Featured Collections

Identify mystery text, win $1000

Example of Mystery Text

Example of Mystery Text

Calling all historians of cryptography and stenography, Sherlockians (see “The Dancing Men”), and other amateur detectives!  The collection of Homer editions in the Special Collections Research Center – the  Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana(BHL) – includes a copy of the rare 1504 edition of Homer’s Odyssey that contains, in Book 11 (narrating Odysseus’s journey into Hades) handwritten annotations in a strange and as-yet unidentified script.  This marginalia appears only in the pages of Book 11 of the Odyssey; nowhere else in the volume.  Although the donor of the BHL is suspicious that this odd script is a form of 19th-century shorthand (likely French), he acknowledges that this hypothesis remains unsupported by any evidence offered to date.

The donor of the BHL is offering a prize of $1,000 to the first person who identifies the script, provides evidence to support the conclusion, and executes a translation of selected portions of the mysterious marginalia.  In addition to the photographs in this post, the volume is available to consult in person in the Special Collections reading room.  Please visit the Special Collections website for information about requesting items to get started. The contest is open to all, regardless of University of Chicago affiliation. Please direct submissions to the contest, or questions, to Alice Schreyer, Assistant University Librarian, Humanities and Social Sciences and Rare Books Curator, or Catherine Uecker, Rare Books Librarian.

Mystery Text

Mystery Text

Homer. Odysseia. Venice: Aldus, 1504. PA4018.A2 1504 vol. 2


Norman Maclean Papers available for research

Norman Maclean

Norman Maclean

Author and University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean’s papers are available for research in the Special Collections Research Center.  Raised in Montana, Maclean earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1940 and taught English until he retired at age 70. He then began writing, and  achieved national fame for works he wrote after his retirement, including the novel, A River Runs Through It. The collection includes correspondence, administrative and teaching materials from the University of Chicago, materials related to the creation and publication of his writings, and an array of additional materials. Maclean died in 1990. 

Maclean’s distinguished teaching career at the University of Chicago began when he accepted a graduate assistantship in English at the University in 1928. He was promoted to instructor in 1930. Maclean earned his Ph.D. in English literature in 1940 with a dissertation on lyric poetry, and was made an assistant professor in 1941. He was promoted to associate professor in 1944, and attained a full professorship in 1954.

Maclean’s gift for teaching was recognized multiple times throughout his career. He won a teaching award early on in 1932, and was awarded the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1941 and again in 1973. Quantrell recipients are nominated by students and the award is a high honor for faculty. Though tough, Maclean’s courses were popular among students. His demand for excellence was tempered by a keen sense of fairness and a generosity of spirit toward the students he mentored. In 1962 he was installed as the William Rainey Harper Professor of English Literature, a position he held until his retirement in 1972.

Upon retirement, Maclean embarked on a second career as a writer. He eased into authorship with two well-received critical essays published in 1952, and a handful of autobiographical and witty essays published in the early 1970s. His most significant work of fiction, A River Runs Through It, was published in 1976 by the University of Chicago Press – the first work of new fiction ever published by the Press. A River Runs Through It consists of a novella of the same title and two short stories. The book was a critical success, a popular bestseller, and a contender for the 1977 Pulitzer Prize. Multiple filmmakers and production companies vied for the film rights to the book, and it was eventually adapted for film in 1992 under the direction of Robert Redford.

The University of Chicago named an undergraduate dormitory for Maclean — Maclean House — in 1991. Every year, residents celebrate “Maclean Day,” during which the House president gives a speech that celebrates Norman Maclean and the House community. In 1997 the University’s alumni association established the Norman Maclean Faculty Award which recognizes emeritus or senior faculty members who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and student life on campus.



Take a historic campus tour from your couch

Beginning of historic campus tour

Beginning of historic campus tour

A new online tour of the University of Chicago campus allows visitors to view select campus residence halls and classroom buildings as they were in decades past, while simultaneously seeing that location as it appears today.  The campus tour, created by Special Collections staff and using the social media site HistoryPin, features dozens of images from the Special Collections Research Center’s Photographic Archive.  Each image is then mapped to a current-day Google Street Map location.  Viewers have the option to use the “fade” control to fade the historical image into the background or bring it forward. 

This historic campus tour is the second such virtual tour created in Special Collections, the first being a tour of iconic sights of Chicago, inspired by the postcards in the Ian Mueller Collection of Chicago Memorabilia.  The Chicago city postcard tour was curated by the Special Collections archives and manuscripts unit staff, and  launched at the same time the exhibition, “Souvenirs! Get Your Souvenirs!” opened in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery.  The physical exhibition runs July 22- October 5, 2013.  View the postcard tour  online.

Photographic Archive Featured on WBEZ


Lee Bey at WBEZ has featured our Photographic Archive — read the full story: http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2013-08/places-and-spaces-courtesy-university-chicago-photo-archives-108468

Butler-Gunsaulus Collection now available online

The autograph letters, documents, and engravings of the Butler-Gunsaulus Collection have been digitized and are available online via the collection’s finding aid. Presented to the University of Chicago Library in 1910 by Frank Wakeley Gunsaulus, a preeminent collector of rare books and manuscripts, the source material concerning historic persons and events was amassed primarily by Chicago businessman Edward Burgess Butler. Though a number of the papers are of European origin and date from the sixteenth century forward, most were produced in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Among the collection’s Civil War documents is, “Special Requisition of drugs and medicines for the use of the sick of the 2nd Regiment, Missouri Volunteers and of those of the other regiments remaining at the hospital, Boonville Fair Grounds, July 2, 1861,” shown here. Morphiae sulfatis and Aethiops antimonialis are but two of the drugs herein requested by Union Army surgeon Ernst Schmidt, medications needed to treat casualties of the First Battle of Boonville. During that engagement, which occurred two weeks earlier, seven of the Union forces were injured, and five were killed outright or mortally wounded. Confederate troops, moreover, sustained similar losses.

