About the Department
Special Collections and University Archives is the main repository for rare books and manuscripts on the Vanderbilt University campus. We are also the home of the University Archives, the official repository for university records and artifacts.
Special Collections manages a rare book collection of over 50,000 titles. The primary book collection is called the Sevier Collection, which is named after the first governor of Tennessee. Other book collections include the Sam Fleming Southern Civilization; Harris D. Riley, Jr. Civil War Heritage Collection; Robert H. West Demonology and Witchcraft Collection; Nettie Hale Rand Collection of Fine Bindings; and the Jesse Wills Fugitive and Agrarian Collection. Highlights of these collections include a first edition of Ulysses by James Joyce, signed by the author (1922); a rare edition of Chaucer, published by Kelmscott Press (1896); a Book of Hours (1480); and a copy of Malleus Maleficarum, an English translation of the famous Latin treatise on witches and witchcraft (1928).
To find books in Special Collections, researchers can search for titles using either the library catalog, Acorn, or DiscoverLibrary, the Heard Library’s search and discovery tool. Special Collections is a closed stack library, meaning that staff pulls all materials that patrons request and there is no browsing of the book shelves. All material is also non-circulating so it must be reviewed onsite in the Reading Room.
A manuscript collection contains a variety of materials and may include letters, journals, publications, writings, or business papers. Collections may be centered around an individual (Cornelius Vanderbilt), an organization (Vanderbilt Aid Society), or a specialized topic (Vandy Goes to War Oral History Project). While the term “manuscript” technically refers to handwritten material, a collection may contain a variety of different formats including handwritten letters, typed articles or manuscripts, photographs, film reels, audio cassettes, reel-to-reel recordings, VHS cassettes or DVDs, floppy disks, and other material. Highlights of some of these collections include the papers of: Delbert Mann, director of hundreds of film and television productions; Francis Robinson, director of the Metropolitan Opera; Kelly Miller Smith, Divinity School assistant dean and civil rights activist; and William Giles Harding, Civil War general and founder of the Belle Meade Plantation.
Historically, Special Collections created guides (a box by box contents list for a collection) for its manuscript collections which were kept in file cabinets in the Reading Room. We have begun listing these collections in the library catalog and digitizing the guides for display online to assist researchers in locating material. Currently, there are more guides listed on the website than are listed in the library catalog. We have both an alphabetical list and a subject guide to the collections listed on the Manuscripts page. Researchers can also use the site search box in the upper left corner to keyword search everything on the site, including the contents of all the web-accessible manuscript guides.
Vanderbilt University/Peabody College Publications
Publications by Vanderbilt University and George Peabody College are included as part of the VU-PUBS and GPC-PUBS collections. These publications include old course catalogs, yearbooks, annual reports, histories of the universities, faculty publications, student guidebooks, campus newspapers, and other university-related material. Most of this material can be found by searching Acorn or DiscoverLibrary, but some titles have not yet been added to the catalog. If you have difficulty locating material for your research topic, please ask library staff for assistance.
Memorabilia Room Collection
In addition to books, manuscripts, university publications, and archives, Special Collections also houses mementos from events and eras of Vanderbilt University and Peabody College history. Highlights of this collection include a Civil War sword, Peabody College commemorative plates, a fraternity paddle, athletic uniforms, a death mask of poet Merrill Moore, Founder’s Day medals, and other artifacts.
The Vanderbilt University Photographic Archive contains approximately 300,000 photographs relating to the history and development of the university since its founding in 1875. Some of the photographic topics in this collection include faculty and staff portraits, athletics, the Nashville community, World War I and II, alumni events, campus buildings and features, and student activities.
The George Peabody College Photograph Collection is also housed in the department. This collection includes over 20,000 photographs from the schools pre-1850 early beginnings as the University of Nashville to the school’s merger with Vanderbilt University in 1979. Among the photographic topics addressed in this collection are graduations, athletics, portraits, university events, campus buildings and features, Demonstration School, and student activities.
Established by action of the Board of Trust in 1963, the goal of the Archives is to preserve the historical memory of the university through the collection and preservation of historical Vanderbilt university records and artifacts. Among the vast array of material in the Archives, researchers will find departmental annual reports, Board of Trust minutes, administration records, theses and dissertations accepted in fulfillment of advanced degree requirements, and university publications.
Due to sensitive material which may be present in the Archives, the most recent 40 years of material is closed to public research. Material prior to this date (1872 through December 1967) is available for public research, with the exception of student records which are restricted regardless of date. Researchers may request access to more recent material in the Archives by writing the Office of the General Counsel. In your letter, state the topic you are researching, the date range of material you need access to, and the dates you plan on conducting your research. Since it may take several weeks for the permission letter to be received, we recommend contacting the General Counsel several weeks before you plan on conducting research. You may contact the Office of the General Counsel at the following address:
Office of the General Counsel
2100 West End Avenue, Suite 750
Nashville, TN 37203
Organization of the Archives
The University Archives is comprised of records and documents which have been deposited for safekeeping by various colleges and departments of the university. Each deposit is assigned to a Record Group, a collection of materials from a specific department or college. For example, Record Group (RG) 510 belongs to the College of Arts and Science, while Record Group 310 belongs to the Athletic Department. Each Record Group can contain hundreds of boxes of material. Currently, there are approximately 7,000 cubic feet of material in the University Archives.
Finding Material in the Archives
Many guides to archival material can be found on the University Archives Holdings page. Most of these guides are in PDF format so you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them. A keyword searchable database is also available onsite in Special Collections. Please ask for assistance at the Public Service Desk to get access to this database.
Some journals, newsletters, and newspapers (known as serials or periodicals) published by the university can be found by searching Acorn or DiscoverLibrary. Publications with short life spans, however, may not be listed in the catalog. A full list of serial publications in the Archives can be found on the Serial Publications Guide.
The amount of material available in the Archives may seem overwhelming at first. If you need assistance in locating material, please don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Due to the size of the collection, the University Archives is stored off campus at the Library Annex. Retrieval of material from the Annex can take up to 24 hours (Monday through Friday). To get research help or to request Archives material, please call Special Collections at 322-2807 (2-2807 on campus) or .
[Please note that the Medical Center has a separate archive which handles all records relating to the Medical Center and its history. For more information about the Medical Archives, please see the Eskind Biomedical Library Special Collections web site.]
DiscoverArchive, Vanderbilt’s institutional repository, became part of the Special Collections and University Archives department in May 2008. The goal of the archive is to collect, preserve, index, and distribute the digital scholarly output of Vanderbilt University. This output includes articles, course-related materials, unpublished research, podcasts, student publications, working papers, technical reports and other products of the university’s intellectual efforts.
Visit the DiscoverArchive home page to begin your exploration of this valuable resource.
If you need assistance at any stage of your research, you may contact a librarian in Special Collections by calling the department at 615-322-2807 (2-2807 from a campus phone) or by .
Special Collections is open to the public from 8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.