Founded in 1946 with the acquisition of the Thordarson Collection of rare science and illustrated natural history books, the Department of Special Collections in Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, now features one of the nation’s leading collections for history of science. Holdings in this field include the Duveen and Cole collections of alchemy and chemistry, Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science, Science and Religion Collection, and Albert Collection on optics and ophthalmology. The W. Reeder Family Collection and acquisitions made possible by the Reeder Family Fund speak both to history of science and history of the book and of print culture.
Other strengths include the Little Magazines Collection with runs of more than 7,000 experimental English-language literary magazines (ca. 1900-the present), the Cairns Collection of American Women Writers Before 1920, and numerous author collections. Literary materials also include the Renée Lang Collection on French and German literature, the Ellis Collection of German language textbooks, and an Icelandic literature collection, among others.
Strong collections in European history emphasize nineteenth- and twentieth-century movements on both the Left and the Right, such as Russian liberal parties, French and German socialists, German workers’ theater, cooperatives in Yugoslavia, Cossack émigrés, Nazism, Italian Fascism, Vichy propaganda, and French student revolutions. Related collections document the two world wars.
General rare book holdings include decorated publishers’ bindings along with many books published up through the early 19th century previously housed in circulating collections.
The holdings of this department, like those of departments of special collections of other institutions, include manuscripts and works conventionally labeled rare books, which benefit from special handling because of their age, rarity, or value. We also house collections that are themselves of unique research value, because they concentrate on a particular author, publisher, topic, or genre and thereby permit scholars to explore a subject in great depth.
Our collections are housed in environmentally controlled vaults, and made available to readers in a supervised reading room. We welcome users of our collections, and ask that you understand that our special procedures are designed to ensure that these collections are available to you and other users for many decades to come.
Other collections of materials requiring special handling, and old, rare, or historical collections are available at other campus locations.
In order to determine holdings and call numbers, we suggest that you consult the Library Catalog along with the card catalog in Special Collections itself, since not all of the holdings of Special Collections are yet reflected in the online Library Catalog.
Whether acquired by gift or by purchase or made possible by endowment funds generously donated to the Libraries, named collections form the backbone of the holdings of the Department of Special Collections. They cross over many collecting areas, languages, formats, and time periods. We provide here a listing in alphabetical order; many of these collections also pertain to particular collection strengths such as English and American literature; European history, literature, and social sciences; history of the book and of print culture; history of science; philosophy and theology.
English and American Literature
Outstanding holdings include the Cairns Collection of American Women Writers 1650-1940 and the Little Magazines Collection, with runs of more than 7,000 experimental English-language literary magazines (ca. 1900-the present), along with named (that is, author) collections and first editions, editions published during the author's lifetime, and editions published 1800 or earlier of major English writers. Circulating copies for these titles are also often available in the general stacks of Memorial Library. More »
Europe: History, Literature, and Social Sciences
Collections range from the 14th century through the 20th, with particular strengths in Italian history and culture (especially the Fry Collection), political movements of the Left and Right, and 19th- and 20th-century literature and literary studies.
Holdings for European history include collections related to Russian liberal parties, French and German socialists, German workers’ theater, cooperatives in Yugoslavia, Cossack émigrés, Nazism, Italian Fascism, Vichy propaganda, and French student revolutions. Related collections document the two world wars.
Literary materials include the Renée Lang Collection on French and German literature, the Ellis Collection of German language textbooks, and an Icelandic literature collection, among others.
History of the Book
Notable examples and secondary works speak to history of printing and publishing, book design, paper, writing, and alphabets. The Private Press collection contains products of notable 20th- and 21st-century presses; holdings of the Aldine and Gioloto presses are also noteworthy. Also pertinent to the book arts are collections of bookplates and decorated paper, as well as examples of decorated trade bindings included in the online project Publishers' Bindings Online, 1815-1930. Strong collections of British and American amateur journalism relate both to history of printing and to English and American literature. More »
History of Science
Named collections for history of science include the Thordarson Collection of rare science and illustrated natural history books, the Duveen and Cole collections of alchemy and chemistry, the Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science, the Science and Religion Collection, and the Albert Collection on optics and ophthalmology. More »
Philosophy and Theology
The Tank Collection, with nearly 5000 titles collected by R.J. van der Meulen and donated by his daughter, Mrs. N.O. Tank, is a particularly rich source on Protestant thought before 1801. Other collections include pamphlets on 16th- and 17th-century theological controversies, as well as Freethought, Unitarian, and Saint-Simonian titles. More »
Other Collection Strengths
Notable collections include accounts of exploration in Africa, India, Iraq, and Israel; 19th-century pamphlets and books published in and about Mexico, many concerning the European intervention; publications of the Positivist Church of Brazil; Tibetan and Mongolian blockprints; papyri in Greek and Latin; and 20th-century Latin American poetry. A recent addition is the extensive Dobbertin Collection of campus humor magazines, as described in the Friends Magazine. More»