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Lillian Vanous Nutt Room

Exhibits in the Greenfield Library

In the Beginning: the Genesis of the New Program

August 22, 2018–January 18, 2019

Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, the founders of the New Program at St. John’s.

The Greenfield Library’s current exhibit was inspired by a rare archival recording of Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan housed in the Library’s collection (listen to the recording). The recording features Barr and Buchanan having a conversation about the history and development of the new program at St. John’s College. Their discussion traced the idea of great books as far back as Alexandria and medieval universities, then to a best books list published by Sir John Lubbock in 1886, then to a great books list used by the Armed Expeditionary Forces at the University of Beaune in France at the end of World War I. This great books list, used in France, was brought to a General Honors Course at Columbia University by John Erskine in the 1920s, and then given to Mortimer J. Adler for his adult seminars at the New York Public Library branches. Buchanan went to the University of Virginia, and Adler went to the University of Chicago and both Buchanan and Adler set up an honors course based on great books and seminars at their respective institutions. These honor courses with their focus on the trivium and quadrivium in a seminar style setting ultimately became the model for the new program at St. John’s in 1937.

On display are rare books that are part of the new program and include: Plato’s Phaedrus (1578), Virgil’s Aeneid in Scottish Verse (1710), Montaigne’s Essais (1657) and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (1676). Also on display is the 1938 yearbook, the first yearbook published after the founding of the new program, a copy of a 1940 LIFE article about the new program at St. John’s, as well as a striking cut-out of Barr and Buchanan. Selfies are encouraged and can be shared using #sjcgreenfieldlibrary.