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$4,551 pledged of $60,000 goal
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By Kristen Gwinn-Becker
$4,551 pledged of $60,000 goal
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About this project

This project will bring to life, through an innovative online interface, more than 200 of the books annotated by the titans of philosophy and originally held in the William Ernest Hocking Library. Hocking’s library is the focal point of John J. Kaag’s bestselling book American Philosophy: A Love Story. The contents within the Hocking Library take the visitor back to another era of American philosophy and culture. This project will recreate his library, not just as a listing of catalog entries, but as an interactive digital space where visitors can peruse the shelves and open books to read the text and the book owners’ notes or inscriptions. A single inscription might also serve as a jumping off point to explore other aspects of the library or topics related to the field of American philosophy. Clicking on a name or excerpt from the handwritten notes could bring the visitor to a detailed description of the meaning behind the words or a biography of its writer.

About William Ernest Hocking and his library:

William Ernest Hocking was one of the greatest American philosophers of the 20th century and his library became a repository for the personal libraries of many of his mentors and colleagues. The library housed precious volumes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including first editions of Descartes, Locke, and Kant, as well as countless tomes bearing the original owners' marginalia. Examples include William James’s annotations in preparing The Varieties of Religious Experience and signed gift copies from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost. 

John Kaag’s discovery of the library at Hocking’s West Wind estate in New Hampshire is beautifully told in the critically acclaimed American Philosophy: A Love Story. Follow Kaag’s personal journey of “the largest time capsule [he’d] ever opened” in this digital interactive, seeing images of his first views of the library and its contents, as well as photos of Kaag holding the priceless texts.

William Ernest Hocking’s Library at West Wind
William Ernest Hocking’s Library at West Wind

What this project will accomplish: 

HistoryIT will design an engaging interface that allows online visitors to see the more than 10,000 titles collected in Hocking’s library. Together with the OML Digital Imaging Center, HistoryIT will digitize many of the more than 200 rare books held at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, so that the pages containing inscriptions and handwritten notes by the original owners are legible. These high-quality digital images will be integrated into HistoryIT’s Digital Annotation Linking Program so that online users will be able to not only read through each volume as one would a regular e-book, but will be able to interact with the manuscript annotations and dive deeper into references and questions posed by the creators of the marginalia.

For example, William James’s holograph annotated copy of Kant’s Kritik der Reinen Vernunft contains a list of 33 topics in the back that James recorded during his readings of the Kritik. Each of these topics will be layered as clickable objects, sending visitors to specific page numbers referenced, as well as supplementary information that provides greater context. Each of those annotations can be enlarged from the text and, through a background web of complex metadata, the user will be able to see connections to other annotations and passages in this book, as well as connections to other books annotated by James or other authors. For example, annotations in this work on specific philosophical themes will be viewed alongside the holograph annotations that Josiah Royce made in his copy of Kant’s Critique of Judgment and other works.

Visitors will be able to search the texts in the original library to gain an understanding of what texts 19th and 20th century philosophers gathered in their own libraries. There also will be interactive biographies for each philosopher represented in the library, providing background on their mode of thinking and shedding greater light on the annotations. Marginalia will also be linked to broader themes and subjects, so that online visitors will be able to see all annotations.

Finally, the digital interactive will include an exhibit of images taken by Kaag and his colleagues.

John J. Kaag:

American Philosophy: A Love Story is a story about a lost library, a lost American intellectual tradition, and a lost person. It is story of the recovery of all three, and this digital project is the next exciting chapter in this tale. It will integrate forward-looking technologies with the sensibilities of the traditional archivist and bibliophile, in the attempt to preserve what is one of the most significant time capsules of American intellectual history discovered in the last fifty years. This is the Hocking Library, brought up to the present day. Enjoy!”

Who is involved in this project: 

  • John Kaag, author of American Philosophy: A Love Story
  • HistoryIT, industry-leading technology company that helps save history
  • The Osher Map Library Digital Imaging Center 
  • The University of Massachusetts, Lowell, which currently houses more than two hundred of the rare books from the original Hocking Library

Mock-up Screens Below

Note that these do not depict the actual design or layout, but are intended only to give an idea of how a visitor might interact with the digital materials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Risks and challenges

We realize that raising $60,000 is an ambitious effort, but we are confident that lovers of philosophy, history, and technology will realize the value of this paramount effort. The digital imaging of rare books in this condition requires careful and expert handling. The development of the digital framework and integration of layers is also complex. Should this project fail to raise the required funds, all contributions will be returned, per Kickstarter's policy, and we will continue to explore ways to develop this exciting - and vital - project.

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    Contributors at this level will receive the above and also have their name listed on Digital Hocking Library as a supporter

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    Philosophy Fan

    Contributors at this level will receive Rewards #1-#3 and a copy of American Philosophy: A Love Story, autographed by John Kaag. (Shipping not included)

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    Contributors at this level will receive Rewards #1-#3 and an autographed and personally inscribed copy of John Kaag's American Philosophy: A Love Story

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    Contributors at this level will receive Rewards #1-#2 and #7 and get to see a sneak preview of the Digital Hocking Library two weeks before it launches

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    Digital Meets Original

    Contributors at this level will receive Rewards #1-#2 and #7 and a private tour for up to 6 people of the collection of rare books from the William Ernest Hocking Library at the University of Massachusetts by John Kaag, author of American Philosophy: A Love Story (excludes travel costs)

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    More philosophy!

    Contributors at this level will receive Rewards #1, #2 and #7 and may choose a topic about American philosophy for John Kaag to write about. The 1,000-word essay will be published, with attribution and appreciation for the contributor, on the Digital Hocking Library site.

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Funding period

- (60 days)