‘Magna Carta 800 Years’ Exhibit at FAU Library

Exhibit traces history of one of the world’s most famous documents from its British origin to its influence on the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights.

Small red books, published in 1515, authored by Francesco Petrarca and titled “De remediis utriusque fortunae,” from FAU Libraries’ Marvin and Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection is displayed with a 19th century replica wooden coffer on loan from FAU history graduate student Robert Feeney.

By carol lewis west | 1/19/2016

“Magna Carta 800 Years: Legacy of Liberty,” an exhibition that traces the history of one of the world’s most famous documents from its British origin in 1215 to its influence on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, will be on display now through Monday, Feb. 29 at Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton campus.

This intriguing exhibition features some of the world’s rarest books, documents, pamphlets and historical materials from FAU Libraries’ Marvin and Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection; an original 13th century broadsword and 18th century and modern replica artifacts from the personal collection of FAU history graduate student Robert Feeney; and some limited editions of famous literature books from FAU Libraries’ Arthur and Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts.

“The exhibition is an exciting and informative tour through the history of liberty and individual rights from the middle ages to the modern world,” said Ben Lowe, Ph.D., professor and chair of FAU’s Department of History within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. “The narrative, as it unfolds, takes both the informed and uninitiated through the sweep of hard-fought changes in the cause of freedom by focusing on the seminal works of political thought that provided the road map. The intermingling of material artifacts with the showcased early printed works offers a stimulating and visual feast for all who treat themselves to visit this well-constructed and conceptualized exhibit.”

Each of the exhibition’s segments transitions nicely into the next one, building on previous information gained. Historic books and maps show how the Magna Carta established significant civil liberties and rights that connect to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among the rare books featured is one of the oldest in the Weiner collection ─ a set of palm-size red books published in 1515 and authored by Francesco Petrarca and titled “De remediis utriusque fortunae.” Limited editions of “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer and “Beowulf,” from the Jaffe Center are shown in the exhibition.

The Libraries’ Special Collections department curated the exhibition in a style to attract and entertain visitors, especially college-aged, as well as kindergarten through high school students. “Students will come out of the exhibit with a whole new understanding of what freedom is and an appreciation for this key hallmark of responsible citizenship and how we got here,” said Lowe, who specializes in Tudor-Stuart England, early modern Europe and European religious and intellectual history.

The Marvin and Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection was donated to FAU in 2006 and features more than 13,000 items, including first and later editions of books, manuscripts and pamphlets that were printed before 1865. Weiner devoted his life to collecting rare and important documents tracing the philosophical evolution and historical events that led to the birth of American democracy. He wanted students and scholars to research and explore the collection so that they could develop an interest in American history.

That is Feeney’s hope, too. An anthropology honors graduate of FAU, Feeney has begun to cultivate his own collection of unique artifacts such as the displayed broadsword and other weaponry, including a dagger with scabbard and a replica of a medieval battle ax, military clothing, dining utensils, coins, a modern reproduction of a kettle hat and a replica of a medieval coffer.

“I am thrilled to share my collection with FAU Libraries in the hopes that it will help to open the minds of young and old to the importance of understanding and developing a love for history,” said Feeney, who with his parents are known for their historic artifacts, re-enactments, lectures and presentations. “The use of material culture in museum and library exhibits helps to spark that interest and expand our comprehension of those who lived in the past.”

In addition to building the Magna Carta exhibition from Weiner’s collection, the exhibition fulfills one of Weiner’s dreams that his collection be accessible for hands-on learning experiences and research materials for students. A collaboration between the Libraries’ Special Collections and FAU’s Department of History allows students to intern with Special Collections.

Natasja Graske, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in European history from FAU and is pursuing her master’s degree in European history, interned with Special Collections to work on the exhibition. While researching the collection, Graske became captivated with the rare books.

“Works of this caliber are out of the reach of most historians,” said Graske, who wrote the exhibition’s narrative in collaboration with Special Collections librarians. “I wish I had known about the collection before now. There are so many materials here that could be very helpful for students, especially researchers.”

The exhibition opened to rave reviews as a backdrop for “An Icon of Liberty: Magna Carta at 800,” a two-day lecture and panel discussion sponsored in October 2015 by FAU’s Department of History and Department of Political Sciences within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters at FAU.

The Magna Carta exhibition can be viewed in the Marvin and Sybil Weiner Spirit of America suite at FAU’s Wimberly Library, fifth floor, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information or to make appointments for viewing, call 561-297-2843 or email lysca@fau.edu