Page by Page: Reconstructing an Intellectual’s Drive to Collect
Utah State University
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol III.
In 2004, Utah State University acquired a collection of approximately 1,200 rare volumes about the history of science and technology as a result of a bequest by Peter W. van der Pas. A Dutch immigrant and survivor of World War II, van der Pas proved to be an avid book collector and intellectual. He was a chemical engineer by trade. Examining the nature and origins of this collection of rare books allowed for consideration of how this specific collection reflected the particular ambitions and needs of its creator. As a result, pre-cataloging analysis of the books developed into attempts to demystify van der Pas’s activities and purposes. Research attempts center on evidence of an intelligent, dedicated collector found throughout the volumes of his collection and in the limited biographical information that was published in conjunction with his donations. Driven in part by an immigrant background, van der Pas arguably used this collection both to demonstrate his worth as a scientist and engineer and to legitimize himself in American academia. Through this sort of analysis, it is possible to begin to understand both the ways and reasons that significant book collections come into existence. Finally, the van der Pas collection contributes to a different understanding of what it means to participate in scholarship and as an example of lived scholarly engagement outside of the institutional university environment.