Jefferson and Whitman to Crane and Faulkner
Library offers rare glimpse into American history
is now a big hole in front of Alderman and Clemons libraries
will look like this in March 2004 when construction is done
on the new Mary and David Harrison Institute for American
History, Literature, and Culture and Albert and Shirley Small
Special Collections Library. The innovative building will
feature climate-controlled stacks, new uses of electronic
technology, exhibit display facilities, research centers,
multimedia classrooms and an auditorium.
By Elizabeth Kiem
a book so unlikely it could be called apocryphal. Most bibliographies
dont even give it an entry, although its author is perhaps
the most famous, and certainly one of the most beloved, writers
of American fiction.
called The Jumping Frog, by Mark Twain, and it can be found at
the Albert and
Shirley Small Special Collections Library of Alderman Library.
20 years after his story The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
gained worldwide popularity, The Jumping Frog is the result of
Twains whimsical resolve to transliterate a supposed French
translation of the original tale. Few people knew of the convoluted
premise, still fewer know of the comic end result, subtitled In
English, Then in French, Then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language
Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil.
werent even aware it had actually been published,
said Michael Plunkett, director of Special Collections since 1993.
He found a first edition several years ago and managed to acquire
a proof-sheet of an excerpt of The Jumping Frog, in which Twains
handwritten edits refer to a troublesome critic in salty terminology.
a fascinating story to tell by applying things that alter the
layers of a work that I didnt even realize was an eventual
publication, said Plunkett, surveying the items together
on a small library table.
Jumping Frog and its companion manuscript and annotations are
just a few of the items in the staggering catalog of Special Collections.
More than 12 million manuscripts and 268,000 rare books, along
with thousands of maps, broadsides, photographs, prints and audio
and video recordings, are housed here.
dont rank special collections departments independently,
said Plunkett, but I believe that our special collections
department has to rank in the top 10.
Collections at a glance
12 million items
2.5 million University Archive items
268,000 rare books
12,000 discrete collection units
250,000 photographs and small prints
8,000 reels of microfiche
audio recordings, motion picture films & ephemera
U.Va. library as a whole is ranked 22nd among the top 120 research
libraries as judged by the Association of Research Libraries.
Plunkett notes that other rare book libraries that equal or surpass
U. Va.s belong to private institutions with limited public
make our materials available to anybody who will identify themselves,
while most users are affiliated with the University, Plunkett
says about 10 percent of users are outside researchers from across
the country. People all over the world can use the librarys
online database, but with only about 5 percent of the holdings
presently digitized, most items still require a trip to the quiet
serenity of the Small Library for real scrutiny.
the fans of Special Collections is Ed Ayers, dean of the College
of Arts & Sciences. He sends his undergraduate students
to the library to peruse the letters, diaries and account books
that illustrate his class on the American South.
have told me time and again how exciting that research was, once
they got used to the experience of handling the raw materials
of the past, Ayers said.
librarys primary collection areas are American literature,
American history and Virginiana. In particular, two massive collections
acquired in the 1930s stack the shelves of the second floor of
Alderman. Clifton Waller-Barrett, a Virginian, alum and shipping
magnate, was an avid collector who amassed 40,000 books and 100,000
manuscripts in his lifetime. His holdings are a comprehensive
array of every publication of American fiction, poetry, drama
and essays from 1775 to 1875.
the Waller-Barrett collection is the Tracy W. McGregor Library,
which focuses on the Age of Exploration and is endowed to acquire
additional manuscripts and books on travel and Americana. McGregor
was a resident of Detroit without direct ties to Virginia, but
his inclination toward a Southern institution as a repository
for his collection was in part to counter the cultural losses
inflicted by the Civil War.
preeminent collections are the legacy of individuals associated
with the University. Thanks to the zeal of Jared Lowenstein, U.Va.
has the finest existing collection of material of the Argentine
writer Jorge Louis Borges.
Faulkners papers were turned over to the University after
the authors tenure here as writer-in-residence. Today, U.Va.
has the most complete collection of Faulkner papers.
Thomas Jeffersons papers and drawings are well represented.
Plunkett singles out an 1820 epistle to Sen. John Holmes about
the Missouri Compromise as the most important known Jefferson
letter. Here Jefferson penned the resonating phrase, We
have the wolf by the ear and we can neither hold him nor let him
go. Justice is in one scale and self-preservation in the other,
to describe the predicament of slavery in America as one that
would rend the nation.
the crown jewels of the collections are the only known manuscripts
of The Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and Stephen Cranes
The Red Badge of Courage; original architectural drafts from Thomas
Jeffersons pen; two of the 25 extant original copies of
the Declaration of Independence; and a copy of the first Bible
printed in English in North America, in the phonetic equivalent
of the Algonquin language.
Collections were begun in the 1930s as a home for University archives,
the working papers of the Universitys founder, proctors,
and deans. Separate departments for rare books and manuscripts
evolved through the years but were not absorbed into the Special
Collections Library until 1987. Over the years, the steady influx
of material has overwhelmed storage space on the second floor
of Alderman, and today the hallways are lined with valuable materials
stacked in cardboard boxes.
new library facility currently under construction in front of
Alderman will become home to Special Collections in March 2004.
While the actual square footage will not change much for the library,
Plunkett said movable shelves will provide needed storage capacity.
Designs include a permanent exhibit room for the Declaration of
Independence items and a Treasure Room for highlighting
the most prominent documents and manuscripts.