Local history teacher Thomas Barden recently published Napoleon’s Purgatory: The Unseen Humanity of the “Corsican Ogre” in Fatal Exile, a unique look into the “human” side of Napoleon Bonaparte as revealed by those who lived with him in exile on the island of St. Helena. Barden got his research start in the archives of the Warren Hunting Smith Library while a student at DeSales High School in Geneva, and he thanks the librarians in the acknowledgements section of his newly released book.
“I wanted to offer a sincere ‘thank you’ for all the help of the HWS librarians and for the warm and inviting nature they offered to a 15-year-old high school student,” says Barden, who has taught history at the high school and college levels in upstate New York and is a fellow of the International Napoleonic Society.
“Their support meant a great deal to me; I don’t think I could’ve gotten my research start at another college or university,” he adds. “HWS’ connection with the local community is unique because they are the community; they are part of Geneva and Geneva is part of them.”
With a longstanding commitment to serve both the HWS and greater Geneva community, Hobart and William Smith’s library has served as a research haven for community members like Barden for decades. Paul “Bill” Crumlish, who retired as director of the HWS library in 2007 after a 35-year tenure, says it was common for both local and HWS students to return to the library years after leaving the community to thank the staff for the impact they had on their academic careers.
“There’s plenty of testimony that Geneva has benefited, and that was a very rewarding part of being at a college library in a community like Geneva,” Crumlish says. “We had resources that wouldn’t normally be available to a community of our size.”
Barden remembers Crumlish in particular helping him search the library’s database and navigate the archives for rare, primary sources related to his topic of Napoleonic study. It was both the availability of rare texts related to Napoleon’s life and the welcoming staff that created an “atmosphere of scholarship and learning” that Barden says was influential to him.
“They opened the doors to my research and put me on the path to becoming the published historian I am today,” Barden says.
This “openness” to the community had been a priority of both library staff and of HWS leadership since the Colleges’ founding, and even more so with the opening of the Warren Hunting Smith Library in 1976, Crumlish says.
“The Colleges saw this decision as an investment in the future of Geneva and the future of HWS. This was a decision made by the trustees, and it was on the urging of a number of people – including Warren Hunting Smith himself – that the library would be a place open to residents and anyone who could get here,” explains Crumlish.
And for Barden, the Warren Hunting Smith Library staff has helped him leave his mark well beyond the Geneva community. Napoleon’s Purgatory, published in February 2017 by Vernon Press, debuted at No. 1 on Amazon’s Napoleonic War History book list and reached the top 10 in that Amazon category. The book captures the humanity, suffering, joy in the laughter of children, and longing for Napoleon’s eternal love, Josephine, through the detailed use of primary sources written by those who were there.
Crumlish, a military historian who has written several books on nuclear proliferation, is the past president and member of the New York State Library Association, and has served on the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Science. He served as vice chair of the Regents Commission on Libraries and was a consultant to several college libraries in New York State. Under his leadership, HWS became the first private college in the nation to join the OCLC interlibrary loan service. Crumlish was awarded emeritus status by the HWS Board of Trustees in 2010.