An Open Window on Our History

Title page of the Whole Booke of Psalmes, via the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection on Ohio Memory.
Title page of the Whole Booke of Psalmes, via the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection on Ohio Memory.

One of the beauties of digitization is that it allows us to interact with rare and unique cultural objects in new and exciting ways. This interaction includes the ability to put together related items to create an experience that breathes life into objects in our collection, turning the object into a window on our history.

Imprint on the Whole Booke title page.
Imprint on the Whole Booke title page.

Take, for example, one of the oldest print items from the State Library of Ohio’s Rare Books Collection, the Whole Booke of Psalmes, by Thomas Sternehold and John Hopkins. Published in London in 1617, it contains all 150 psalms from the Old Testament of the Bible, including music for several of the pieces. Only five copies of this particular edition are listed in WorldCat, which shares the catalogs of libraries throughout the world, making this an extremely rare item.

An interesting means of interacting with a book is through its history – also called its “provenance” – which can also be explored via the use of digitized materials. In the case of the Whole Booke of Psalms, we have a bit of ownership information that gives our edition a solid tie to Ohio, and to a written piece on Ohio’s history created by one of its owners. Our copy’s original ownership is unknown, but we do know that in the 19th century the book was owned by Rufus King of Cincinnati.

Musical notation for "Humble Suite of a Sinner" from the Whole Booke.
Musical notation for “The humble suite of a Sinner” from the Whole Booke.

Mr. King was the grandson of Thomas Worthington, and grew to be very prominent in his own right. He was a lawyer, dean of the Cincinnati Law School (which had been founded by his father, Edward King, and is now part of the University of Cincinnati), and president of the University of Cincinnati. In addition, he was the president of the Board of Directors of the Cincinnati Law Library Association and was instrumental in the establishment of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. He also authored a history of Ohio in 1888, Ohio: First Fruits of the Northwest Ordinance.  King’s nephew, William Neil King (of the Columbus Neil family), donated the Whole Booke of Psalmes to the State Library of Ohio after his uncle’s death in 1891.

Digitization also allows us to listen to at least one of the psalms in the Whole Booke of Psalmes. This audio file, provided by the British Library via Europeana, sung by The Gallery Quire and recorded at Cattistock Church in Cattistock, Dorset, England, is a recording of “The Humble Suite of a Sinner,” the second psalm listed in the book. We can listen and imagine that 400 years ago, when the book was published, church members sounded much like this as they sang during service.

An entire world of culture and ideas surround many of the objects in Ohio Memory, and digitization can bring much of that world to you, our readers. We hope you enjoy interacting with all of the items in our collections!


Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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