Connecting with the Past: Rare Books and Manuscripts

For all their accessibility, the records of the information age are both uniform and utilitarian in appearance. A manuscript stored as a computer file on a floppy disk reveals little about its creator or the circumstances of its creation.

By contrast, the documentary record compiled before computers carries with it the feel of history. Read a letter by one of the University's most famous alumni, Edgar Allan Poe, or examine the original manuscript of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and you experience a connection that is impossible to re-create with today's more impersonal media.

The Special Collections Department of the Alderman Library is one of the nation's foremost repositories of these precious documents. The department's world-famous collection of American history and literature is built around two collections contributed to the University: the McGregor Library, which contains accounts of travel and exploration in the Western Hemisphere from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century, and the Barrett Library, the most valuable donation ever made to the University, containing every work of literature published in the United States between 1775 and 1875.

Alderman Library also specializes in Virginia authors and Virginia family papers, such as the Lee family of Virginia, with their rich sources of Revolutionary history. Efforts made in recent years to add collections on the history of African Americans in Virginia and the South have led to the acquisition of the papers of the Southern Elections Fund, which was established in the late 1960s to provide assistance to progressive Southern political candidates.


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