Manuscript collections

The major emphases of Special Collections’ manuscripts collections are American history and literature. The manuscripts collections total approximately 13 million items in over 14,000 discrete collection units and over 250,000 photographs and small prints, over 8,000 reels of microfilm, nearly 8,000 microfiche, and substantial holdings of audio recordings and motion picture films.

In 1832, the University of Virginia was deeded the papers of the Lee Family of Virginia, written between 1742 and 1795. These papers comprised the original foundation of the present manuscript collections. In 1930 formal efforts to launch a collecting program for manuscripts began. The collections are ripe with political, domestic, economic, religious, agricultural, and educational records in the form of manuscripts, letters, and diaries.

The Library focuses collecting attention in several subject areas. We have long collected Virginiana particularly nineteenth century papers from many prominent Virginia families such as the Cabell Family, the Duke Family, and the Cocke Family. These papers are mined constantly for studies in many areas, from African-American studies, Civil War, and Reconstruction history, to many other social and political history topics. Papers of U. S. Presidents including Thomas Jefferson, Cabinet officers, and administration officials and other twentieth-century political and public affairs collections including those of Virginia journalists and business leaders are also of note. The Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature is the cornerstone of the literature collections which also include the Jorge Luis Borges Collection, the John Henry Ingram Poe Collection, and the William Faulkner Collection. Additionally, Special Collections holds many substantial literary collections not in the Barrett Library. There has been a special effort made in recent years to acquire collections which document the history of African-Americans in Virginia and the South including The Jackson Davis Collection of African-American Educational Photographs. Additionally there are other smaller subject collections such as medieval manuscripts, and World War I. See our Featured Collections for some of our collection highlights.

Nearly all manuscript materials in Special Collections are accessible on VIRGO, the Library’s online catalog. Many also have collection guides in the statewide Virginia Heritage database. These guides are longer and more descriptive, some with extensive historical and biographical notes on noteworthy aspects of collections. You can search just the guides through the Virginia Heritage database. (To search only the guides from our collections, be sure to limit your search to the “University of Virginia, Special Collections Dept.”)