The significance of special collections
The King James Bible has gotten a lot of press recently, but I’d like to offer some of my thoughts on why it is important to preserve, care for, and share treasures like this. The King James text is widely available and images of the 1611 edition can be viewed online. So why do people stand enthralled at the bible displayed behind glass? They can’t turn the pages to read their favorite passages, they can’t hold it and feel the paper, the binding, the weight of the volume.
The significance comes from the stories and there are many stories this volume can tell. Not all of them have been discovered yet.
Last year’s exhibit told of the roots of the King James Bible – the English bibles that preceded and influenced the translation. It’s the story of a king, James the IV & I, and his archbishop, Richard Bancroft, who engaged fifty of the finest theologians, scholars and preachers in the kingdom, without prejudice to their religious leanings, encouraged them to consult the best scholarship and texts available, and gave them the time needed to make this truly monumental work.
This year’s exhibit tells the story of the impact of this translation on the culture, literature and language, particularly of the United States. Other stories remain to be told – why a Methodist bishop from Kansas collected Bibles, in general, and this one, in particular; the journey of this volume from the presses of Robert Barker, King’s Printer, through all of its owners; who was the person who wrote notes in the margin; and, of course, the scholarly investigation of the place of this text among all the variants of the first edition.
When visitors come face to face with an important cultural piece like this, it invites them to engage with these stories and that is why we take such delight in our special collections, our treasures.