Most presidential libraries are filled with papers, documents and other records pertaining to the tenure of a particular leader.
The presidential library professor emeritus Larry Bowman is assembling, however, contains books, maps, periodicals, and other rare materials covering the history of the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean.
He got the assignment about a year ago, after receiving an order from the chief of staff to James Michel, the current president of Seychelles, for about 50 items from Bowman’s antiquarian catalogue and web business.
“The order quickly evolved into what he really wanted,” Bowman says, which was to hire him to create a collection for an official presidential library in State House, a recently renovated colonial structure built by the British around 1910 on the largest island, Mahe.
State House was once the colonial governor’s residence but is now used for formal government receptions and events.
Bowman’s background is well suited to the task. He taught international relations in the political science department at UConn for 37 years, specializing in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, and has often traveled to the region in the past several decades for scholarly and antiquarian work.
Bowman took on the assignment after being assured the historical materials would be protected from water and weather damage as well as possible theft.
“I’ve worked in many third world libraries and sold things many times in the developing world,” he says. “Where there isn’t the capability of protecting them, they disappear.”
Air conditioning also is critical in the tropics, where the humidity causes many items to rot.
He says he was eager to help: “I really believe in my heart that these materials belong in the country they’re about.”
| An engraving from Illustrated London News, January 5, 1867, will hang in the presidental library. Photo supplied by Larry Bowman
Bowman has spent the last six months working on the project, buying maps and books from all over the world.
So far, he has purchased 35 maps and prints dating back to the 17th century, and around 300 books and documents, including early British colonial reports on slavery and the abolition of slavery in the Seychelles.
Since retiring from UConn in 2005, Bowman, who still lives in the Storrs area, has been building his antiquarian business, which involves selling Indian Ocean materials to collectors and institutions worldwide. He began the business in the early 1990s as an outgrowth of his own extensive collection.
During a recent trip to the Seychelles, he visited State House and met with those working on the presidential library project.
“I don’t have any sense that it’s going to be a circulating library,” Bowman says. “I think there will be a room where the books are kept, and the maps could be all over the place because there is plenty of wall space.”
He anticipates that he’ll be working on the project indefinitely, though with fewer and fewer items left to locate.
“I obviously know where other Seychelles collections are, and I’d be very surprised if I haven’t helped many of those collectors,” he says. “But it’s very tricky to find items, because the materials are few [to begin with] and the market is so thin.”
The library may have a formal opening, and Bowman hopes he’ll be invited. “For me this wonderful project is a dream come true.”