It seems only appropriate today that I turn over my blog post describing some of our most recent acquisitions to the library collection to our newest librarian, Rochelle Pienn. What follows are her initial impressions of the growing body of scholarly materials donated to our collection by Jean S. and Frederick A. Sharf:

Last week, more than two dozen boxes filled with one-of-a-kind 19th century ship’s logbooks, original turn-of-the-century photograph albums documenting exotic locales such as Burma and South Africa, rare books extolling the virtues of the Panama Canal, and many more treasures arrived from the Boston home of generous Wolfsonian benefactors Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. My own arrival at the Wolfsonian Museum as the new Sharf Librarian occurred just a couple of weeks before this second shipment of valuable Sharf donations. All are now entrusted to me for rich descriptive cataloging and public access for eager students, scholars and researchers.

“It’s like Christmas!” our chief librarian exclaimed; and, true enough, like a couple of eager kids under the glittery tree way too early in the morning, we all tore into (albeit with the careful restrained joy of archivists) the freshly delivered boxes. Among the delicate sketch and scrapbooks compiled by incensed Americans on the Spanish-American War, compelling photo albums illustrating British battle parades in the desert frontiers of her far-flung empire, and exceedingly rare pamphlets printed for various World’s Fairs, a particular group of books on the Panama Canal surfaced among the spoils.

An admittedly mind-boggling engineering feat of the time (currently being overhauled today), the Panama Canal exists seemingly because of sheer will, determination, and blind optimism characterizing America during a time of intense national pride, colonialism, and industry. Tragic loss of life via disease, natural disaster, and unsound construction practices nearly derailed the project many times. Despite its grueling backstory, the Panama Canal was completed successfully in 1914. The following year, The Panama Pacific International Exhibition was held in San Francisco, where its elaborate, colorful exhibits on the Canal Zone drew fascinated crowds from all over the country. The Panama Canal hype is reflected in several stunning publications from circa 1914, each expressing the sheer enormity of the undertaking.

The Hero of Panama: A Tale of the Great Canal, by Lt.-Colonel F.S. Brereton (London: Blackie & Son, [1912?]).

This adventure story illustrated by William Rainey introduces the reader to upstanding “Jim,” an all-American young man seeking adventure in the Canal Zone in a novel replete with unapologetic racial stereotypes typical of the times.


The Panama Canal: The World’s Greatest Engineering Feat (Panama City: L.L. Maduro, [1914?]).

After some brief explanatory text in Spanish and English describing the Canal’s size, capacity, and fair attributes as a destination, this pamphlet not found in any other digitized collection to date provides twenty-four, full color plates illustrating everything from the lush natural landscape to the exquisite vernacular architecture of the Zone.

The Panama Canal: An Illustrated Historical Narrative of Panama and the Great Waterway which Divides the American Continents, by Willis J. Abbot (London; New York: Syndicate Publishing, 1914). This 400+ page publication provides encyclopedic background on the Canal Zone and is notable for its photographs of the indigenous villagers and finely reproduced watercolors by E. J. Read.

 The Wolfsonian-FIU wishes to acknowledge and thank Mr. and Mrs. Sharf for their most generous donation and for their continued commitment to sharing the inestimable gift of knowledge with our patrons. We also very much appreciate their ongoing support that enables us to catalog, digitize, and make these rare items available to scholars and the general public.

With deepest thanks!

Rochelle T. Pienn

~ by "The Chief" on August 11, 2011.

One Response to “UNPACKING PANAMA”

  1. Great guest blog!

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