For thousands of American High School students, George Orwell is a mainstay of their literary education. Now, hundreds of first-edition copies of Orwell's classics in over a dozen languages belong to Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico.
Retired UNM professor and curator emeritus Russ Davidson pledged his 600-plus collection to Zimmerman Library, and he is in the process of planning an exhibit. Davidson and Tomas Jaehn, the Director of the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, said they see the Orwell collection as having a utility value to scholars at UNM and beyond.
“We cataloged the books that were donated and many, many of them we didn’t have. So my hope is that the History Department, English (Department), Literature Department, our department and also art students will at some point use this,” Jaehn said.
Before the collection opens, Jaehn and his colleagues are planning an exhibit and a lecture series around the collection.
Jaehn said UNM history professor Caleb Richardson and Stanford history professor emeritus Peter Stansky are lined up to speak some time after the exhibit opens. Jaehn said he’d like to have at least two others speak, but is still searching for the funds to make it happen.
As for the exhibit, Davidson, who is involved in the exhibits planning, said the Orwell showcase will take place in the Waters Room of Zimmerman Library. He said the exhibit will be arranged thematically, but also chronologically.
“It tells something of the story of Orwell’s, mainly his writing career, and it follows the evolution of his life as a writer culminating in the publication of Animal Farm and 1984. The critical reception of those two books and then the periodic celebration of Orwell in relation to different political movements and eras senses his death in 1950,” Davidson said.
Davidson and Jaehn are hoping to have the exhibit ready in time for the fall 2019 semester. Jaehn said he wanted to add a few pieces of Orwell-penned prose to the exhibit but ran into a cost barrier.
“I thought I would go on some of the databases and buy (handwritten work), and the one letter I found that George Orwell wrote is $75,000,” Jaehn said.
For Davidson, Orwell’s value is also personal.
Davidson said he was assigned his first Orwell piece, Shooting an Elephant, a personal essay discussing the British occupation of India, sometime in high school, but really connected to the British journalist, essayist and novelist in college.
“He just struck a chord with me, appealed to me both his ideas in his writing and the courageous independence he embodied as a writer and as an intellectual as a thinker,” Davidson said. “He was always his own man and would not relinquish that in the interest of any single ideology or political party.”
Justin Garcia is the editor in chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Just516garc.