On April 5, 2019, three Harvard students were named winners of the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting Books or Art. The Hofer Prize was established by Melvin R. Seiden, A.B. ’52, L.L.B. ’55, to encourage student interest in collecting. It is awarded annually to a student or students whose collections of books or works of art best reflect the traditions of breadth, coherence, and imagination exemplified by Philip Hofer, A.B.’21, L.H.D. ’67. Hofer was the founder and first curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at Houghton Library and secretary of the Fogg Art Museum.
This year, Angela Wheeler, a second-year student in the Graduate School of Design, and Luke Kelly, Harvard College Class of ’19, were co-awarded first prizes of $3,000 each. Khin-Kyemon Aung, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School ’20, was awarded second prize of $1,500.
Angela Wheeler’s collection, “Constructing the City: National Narratives and Cultural Tourism in Tbilisi, 1950–Present,” reflects her scholarly interest in the history of Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, as it is revealed through its architecture. Her collection, begun as an undergraduate on her first trip to Tbilisi, is comprised of books and maps and posters and signs, as well as architectural models, objects salvaged from demolition sites, enamel pins, and slides—all of which illustrate the ways in which buildings and tourism literature have framed and re-framed the narratives and mythologies surrounding Tbilisi during its long and contested history.
Tied for first place is Luke Kelly’s “Learning my ABC’s: Carter Collected.” His essay traces the evolution of his eclectic rare book collection through his attempts to find examples of typography as discussed in John Carter and Nicolas Barker’s glossary ABC for Book Collectors. Kelly demonstrates how items in his collection exemplify concepts and terms from Carter and Barker’s handbook, and lovingly captures the thrill of discovering unexpected gems and the bibliophile’s delight in experiencing a book’s materiality as well as the knowledge it imparts. He writes, “By understanding the book as an object…, the history and achievements of past authors, printers, and collectors becomes physically and intellectually tangible. … While the books themselves may be rare, the knowledge and history they hold should not be.”
Second-place winner Khin-Kyemon Aung’s collection, “Searching for My Identity: Teaching Myself Theravada Buddhism and Folk Traditions from Myanmar,” is rooted in her desire to learn about her Burmese culture and identity through the study of religion. Beginning with an English-language book on Buddhism she received as a teenager, Aung chronicles her quest to understand the inextricable connections between Buddhism and Burmese folk traditions through the act of collecting and reading books. Her essay charts her development as a collector, moving from an emphasis on finding books to aid her self-instruction in religion towards texts that can help those close to her learn more about her religious practices and beliefs.
Hofer Prize entries include an essay describing the scope, contents, and goal of the collection, as well as an annotated list or bibliography of collection items. Entries are judged on the purpose, consistency, and quality of the collection and the presentation of the essay and bibliography, not the collection’s size, cost, or rarity. This year’s winners were chosen from a strong pool of applicants by a committee that included Jessica Aberle of the Harvard Fine Arts Library; Peter X. Accardo (chair), Houghton Library; David R. Godine, publisher, David R. Godine, Inc.; Elizabeth Rudy, Harvard Art Museums; Miriam Stewart, Harvard Art Museums; and Melanie Wisner, Houghton Library.