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The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries offer a rich schedule of rotating exhibitions within the Central and Special Collections Libraries that showcase primary resources, artifacts, and book collections, while enhancing the cultural and intellectual life of the university campus and community at large. All exhibits are free and open to the public. The libraries are committed to presenting high-quality displays that support teaching and research on campus and reflect strengths of the Special Collections Library.

The exhibitions calendar is planned two years out, with the next available opening in Spring 2020. To propose an exhibition, please use the Library's proposal form (forthcoming) or send an email to the Special Collections Library. Feedback about our exhibitions program is always welcome.

Kirkland Hall: A History September 2018-ongoing, Special Collections Library

Kirkland Hall

Kirkland Hall is the iconic symbol of Vanderbilt University. First known as “Main Building,” it stood as the central building on a 74-acre campus when dedicated in October, 1875, and initially housed all the university’s classrooms and laboratories in addition to a chapel, a museum and the library.

After a devastating fire in 1905, the two-towered design was rebuilt in an Italianate style with a single 170-foot tower. The reconstruction began immediately, and donations poured in from across Nashville to help with the effort. In just a few years, out of the ashes came a new icon for Vanderbilt. The building – which had been called Main Building, Old Main, University Hall and College Hall – was renamed Kirkland Hall in honor of Vanderbilt’s second chancellor, James Hampton Kirkland, who presided over Vanderbilt for 44 years. Both the man and the building remain central to Vanderbilt’s history.

Creative Women: Marshall Chapman and Mildred Haun March-July 2019, Central Library (Fourth Floor Lobby)

Chapman, Haun Exhibit

Half of this exhibit, The Iconoclastic Marshall Chapman, features letters, photographs, posters, song lyrics, tour memorabilia, and other artifacts highlighting Marshall Chapman’s life and career as a working musician, songwriter, author, and more.

The rest of this exhibit focuses on Vanderbilt University alumna Mildred Haun. Growing up in Cocke County, Tennessee, she absorbed the culture and music of the southern Appalachian mountains. She was encouraged to write by The Fugitives writers, John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson and is known for her 1940 book The Hawk’s Done Gone.

The Iris at Vanderbilt and Peabody March-July 2019, Special Collections Library 

Vanderbilt Irises

Have you ever wondered why the iris is featured on Vanderbilt’s graduation mace or heard Nashville called “Iris City”? The iris is our official state flower, but at Vanderbilt and Peabody, the iris carries a deeper connection: it was grown and hybridized by many historic figures, from Chancellor James Kirkland to poet Jesse Wills. At Peabody, hundreds of irises were planted in the first half of the 20th century and in a time-honored tradition, graduates of Peabody received an iris rhizome as they received their diplomas. This exhibition examines the role of the flower Virgil said "was sent from above" and its connection to Vanderbilt history.

Our Crowd: Student Life at the University of Nashville March 27, 2019-October 31, 2019, Central Library (Second Floor Gallery)

Our Crowd

This exhibition will be curated by a cohort of Buchanan Library Fellows and their librarian mentors.

University life in the 19th century was quite different from today’s modern campus. Every aspect of students’ lives was highly regimented in order to shape the young men into productive members of society, and rules and regulations permeated every aspect of student life. Students learned by recitation and their detailed notes reflect close attention in daily classes from Latin composition to spherical geometry. This semester, two Buchanan Fellows examined how students lived, studied, and had fun in 19th-century Nashville. They visited the old South Campus with architectural historian Robbie Jones and learned about other educational initiatives with Dr. Mary Ellen Pethel.

View Online: Vanderbilt History | Digital Exhibit



Journalist's Papers Ongoing, Central Library (4th Floor Lobby)

Journalist's Papers

No matter the story—from the catastrophic to the mundane—reporters must find a way to communicate the news that is engaging and fresh. Journalists are called to uncover the news with speed, accuracy and style. Since the early days of news reporting, artists have worked alongside correspondents, often risking their lives. Because of the efforts of these men and women, our understanding of world events has been enriched and bettered.

