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Calvin Receives Two NEH Grants
January 21, 2005

A Calvin College professor of philosophy and the director of the college's Hekman Library have received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Philosophy professor Ryan Nichols will apply the $24,000 he received from the NEH to studying "Thomas Reid's Philosophy of the Mind." This research will be published in the form of a book, which is under contract with Oxford University Press.

Library director Glenn Remelts will use his $3,500 NEH grant to assess an inconspicuous Calvin resource: The Hekman Library's rare book collection. Composed of some 5,000 volumes - dating back to as early as 1492 - the collection is currently shelved in a library storage room.

The grant will pay for the services of Scott Kellar, a bookbinder and conservationist and former head of conservation at Northwestern University Library.

"He's had a long history of dealing with rare books," Remelts says. "He's going to quickly be able to evaluate the general rareness, value and condition of the books."

Kellar will also assess the storage situation, letting Calvin know both the safety of the current storage environment and how to make the current environment better.

Remelts hopes the NEH grant can be a springboard for further improvement to the rare book collection, including using future grants to create a proper, climate-controlled rare book room.

The rare book collection has accumulated somewhat haphazardly over the years, says Remelts, but it includes a variety of treasured tomes, including a 1643 Dutch Atlas (in which, to Remelts astonishment, the name "California" already appears on the westernmost part of a map of North America), a 1688 Poole's Bible and a second edition of the King James Bible.

And, says Remelts, the collection's value lies not just with its antiquity, but also in the way it supplements other Calvin College collections - especially that of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies.

Meanwhile philosophy professor Nichols will use his NEH grant to examine a philosopher who did his work at a key moment in the history of the discipline. Reid, says Nichols, stood at the end of an era in philosophy, a position that allowed him to take a panoramic view of the prior several centuries of thought, and in one sweep, identify where worldviews went wrong.

Another good reason to study Reid, says Nichols, is the philosopher's extensive influence on the American educational system. Reid, who lived in the 18th century, was a one-time minister in the Church of Scotland and later professor at the University of Aberdeen.

"Thomas Reid's pragmatism and common-sense philosophy was adopted and taught by most of the early American universities," Nichols says.