My favorite kinds of materials in archives are the ones we might describe colloquially as “well-loved,” where you can tell that someone—or perhaps more than one someone—spent hours writing, reading, and thinking about a topic.
When I arrived at the Special Collections Research Center this past July 29th for my first day of research into William & Mary’s collection of Maury Family Papers, I felt in my bones that I was in store for a fascinating week of discovery. My hunch proved true.
On the night of Sunday October 16, 1859, twenty-three men emerged from the woods surrounding the town of Harpers Ferry, which sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in present-day West Virginia. Armed with rifles and pikes, their mission was to successfully secure the large cache of weapons kept in the town’s armory and expel the U.S. military from the area.
Down in the belly of Special Collections sits a mysterious blue velvet box. Its contents are simultaneously mundane and bizarre, important for the study of language in Spain, and remarkably unremarkable. The box bears the inscription Matxin de Zalbaren Gutuna, La Carta de Machin de Zalba, 1416. What is it? Why do we have it? What makes it both special and ordinary?
This past spring Sharon Summers, Charles W. Scandrett, Janet S. Hunt, Barbara J. Kaufman, and Sandra S. Ellender generously donated the Civil War diary of Henry Alexander Scandrett to the Special Collections Research Center. Scandrett fought for the Union during the war and recorded his experiences in the pocket diary.
In December 2016, David B. Wolf, a New York attorney and collector interested in John Marshall and his biography of George Washington, donated three letters that join an existing collection of John Marshall Papers (Mss.