In today's busy world, newspapers, television and the Internet are where most Americans get their news. But prior to the 1960s, when televisions became affordable to the average family, newspapers and radio were the ways that news was reported. This exhibit gives a glimpse into the ways that news has been delivered in the course of American history, from front page news, editorials and photographs to political cartoons, and includes works by Tom Little, Charles Bissell, Grantland Rice, Fred Russell, and John “Jack” F. Corn.

View Online: Journalist's Papers | Digital Exhibit

Vanderbilt Television News Archive Ongoing, Central Library (4th Floor Lobby)

TV News

Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive is the most extensive and complete archive of television news in the world. Vanderbilt has been recording the national news continuously since August 5th, 1968, initially capturing the daily broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC, and later including daily broadcasts from CNN and Fox News. The Archive's collection also includes live coverage of numerous major news events, presidential speeches, press conferences, and other public appearances. These reports cover the news as it was being made and reflect our global history in a way that is immediate and powerful. This exhibit shares selected excerpts from the thousands of video news segments contained in the archive. The exhibit is updated annually to highlight the top news stories of the year that were broadcast 50, 40, 30, 20 and 10 years back from the current year.

View Online: Vanderbilt Television News Archive (2018) | Digital Exhibit

The News as It Happened: Journalism in Vanderbilt’s Special Collections December 5, 2018-April 2019, Central Library (Second Floor Gallery)

The Weight of Words

This exhibition is curated by a cohort of Buchanan Library Fellows and their librarian mentors.

Vanderbilt’s Libraries are proud to be the place of record of journalists and newspaper editors whose actions broke news of national importance. From Jim Squires’ decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in the Chicago Tribune to Jack Corn's photographic coverage of strip mining in Appalachia, news reporters and their editors carry a responsibility to provide unbiased, timely news. Today, that duty could not be more relevant or important. This fall semester fellowship will examine key figures in the world of journalism whose papers are housed in Vanderbilt University’s Special Collections. Fellows will each work collaboratively to produce an exhibition and a documentary short-film, each telling the story of a journalist and the contributions of their life and work.

The Daily Diary of the American Dream: The History of Nashville's Newspapers November 19, 2018-March 1, 2019, Central Library (Fourth Floor Lobby)

Two Sides to Every Story

Newspapers have been the daily backdrop to public life throughout the history of the United States, functioning as the Fourth Estate of American democracy. By the beginning of the twentieth century, newspapers were read in nearly every home in the country, serving as a report of the day’s events, a calendar for the community, and a platform for political engagement.

Nashville newspapers have their own unique history. From the divide of the Democratic and Republican parties, two primary newspapers emerged: The Tennessean and the Nashville Banner. Although the city’s liberal and conservative papers shared a building, printing press, and even some staff through a joint operating agreement signed in 1937, they engaged in ideological competition in print for decades. This exhibit examines the lifecycle of a news story, from its initial reporting and discovery, to the meticulous editorial work to make it fit to print, and finally to the printing and distribution across the state. The exhibit also looks at how these stories played out on the pages of the rival Nashville newspapers, up through the demise of the Nashville Banner in 1998.

African American First Editions from the 20th Century November 14, 2018-March 15, 2019, Special Collections Library

African American First Editions

Throughout the 20th century, African American writers consistently gave voice to their experiences through powerful poetry and prose. From the bold voices that came out of the Harlem Renaissance, the courageous words from the Civil Rights movement, to the unapologetic stories of everyday strife, this outpouring of African American literary talent has left a lasting impact on the landscape of American literature.

In a climate of renewed attention on racial disparities and systematic violence against African Americans, this exhibition seeks to shine a light on the pivotal role African American authors have had on the American literary canon over the past century, by celebrating the works of important 20th century African American writers. Their achievements continue to resonate with readers today, in the United States and throughout the world.

From Listeners to Leaders: A History of Women at Vanderbilt August 19-November 26, 2018 Central Library (Second Floor Gallery)

Women's Center Anniversary

This exhibition will be curated by a cohort of Buchanan Library Fellows and their faculty mentor.

