SC&A serves as a hub of research, learning, and discovery around primary sources and special collections for the Bowdoin community. We collect, administer, preserve, and make available holdings that document the College’s remarkable history and place in the world, and that support the teaching, research, and learning needs of the Bowdoin community. We seek to make these materials as accessible as possible through an active instruction program, digitization and publication, exhibitions and public programs, and reliable and meaningful description.
Materials within our collections require and receive special care due to their format, value, rarity, provenance, storage needs, or other considerations. All researchers, from Bowdoin and beyond, are invited to use our collections in our Reading Room, and increasingly, to discover our holdings online through our growing digital collections program.
As the official repository for records of enduring value to the Bowdoin community, SC&A administers the College’s archives. We work collaboratively with stakeholders from across campus to actively collect the official records of Bowdoin administrators and administrative offices, as well as materials that hold permanent historical value from academic programs, departments, and committees.
In addition, SC&A actively seeks to acquire a wide range of primary research materials in their original formats that support the educational and research activities of Bowdoin’s constituents or that augment the official record of the College’s history. Such materials include, but are not limited to, books, manuscripts, archives, audio and visual materials, and digital objects.
Given the breadth of the College’s curriculum and the research interests of our faculty, it is not possible to collect comprehensively in all areas. While we add landmark, fine, and rare books in nearly all subjects, the majority of our collecting efforts are focused on a few key areas that relate to the College’s history, that build upon deep, long-established collection strengths, or that support subject areas receiving substantial and sustained attention by the College community. In collecting, our primary goal is to support SC&A growing engagement with the curriculum.
Active Collecting Areas
Bowdoin has strong historic ties to the abolitionist and anti-slavery movements in late 18th and early 19th century America. Several early professors were active members of these movements, particularly William Smyth. In addition, Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in Brunswick while writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Contemporaneous with these movements, the College Library acquired printed materials that documented them, as well as pamphlets and other printed materials from slavery apologists. We continue to actively collect abolitionists and anti-slavery materials in all formats, with a particular focus on materials that contextualize Bowdoin’s unique contributions to these movements.
Current collecting focuses on filling out historic gaps, particularly in terms of slave narratives and abolitionists and anti-slavery pamphlets.
The College has a long history of acquiring and providing access to material about Africa, beginning with the bequest of James Bowdoin III’s library in 1811, which includes several important early works on African culture, exploration, geography, agriculture, and economy. Through a current effort by Robert Hooke (Bowdoin Class of 1964), the Library recently has been able to build upon these historic holdings by adding a number of first editions of books related to travel and exploration in Africa, as well as missionary and settler narratives.
We are continuing to build in the area of Africana, and in particular, seek to acquire:
- Travel narratives by Emil Holub, Alexandre de Serpo Pinto, Bishop John Colenso, William John Burchell and others not yet represented in the collection
- Works about African folklore, including by Wilhelm Bleek
- Early natural history works, especially ornithological and botanical studies
Bowdoin College’s involvement in Arctic study and exploration is founded on a record of discovery and research spanning more than a century and continues today under the leadership of the Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. Scientific student expeditions dating from 1860, and more ambitious undertakings by Robert E. Peary (Class of 1877) and Donald B. MacMillan (Class of 1898), have contributed to a prolonged and deep interest at Bowdoin in Arctic studies and the scholarly resources that support those academic pursuits.
Donald B. and Miriam Look MacMillan’s former library forms the core of SC&A’s holdings in this area, and with more than 2,200 titles on the Arctic, the collection is among the most significant in the county. Current collecting priorities focus on expanding the number of travel narratives dating before 1750.
Special Collections holds a remarkable collection of materials related to the book arts and the history of the book, particularly fine press books, illustrated and extra-illustrated books and journals, fine and decorative bindings, and artists’ books. Of particular note is the collection of Maine artists’ books; the Susan Dwight Bliss collection of more than 1,200 finely bound volumes; and large runs of well regarded fine press establishments, including Arion, Limited Editions Club, and Gehenna Press. The book arts and history materials are actively used in teaching across disciplines, particularly by the visual and art history departments and Romance languages; are incorporated into independent studies by students; and support SC&A’s active exhibition and public programming.
Current collecting priorities include, but are not limited to:
- building the artists’ book and fine press collection, with a particular focus on collecting the works of artists and printers from or associated with Maine.
- completing our runs of the major 19th century illustrated magazines.
- diversifying our holdings of fine print and fine bindings by actively seeking to add the works of early women binders/printers and binders/printers of color.
- adding examples of innovative book structures and formats (including non-Codex and non-Western book forms), binding features, typography, book design, illustration processes, and printing methods.
- enhancing our understanding of the book arts professions and methods through the acquisition of pre-1900 printer and artist manuals.
In addition to official records of the College received under the records schedules of the College Archives, SC&A actively builds its holdings of materials related to Bowdoin faculty, students, staff, and alumni/ae, with a particular focus on documenting the College experience and Bowdoin’s contribution to the wider world. Of particular interest are printed materials, photographs, recordings, and ephemera issued or published by the College, or related to the College and to the Medical College of Maine. Such works are collected exhaustively, including in two copies whenever possible. SC&A maintains a list of missing Bowdoin publications in the hopes of completing our run of these important holdings.
SC&A selectively acquires the personal papers and published works of Bowdoin alumni/ae and faculty. Acquisition decisions are based on: the extent, content, and context of the material in relation to the topical interest of the material; condition; and biographical and intellectual significance for current and future scholarship and research. Materials that document the personal experiences of being at Bowdoin are of particular interest, and can include letters, journals, photographs, scrapbooks, and blogs.
It has been said that the Civil War began and ended in Brunswick, Maine, and the holdings of Special Collections reflects the deep involvement of both the town and the College in this major chapter of America’s history. The papers of Bowdoin graduates Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Oliver Otis Howard, and Thomas Hubbard, all of whom served as generals, provide unparalleled opportunities for students and other researchers to explore the war and its aftermath. The College’s extensive collection of printed materials from both the North and the South, including broadsides, maps, books, journals, and newspapers, augment these primary documents.
SC&A continues to actively collect manuscript and print materials that build upon this historic strength.
Anchored by the Kate Furbish collection of 1,300 botanical watercolors, the double-elephant edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of North America, Parker Cleaveland’s extensive collection of materials related to the history of weather and mineralogy, and James Bowdoin III’s library of agricultural and scientific works, the College’s holdings of natural history materials are both rich and deep. These historic holdings complement the academic work of the Schiller Coastal Studies Center, the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island, and the Roux Center for the Environment, and offer rich learning and enrichment opportunities to the entire campus.
Current collecting focuses on adding publications in natural history that simultaneously strengthen other collecting areas, such as works related to the Arctic, book arts (through innovative printing techniques, for instance), or Africa, and to acquiring a number of key seminal works that the Library currently lacks.
General Guidelines for Selecting Rare Books
SC&A happily accepts donations to the College’s Rare Book collection and can offer the following guidelines to perspective donors.
We are interested in printed materials based on place and date of imprint:
- Pre-1801 if printed in Europe
- Pre-1820 if printed in New England and Mid Atlantic
- Pre-1840 if printed in Maine
- Pre-1865 if printed in American South
- Pre-1876 if printed in American West
- Pre-1947 if printed in Russia
SC&A does not collect duplicates unless there are condition or copy-specific attributes that distinguish the copy. Such attributes might include:
- Inscriptions, marginalia, or other annotations
- Custom bindings
- Provenance or marks of ownership
- Extra-illustrations (meaning, additional visual materials bound into the printed works)
- Dust jackets