DePaul University’s First Virtual Exhibition Debuts: “Saint-Lazare as a Women’s Prison: 1794-1932”

Traditionally museums, libraries, archives, and special collections seek to highlight their collections through the vehicle of exhibitions.  These events are labor intensive and expensive.  They also require a long period of planning, preparation, interpretation, and installation. Then, after a few weeks or months on public display, the exhibition ends, is quickly disassembled, and fades into memory.

Saint Lazare Prison

The new world of information technology promises to transform these traditional exhibitions in ways that could be little dreamed of only a few years ago.  A “virtual” exhibition also requires a long period of planning, preparation, interpretation, and installation but unlike its “un-virtual” counterpart it never has to go away, it never has to disappear; it can in fact be continually updated to stand as a testament to a particular collection’s scholarly and research potential.

Among its numerous collections, DePaul University’s Special Collections and Archives possess world-class and unique Vincentiana collections that reflects the role that the university plays as the premiere international site for Vincentian research and scholarship. Over the last fifteen years, the university’s Vincentian Studies Institute has undertaken an ambitious program to collect manuscripts, rare books, out-of-print and new titles, journals, archival sources, and material culture. Now, the Institute, the John T. Richardson Library, and the Archives and Special Collections department have made a commitment to make all their “hidden” collections available in digital formats and through regular virtual exhibitions. The platform designed to house the inaugural Saint-Lazare exhibition will provide the template for these future efforts.

This first virtual exhibition explores a fascinating chapter in the long history of Saint-Lazare the famous motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians) in Paris.  Originally founded as a leprosarium in 1122 far outside the city gates, the complex served as the Vincentian mother house from 1632 until 1792.  Confiscated by the revolutionary government, the complex became an infamous women’s prison from 1794 until its closure in 1932.

I served as the curator of this exhibition. Brian Cicirello from the Office of Mission and Values served as the project’s producer. We hope that you will enjoy this first exhibition which can be accessed at: https://vincentiancollections.depaul.edu/saintlazare/pages/default.aspx

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