Library joins “For Humanity Illuminated” celebration of Yale’s cultural heritage collections

Library joins “For Humanity Illuminated” celebration of Yale’s cultural heritage collections
August 17, 2023

Text by Deborah Cannarella. Photo by Raccoon London.

In June, more than 300 members of the Yale community—including alumni, friends, faculty, and staff—gathered at the Savoy Hotel in London for the “For Humanity Illuminated” event “Collections and Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age.” The program centered on the ways in which Yale’s collections enable new discoveries in research, teaching and learning, including through technological innovations that allow users greater access to materials to explore and study.

Five Yale experts made presentations about progress in their respective fields, facilitated by their work with advanced technology:

  •  Jacqueline Goldsby ’98 PhD, Thomas E. Donnelly Professor of African American Studies and of English, spoke about the Black Bibliography Project, which she co-directs. In partnership with Yale Library, the project’s interdisciplinary team is compiling a digital database of descriptive bibliographies for works by African American writers.
  • Gavin Hogben, senior critic at the Yale School of Architecture, discussed the potential for mobile technology to enhance museum environments and create new levels of visitor engagement—as “makers and as performers, and as on-demand curators” of their experiences.
  • Agnete Wisti Lassen, associate curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection, spoke about the technology that facilitated organic analysis of several of Yale’s long-held objects, revealing new findings about objects more than 2,500 years old. Lassen also discussed recent novel approaches to the digitization and 3D scanning of Babylonian seals and tablets.
  • Paul Messier, founder and Pritzker Director of the Lens Media Lab at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH), spoke about the lab’s ongoing international collaborations with other collecting institutions. His collaborative team of researchers takes the approach of both data scientists and art historians to create new tools that offer insight into Yale’s collection of photographic papers, the largest such collection in the world.
  • Paleontologist Jakob Vinther ’11 PhD, through his work with Yale’s electron microscope, was led to the discovery of “paleocolor,” the presence of melanin in fossilized dinosaur feathers. His breakthrough has led to new insights into the behaviors and habitats of feathered dinosaurs.

The panel and attendees

Following the presentations, Susan Gibbons—Yale University’s vice provost for collections and scholarly communication and chief of staff to President Peter Salovey—moderated a panel discussion. The presenters discussed the important roles of both physical and digital materials in scholarly research.

They also discussed the value of object-based learning, a topic that Salovey returned to in his closing remarks. In his own teaching, Salovey encouraged his social psychology students to visit galleries, museums, and libraries. “These encounters with original works of art can cultivate empathy, rouse our imagination, and broaden our understanding,” he said. “The thirty million items within Yale’s collections are instruments of future discovery.”

Representing Yale Library at the event were Barbara Rockenbach, Stephen Gates ’68 University Librarian; Michelle Light, associate university librarian for special collections and director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Lucy Mulroney, director of collections, research, and education at the Beinecke Library; Nicole Bouché, W. S. Lewis Librarian and executive director of the Lewis Walpole Library; and Basie Gitlin and Christina Woodford from the library’s development team.

Yale’s For Humanity Campaign

“Collections and Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age” was the first international program to be held in the “For Humanity Illuminated” series, an initiative of Yale’s For Humanity campaign. It is Yale’s most ambitious fundraising effort to date, with the mission “to improve the world now and for future generations” by making bold investments and providing support for faculty and students to take on critical challenges. Investment in Yale’s collections is a priority of the campaign, which has four main pillars: Arts and Humanities for Insight, Science for Breakthroughs, Collaborating for Impact, and Leaders for a Better World.

“Cultural heritage, in its essence, defines humanity,” Salovey told the event attendees. “Supporting the preservation of cultural heritage collections is a major priority for Yale’s For Humanity campaign.”

Read more about “Collections and Cultural Heritage in the Digital Age” and watch the full program.

Read more about the For Humanity campaign’s support for arts and humanities.

To learn more about Yale University’s vision for its collections, please contact Basie Gitlin, director of development for Yale University Library and Yale Collections, at