Burke Library and the Wellin Museum:
Illustration in the Digital Age
Christian Goodwillie, Bret Olsen, and Nhora Serrano
Burke Library and the Wellin Museum

The Wellin Museum’s SUM Artists exhibition curated by Matthew Deleget and Rossana Martinez is open and all of the Hamilton College students who work as Digital Media Tutors in Library and Information Technology Services (LITS) are super excited to see the digital project created by their peers. In the WellinWorks section of the exhibition, where the beautiful 'natural' landscape lounge area invites visitors to explore, a student-made digital project offers a new way to experience illustrations from a unique book in the library’s Special Collections.

Amidst this bucolic setting, there is a large monitor displaying close-up details and full-page illustrations from William Law's 18th-century book depicting Jakob Böhme's philosophies about man's relationship with God and spheres of existence. The title of the book is The works of Jacob Behmen, the Teutonic theosopher . . . To which is prefixed, the life of the author, with Figures, Illustrating His Principles and it dates from 1763–81. If one looks closely at the images, it becomes apparent that elements have been ‘animated’ using digital means. These “William Law Animations” were made by LITS Digital Media Tutors as part of the first Wellin Museum, Special Collections, and Research and Instructional Design Team cross-campus collaboration.

At the onset of this very fruitful collaboration, Wellin staff initially reached out to Christian Goodwillie, Director and Curator of Special Collections and Archives, about some special books that Hamilton’s library owns and keeps in its special collections. Given the data visualization focus of the exhibition, and the emphasis on the interplay between text and image, there was naturally an interest in displaying some rare and uniquely illustrated books from Hamilton’s own Special Collections.

In advance of the visit of the SUM Artists curators Matthew Deleget and Rossana Martinez to Hamilton College, Director Christian Goodwillie selected about twenty items that represented visualizations of dynamic systems or bodies of information. Deleget and Martinez were intrigued by most of them, but ultimately winnowed their selection to five prints, books, and drawings for display at the Wellin. As we all looked at the objects, which date from the 1750s through the 1960s, the idea of digitally animating some of these images was excitedly discussed by all. It was at this point, with an opportunity to do something new and collaborative, that Goodwillie reached out to Nhora Serrano, Associate Director for Digital Learning & Research, to see what her talented staff members of the Research and Instructional Design Team and their student workers might be able to do.

Immediately, Serrano assembled her team Educational Technologists, Instructional Designers, and Research Librarians to discuss the possibilities for animation as well as how to involve their student workers, Digital Media Tutors, in this campus opportunity. As the Educational Technologist in the Arts support, Bret Olsen took the lead for this project and developed the process of how to digitally animate sections of the illustrated book to make them come alive for the viewer. Digital Media Tutors Tashi Lhamu ’21, Levana Lyu ’21, and Satchel McLaughlin ’22 were selected to work closely with Olsen to complete this campus project. Over the winter break and in early January 2020, these Digital Media Tutors worked diligently with Olsen to complete the animations for the exhibition’s February opening. This once-in-a lifetime project to work with a museum exhibition offered the student workers an opportunity to learn and develop in-depth digital fluencies and experience firsthand the nature of illustration as an art form. 

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