Alumni Spotlight April, 2017:
Dr. Stephanie Stillo, Curator in the Library of Congress
Class of 2014: Department of History
What is your area of study? PhD in History; Early Modern Europe with minor fields in Women and Gender Studies and Latin American History
What year did you graduate? 2014
What is your current career or position title? Curator of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress
What do you do?
- The central theme of the Rosenwald Collection is graphic arts from the last six centuries and manuscripts from the three preceding. The collection’s greatest strengths are in fifteenth-century woodcut books (incunabula), early sixteenth-century illustrated books, William Blake material, and important livres d’artiste of the late nineteen and twentieth centuries. My day-to-day is largely devoted to working with visiting scholars and artists interested in the themes within these strengths, such as the history of printing, historic illustration processes, science and medicine, and decorative arts.
- I also plan exhibitions, conferences, and formal and informal talks about topics ranging from 15th century printing techniques to how to best handle a rare book. For example, I am currently working on a conference entitled: Imagining the Extraordinary: Scientific Illustrations from the Renaissance to the Digital Age. We are also hoping to install an exhibit at the Library of Congress about the History of the Book. This exhibit will focus on the history of the books as material objects, including everything from the construction of medieval manuscript to radical twenty-first-century reinterpretations by modern book artists.
- I also act as a Purchasing Officer for the Library of Congress, meaning I work with antiquarian books dealers to supplement the collection. (I actually just got back from the NYC Antiquarian Book Fair and it was ludicrously fun.)
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Thinking about the collection’s digital future. The Rosenwald Collection is divided between two institutions, the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. A collaborative team, currently including the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, and Abington Art Center (Mr. Rosenwald’s former mansion in Jenkintown, PA), have joined together to create a Digital Reunification Project. This collaborative effort focuses on creative display of Mr. Rosenwald’s extraordinary gift of rare books, prints, and manuscripts to both the Library and the Gallery, as well as a biography of the Rosenwald family. I feel like this collaborative project renews Mr. Rosenwald’s commitment to creating a national collection by allowing access to everyone interested in its contents.
What advice do you have for current graduate students?
- Take risks in your research and teaching. Both during and after graduate school I sought out opportunities that took me way outside of my comfort zone as a historian. During a CLIR/Mellon fellowship I worked with a team of scientists to think about how forensic technology can help us better understand (and preserve) rare book collections. During a post-doc at Washington and Lee University, I worked with a digital humanities working group to integrate history and digital technology into classrooms. These fellowships eventually created a critical mass of experience that cleared a path to the Rosenwald Collection.
- Also, don’t be afraid to leave academia. I found the non-academic market very receptive to my experience and expertise.
- Lastly, visit the Library of Congress.