This summer semester fellowship examined the history of women at Vanderbilt from the university’s nineteenth-century beginnings to the present day. Student fellows considered women’s experiences as students, faculty, and staff at Vanderbilt, which only began to admit women and men undergraduates in equal numbers in the 1980s. The fellowship also explored the history of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018. Students learned about exhibition and curatorial techniques while engaging with the library’s Special Collections materials. Students worked to produce this exhibition focusing on different aspects of women’s experiences at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Silver July 2-November 11, 2018, Special Collections Library

Vanderbilt Silver

For centuries, silver was considered a luxury reserved only for the elite, and master silversmiths came to be revered for the remarkable craftsmanship and design in their work. But silver was more than just riches: it was also a symbolic embodiment of affluence, taste and education.

The history of silver at Vanderbilt University is rooted in the great American fortune of founder Cornelius Vanderbilt, who rose to wealth and social prominence from the railroad and shipping industries. This exhibition shares dazzling examples of silver that celebrated his achievements and made way for a tradition of using silver to mark important ceremonies and award deserving recipients at the university. The selection of silver on display draws up memorable moments in the university’s history, aims to introduce the vast art of silver making, and in many cases, comes to us directly from the Vanderbilt family.

Read more: Vanderbilt Silver | Library News Online

Vandy Goes to War June 6-November 12, 2018, Central Library (4th Floor Lobby)

Vandy Goes to War

In the early months of 1917, an influx of students came to Vanderbilt to enter the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) aiming to join the war effort. With their enrollment came much-needed funding for campus infrastructure, fueling a building boom that more than doubled the size of campus by the 1940s under Chancellor James Kirkland.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the draft pulled a vast majority of students and faculty to the battlefield, but a sharp rise in women students stabilized campus. The demand for medical professionals pushed Vanderbilt to offer accelerated degrees that ran year-round, contributing graduates to the 300th General Hospital Unit that saved thousands of lives performing cutting edge medical techniques and surgeries. Reflecting on the 100-year anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI, this exhibition looks back on the impact that two world wars had on campus from the years 1917-1945.

Read more: Vandy Goes to War | Press Release

Cultures in Clay December 6, 2017-September 2018, Divinity Library

Cultures in Clay

Often called the cradle of civilization, the ancient Near East witnessed the emergence of remarkable cultures from the fourth through the first millennia BCE. From those cultures surfaced novel systems of writing that addressed the range of lived experience, artistic and literary expression, and history and politics. While plentiful but not ubiquitous, clay became the medium for communication in inscriptions, in addition to its role as an essential material for construction, figurines and utensils. The Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Cultures in Clay: The Shaping of Ancient Near East Civilizations exhibit showcases original artifacts from this period, as well as photographs and descriptions, to provide an overview of these civilizations and their contributions to our understanding of the ancient Near East.

View Online: Cultures in Clay | Digital Exhibit

Looking Back: Vanderbilt Before 1900 March-September 2018, Special Collections Library

Vanderbilt Before 1900

Established in 1873, the rich beginning of Vanderbilt University can be understood through letters from its founders, on display in the Special Collections Library. Correspondence between Cornelius Vanderbilt and Bishop Holland N. McTyeire highlight some of the earliest plans for the campus, from the construction of the first buildings to the planting of the very first trees, some of which are still standing. Their writings also document the university's name change from “Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church South” to “Vanderbilt University.” Historic photographs, student publications, and treasures from the first cohorts in Greek letter fraternities, sports and athletic teams, and various clubs show how much is shared between the centuries of students who have stood on Vanderbilt’s grounds, and how much has changed since the first campus map from 1897.

The Power of Propaganda April-August 2018

The Power of Propaganda

This exhibition was curated by a cohort of Buchanan Library Fellows and their librarian mentors.

Propaganda uses words and images to convey a message. Its persuasive nature makes it powerful. Historically, propaganda has been able to control what we think; we want to reckon with this power and expose its mechanisms, objectives, and forms in different contexts and purposes.

Instant access to images and media means we need to question what we see. This is evident with the emergence of terms like “fake news” and “post-truth.” Though propaganda is inescapable, by understanding its nuances, we can better identify its impact on our behavior. Our goal is to lift off the facade; to reveal the multifaceted functions of propaganda. This exhibit explores the diversity of propaganda in varied forms. Are you under the influence?

