This post was written by Lauren Goss, MLIS student at San Jose State University and student assistant in SCARC.
Born in Russia in 1864, Galvani emigrated to the United States by way of New York in 1882. He headed west to Oregon, where he worked as a civil engineer for various companies including the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, the Oregon Electric Railway Company, Pacific Power & Light Company and the Walla Walla Valley Railway Company. Outside of his engineering work, he was active in civic duty, and was appointed by Governor Benson (OR) to represent Oregon at the 1909 National Peace Congress. He later served as mayor of Seaside, OR in the 1930s. Galvani was a member of the Masons, the Oregon Peace Society, and the Oregon Vegetarian Society.
Galvani pursued varied intellectual interests. In 1894, he wrote a book titled, Crime of 1893, about foreign relations between Russia and the United States.
In December of 1920, he wrote an article for the Oregon Historical Quarterly entitled “The Early Explorations and the Origin of the Name of the Oregon Country.” Galvani appeared regularly in Oregon newspapers with opinions on the benefits of vegetarianism, advocating for peace, and commenting on the Russian Revolution.
Galvani’s connection with Oregon State University began in the early 1900’s, even though he never attended the school. In 1904, he appeared before the Board of Regents to discuss the admittance of foreign students from India. The meeting minutes note: “moved and carried that Mr. Galvani be admitted to address the Board on the subject of the education of the people of India. Mr. Galvani addressed the board at some length on the subject and thanked them for their courtesy. It was then moved and carried.” Galvani’s advocacy was recognized in the creation of the college’s international student program. In 1936, the Oregon State System of Higher Education Chancellor Emeritus, W.J. Kerr, corresponded with the Dean of Science, F.A. Gilfillan about Galvani’s significant personal library. Kerr mentioned the possibility of splitting the large collection between Oregon State and the University of Oregon, though it appeared Galvani had not formally decided the future of his personal library. In 1943, Gilfillan and Galvani began a correspondence regarding the influx of soldiers to Camp Adair, and the Russian language class that Gilfillan taught. In fact, some of their correspondence was in Russian. In May of 1943. Galvani received an honorary doctorate of engineering at the annual commencement ceremonies. Gilfillan wrote to Galvani: “the college was glad to have this opportunity to honor a pioneer engineer of Oregon.”
In relation to obtaining Galvani’s book collection, Gilfillan was a member of the Friends of the Oregon State College Library, an organization that advocated for donations of book collections, and monetary support. In their correspondence, Gilfillan mentioned the group to Galvani at the end of 1943. When Galvani died on October 23, 1947, his last will and testament detailed the terms of the bequest of his entire library to Oregon State College. By the end of 1947, the library was in receipt of approximately 5,500 books, as well as over 1,000 maps. Cataloging his book collection was a significant task for the post-war era library. In an edition of the 1951 Booklist, a monthly library publication, W.H. Carlson (director of libraries) reported they were still cataloging Galvani’s books. Below is the bookplate affixed to all of his volumes, featuring Galvani’s bust sculpted by his widow.
Galvani’s personal book and map collection were significant contributions to the library. In the Special Collection and Archives Research Center, his books sit on the shelves of the various rare books collections. One in particular seems a fitting component of Galvani’s collection: The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections, by A. Edward Newton, published in 1918. It was a popular guide on the vicissitudes of book-collecting with such chapter titles as “Old Catalogues and New Prices,” “What Might Have Been” and “A Ridiculous Philosopher.” Newton observed: “book-collecting has all the advantages of other hobbies without their drawbacks. The pleasure of acquisition is common to all – that’s where the sport lies; but the strain of the possession of books is almost nothing; a tight, dry closet will serve to house them, if need be” (p. 3). It is a short leap to apply the same observation to historic maps. In a further attempt to understand Galvani’s voracious collecting of historical materials, I found some answers in a small publication, By-Ways Among Books, by David J. Mackenzie in 1900. While this specific book was not part of Galvani’s personal library, it illustrates the characteristics of book collecting that may cause someone to amass over 5,500 books and over 1,000 maps. Mackenzie compares book-hunting to sport and remarks: “book-hunting takes precedence of other sports in nothing more than in this – its infinite variety. It can never be said that there is a sameness in books, or a monotony in book-hunting” (p. 52-53). The William H. Galvani Rare Maps Collection is fascinating, complex, and far from monotonous. The collection’s unprecedented variety, while presenting challenges for arrangement and description, will entice scholars of all academic disciplines.