Feb. 7, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 9

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    Special Collections Research Center opens ŽEncountering the American West’ exhibition

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    The Special Collections Research Center, formerly known as the Department of Special Collections, unveiled on Friday, Feb. 1, its current exhibition, Encountering the American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820.

    Co-curated by Daniel Meyer, Associate Director and University Archivist in Special Collections, and Judith Dartt, Digital Projects Specialist, the exhibition explores the trans-Appalachian West from the beginning of European-American settlement until the end of the frontier period, focusing particularly on the Ohio River Valley and Kentucky.

    The items on display are part of a larger Web site called “The First American West,” developed by the University and the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Ky. Funded by a grant from Ameritech, the site is part of the Library of Congress American Memory digital library program.

    In addition to showcasing its holdings in regularly organized exhibits, Special Collections recently has changed its name to “Special Collections Resource Center” to underscore the point that the material is there for researchers at all levels to use. SCRC also is making the process of locating materials easier, by adding more than 2,000 new records to the library catalog and developing online “finding aids.”

    “The new name of SCRC emphasizes how we are providing access to all types of research resources––books, manuscripts and archives,” said Meyer. “It’s far easier now for students to get better acquainted with SCRC’s collections.”

    The Special Collections Research Center, which is located in the southwest corner of the first floor, has proved to be an invaluable resource for both students and faculty members. “We have a devoted group of professors and instructors who are familiar with the collections and use them extensively for their classes, but for many faculty and students we are an undiscovered treasure,” said Jay Satterfield, Head of Reader Services.

    In recent years, more and more professors have begun to hold class sessions in SCRC to introduce students to its resources. This quarter, students from the course American Frontiers and Borderlands, taught by Rebekah Mergenthal, a lecturer in history, met in SCRC specifically to use the Ohio River Valley materials. “For some of the students, this was their first chance to look at primary documents,” said Mergenthal.

    During the last academic year, the SCRC hosted more than 100 class sessions; the numbers should be similar this year. “Class use is one of the best ways we have to reach students,” said Satterfield. “We hope that once they are introduced to the collections, students will use them for their seminar papers, dissertations, B.A. papers and even less intensive research work.”

    The department has more than 255,000 volumes in its rare book collections, which include strong holdings in English, American and European history and literature, as well as the history of philosophy, philology and theology. The manuscript collections span from the second century A.D. to the present, with particular strengths in early Gospel manuscripts, late medieval and early Renaissance history, Abraham Lincoln and his era, and modern poetry.

    The center also preserves the University archives. As well as records of departments, offices and committees, these archives include the papers of William Rainey Harper, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Saul Bellow, George Stigler, Enrico Fermi, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar and many others.

    SCRC is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Saturday. The exhibition Encountering the American West is on display until Thursday, April 11.