RBG Memorial Now Online!

When US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka RBG) passed away at age 87 on September 18, 2020, members of the HLS community came together to create a spontaneous memorial (link to Boston Globe article) on the front steps of Langdell Hall to express their grief, admiration, and gratitude for her pathbreaking life and work. Over the next ten days, the memorial blossomed as the community continued to add words of gratitude, objects, drawings, photographs, plants, and flowers.

Spontaneous memorial tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the steps of Langdell Hall. Photo by Jessica Chapel, September 28, 2020.

With rainy weather on the horizon, HLS Library staff thought it was important to preserve the memorial, both to honor the memory of RBG and to document this important milestone in the life of the HLS community. We reached out to student Catherine Walker-Jacks (HLS 2023), who had planted the seed for the memorial with her initial contribution on the Langdell steps. We all agreed it was important to preserve the memorial, and planning got underway.

Members of the HLS Facilities team carefully bring parts of the memorial into the Langdell Hall entranceway. Photo by Jessica Chapel, September 28, 2020.

Though campus buildings were locked down due to COVID-19, staff from the Library’s Historical & Special Collections and the Digital Lab worked with HLS Facilities and Custodial staff to carefully bring the memorial inside Langdell Hall, where it safely remained until the campus reopened. The memorial was not one single item but a collection of 409 objects, consisting of large and small cardboard pieces, scraps of paper, sticky notes, cards, drawings, photographs, and a variety of stones and other small objects. Perishable items such as plants and flowers did not make the trip! Here is the catalog record that describes the memorial in greater detail.

The next question was: how do we share the memorial with the community? Because it consists of a collection of objects, some quite large, there’s no room to display more than a small piece of it. So we decided to digitize it. We worked closely with colleagues at Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center and Imaging Services units throughout the process, came up with a plan, and carefully transported the memorial to Widener Library for imaging.

HLS Library Digital Lab staff members transport sections of the memorial to Widener Library for imaging. Photo by Jessica Chapel, September 14, 2021.

Imaging Services photographed all the two-dimensional pieces – the messages, letters, and artwork – left in remembrance of RBG. In these photos by Imaging Services staff member Jenne Willis, you can see the memorial being photographed by David Remington and Theresa Kelliher. David built a custom studio set-up to capture every piece of the memorial in incredible detail.

Harvard Library Imaging Services staff members prepare to photograph a section of the memorial. Photo by Jenne Willis, (Instagram: @photo_jenne), 2023.
Images from the memorial photographed by the Harvard Library’s Imaging Services team and displayed on a computer monitor. Photo by Jenne Willis, (Instagram: @photo_jenne), 2023.

And here are the images of the 2-D memorial objects! (Images of the 3-D objects will be available later this year.) Due to its unwieldy size and delicate condition, the physical collection is closed for research, though we plan to display small examples from it at Library events in the fall. As for RBG, to quote University Professor Emeritus Laurence H. Tribe (HLS 1966), “May she rest in peace and power.”

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