The Marvin & Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection
The Marvin & Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection is comparable in scope and content to the collections of the American Antiquarian Society and the Library Company of Philadelphia. Originally inspired to emulate the personal libraries of men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Marvin Weiner spent a lifetime collecting the books and pamphlets that a colonial gentleman would have owned. Taking great care to purchase the same editions that were available in 18th century America, Mr. Weiner eventually amassed a collection of more than 13,000 books, pamphlets, government publications, newspapers and serials, including rare works from as early as the 16th century.
In addition to recreating a well-stocked colonial library, Mr. Weiner’s collection was also guided by his interest in the changing concepts of freedom and liberty as they developed from Ancient Greece to the mid-20th century. As such, the collection also includes a great number of works on a wide range of topics from Constitutional issues in the United States to philosophical treatises from Europe. Through this interest, the collection grew into one of the top ten such collections in the United States, and items from the collection have been exhibited at the University of Pennsylvania, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and the National Constitution Center.
Marvin and Sybil Weiner donated the Spirit of America Collection to Florida Atlantic University in 2006 at which time the collection was transferred from their Cherry Hill, New Jersey home to Boca Raton, Florida. Since that time, the staff in FAU Special Collections & Archives have carefully unpacked 29 pallets of historical materials. Most items have been preliminarily inventoried and the collection is housed in its own suite on the fifth floor of the S. E. Wimberly Library. Throughout the processing period, our staff continues preservation efforts to ensure that the collection will be available to future scholars. More information on the collection can be found here.
We coordinate several events and exhibitions each year with the FAU Libraries to bring the treasures of the Spirit of America collection to FAU’s students and the wider community in South Florida and beyond. See here for events: http://www.fau.edu/artsandletters/history/weiner-events/
To support our efforts, visit the Associates of the Spirit of America Collection here: http://www.fau.edu/artsandletters/history/weiner-associates/
The Florida Atlantic University Libraries has partnered with the Huntington Library, one of the world’s premier research institutions, to offer three joint short-term research fellowships for advanced graduate students. For more information on these fellowships, visit here: http://www.fau.edu/artsandletters/history/weiner-fellowship/
In the News
Sun-Sentinel: Poster Exhibit at Boca Library Showcases Rare Collection of Early US Documents (link goes to: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/boca-raton/fl-boca-poster-exhibit-20160229-story.html)
Sun-Sentinel: FAU Celebrates the Magna Carta (link goes to: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/fl-fau-magna-carta-20160115-story.html)
Sun-Sentinel: More Than Just Graduation Day at FAU (link goes to: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-05-09/news/fl-brf-graduation-0509-20120509_1_graduation-day-mary-jane-saunders-graduation-ceremonies)
University Press: Books Found by a Man who has Dedicated Most of His Life to Finding Them Will Be Featured in FAU’s Annual Book Exhibit (link goes to: https://www.upressonline.com/2013/09/books-found-by-a-man-who-has-dedicated-most-of-his-life-to-finding-them-will-be-featured-in-faus-annual-book-exhibit/)
Press Release: Mr. Weiner to Receive Honorary Doctorate from FAU
I had my first glimpse of the Weiner collection in 2007, when Mr. Weiner first brought it to FAU. My parents had been invited to an event showcasing the collection's most significant documents, the essential "spirit of America," and they decided to bring me along with them. In the past, I had shown a genuine interest in history, and real talent for it as well, so it seemed like the perfect learning experience for a budding historian. We went to the event and I had the chance to see original copies of the most foundational American documents, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, as well as documents like Thomas Paine's Common Sense. All of the attendees were in awe of these documents, but I was the most taken aback by an early edition of the Protestant theologian John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Most of the people in attendance did not understand why this document was being displayed alongside the things like the Common Sense and the Federalist Papers, at first I was confused as well. I figured it was because many of the US founding fathers were religious, and a theological text like Calvin's Institutes would have resonated with them. On that day, I decided that I wanted to pursue history as a career, in order to solve mysteries such as this.
Ten years later, in one of my penultimate graduate seminars at FAU, I found an answer to this mystery in a course on the legacy of the Protestant Reformation. In this course, we read portions of Calvin's Institutes, with a special focus on his attitudes toward secular authority. Calvin held that Christians ought to obey secular authority when it did not forestall them from living a moral life, but that when secular authorities violated the rights of the people, namely the right to live a virtuous life, it was the obligation of the people and their magistrates to rise up against the secular government, violently if necessary. To Calvin, governments existed to serve the people, and when they failed in this task, the people had the right, even the obligation, to rise up and create a new and better government for themselves. Calvin's Institutes would inspire the writings of political theorists like Locke and Montesquieu, which in turn would inspire the founding fathers, making Calvin's Institutes an intellectual antecedent of their thought, as well as a sort of intellectual grandfather. It was fascinating to see how Calvin's ideas about secular authority changed over time, and how over two centuries, they spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, and would inspire the American Revolution.
When I think back to that day over a decade ago, I wonder to myself if my path as a historian would be different, had the Weiner Collection never come to FAU, or even if I would have chosen to make a career in History. However, I do know that I would not have had the opportunity to consider the mystery of why a sixteenth century religious text would occupy such a prominent intellectual position alongside foundational American documents like the Federalist Papers and Common Sense. Thanks to FAU's Weiner collection, I now know why.
FAU M.A. *17
Ph.D. Candidate at The Ohio State University