July 12, 1999
Volume 51, No. 35
Pitts Library to provide electronic access to works of religious author Thomas Merton
Pitts Theology Library, in collaboration with the Thomas Merton Center of Bellarmine College in Louisville, Ky., and the Merton Legacy Trust, has digitized about 50 of the working notebooks of Thomas Merton, prolific American author and Cistercian monk. Page images from Merton's handwritten notebooks, along with a limited number of transcriptions, have been scanned into electronic form and written onto CD-ROMs, giving scholars greater access to Merton's work.
Now the Pitts Library is working with an editorial board to make the CD-ROMs not yet transcribed available to Merton scholars who are willing to help with the transcription effort. The resulting texts will be reviewed for accuracy by Merton specialists, then included in the digitized collection.
"The goal of the project is to produce page images of the notebooks and link each of those pages with a fully searchable transcription," said Pitts Library Director Pat Graham. "In this way we can make the notebooks, complete with searchable texts, fully accessible to Merton scholars and students throughout the world."
Long regarded as one of the most influential religious thinkers of this century, Merton also was a well-known author, essayist, playwright, poet, translator and ethical commentator. He holds a prominent place in contemporary American history as a theologian and man of letters, respected social critic and tireless advocate for civil rights and nonviolence.
Although Merton died in 1968, his published works continue to hold broad interest for scholars and students in many disciplines, said Graham, but "scholarly access to most of the key manuscript collections of Merton has been limited."
"The Merton Legacy Trust and Bellarmine College are committed to encouraging wider access to the Merton archives by students and scholars, while at the same time securing these materials for later generations," said Jonathan Montaldo, director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine. "Internet access to these important primary resources will afford not only global availability but also develop a valuable digital archive for use by researchers."
Charles Spornick of Emory's Beck Center already has collaborated with the Pitts Library to provide a digitized, annotated version of Merton's "Red Diary" on the Internet (available at <http://chaucer. library.emory.edu/merton/ Red_Diary_Home.html>). "This initial project demonstrated that producing electronic versions of Merton's fragile archival materials is a practical way of both preserving the materials and making them widely available to scholars," said Graham.
Having Merton's work available as transcribed, searchable electronic texts adds value to the Merton materials currently dispersed among several libraries and research institutions, said Graham. These digitized versions "give both novice students and seasoned scholars a more complete grasp of these materials, and will encourage new and creative interdisciplinary research."
The Merton Collection at Pitts includes more than 200 items in Special Collections; some pieces are autographed by Merton himself, others by friends and associates who wrote or edited books about him. One notable book is inscribed by Merton to his friend, the singer Joan Baez. Also in the collection are American and British editions and works in foreign translations.
Other institutions with significant collections of Merton's original works are Columbia, Syracuse and Saint Bonaventure universities and Boston College.