Books for SSA


If you are looking for some excellent reading, you could hardly do better than to peruse the list of books to be discussed at Washington and Lee’s Science, Society, and the Arts event on Friday 17 March.   The SSA conference kicks off the day before, on Thursday 16 March.

Each of these provocative books will be the focus of a discussion led by a panel of students and faculty.  For a complete schedule of these discussions, with a list of books and the locations of the sessions, see this Colloquia page .   All of these books are part of the W&L library collection, but most of them currently are checked out, which probably is  a good sign.

These  Colloquia sessions are only part of the two days of performances and presentations which make up the multidisciplinary SSA program.   Here is a full description of the festivities, which includes Friday’s poster session in Leyburn Library.

Several of the books to be discussed are relatively new publications, with five published in 2016.   But what is the oldest book we will consider?  The answer is Martin Luther King’s Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, which was published 50 years ago this year.   W&L readers can view this advertisement for the book from the 12 July 1967 New York Times.


Changing the President’s Site


The U.S. Presidency may be an historic office, with great continuity across centuries, but the official White House website,, is very personalized.

In the span of a few moments, around 12:00 noon on 20 January 2017, the site went from looking like this


to the “new” White House site.

Most, if not all, of the content in the White House site from the Barack Obama administration has been removed.  In effect, the Presidential website is starting over.    The Washington Post published a same-day article on the site transition.

Fear not — much of the content is preserved, one way or another, in an array of forms and repositories.  For more information, see this University Library U.S. Presidents: Sites and Documents guide.

If you have questions (or suggestions), please contact Senior Reference Librarian Dick Grefe.


Kanopy = Lots of Streaming Video


The Washington and Lee University Library is pleased to announce the addition of the Kanopy streaming video service to our roster of online resources for the W&L community.

Over the past several years we have gotten a bit of experience with providing streaming access to individual films for our students and faculty, but Kanopy is, by far, the largest collection of such materials we have offered, with about 25,000 films available.   Many of these are well-known documentaries and features from such distributors as Criterion and PBS.  For example, one can opt to view the Criterion French New Wave collection or all the episodes in the Ken Burns Civil War series.    New titles are added each month.

You can search for specific titles, specific series, or topic areas by using the basic link for our W&L Kanopy account @     There also is a link to Kanopy in the A-Z Databases List on the library homepage.

Each video can be viewed by current W&L students, faculty, or staff from either on-campus or off-campus locations, and each can be viewed by multiple users simultaneously.   Links to individual films or collections can be included in course syllabi or other teaching materials.   Public performance rights are included and nearly all films are provided with captions and transcripts.

If you have questions, please contact Head of Collection Services Julie Kane , Head of Access Services Elizabeth Teaff, or Senior Reference Librarian Dick Grefe.


Presidential Addresses


President Barack Obama’s farewell address now belongs to the ages and Donald Trump’s inaugural address waits in the wings.

Did you know that George Washington delivered the shortest inaugural address of any U.S. president?  You can find out who was responsible for the lengthiest and read all of the presidential inaugural and farewell addresses in a site maintained by the University of California (Santa Barbara) — inaugural addresses and farewell addresses.

W&L’s benefactor, George Washington, also delivered the most famous farewell address (1796) and the University Library has just acquired a revealing new book that focuses on our first president’s parting words in office.   It is the latest of several books about this eloquent speech.


Where Did “Brexit” Come From?


This sounds like a job for the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED is the boss of English language etymological dictionaries and its researchers not only track new scholarship on dusty old words, but also keep an eye on the appearance and development of new words which are finding places in our discourse.   And sometimes these researchers are able to document the development of a term from a self-conscious creation, such as in this essay on the now-familiar “Brexit.”

“Brexit” is but one of about 500 new entries in the Oxford English Dictionary this December and you can see the complete list on this update page.  For more on “hackery” and “tombstoning” and their comrades, current members of the W&L community may use the W&L University Library’s link to the OED.

Happy Yule, y’all !


Is the Word of the Year “Fascism”? As It Turns Out, No.


Merriam-Webster Unabridged , available online to the current Washington and Lee University community through the University Library, usually is considered the most comprehensive and most respected dictionary of the modern English language.

Each year the Merriam Webster editors identify a particular word or term as the official Word of the Year, an exercise also enjoyed by other dictionaries, newspapers, magazines, and anyone else with opinions about the English language.     Some of these selections are made subjectively, while others involve  quantitative methodology.    (For evidence of the variety, have a look at this list of articles on the subject, taken from the Academic Search Complete database.)

Merriam-Webster Unabridged routinely keeps track of the number of online queries made in its database, displaying lists of searches in the past 24 hours and in the past 7 days.   The natural outcome of this data-gathering is a Word of the Year, indicating the most looked-up word in the calendar year — and the editors are a bit alarmed about how this is playing out in 2016.

The Guardian recently reported on Merriam-Webster’s concern that the word “fascism” might be the top search in 2016, even going so far as to suggest other words readers might want to search.   If you want to follow this controversy, the Merriam-Webster Twitter site is worth a follow.     Or just keep an eye on the Merriam-Webster Unabridged homepage.

Feel free to vote early and often.

Update 12/19/16     —      See Merriam-Webster site, along with commentary from The Guardian.



Good Books and Bad Sex



‘Tis the season when we start to get all sorts of lists of the “best” books of 2016  — and many of these books are available in the Washington and Lee University Library.

You may have seen the Washington Post article “Best Books of 2016.”  All of these items are either in our library collection or are on their way.

Some of the other literary awards are a bit more… specialized.  The British magazine Literary Review has announced the finalists for its annual “Bad Sex in Fiction” award, devoted to recognizing an “outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel.”    And we have many of these nominees, too.    You can read more commentary in the Guardian, including a link to extracts.

Check for availability, call numbers, and more in the W&L library catalog.  Happy holidays and happy reading!





Understanding the Election


Today the New York Times published an interesting piece entitled 6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win.    The Washington and Lee University Library owns five of these books, and the sixth is on the way:


New Database — People of the Founding Era


The Washington and Lee University Library has initiated a subscription to the online database People of the Founding Era,  a scholarly reference work that provides biographical information on over 65,000 people born between 1713 (the end of Queen Anne’s War) and 1815 (the end of the Napoleonic War).    Most of the biographical excerpts are drawn from the digitized papers of the Founding Fathers and other documentary editions of the Founding Era, including The Geography of Slavery, augmented by further research by the University of Virginia Press.

This resource is not only biographical, but also prosopographical, allowing collective biographical research by such categories as locations, slaves, occupations,  and gender.   For example, one can view 76 entries on individuals born in or living in Rockbridge County.   (Scan down the page for the list of individuals.)

For much more detail on this ongoing project, we can recommend the site’s Introduction .




The Truth About Jargon


From the Oxford English Dictionary, the foremost etymological dictionary of the English language:

The original meaning of the word “jargon,” dating back at least as far as Chaucer, was “The inarticulate utterance of birds, or a vocal sound resembling it; twittering, chattering.”
We have come so far.

Current members of the Washington and Lee University community — students, faculty, and staff — have online access to the Oxford English Dictionary through the University Library’s subscription.