parr began compiling the collection to support his research on the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, which he eventually published in a 1953 biography entitled So Noble a Captain: The Life and Times of Ferdinand Magellan [G286.M2 P3], renamed in the second edition Ferdinand Magellan, Circumnavigator [G286.M2 P32 1964]. After publishing the first edition of this work, McKew Parr decided to make these materials available to the larger scholarly community, and to that end he converted an outbuilding on his
The third image shows the title page of a catalog for the library, dedicated by Charles McKew Parr
to one of the other major early donors to the Brandeis Library, Mr. Bern Dibner. Materials in the McKew Parr Collection are primarily in Spanish and Portuguese, but include some English, French, Dutch, and Latin texts as well. The collection is of primary interest to those wishing to consult contemporary accounts of European exploration and colonial history, especially that of
McKew Parr considered these materials a working collection; that is, he gathered them primarily for their scholarly interest rather than for their rarity or monetary value, and thus, upon donating the collection to Brandeis, it was his wish that the majority of the materials be made easily accessible to students for use in their own research. To this end, the Special Collections Department is in the process of digitizing some of the more fragile items in the McKew Parr Collection through the Open Content Alliance in collaboration with the Boston Public Library. Thus far, several dozen volumes have been made publicly available in electronic format and may be viewed online at http://www.archive.org/details/opencontentalliance under the search heading “McKew Parr.” One of these texts, Noticias de Portugal, Offerecidas a el Rey N.S. Dom Ioao o IV, a seventeenth-century account of Portuguese economic conditions, has already been downloaded nearly 400 times in the eight months since it was first made available, indicating the scale of the scholarly interest in many of these items.
The nearly 1000 rare items from “Magellan and the Age of Discovery” held in Special Collections include almost 300 volumes published before 1850, most of which are contemporary accounts of the process of exploration and colonization. These often first-hand descriptions of colonial encounters and the administration of European holdings abroad have proven fascinating to scholars and collectors alike and are thus extraordinarily valuable. Many of these are worthy of special mention, including the following two very fine seventeenth-century texts that illustrate different strengths in the collection.
The first is the Conquista de las Islas Molucas (1609) [Rare McPar DS674 .L4 1609], written by Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola, a Spanish historian and poet who took holy orders and was later appointed royal chaplain and historiographer of Aragon.
This particular text was commissioned by the Council of the Indies to commemorate the Spanish recapture of the
The second text is El Devoto Peregrino, y Viage de Tierra Santa, written in Spanish by Antonio del Castillo and first published in
Antonio del Castillo was a Franciscan friar sent by his superiors to the
Most striking in this volume are the numerous folded plates illustrating various aspects of the friar’s travels, particularly two enormous printed maps of Jerusalem, one representing the city as it might have looked in the first century (Descriptio Ierusalem quomodo florvit tempore D.N. Iesu Christi [Plan of Jerusalem as it flourished in the time of our Lord Jesus Christ]), and the second portraying the city as it looked in the early seventeenth century (Novae Ierosolymae et locorum circumiacentium accurata imago [Accurate image of the new Jerusalem and of the places nearby]). Both of these maps are fascinating in their detail, with more than a hundred individual sites singled out for additional description in each instance. These include, in the first, the entire Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, with all fourteen Stations of the Cross illustrated in miniature on the map, culminating in a depiction of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus in the bottom left corner. In the opposite corner, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, is shown hanging from a tree. In addition to such obvious Christian imagery, care was also taken to depict the Jewish character of the city in the first century. The map features, among other places, the Palatium Davidis et Regum Iude (The Palace of David and the King of the Jews), and an intricate depiction of the temple, complete with the Holy of Holies (Sanctum Sanctorum), in which the Ark of the Covenant is shown guarded by two cherubim. There are dozens of additional sites illustrated on this map, which may be seen in more detail by clicking on the image to view a larger version of the scan.
The second map (below) depicts the city from the opposite side, looking down upon
These maps are only two of the many detailed engravings in this volume, which include smaller maps and images embedded in the text, such as the below depiction of the town and surroundings of Bethany, as well as additional large folding plates with architectural depictions of important churches in and around Jerusalem, including a plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, complete with a depiction of the Stigmatization of St. Francis in the upper right corner, as the church was one of the sites administered by the Franciscans. These images also may be enlarged for closer inspection by clicking on them.
This description covers but two of the nearly 7000 volumes in the Brandeis “McKew Parr Collection: Magellan and the Age of Discovery,” which includes a vast array of resources for the scholar of colonial history and the history of
description by Adam Rutledge, Senior University Archives/Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in English and American Literature