The latest recipients of a hearty Hoosier homecoming welcome have traveled extensively. They’ve been cited during discussions of governance, carried by keepers of the law, proclaimed by those who have battled for the rights of women and people of color.
They’re a collection of centuries-spanning books and documents that belong to the Remnant Trust, which has deep Indiana roots. The nonprofit organization collects manuscripts and early published works related to individual liberty, responsibility and human dignity and then shares them for educational purposes.
As part of a new three-way partnership, it will house its collection at the Indiana Historical Society, which will use materials in exhibitions and put some on permanent display. The trust’s offices will be at the Columbia Club, and the Monument Circle mainstay will also host events and display items.
Including the Historical Society will broaden the message of public access and the interaction that the trust encourages — letting people pick up and read the rare materials like any other printed books. Considering that the trust’s goal is to collect works that are at least 100 years old, that becomes a big deal. It reports that its oldest pieces date to around 2500 B.C.
“Most of this stuff you can go online and read, but it’s a whole other thing to hold it, to touch history,” said Jody Blankenship, president and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society. “It gives you goosebumps to think this stuff has been around for centuries in some cases —and who’s had it, who’s used it and how have they done that.”
Among the first opportunities the public will have to see works from the collection is the exhibit “Documents that Shaped America,” which will open May 21 at the Indiana Historical Society.
The trust’s more than 1,500 manuscripts, first editions and early works include some gems that have long shaped philosophy, religious ideas and social constructs.
The holdings include some of the world’s most famous titles. An edition of the Magna Carta from about 1350 has decorative flourishes that bloom from letters into the margins. Frederick Douglass’ life and ideas populate the pages of autobiography editions that are dated in the mid-19th century. Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” calls out double standards in education and other areas of life.
The list goes on, with early editions of the Federalist Papers, Two Treatises of Government by John Locke, the Declaration of Independence, a 1734 English translation of the Quran and “Particulars of the Late Duel, Fought at Hoboken, July 11, Between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, Esqrs.”
Many of the works have rarity in common, but Remnant Trust Chairman Chris Talley said the characteristic is a hook and not the driving factor.
Frederick Douglass’ autobiographies are part of the Remnant Trust’s collection.
The books are “about mankind looking for (truth). Where is it? How do we understand the world? What’s our position in the world? How do we interact?” Trust president Kris Bex said.
Trust among people “just is not there. We don’t have it with hardly anybody. … But, if I say, ‘Well, look: Here’s a Thomas Paine “Common Sense.” Here’s a first edition,’ we know that to be accurate.”
The Remnant Trust has acquired more than 90% of the works through antiquarian book dealers, and other works have come from auction houses and private collectors, Bex said. The purchases have been funded by philanthropic donors, Talley said.
“The fact that we are now the recipients of these books that have been handed down through, in the case of Magna Carta, the last seven or eight centuries — somebody has maintained that book and it’s really appreciated and has been a part of this provenance,” Talley said. “We consider that fiduciary responsibility for the collection to be quite strong.”
Allowing the public to touch and use the materials — with care, of course — is what Bex calls a risk to the capital investment that the trust is willing to take. Fragile documents are encased in plastic, and the nonprofit works with restoration services to make repairs when needed.
“It’s different to pick up the actual document,” Bex said. “When you go over there and you pick up a 1350 manuscript of Magna Carta that’s 700 years old that somebody wrote and carried around as like a lawyer’s handbook at that time … You can’t do that with an iPad. It’s not the same experience.”
The Remnant Trust itself is no stranger to Indiana. Its Hoosier ties include founder Brian Bex and the involvement of former Indiana University President John Ryan. Kris Bex, who is Brian Bex’s son, said it was founded in Hagerstown and incorporated in 1997. It counts Jeffersonville and Winona Lake among Indiana sites where it has resided.
For the past eight years, the trust’s base of operations was Texas Tech University. After the arrangement was up there, Talley said the trust decided to return to its Hoosier roots.
Over the course of its existence, Talley said it has connected with more than 125 college campuses and other institutions. The new partnership is the first time the trust has joined with the Indiana Historical Society, he said. The trust has worked with the Columbia Club on an unofficial basis since about 2001, Bex said.
After the “Documents that Shaped America” exhibit closes in early 2023, Blankenship said that a portion of the Indiana Historical Society’s library will be permanently devoted to the Remnant Trust’s collection. That will make it easier for the public to see works that aren’t traveling for exhibit elsewhere. Those who are interested can find the list of materials and instructions on how to view them at indianahistory.org/the-remnant-trust.
“As a part of the opportunity to bring them home to Indiana, we will be expanding the reach and scaling up the educational program,” Talley said.
Upcoming events at the Columbia Club include Robert Woodson, a civil rights activist and social commentator, who will give remarks and be part of discussions May 3 and 4. Find more information at remnanttrustevents.com.