The George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives is an integral part of the Bowdoin College Library and an active partner in the scholarly pursuits of the College. Its rare books, manuscripts, archival records, and related resources such as photographs, sound recordings, and historic newspapers, serve in teaching, learning, research, and personal enrichment. Staff facilitate those activities through such services as instruction, reference, preservation, digitization, and public programming.
Our mission is to acquire, preserve, and make accessible those library materials that, because of their physical format, condition, value, rarity, or subject focus, merit careful handling or mediation. We also play an important role in encouraging the use of primary source material for research, in promoting the book arts, in fostering an appreciation for the need to preserve recorded information, and in serving as a resource for College history and the management of College records.
The department’s holdings are wide-ranging and include substantial collections of unique manuscript resources, over 50,000 rare books, journals, and broadsides, 25,000 photographs, as well as maps, sound recordings, and electronic records. Among the printed works (the earliest dated 1478) are collections of early American, Maine, and British imprints; books by New England writers; material by and about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (both Bowdoin graduates in 1825); finely printed and finely bound books; artists' books and pop-ups; and works on travel, exploration, and natural history. Some of these books have been in the College's possession since soon after its founding in 1794.
Manuscript holdings date from as early as the 13th century and are particularly rich for research into the early history of Massachusetts and Maine; antislavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; Arctic studies and Arctic exploration; Maine writers; politics and government; and Bowdoin College, its alumni, faculty, and presidents. Complementing these resources are thousands of photographs and audio recordings, hundreds of maps, and a growing array of digital surrogates available on the World Wide Web.
We serve the students, faculty, and staff of the College and scholars and researchers worldwide. All library visitors are welcome, and researchers who agree to our Rules for Readers are free to examine any of our unrestricted holdings. Online collection listings are available, as are online catalog records describing these collections, and we are happy to respond to questions about our holdings—contact information is provided below. In 2002, the department was named in honor of Senator George J. Mitchell, Class of 1954, whose own papers documenting a life of service to the Common Good were donated to the College in 1995.