View Online: The Power of Propaganda | Digital Exhibit

The American Presidency February-June 2018

The American Presidency

From George Washington to Barack Obama, America’s past commanders in chief have provided domestic and international leadership during world wars, political unrest and the struggle for basic human rights. Their personal lives have been shaped by great joy and heartbreak, deep-rooted conflict and public scrutiny. Along the way, biographers and journalists have documented their every move and attempted to distill what it means to be an American president.

This exhibition draws on biographies from the L. Hall Hardaway, Jr. Family Presidential Book Collection and rare documents from the James G. Stahlman Autograph Collection to reflect on 230 years of executive leadership from the White House.

Vanderbilt's Distinctive Collections December 2017-May 2018

Distinctive Collections

The library’s distinctive collections are areas of particular strength that set Vanderbilt apart from other research libraries. These include items of great rarity, historic value, and even one-of-a-kind treasures. These collections stimulate teaching and scholarship, draw up memories, and inspire new knowledge. In this exhibition, highlights from these distinctive collections hope to inform and excite the campus and wider community about the robust materials we have to offer in these domains.

From Civil War surgical instruments to rare decks of hand-illustrated tarot card and photographs of freedom riders from the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s Nashville, our distinctive collections continue to grow. On display are materials featuring southern history and culture, 20th century civil rights, Latin American studies, French modern literature, the history of medicine, games and leisure, American journalism and politics in the 20th century, performing arts, astronomy and physics, rare books and fine bindings, and the history of Vanderbilt University.

View Online: Vanderbilt's Distinctive Collections | Digital Exhibit

The Once and Future Book November 2017-April 2018

Once and Future Book

This exhibition was curated by a cohort of Buchanan Library Fellows and their librarian mentors.

Riddle me this: in what universe do sheep become books, knives serve as erasers and wasps make ink? We learned this and more from our class on the history of books and printing. As student curators, we had the unique opportunity to create this exhibit of rare materials ranging from medieval manuscript to Mark Twain, Here we highlight cultural, historical, and social aspects of the book in this universe. Is the book dead? We don’t think so.

View Online: The Once and Future Book | Digital Exhibit

Maladies, Elixirs, and Healers August 2017-February 2018


From 16th century alchemical treatises to 20th-century breakthroughs saving millions of lives, this exhibition explores the evolving roles of medicine and healers and how these changes affect the way we live and work today. Early modern distilling manuals, botanical prints, and handwritten cookbooks tell the story of a time when doctors and lay healers alike collected roots, berries, and leaves to treat disease. Featured books from this period include works by Ambroise Paré, William Woodville, and Eliza Smith. Turn of the 20th century pharmaceutical advertisements, with their sensational claims, reflect a still largely unregulated period of medicine. And laboratory equipment, research notes, and photographs document the 20th century quest to end epidemics worldwide.

Vanderbilt University’s contribution to medicine in the 20th century is highlighted in the stories of those nurses and physicians who served in World War II, by Ernest Goodpasture’s breakthroughs in vaccine research, and by Earl Sutherland’s 1971 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. We hope you’ll join us for this rare view of medical treasures from the Eskind Biomedical Library’s Historical Collection.

The Shadow of the Sun: E.E. Barnard and the Solar Eclipse May-November 2017

Shadow of the Sun

In anticipation of the August 2017 solar eclipse, Vanderbilt University Libraries will host an exhibition curated by four astronomy students on the work of American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923). Best known for his discovery of Amalthea, the fifth moon of Jupiter, Barnard was a photographer and astronomer who spent a lifetime observing and photographing the night sky. The exhibition will draw on collections housed in the Libraries and Special Collections, as well as loans from private collectors.

View Online: The Shadow of the Sun | Digital Exhibit

Tracing the Movement of Populations: American Legacies of Expansion and Removal May-December 2017

American Legacies of Expansion and Removal

From the birth of the United States to modern times, many living on American soil migrated across the country either by force or seeking better opportunities. This exhibition explores three of these narratives: the long removal of Native Americans from ancestral lands, Tennesseans migrating to Texas, and Japanese Americans facing internment in Utah during World War II. Competing legacies of freedom, equality, and opportunity run throughout the exhibit.

