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John J. Burns Library



Boston College's special collections and rare books, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance.

Current Exhibit

Dark Age Ahead or Systems of Survival? Jane Jacobs and the Ethics of Economies

April 10, 2017 - June 23, 2017


Are we headed for another "dark age," or do the moral foundations of our commerce and politics possess the resources and resilience to rebound? Urban theorist and activist Jane Jacobs examined these questions in her later works, which we present in this exhibition drawn from her personal papers held in Burns Library.

Thirty years ago, in April 1987, Jacobs made the first of several visits to Boston College to participate in a symposium devoted to her work. The celebrated author of the revolutionary Death and Life of Great American Cities, who had waged legendary protests against plans to bisect Lower Manhattan with an expressway, was then at work on a new book, one that would probe the ethical underpinnings of civic and commercial life and economic systems.

Jacobs’s encounters with BC faculty and students—particularly those involved with BC’s PULSE Program for Service Learning—gave new form to her writing. They prompted her to turn precepts and prologue into a Socratic dialogue, with lively characters relating their insights into the two distinct ways that humans make a living, either through trading or “raiding.” Their debate would yield a corresponding pair of implicit codes of conduct (“moral syndromes”) that can either foster healthy economic activity through a dynamic symbiosis, or, by unwittingly forming “monstrous hybrids,” threaten to doom civilization.

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics appeared five years later in 1992. Its key ideas and their development are presented here, along with Jacobs’s last book, Dark Age Ahead, published in 2004, just two years prior to her death at age 89.

“We need continual but informal democratic explorations on the part of people who must thread their ways through governmental, business, or volunteer and grass-roots policies,” Jacobs wrote in her preface to Systems of Survival, “or must wrestle with the moral conflicts and ethical puzzles that sprout up unbidden in all manner of occupations.”

An opening reception was held on Monday, April 10, with Boston College faculty who knew Jacobs and organized her campus visits.

Previous Exhibit

Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900 - 1923

October 17, 2016 - March 31, 2017

In the struggle for national independence, Irish women had to fight both British imperialism and Irish sexism. They organized politically and militarily. They fought alongside men, went to jail, and on hunger strikes.

Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Margaret Skinnider, Kathleen Clarke, and hundreds of other brave and determined women achieved their purpose and place in history.

Featuring newly acquired, never-before-seen documents and artifacts, as well as an original 1916 Easter Rising Proclamation, this exhibition tells their stories.

Sponsored by the Boston College Libraries, which gratefully acknowledge lender support from Strokestown Park House, the National Irish Famine Museum, and the Irish Heritage Trust.

Luncheon talk by Lucy McDiarmid, February 3

Please join us on Friday, February 3, 2017, for a luncheon talk presented by Lucy McDiarmid, Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professor of English at Montclair State University and author of the recently published At Home In The Revolution: What Women Said and Did in 1916.

Read reviews of the exhibit

November 7, 2016 BC Heights review

A review also appears in the November edition of the Boston Irish Reporter (page 8).

You can also download a PDF list of recommended readings on women in revolutionary Ireland.

Read our blog post on the exhibit

We invite you to read our series of blog postings relating to the exhibition themes and the six women it most prominently features: Maud Gonne MacBride, Constance Markievicz, Mollie Gill, Margaret Skinnider, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, and Kathleen Clarke. New postings will be added every two weeks through the end of March.

Earlier Exhibits

We invite you to browse a list of earlier exhibits held in Burns Library.