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Honorary Degree Citation - Ellen S. Dunlap

Ellen S. Dunlap

Friday, May 25, 2018
Ellen S. Dunlap
Doctor of Humane Letters

Fierce protector of the past. Intrepid pioneer in the digital humanities. Book-loving librarian at heart and forward-thinking leader in practice.

Ellen Dunlap, for nearly three decades, you have led America’s premier national history library with a grand-scale vision. You are making the past present and the treasures in the American Antiquarian Society collections accessible in new, strategic and dynamic ways. Under your leadership, the Society was awarded a prestigious National Humanities Medal in 2013 for ongoing heroic efforts to “safeguard the American story” and engage the public with history.

President of the American Antiquarian Society since 1992, your tenure has been distinguished by bold ideas, vigorous outreach and profound reverence for the origin story of our remarkable country. You have invested your passion for the printed word, love of order and tremendous energy and expertise in the Society’s core mission to collect, protect and make available everything printed in America before 1877. You inspire your staff to toil in all three tenses, as they apply today’s technology to preserve the irreplaceable imprints of the past. You often observe how privileged you are to do this work.

A Tennessee native and double alumna of the University of Texas, you came to Worcester from Philadelphia where you directed the world-class Rosenbach Museum and Library. Here, you have extended the Society’s reach, expanded its capacity and extolled its value. You have more than doubled its footprint, and integrated smart technology into its infrastructure. Last year, you counted nearly 400,000 online visits, more than 3,000 on-site visits and 1,200 in attendance at public programs. Authors of nearly 1,500 books that have been published since 2001 used research conducted at the Antiquarian Society, including Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David McCullough, award-winning historian Jill Lepore and National Book Award winner Nathaniel Philbrick of Mayflower fame.

The American Antiquarian Society was founded in 1812 in Worcester by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas. Two-thirds of the known books and pamphlets printed in America during the Colonial period are catalogued among its holdings, which also include the most comprehensive repository of newspapers dating from the nation’s introduction to the printing press in 1640 through 1876. John Hancock’s desk, Cotton Mather’s high chair and a vial of tea from the Boston Tea Party, as well as valentines, joke books and other ephemera are included within the collections.

You are securing the Society’s future by successfully building its resources on every front. You have formed revenue-producing strategic partnerships to digitize printed words and images, raised the visibility of the library and grown the collections at unprecedented levels. The $20-million 7,000-square-foot Antiquarian Hall expansion and renovation project, now under construction, is the first phase of the ambitious Safeguarding the American Story Campaign. The new state-of-the-art conservation lab will stand in testament to your deep understanding that the collections you steward are both fragile and invaluable, and in need of bold action and 21st century solutions to protect them.

The Antiquarian Society’s outreach includes generous support of fellows and grantees worldwide that last year exceeded $20 million. Locally, you have sponsored the honors-level American Studies Seminar for undergraduates at five Worcester colleges, including Holy Cross, for more than four decades. The annual seminars provide tremendous opportunities for our students to study intensively with visiting scholars and to conduct primary source research in your collections. Your litany of leadership and service to your profession, and engagement with the greater Worcester community has been extensive.

That all may know of our esteem for you and our support of your decades of dynamic leadership of the American Antiquarian Society as a wise and passionate steward who has worked tirelessly to grow the collections, safeguard its treasures, increase public access and secure its future, the College of the Holy Cross confers upon you this day the degree, Doctor of  Humane Letters, honoris causa.