By ERIN ALLEN
A book can save a life. While that sounds like a public service announcement for libraries, Maurice Hamonneau, a World War I soldier, could actually make that claim. He deflected a bullet thanks to a copy of “Kim,” by Rudyard Kipling. His copy of the 1913 French pocket edition took the shot, saving his life by a mere 20 pages and about a half-inch. The book eventually went to auction but later became part of the H. Dunscombe Colt Kipling Collection, which was donated to the Library of Congress in the 1980s.
Rare items such as the bullet-riddled Kipling book are featured in a new web video series, “This Week’s Hidden Treasure,” developed by History and accessible at www.history.com/content/hiddentreasures/. The weekly online series provides viewers with behind-the-scenes tours by Library curators who reveal the Library’s top treasures, including the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated, a spy map for the Battle of Princeton during the American Revolution and the John Nicolay copy of the Gettysburg Address.
“What I found most interesting was everyone’s passion for the objects,” said Michael Scalere, director of digital media production for the History Channel. “When we first began the project, we wanted to tell the story of the object, not just revel in its historical significance, but to truly dig deep and find the story, the real people who handled it. We were filming some of the objects in the Main Reading Room, and you could see the thrill on the curators’ faces. Some of the items we filmed are rarely out of the container that they are stored in, and to get to take them out and discuss them in that environment was a real thrill. I got the feeling that the History Channel audience was getting a very special treat.”
The web feature, which launched on Feb. 11, 2009, is slated to bring 26 objects from the Library’s unparalleled collections to a broad audience. According to History spokeswoman Becky Auslander, History.com experienced its highest traffic in February, with 4.7 million visits recorded. The videos will stay up indefinitely on the site’s archives.
“One of the things we tried to convey with the Hidden Treasures project is that these are merely 26 items from a massive cache of objects,” Scalere said. “We got 26 amazing stories but we’ve just scratched the surface.”
In April 2008, the Library and History announced their multimedia partnership to showcase the Library’s collections to the vast audience of the History brands and to more than 200,000 teachers across the country that use the channel’s branded educational materials in their classrooms. “This Week’s Hidden Treasure” is just a part of what is planned. The two institutions are working together on a one-hour “Modern Marvels” television special about the Library of Congress.
“The enthusiasm on behalf of the entire History Channel crew was infectious,” said Sara Duke, curator of popular and applied graphic art in the Prints and Photographs Division, who discussed the Library’s copy of the first Spider-Man drawings. Peter Parker’s alter ego first appeared in Marvel Comics’ Amazing Fantasy #15 in August 1962. An anonymous donor gave the drawings to the Library in 2008. The chemistry of Stan Lee’s script and Steve Ditko’s art is made even more apparent with Lee’s notes in the margin, asking Ditko to change the body style of a car he drew so as to not “imply reckless driving.”
History is collaborating with the Library’s Veterans History Project to bring veterans directly to classrooms, using broadband, for a National Teach-In in October 2009. A panel of historians and veterans will answer questions from a live audience of students at the Library. Students can also submit questions through video and email. The National Teach-In will focus on conducting oral histories with veterans who served in World War II. Projects such as this demonstrate the commitment of the Library and History to making history more interactive and engaging for students and educators.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.