The Barbara Curtis Adachi Collection at Columbia University Libraries

When Barbara Curtis Adachi donated her collection of Bunraku materials to the C. V. Starr East Asian Library in 1991, it quickly became one of the Library’s treasures because of its extraordinary breadth and substance. Through the generosity of Barbara Curtis Adachi, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Freeman Foundation, the Bunraku collection was acquired and processed, and its holdings made publicly available.

There was a great deal of processing work to be done. Over 13,000 slides needed review, and approximately 10% were found to be loose in their mounts and in need of remounting. The black-and-white photographs were pasted on acidic paper. The programs had to be put in order. But there was no doubt that the collection’s scholarly and public value was well worth these archival hurdles. Prior to the Library’s acquisition, selections from it had been used to illustrate two important texts.1 And Barbara Adachi herself wanted her materials used as widely as possible: over her decades of connection with the National Bunraku Troupe, her goal was always to entice viewers to experience the pleasures of the form, and she lectured widely and accompanied the troupe abroad to introduce Bunraku to new audiences. In processing the collection and in the creation of the Bunraku website, the Library kept these scholarly, pedagogical, and audience goals as its highest priorities.

The first goal in the project was to organize and preserve the materials, which was done under a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, from July 2005 through June 2007. In those two years, the materials were preserved by digitizing, dismantling from acidic materials, and rehousing in archival storage. The collection was organized into series, based on format or genre; items were rehoused in appropriate archival boxes; and materials were described at the item level (except personal papers, which were described at the folder level). An extensive finding aid (collection description and inventory of items and folders) to the collection is available online at The website also enables users to search the collection by many different access points as well as by keyword. The database includes 178 play titles, 293 productions, 183 performers, and 2,107 characters.

The completion of Barbara Curtis Adachi’s goal of making her collection widely available to a broad audience was generously supported by the Freeman Foundation, which enabled the creation of a website to serve as a significant digital resource for study, research, and appreciation of this important form of traditional Japanese theater. The website incorporates visual and audio materials, scholarly essays, and significant metadata to bring Bunraku to the widest audience possible, to study, to savor, and to enjoy.

  1. Karen Brazell’s Traditional Japanese theater: an anthology of plays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) and Haruo Shirane’s Early modern Japanese literature: an anthology, 1600-1900 (Columbia University Press, 2002).