“I have always wanted to work with old materials,” said Jessica Zhang ’25. “I just feel a lot of joy when I open up something really old and I get to learn about it and tell other people about it.”
Zhang was first offered an opportunity to dip into the NMH archives while working with Peter Weis ’78, the school’s archivist, in her workjob position during the spring semester of 2023. Her experience with NMH’s vast collection of objects inspired her to curate an exhibition. “I learned about so many things that I didn't know we had before,” Zhang said. “So many students have no idea what the archives are like.”
This semester, Zhang and Rachel Hyun ’25, both Interfaith Council leaders, collaborated with Weis to develop “The NMH Bible Collection.” The exhibition features 13 books from the archives’ collection of 60 historic Bibles. “The task of cataloging the Bible collection was undertaken as a work assignment by another student, Sofia Tiapkina '24,” Weis explained. Tiapkina’s database then provided an important framework for creating the captions for the exhibit.
The Bibles chosen by Zhang are distributed among three cases in the library. Each one is accompanied by explanatory text detailing the book’s origins and how it became part of the NMH archives. The goal of the exhibition, said the curators, was to give NMH students a taste of what the archives have to offer.
Weis said that Zhang and Hyun had originally been looking for a broad range of sacred texts. As the students started sleuthing the collection, they realized that it made sense to highlight a focused group of books and that the collection’s Bibles would offer a compelling glimpse of the school’s history.
Zhang said she had first noticed the Bibles when scanning images in her workjob role. “I wondered: Why aren’t we showing these things? Some had never even been on display,” she said.
Weis has wanted to develop an exhibition of this kind for years, but, knowing the breadth of the collection, was deterred by the enormity of the undertaking. “To have two young people who are fearless and hardworking and who were willing to take the time to write the captions — it was such a serendipitous, wonderful thing,” he said.
The students said that Weis’ knowledge, enthusiasm, and unwavering support encouraged them to take on the project. “Mr. Weis spent a lot of time with us going through the archives, which was very nice of him,” Hyun said. “He knows so much about all of these materials.” Also instrumental in the process were NMH librarians Alexis Arcaro and Beth Ruane, who helped the students with schematics for the exhibit.
Among the gems in the exhibition are a Bible from 1585, one written entirely in Japanese, another in Irish, and another in Middle English. Zhang said she also chose a few for their unique illustrations and covers. One of her favorites is illustrated by notable 19th-century painter James Tissot. “I picked this one because the illustrations are very beautiful,” she said. “He specialized in Biblical events and stories, and his works were incredibly popular in the later 1890s.”
Arguably the pièce de résistance in the exhibition is a Bible that was awarded to William Henry Jackson, who had traveled from his home in England to attend classes at NMH. Its flyleaf pages contain a remarkable collection of autographs, including those of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman; British Prime Minister Winston Churchill; Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, the first lady of the Republic of China; General Douglas MacArthur; and NMH founder D.L Moody.
In their curatorial statement, Zhang and Hyun wrote, “We hope that this exhibition will not only imbue you with a greater sense of appreciation for our school's history but also allow you to enjoy old, sacred texts up close. How cool is it that we can be within inches of a book from nearly 400 years ago?”
While this exhibition will close on Friday, Nov. 17, it will not be the last for Zhang and Hyun. The two are currently planning a project that will feature a Book of Esther, one of the five scrolls (or Megillot) in the Hebrew Bible. The texts tell the story of the Purim holiday and were acquired by Moody on a trip to Jerusalem.
“I'll be interested to see the next exhibition they put together,” said Weis. “It’s really, really a wonderful thing for the whole community. We have this huge collection here, and we have this space to store it and care for it. It’s so important to have these things see the light of day.”