About spcoll

Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center is a learning lab for students, much like a science lab, except the raw materials we offer for your experimentation and observation are original manuscripts, photographs, rare books, sheet music, maps, and other unique or rare treasures documenting humanity’s history and culture.

“We Find It Very Thrilling to Be Here at Such an Exciting Period”

Some of the many watercolor drawings in Victoria Brown's 1935 travel diaryAfter a full academic year working at the Special Collections Research Center, I came to reflect on why my experience as an Archives and Manuscript Collections apprentice has meant so much to me. It may sound trite but this assistantship has not only stimulated my professional interest in archives management, it also gave me the opportunity to learn so much about a variety of peoples and topics through the collections I processed. Indeed, the diversity of projects and materials is among my favorite aspects of the job. For instance, after organizing the papers of individuals ranging from a Virginia anti-suffragette to a 20th century potter, I was assigned a singular task: describing the fascinating and quite surprising travel diary of a fourteen year-old American girl who visited fascist Italy in 1935.

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“Quite an Experience”: The Papers of WWII Nurse Mary Frances Switzer

Mary posing in front of an army tent (Mss. Acc. 2006.65, Series 3, Box 2, Folder 23)Like few other historical events, the Second World War exerts a deep fascination in our collective memory, as shown by the extent to which WW II stories abound in popular culture. Now fully processed, the papers of war nurse Mary Frances Switzer at the Special Collections Research Center offer an absorbing – though less commonly heard – point of view of war experiences on the ground. Last March, the National Women’s History Project selected “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives” as its theme to enhance the integration of “women’s stories – individually and collectively – into the essential fabric of our nation’s history.” Archives play a key role in ensuring the preservation of women’s voices and the recognition of their role in shaping our past.

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Processing the Christopher Bram Papers

Movie poster for Gods and MonstersI recently processed the papers of Christopher Bram, a 1974 graduate of William & Mary and novelist.  His papers are regularly used in library instruction sessions for creative writing students, and having a more complete description will provide faster and easier access for both our researchers and staff.

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“Ever of thee, I’m fondly dreaming”

"Ever of thee, I'm fondly dreaming" cutout valentine, circa 1870s Scherenschnitte, meaning “scissor cuts” in German, is the art of paper cutting. The designs are frequently symmetrical, and are often used to create silhouettes and valentines. This European tradition was developed in sixteenth century Switzerland and Germany, and immigrants brought the designs to Colonial America in the eighteenth century. Paper cutting traditions also exist in many other cultures. For example, China’s paper cutting techniques, perhaps the world’s oldest, date from the sixth century.

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From Collection to Exhibit

Title Poster for Re-Mixing the Old DominionFor the past few months, we have been working to translate the W&M Hip Hop Collection into an exhibit titled Re-Mixing the Old Dominion: 35 Years of Virginia Hip Hop History and Culture. In addition to selecting the “stuff” to showcase the collection and the history of Virginia hip-hop, a completely different set of skills are also needed to create a successful exhibit. The process of creating an exhibit entails a level of organization, public writing, and display techniques that are different from curating and archiving a collection.

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