“It’s satisfying to put the pieces of a puzzle together when we can, but it’s just as exciting to think of the undiscovered treasures that might be hiding in this collection.”—Nadia Seiler
To be a great cataloger is to love a puzzle, to obsess over details, and to delight in sharing discoveries. Nadia Seiler was one such cataloger, someone whose work contributed to the scholarly record and whose joy in revealing collection materials helped shape what we do. In her seven years at the Folger, Nadia added 2,614 records to Hamnet, edited thousands more, and was responsible for describing 4,208 individual manuscripts in Folger finding aids. She identified a previously unattributed autograph poem from noted writer Hannah More to theater impresario David Garrick (Y.d.1089 (18)). Her familiarity with, and interest in, Shakespeare and the Folger’s collection made her the perfect assistant to Folger Director Michael Witmore and artist Rosamund Purcell as they prepared their 2012 exhibit, “Very Like a Whale,” which sought to forge connections between Shakespeare’s words and the spiraling associations they provoke across the Folger collection and into the domains of natural history and photography.
Describing Nadia’s accomplishments this way doesn’t do full justice to her work as a cataloger. She was a quick learner, someone who mastered the art of paleography and who rose to the challenge of describing complex manuscripts in just a few sentences. She and Heather Wolfe had a standing monthly appointment for a “manuscript cataloging party” where they would discuss the most vexing of her cataloging challenges—a party that Heather describes as “a two-person masterclass on manuscript interpretation.” Some sense of Nadia’s skills with finding paths into complicated manuscripts can be seen in her Collation posts on 17th-century recipes for treating breast cancer and on hidden collections.
Above all, she was a joyful cataloger, someone who loved to share her work with colleagues, calling them over to her desk to see what she was working on or laughing with them in the tea room about what she’d found. Her Facebook feed was full of tidbits from her work, sharing sometimes cryptic status updates—“Peg legs–17th century, depicted“—and tantalizing photos:
Researchers aren’t always lucky enough to meet the catalogers who create the resources so necessary to scholarship. Those of us who worked with Nadia know how special of a presence she was. We are all lucky to have had Nadia in our lives.