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Resources for Instructors in Special Collections: Collection Strengths

Information for faculty and graduate students who use Special Collections in their teaching. This guide includes printable handouts, assignment and activity ideas, collection descriptions, and links to further resources.

Resources for Instructors in Special Collections

History of the Book

Special Collections maintains a small collection of manuscripts that date from antiquity to the present.  The collection is intended to demonstrate the physical characteristics of the book before printing, and it contains a wide variety of scripts and materials from various time periods.  From antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, the collection includes:

  • Eight cuneiform tablets from the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods
  • Fragments of Egyptian, Greek, and Arabic writings on papyrus
  • Around a dozen manuscripts in book form, ranging in date from ca. 1150 to ca. 1600
  • Over 200 leaves and fragments, including seventeenth century book collector John Bagford’s manuscript leaves and fragments, Fragmenta Manuscripta, dating from the eighth to the seventeenth century
  • A handful of leaves from the Koran, palm leaf manuscripts, and examples of manuscripts from non-Western cultures
  • A collection of two dozen incunabula including a splendid copy of Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum (1493)
  • Numerous sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century titles from important printers such as Aldus Manutius, the Elzevirs, the Plantin-Moretus family, Baskerville, Bodoni, and others
  • Books and ephemera produced by hundreds of private presses, from the Kelmscott Press to the current day
  • A growing collection of contemporary artists’s books, including works from the Janus Press, the Women’s Studio Workshop, and others

These materials provide an essential learning laboratory for students and faculty interested in the history and technologies of the book.  They also complement and provide a touchstone for a campus-wide interest in the history and future of media, communications, and disruptive technologies such as the Internet and the printing press.

Popular Culture and Comic Art

The Comic Art Collection is diverse, providing evidence of popular culture from the 1870s to the present.  The Comic Art Collection has particular strength in underground comic books, graphic novels, and published reprints of classic comic strips and cartoons. Special Collections also maintains a core reference collection on comics, including price guides, encyclopedias, and scholarly publications.

The collection contains 1000 pieces of original art, 100+ syndicate proofs, over 30 cubic feet of manuscript materials, hundreds of clippings, and over 4,000 catalogued comic books, journals, and monographs. 

The collections also include manuscript collections pertaining to five prominent American cartoonists: Mort Walker, Edgar E. Martin, Frank Stack, John Tinney McCutcheon, and V. T. Hamlin.  


British Literature and Political History

The history and literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are a particular emphasis, including early editions of the works of prominent authors as well as popular serial publications.  Several pamphlets pamphlets dating from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries provide coverage of a wide variety of social, religious, and political issues.  They are especially rich in works about English religious life and controversies. For example, more than 200 deal with the Popish Plot of 1678. Anonymous pamphlets on a variety of political topics now attributed to Daniel Defoe are also available. Selected pamphlets can be accessed online through the Digital Library.

These materials are of particular interest to scholars of religious history and press freedom.  


History of Science

The history of the biological and physical sciences is strongly represented in landmark editions of works by Newton, Galileo, Darwin, Hooke, Leeuwenhoek, Linnaeus, Jussieu, Gessner, and Audubon, among many others.  The collection also includes anatomical works by Vesalius, Harvey, and Fabricius, as well as Renaissance medical herbals, including, Fuchs’ De Historia Stirpium (1542); Hortus Sanitatis (1517); Mattioli’s De Materia Medica (1583); and numerous other beautifully illustrated botanical works.

These works complement the University of Missouri’s emphasis on the life sciences, support interdisciplinary research, and provide an important access point for the study of intellectual history and scientific inquiry.

Theater and the Performing Arts

Special Collections holds the personal and professional papers created and received by Lanford Wilson throughout his life and career as a playwright. The vast majority of the collection consists of manuscripts in various forms but especially in the form of plays.  Wilson’s most critically acclaimed and successful plays include Talley’s FollySerenading LouieThe Mound BuildersFifth of July, and The Hot l Baltimore.  His plays were nominated for Tony awards three times, and in 1980 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Talley’s Folly. Wilson was elected to the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2001 and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004.

A large collection of theater programs from the 1890s to the present is currently being catalogued.  There are also many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century plays and librettos in the Rare Book Collection.

Posters and Propaganda

The collection consists of posters from both World War I and World War II with a few tourist and other miscellaneous posters from the same periods. More than half of the posters are from countries other than the United States. French posters predominate, but there are also World War I and II posters from Belgium, Canada, England, and Italy, plus World War I posters from Germany and World War II posters from Czechoslovakia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and Yugoslavia. Additionally, the collection contains broadsides, banners, pamphlets, and ephemera.

Much More...

You can find descriptions of all the collections on the Special Collections website.