The Special Collections Library holds internationally renowned collections of books, serials, ancient and modern manuscripts, posters, playbills, photographs, and original artwork. It is home to some of the most historically significant treasures at the University of Michigan and includes in its holdings some 275,000 volumes of published books and serials, approximately 6,500 linear feet of archival material, about 450 incunabula (books produced in the earliest stages of printing from movable type), 20,000 posters and prints, 10,000 photographs, and nearly 1,400 manuscripts on vellum and paper.
As the repository for a broad and rich array of material selected and acquired to support the undergraduate and graduate curricula as well as the research interests of faculty and students at the University of Michigan, the Special Collections Library holds important collections of material in all formats and in a variety of subject areas. Notable collections and subject strengths include:
Astronomy and Mathematics
The early history of astronomy and mathematics is well documented in hundreds of pre-1800 publications including works by Copernicus, Kepler, and Euclid. A manuscript in Galileo’s own hand illustrates his discovery, sometime between 1609 and 1610, of the four moons of Jupiter.
Approximately 25,000 published volumes are complemented by several collections of archival material containing the artwork, correspondence, manuscripts, and other material created or collected by a number of notable authors and illustrators.
Manuscript holdings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance consist of over 250 volumes largely devoted to religious topics as well as individual leaves, some of them of extraordinary historical relevance such as the collection of 20 parchment leaves containing works of the Coptic writer Shenoute of Atripe. Together these illustrate the art and craft of manuscript production in several parts of Europe and the Middle East. A separate collection of approximately 1,250 Islamic manuscripts, written in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish and dating from the 8th century AD to the 20th, ranks among the largest and most important such collections in North America.
English and American Literature
In addition to an impressive array of literary first editions, notable holdings include one of the world’s best collections of editions, translations, adaptations, and spin-offs of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (first published in 1719) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (first published in 1726); manuscripts by Algernon Swinburne and Anthony Trollope; hundreds of feet of material related to the University of Michigan's renowned Hopwood Awards program; the papers of authors and poets including Victor Bockris, Nicholas Delbanco, Judith Guest, Marge Piercy, Anne Waldman, and Nancy Willard; and the records of small publishers including The Alternative Press, Broadside Press, and Hanuman Books.
The political upheavals of 17th-century Europe are well documented in significant collections of political and other pamphlets from England, France, and the Netherlands. The Special Collections Library is home to hundreds of pre-1800 books on European military history as well as thousand of pamphlets from the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany.
Jewish History and Culture
The Jewish Heritage Collection, a gift made jointly to the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the University Library, paints a vivid, lasting, and unique portrait of the Jewish experience. In addition to more than 1,500 books, the collection consists of approximately 1,000 works of art (drawings, paintings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, and other types of prints); 700 pieces of ephemera (cards, calendars, clippings, postcards, and mementoes); and approximately 200 objects ranging from ritual items (menorahs, groggers, and yarmulkes) to everyday objects including toys, candles, and serving trays.
The Worcester Philippine History Collection consists of published works, manuscript items, and photographs documenting many aspects of Philippine history, with particular emphasis on the period between 1899 and 1913, when Worcester served as a member of the United States Philippine Commission and as secretary of the interior for the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands.
Social Protest/Radical History
The Joseph A. Labadie Collection is one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections of radical history in the United States, bringing together unique materials that document past as well as contemporary social protest movements. Collection strengths include anarchism, labor movements, civil liberties (with an emphasis on racial minorities), socialism, communism, colonialism and imperialism, American labor history through the 1930s, the Industrial Workers of the Word, the Spanish Civil War, sexual freedom, women’s liberation, gay liberation, the underground press, and student protest movements.
Theater, Radio, Television, and Film
Significant collections that fall under this broad category include plays in various languages printed before 1800, including numerous works from the Spanish Golden Age; early English plays including hundreds of editions of the works of Shakespeare, beginning with his 2nd folio (1632); over 1,000 plays performed in French “boulevard” theatres early in the 20th century; and several archival collections documenting American vaudeville and the “Little Theatre” movement of the early 20th century. The theater, radio, and film work of Orson Welles is documented in two collections of papers acquired from a collaborator and a partner, and the life and career of film director Robert Altman is richly documented in an extensive archive consisting of business and other records, papers, photographs, audiovisual material, posters, and props.
Rich in printed, archival, photographic, and graphic materials, the Transportation History Collections include thousands of volumes on railroad history, roads and automobile travel, bicycling, bridges, ballooning, canals, and steamships. Archival collections include the records of the Lincoln Highway Association, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Company, and the Detroit United Railway, and the papers of Charles Ellet, Jr., who designed and built several major wire-cable suspension bridges in the United States before he was killed in the Civil War. Other notable holdings include a 27-volume photographic journal documenting the building of the Panama Canal and extensive graphic material depicting pre-20th century modes of transportation.