WMU News

Gift of 18th century book boosts Anglo-Saxon studies

May 26, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- An important, early edition of an 18th century book penned by the first woman known to study Anglo-Saxon history and literature has been given to Western Michigan University.

The book, "An English-Saxon Homily on the Birth-day of St. Gregory," written by Elizabeth Elstob and published in 1709, was presented to the University during the 35th International Congress on Medieval Studies held at WMU in May.

Donated by Georgian Rawlinson Tashjian of Cupertino, Calif., the book joins another Elstob book, "Remnants of Old English Grammar," in WMU's collection of rare books. WMU is one of only 16 universities in the United States to possess both books.

"Because Elizabeth Elstob was considered the mother of Anglo-Saxon studies, this book is a very important addition to our libraries," says Dr. Paul Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute. Szarmach, along with Tom Amos, head of special collections for WMU's University libraries, accepted the book on behalf of the University.

Longtime supporters of the University, the Medieval Institute and Anglo-Saxon studies at WMU, Tashjian and her late husband David both earned their degrees from WMU in the 1930s. Georgian Tashjian shares the name Rawlinson with Richard Rawlinson, a prominent 18th century scholar, teacher, author and collector who was a contemporary of Isaac Newton and a bishop of the Church of England. Together, the Tashjians wrote a biography of Rawlinson that was published by WMU's New Issues Press in 1990. A gift from the Tashjians was used to establish the Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies at WMU in 1994 to honor her distant ancestor and to recognize his contributions to the academic life of the English-speaking world.

"This donation once again shows the commitment the Tashjians have made to Anglo-Saxon studies," says Szarmach. "WMU had a reprinted version of this book, but we now have a first edition, which is of great value to Anglo-Saxon scholars. It will allow us to conduct research and teach in ways that we haven't been able to before."

The book will be housed in the climate- and security-controlled Special Collections and Rare Books Vault at Waldo Library. According to Amos, the book's value cannot be determined until it is sold; however, a recent sale of a comparable copy of the book indicates that its market value ranges between $5,500 to $7,000.

"This is a very fine copy of this book," Amos says. "What's interesting is that Elstob was one of the first women scholars and the book's preface is dedicated to Queen Anne who was in power at the time. It was one woman writing to another woman justifying the right for women to do scholarly work. That makes the book truly significant in the history of scholarship."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu


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