The requisition carries the signature of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, whose victory in Boonville, at first glance, seemed insignificant. The aftermath, however, proved otherwise as Federal troops secured and retained control of the Missouri River, and supporters of secession were driven from the region.

Changes to the Children’s Book Collections In SCRC

mothergooseFor decades the University of Chicago Library’s historical children’s books were located in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Books for Children ( better known as “EB”).  The nearly 5,000 books that formed the core of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Books for Children were collected by Chicagoan Henry C. Friedman. His collection was purchased by Encyclopaedia Britannica (whose then- president, William Benton, was a member of the University’s Board of Trustees) and donated to the University of Chicago in 1946 to provide resources for research and teaching of children’s literature in the Graduate School of Library Service.  Over the years, many individuals have made gifts to the Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Books for Children, which has grown to over 12,000 titles. 

The Special Collections Research Center has established a new collection with the name Historical Children’s Books (HCB), in order to distinguish the original EB/Friedman gift from the subsequent additions. A Special Collections project is under way to separate the books collected by Harry Friedman using the original inventory of his collection. These books will remain in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Books for Children and all others will be moved to the new HCB collection.  This process will take several months and Special Collections Research Center staff will be happy to help users locate materials during this transition period.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Alice Schreyer, Assistant University Librarian for Humanities, Social Sciences, and Special Collections (schreyer@uchicago.edu), Catherine Uecker, Rare Books Librarian (cuecker@uchicago.edu), or Julia Gardner, Head of Reader Services (juliag@uchicago.edu).

Whitman manuscript now digitized

Walt Whitman signature, from letter to his publisher.

The original manuscript of Walt Whitman’s “The Bible as Poetry,” bound with related pieces of Whitmaniana, is now online.  The manuscript includes a letter sent from Whitman to his publishers,  Jeannette Leonard Gilder and Joseph B. Gilder, part of which is shown to the left.









The bulk of the manuscript consists of Whitman’s edits to his work, as seen in this example.  The complete essay was published in The Critic in 1883.


Newton, Darwin manuscript material digitized

Digitized Newton Manuscript

Series II, Series IV, and Series V of the Joseph Halle Schaffner  Collection in the History of Science, may now be viewed online.  Series II contains letters to and from Charles Darwin and the Darwin family, dating from the 1860s to early 1900s.  The Sir Isaac Newton material in Series IV includes manuscripts outlining and illustrating Newton’s idea for a portable furnace,  pyrotechny, and an 1693 letter from Samuel Pepys to Newton. 

John Carver notations on Newton’s Principia

Newton’s influence carries over to Series V, which includes early nineteenth-century notes made by John Carver on mathematical and geometrical problems from Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia and other works.

Series II of International Association for Cultural Freedom Papers Temporarily Unavailable

Series II of the International Association for Cultural Freedom Papers (IACF) will be temporarily unavailable October 29 – January 1, 2013, in order to allow the material to be re-processed and re-boxed.  We regret any inconvenience caused.  If you have questions about this collection, please contact us.


Happy birthday, Anthony Braxton

This image of Anthony Braxton is from the John Steiner Collection of the Chicago Jazz Archive

Anthony Braxton, born June 4, 1945 in Chicago, celebrates his 67th birthday today. Braxton is an American music pioneer whose style closely resembles jazz but spans many genres and forms. Braxton’s instruments include saxophones, flute, clarinet, and piano. 

Braxton was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. In 1963, he joined the army and was stationed with the Fifth Army Band in the northern suburbs of Chicago. In 1965, he went to South Korea and played with the Eighth Army Band all the while keeping up with the recordings of free jazz pioneers Albert Ayler and John Coltrane. Braxton returned to Chicago in 1966 and sought out and joined the newly-formed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He formed his own ensembles with musicians such as Leroy Jenkins, Thurman Barker, Charles Clark, Kalaparush, and Leo Smith while also playing in groups led by AACM members like Ajaramu, Amina Myers, and Muhal Richard Abrams. Although greatly influenced by John Coltrane, Braxton quickly developed his own voice.

Braxton spent time recording and performing with his own group in Paris in the late 1960s. Throughout much of the early 1970s, Braxton played in New York and the Midwest, touring with Chick Corea’s trio and Musica Elettronica Viva.

In 1994, Braxton was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for his outstanding and original contributions to jazz. Braxton founded the Tri-Centric Foundation, a New York based not-for-profit corporation that includes an ensemble of musicians, vocalists, and computer-graphic video artists all of whom aid in the performances of Braxton’s compositions. Braxton studied philosophy at Roosevelt University. He is currently a tenured Professor of Music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, teaching music composition, music history, and improvisation.

Despite the many improvisational aspects to Braxton’s compositions it is difficult to categorize his music solely as jazz . In March 2007, in an article that appeared in Time Out-New York, Braxton is quoted as saying: “I know I’m an African-American, and I know I play the saxophone, but I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician, either. My music is like my life: It’s in between these areas.”

The Special Collections Research Center is home to the Chicago Jazz Archive, which contains a small collection of materials related to Anthony Braxton as well as many collections that document jazz in Chicago and the work of Anthony Braxton.