Native Americans living in the Southeast were forced from their homelands during the early years of the United States. Andrew Jackson and other officials were crucial in implementing removal. Throughout this period, Native Americans asserted their sovereignty in correspondence with U.S. officials. Tennesseans of European descent, notably Sam Houston and David Crockett, felt a better economic, social, and political destiny awaited them in Texas after 1830. Abundant lands expanded the cotton trade using the forced migrant slave labor of African Americans. In Topaz, Utah, the Nisei documented their lives and aspirations, under internment, through artwork and magazines. They also performed American citizenship as soldiers and nurses for the war effort. These three components explore the perspectives of those who crossed the internal borders of our country, and in doing so left their footprint on its history.

View Online: Tracing the Movement of Populations: American Legacies of Expansion and Removal | Digital Exhibit

Tracing the Movement of Populations in Latin America May-December 2017

Movement of Populations in Latin America

Population movements have been a continuous part of Latin American history and remain instrumental in shaping the region to this day. The exhibition, created by the students in the course “Interdisciplinary Research Methods in Latin American Studies,” demonstrates the various motives that impelled explorers, scientists, conquerors, entrepreneurs, and other travelers to journey to Latin America and document their experiences.

The movement of peoples in Latin America in pre-Columbian times revolved around ceremonial centers and religious ritual events. Following the “discovery” of the New World in 1492, initial periods of violent conquest reshaped the Americas and opened both continents to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, forcibly transporting African laborers in the Middle Passage. Early travelers to the Americas also had religious objectives and sought to evangelize the natives and slaves of the New World. For others, the motive was enterprise; ambitious entrepreneurs sought to harness and exploit the natural resources of Latin America. Academics were fascinated by the region’s natural resources and studied them for scientific, economic, and political purposes. Aspiring anthropologists documented travelogues of their explorations of the vast ruins. Ultimately, some of the richest accounts are the travelogues documented by female travelers who keenly observed the customs and habits of others. The variety of these accounts and perspectives demonstrate not only the travelers’ diverse motivations but also that Latin America has always been in a state of constant flux and change impelled by migration movements.

View Online: Tracing the Movement of Populations in Latin America | Digital Exhibit

Book as Art: Medieval Necessity and Modern Invention June 2016-March 2017

Book as Art

Illuminated manuscript (literally “hand written”) books are arguably the most characteristic objects of the European middle ages. They preserved a culture’s visions, adventures, religious rituals, and hard-won knowledge in books that were entirely handmade simply because there was no alternative. In one sense, the printing press was a threat to the industry because it provided readers with identical, inexpensive books. But it also freed manuscript-makers to concentrate on luxury, one-of-a-kind commissions. Contemporary artists, working in a culture dominated by mass-produced books and digitized screen content, are revisiting the challenges and joys of making a book by hand.

The works in this exhibition were chosen and researched by the undergraduate students in History of Art 2288 taught by Professor Elizabeth Moodey. The course considered the changing material and visual make-up of medieval illuminated manuscripts, and, through them, questions of literacy and audience, the various contributions of script and picture, and the concerns of patron and artist. We explored how much the impact of a work depends on the arrangement of words on the page by looking at examples from medieval grid-poems and pictorial initials, the Arts and Crafts revival of the book arts, and Dada and Futurist publications, to better understand the enduring appeal of a handmade book. Each of the themes examined here brings together a medieval example and a selection of contemporary artists’ books, suggesting that medieval and modern artists share common concerns and draw on similar powers of invention.

View Online: Book As Art | Digital Exhibit

Picturing Our World May 2015-June 2016

Picturing Our World

From explorers measuring a pre-industrial world to virtual worlds built with code, technological advances and human ingenuity have heightened our senses, expanding perceptions of the universe and our place in it. Eden Phillpotts, inspired by the magnifying glass, remarked, “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

This exhibition grew out of 2014 Buchanan Library Fellows projects. Students were trained to use Omeka, Neo4j, and GIS technology to dig deeper into scholarly and primary sources. We wondered how new technologies have changed our ability to visualize large data sets. How have the inventions and discoveries of past centuries changed our perception of the universe? Curators from the Central Library, Special Collections, the Divinity Library, the Music Library, and Peabody Library identified items in the libraries’ collections that spoke to the way our world view has changed over the last six centuries.

View Online: Picturing Our World | Digital Exhibit