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David A. Harrison III To Establish Institute For Study Of American History, Literature And Culture

Sept. 24, 1999 -- University of Virginia alumnus David A. Harrison III of Hopewell, Va., has pledged $10 million to the University Library to establish an institute for the study of American history, literature and culture. The institute will draw on the library's extensive holdings of American manuscripts, rare books and documents and will be part of a new library complex on the University's central grounds.

The David A. Harrison III Institute, as it will be called, will encompass a spacious exhibition gallery, study areas for visiting scholars and a seminar room for lectures and classes. It will be housed in a new 65,000-square-foot facility that also will contain the Albert H. Small Special Collections Library. A short distance from the University's Jeffersonian buildings, the institute and its exhibitions are expected to attract many of the tens of thousands of visitors who tour the University each year. It also will offer comfortable work areas for the thousands of scholars who annually conduct research in the special collections.

"The University is steward to a remarkable archive of American rare books and manuscripts that define who we are as a diverse and thriving culture," said University President John T. Casteen III. "David Harrison's extraordinary gift enables us to present these materials to the public in meaningful and enlightening ways, and to make them readily accessible to scholars here and from around the world."

The gift is one of the largest received in the Campaign for the University of Virginia, which is pursuing a goal of $1 billion. Harrison, who graduated from the University's College of Arts & Sciences in 1939 and from the Law School in 1941, is on the Campaign Executive Committee and has been one of the campaign's most generous participants. In addition to his new commitment for the University Library, he has provided major gifts for such areas as law, medicine, historical archaeology, and athletics. The Law School's expanded complex, the David A. Harrison III Law Grounds, was named in recognition of his support. He funded the football stadium's new grass surface, which has been named David A. Harrison III Field, and the new artificial-turf playing field used by the women's lacrosse and field hockey teams.

The Harrison Institute will display examples from the wealth of Americana in the University Library. These holdings include such rare items as original editions of accounts by early explorers, among them Amerigo Vespucci and Captain John Smith; the first Bible published in the New World, written in Algonquin for the "propagation of the Gospel amongst the Indians in New England"; plantation records of early Virginia families; and the first printing of the Declaration of Independence. The University's Tracy McGregor Library is prized for its holdings in American history, and the Clifton Waller Barrett Library is considered the world's preeminent collection of American literature.

Among the literary manuscripts in the University's archives are Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage," Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and numerous works by William Faulkner, who became the University's first writer-in-residence in 1957 and served as a consultant for the University Library. Recently added to the American collections are the letters of John Dos Passos, contributed by the author's widow.

"In addition to providing an attractive, climate-controlled setting where we can display these materials safely and prominently, the new building will incorporate advanced information technology that will link our resources with those of other libraries around the world," said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. "The institute created with this exceptional gift will allow us to use our collections in new and imaginative ways to help the public and the scholarly community understand our historical and cultural development as a nation."

To complement the books, documents and manuscripts on display, the institute will mount exhibitions of artifacts from archaeological excavations in Virginia, including those conducted at Flowerdew Hundred, the historic James River plantation owned by David Harrison. Granted to Virginia's first governor, Sir George Yeardly, in 1617, Flowerdew Hundred has been the subject of intensive archaeological studies over the past 30 years and is now the site of a museum devoted to the plantation's rich history.

The Harrison Institute's archaeological displays, explained Wittenborg, will give visitors a fuller picture of the Commonwealth's role in the nation's history. "The printed word tells only part of the story," she said. "By adding an archaeological component to the Harrison Institute's exhibitions, we will provide a sense of the day-to-day life of Americans from pre-colonial times through the Civil War."

Harrison's $10 million gift allows the University to go forward with construction of the $26 million library complex, which is being financed with a combination of state support and private contributions. Other donors include University alumnus and Washington, D.C., real estate developer Albert H. Small, a member of the University's Board of Visitors who owns one of the leading privately held collections of letters and documents related to the nation's founders. Although the new gift completes funding for the library building, the University will continue to seek philanthropic support for the Harrison Institute's programs and exhibitions and for the continued development of the special collections.

"The history of this country, more than any other on Earth, is encapsulated in words," observed Edward L. Ayers, the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History and a leading authority on the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. "Documents, maps, pamphlets, books, sermons, and newspapers not only express but embody the ideals and struggles of the American people over the last four hundred years. There could be no better monument to American culture than an institute that will allow visitors to see these essential pieces of our past in such an intimate way."

Groundbreaking for the building is expected to take place in mid-2000. Ornamented with Tuscan columns, arched windows and other neo-classical details, the building is being designed by Hartman-Cox Architects to blend with the Jeffersonian style of neighboring structures. It will be built on the site now occupied by Miller Hall, which will be removed. The University's undergraduate admissions office, currently housed in Miller Hall, will move next door to a newly renovated Peabody Hall.

Robert D. Sweeney, Vice President for Development, and Karin Wittenborg, University Librarian, will be available for further comments. Sweeney can be reached at (804) 924-1008; Wittenborg can be reached at (804) 924-7849.

Contact: Carol Wood, (804) 924-6189

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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