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.

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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Surprises on Every Page

Photo of Lane Carlson, circa 1948. Lane Carlson Papers, Mss. Acc. 2014.026.The Lane Carlson Papers came to Swem Special Collections in 2012 in several large boxes, filled with what at first glance appeared to be just stacks and stacks of mundane letters from a small-town girl to her parents. This could not be further from the truth. Bonnie Elaine “Lane” Carlson, a native of Scotts Bluff Nebraska, was actually a writer, radio performer, globe-trotting professional woman, veteran of the World War II Women’s Army Corps, and one of the first five female colonels in the US Army. Her letters are full of entertaining banter, reflections on historical events happening around her, and insights into the culture and attitudes of mainstream America at the time. But there is a great deal more to this collection than just her letters.

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From Slavery to Freedom via Entrepreneurship

Portrait of Keckley from her book, Behind the ScenesOn October 19, 2014 at Dinwiddie Court House, a Virginia historical marker was dedicated to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (also spelled Keckly). Elizabeth, or ‘Lizzy’ Keckley was born near Petersburg and was a slave on the Burwell Plantation. Her father was Armistead Burwell, the master of the plantation and her mother was a slave woman. She took the name of her slave father George Hobbs. Elizabeth Keckley had a son, George Keckley, who was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, during the first year of the Civil War. As the offspring of a white father, Alexander Kirkland, who had raped his mother, George Keckley passed as white and was thus able to enlist in the Union army at a time of the war when blacks were prohibited from doing so.

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